Surviving addiction

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Bland talks about prescription drug addiction in her family

By Calen McKinney



It's not been easy, she said, but through their struggles, she and her family have made it. And she says she hopes that's an inspiration for others.

Campbellsville resident Jefra Bland, who is a contestant on the television show "Survivor," spoke to about 100 people on Monday night in a community forum to address alcohol and drug abuse amongst teens.

Bland, a former Miss Kentucky contestant and Miss Kentucky Teen USA winner, has used prescription drug abuse as her platform.

Campbellsville/Taylor County Anti-Drug Coalition hosted the event, along with several co-sponsors.

Bland said her family has struggled with prescription drug addiction for many years, and she has used that struggle to help make her stronger.

"The support from the community has been truly overwhelming," she said.

Bland graduated from Taylor County High School in 2008 and completed a degree in broadcast journalism at the University of Kentucky. She works as a general manager at a fitness center in Campbellsville.

Growing up, Bland said, friends and acquaintances might not have noticed that her father, Jeff, was battling an addiction.

"It seemed like everything on the outside was pretty peachy," she said.

Her father recently celebrated three years of sobriety, and Bland says she is proud of that, and it gives her strength.

Bland said alcohol had been in her home ever since she was very young. And she said she encourages teenagers who believe it’s OK to drink to think again.

"By the time you're 18, 19, 20, 21 ... you're gonna be dabbling in other things."

Bland said her family's struggle with addiction began after her father had trouble with his back and eventually had surgery. He took painkillers even before surgery, she said, and the abuse only worsened after.

"I kind of went through a mess growing up," she said.

Bland said that though her father might have been present at home, she yearned for an emotional relationship with him. She said she often didn't understand why her mother, Vicki, didn't kick her dad out of the house.

"I truly didn't understand that it was a disease," she said.

But Bland said her mother told her addiction is a disease. And the family wouldn't kick him out if he had another type of disease, such as cancer.

Bland said her father went to treatment several times, but he often relapsed a few months after coming home. He often went after his family asked him to, and not for himself, she said.

"And I didn't understand why he didn't want to change for us," she said.

The last time her father went to treatment, he said he went for himself, and it worked, she said. And even though he is now clean and sober, Bland said, the battle still impacts her and her family.

"You have to cope with that as a family," she said. "You have to learn to forgive and forget."

Bland said she was, at first, reluctant to use her experience as her platform. But she said her mom said the story might help others.

"I was embarrassed. I was scared. I didn't want to have friends over because I didn't know what the situation was going to be at home."

Last year, Bland said, she decided that she was ready for a new adventure. She didn't know that it would take her to the Philippines to film a reality show.

For 39 days last summer, Bland and 18 other contestants were dropped in the middle of nowhere with only the clothes on their back and some rice to eat. The one who remains on the island after fellow contestants vote each other off will receive a $1 million prize. At press time, Bland was one of eight contestants remaining. She said she can't reveal the results of the show.

Throughout her time on the island, Bland said, she and her fellow contestants slept on a makeshift bamboo hut and survived torrential rain and a typhoon.

"'Survivor' is a mental game," she said. "There's nobody out there to beat you but yourself. And the only thing that got me through the game of 'Survivor' was mental toughness."

Bland said she wants teenagers to know that they don't have to repeat what they see growing up.

" ... And that you have the power to dream as big as you want and be the change," she said.

"Know that you don't have to be a product of a mess that you're in. What I chose to do is take my mess into my message."

Bland said she encourages teenagers to not feel like they have to hide what they are going through.

"Please know that your struggle can help save someone else's life," she said.

Jeff Bland told the audience that he, like other addicts, never woke up wanting to become one.

His battle with addiction stems from a back injury at 13. He said he received treatment later in life and, as a result, was given pain medication.

"It stopped hurting and I couldn't stop the pills," he said.

Jeff said he encourages people to seek out the help they need.

"'I' suffer from an illness," he said. "We have a solution, it's 'we'."

At treatment, Jeff said, he learned how to overcome his addiction.

"They said, 'We're gonna love you till you learn to love yourself.'"

Jeff said he now helps others get treatment and talks to other addicts almost every day to try and help them.

"It's an epidemic right here, and especially right now," he said.

'Survivor' Questions Answered

Before signing autographs and posing for photos with those in the audience, Bland answered questions about the "Survivor" show.

She said she lost about 10 pounds during filming, and she said she sees episodes as they air, just like the public. So far, Bland said, she believes the editing has been pretty accurate.

Bland said she and the other contestants really saw the snakes and other creatures that are shown during the show's opening credits. Filming had to be stopped sometimes because snakes were crawling on camera operators.

Bland said cameras follow the contestants all the time and none of the show is staged.

"Survivor" officials select the clothing the contestants wear, Bland said, and they chose to outfit her as the "country" girl in a dress, jacket and boots.

In all, Bland said, the survivor crew is about 400 people. There were about 40 on the island, she said.

"Survivor" is the longest running reality show on television and has a budget of about $20 million.

"What you see is what you get," she said. "It truly is 'Survivor.'"

Bland said she would absolutely participate in "Survivor" again. After all, she said, it's only for 39 days.

Only about 400 people have been able to participate, she said, and she got to wake up each day to a beautiful view of the Philippines.