Kratom Stories: Jennifer Van Blunk from Philadelphia

Kratom Stories: Jennifer Van Blunk from Philadelphia

by Brian Gallagher for KratomScience.com

Listen to this story on Episode 20 of the Kratom Science Podcast.

All her life Jennifer Van Blunk dreamed of being in the United States Navy until an injury prevented her from completing basic training. The physical and emotional pain led to a decade of opiate addiction. After years on Suboxone, struggling to taper off and get sober, Jennifer discovered kratom from a friend in the waiting room of her doctor’s office. It changed her life. This is Jennifer Van Blunk, and this is her kratom story:

Jennifer Van Blunk: I was in basic training, and about five days before graduation we had this one final push-up, sit-up, run test, it’s called the PFA [Physical Fitness Assessment]. A couple laps into that, I broke my heel. It was a legitimate crack in my heel. To this day when I get X-Rays done, you can see a line where it didn’t heal correctly. That happened when I got out of my rack one morning to go to the bathroom. I was on the top rack. I had to have landed on it the wrong way… whatever happened, there was a crack in my heal. 

My run time was off by six seconds. So they rolled me back. I did double push ups, double sit ups, all that stuff, and still six seconds, I got rolled back. So I had to go through basic training again. But each time I was able to run for my PFA, I think, once a week. And each time my running got slower and slower because my foot hurt more and more. But I didn’t say anything to them, because I knew I’d be out. That’s like a discharge right there. I was like 25 at the time.

I finally ran out of Tylenol. I had to go to medical. They gave everybody ibuprofen 800s like it was candy. They asked me what’s wrong, why I needed some. If I had told them I had cramps, I would be in the navy today. But I was honest with them, and I told them, I said, “My foot hurts.” And they asked me why. And I said it feels like there was a nail going through my foot, like, shooting up my heel.

So I got an X-ray, and about probably four hours later I was told I was going home. And that kinda killed me. I was in basic, that whole process lasted like six months. That’s why I still have the designation veteran, but I didn’t get to go do anything. 

Kratom Science: So you had to be discharged for your injury permanently?

Yeah. I don’t get medical or anything like that. I never applied for anything. I’d rather just go work. But yeah to this day if it snows and rains out, if I have to walk, if I’m on my foot a whole lot, oh yeah that sucker hurts. 

So anyway, I got Percocets. That’s where everything began. 

When I got discharged, I didn’t have any insurance. So I had to get them on the street. And, you know, having to go to work so you can get the money to buy the pain pills. 

I realized that when I was taking the Percocet for the pain, that it killed the emotional pain too. The only thing I wanted for my entire life was just military. That’s the only thing that was ever on my mind. But… anyway, that’s where all my stuff started. 

So that led to a Percocet addiction?

Yeah. Percocets were good for a couple of years. I went downhill pretty quickly. When I do something, I do it 100%. And I did that 100% too.

I was crawling around looking for Percocets and I couldn’t find any, and a friend of mine had Oxycontin. So she says, “Oh well it’s the same thing, just without the Tylenol.” I got sucked into that, next thing you know, maybe two years later, three years later, something like that, I couldn’t find any Oxys, I couldn’t find Percs, I couldn’t find Xanax. I couldn’t find anything, right? I was at the point where I was like, you know what? If somebody says they have heroin, I’m gonna try it. I could smoke it. I could snort it. I don’t have to shoot it, right? I’m not a big needle person.

So one night I was making phone calls. The only person that had anything was this kid around the corner from me. He had Suboxone. So I said what the hell’s that? I’ve never heard of it before, you know? I got one off him for like ten bucks. And two weeks later, I had my own Suboxone doctor. I was at the point where I was desperate enough — I knew I needed help. I’m sitting there starting to think about heroin, you know?

When you say “doctor”, do you mean an actual doctor that prescribed you Suboxone?

Yeah. So I’m a pastry chef. So the bakery I was working in, I had fallen down. What happened was, there was a kid who was mopping the steps. And he used the dish soap to mop with steps with, and didn’t tell anybody he was cleaning. So I ended up slipping down those steps, and the way my hand fell, I ended up punching one of those steps. So I messed up my hand. I’m a pastry chef, cake decorator. It was my right hand. That’s what I did everything with. 

So I was out of work for a while, and I had to get a lawyer because there was no insurance. The guy that I was working for was doing everything under the table. Not exactly on the books, and I didn’t know that. Part of the settlement was that I would get insurance, and because I had the insurance I was able to go and get the Suboxone. And that’s actually how I got sober, through that insurance.

I was on Suboxone for about five years. My addiction started about 2006, and that lasted for around five years. At the very end of that was when I found the Suboxone, and then I was on those for about five years. 

I mean, I wanted off of them. I thought this was going to be the thing that I could take to get my brain off of the pills, and then I’ll be okay to go.

Suboxone was ten times worse of an addiction than the pills ever were. The lowest amount that I was able to get down to, I got down to two milligrams every other day, off the Suboxone strip. I would cut them up, and I would sell the rest of them. I’d clip them and sell them, that’s how I made money. I would need two a week. They gave me three a day. 

How was it worse than the other stuff?

The withdrawal is absolutely, unbelievably painful. I’ve talked to a friend of mine, we’re talking like a day out of her having the needle in her arm, and she’s telling me that she don’t want the Suboxone because the withdrawal from that is worse than the heroin. I never did heroin but I felt it was way worse than anything I got from Oxys or anything else. The chemical just hooks you. You just cannot get off of it. I couldn’t go more than 24 hours without at least a piece of a milligram. I had to have at least a milligram or two every 24 hours or I would start getting sick.

Does Suboxone give you a high like other opioids?

Hm. It depends of what you’re coming off of. If you’re coming off of something stronger than Suboxone, and the dose that you’re getting, well yeah it’s not going to do anything for you. It’s a ratio thing. Say you’re taking kratom extracts for a week, then you’re taking regular kratom. I wouldn’t say it got me high. It made me feel like I was okay and I didn’t want to go look for drugs. 

And that right there was a miracle to me when I first found it. That was everything. Because then I figured I’d be able to start focusing on myself. 

But the thing was, it made me feel like I was a fog. Like, I felt, completely, emotionally, physically numb. For years this went on. I was literally just waiting to die. I’m not even exaggerating at all. I would go out of the house and be like, man, I hope I get hit by a bus today. I would legitimately hope for that to happen. That’s a hell of a drug, man.

So when did you first hear about kratom?

Actually I was in the Suboxone doctor’s office. There was this one girl that I used to ride up to the doctor’s office with. She asked me, the one day, we were sitting in there, she’s like, “Did you ever hear of this stuff called kratom?” I didn’t know what the hell it was. But I was curious, so I looked it up, did a little bit of reading on it.

So I went over to a head shop in Philly. I paid $45 for fifteen capsules of some type of “silver”. It was expensive but I had no idea. I didn’t know any better. That day I took all fifteen capsules within three or four hours and it didn’t do anything. I was completely unaware of how kratom worked. You know what I mean? If you’re uneducated, you just go and do something, you don’t know the whole process. It did nothing, so I thought it was a bunch of bullshit. That’s one of those hippy things, it’s not gonna work for me, I need actual chemicals and stuff like that. 

A couple months later, I ran into a friend of mine from high school, a woman I haven’t seen in 20 years. We were talking, and it ended up she had the same problems I did with the Percocets and everything else. Her position was further than mine. She went to the heroin and stuff like that. Regardless, she was taking kratom at that point. She’d been on it two or three years. She explained it too be about the different stains and colors, and when and how to take it. 

So she gave me a couple bags of it. I was still skeptical. 

I was walking home New Year’s Day. And my right knee gave out on me, my bad knee. I had already had surgery on it. I was on Suboxone but I was in so much pain. But I knew the hospital was not going to do anything for me because I’d been through this before. I just had to wait it out. Give it a couple days, let the swelling go down. 

My dad has a very bad back and he gets prescription Oxycontins. So I asked him for one because my knee was the size of a softball. So he gave me one. I’d been clean off the Percs from the street for years. So I took a 20 milligram Oxycontin, and it didn’t do anything. I was in a lot of pain to the point I had tears in my eyes. 

“The one thing that I had a hard time getting over on the transition from Suboxone to kratom was the fact that I felt good. I didn’t think I deserved that feeling. I never thought I’d ever feel like that again in my life.”

So I had the bag of kratom. I said, it’s supposed to be good for pain. I’ll take it. So I took a half a teaspoon, and about 15, 20 minutes later, my knee pain was gone. It took the pain away to the point where it was just a dull throb. I was sitting there eating a ham and cheese sandwich, happy as hell watching a movie. It was absolutely unbelievable. 

The one thing that I had a hard time getting over on the transition from Suboxone to kratom was the fact that I felt good. I didn’t think I deserved that feeling. I never thought I’d ever feel like that again in my life. I thought that was dead and gone, buried in the past, not gonna happen. And I felt fantastic! I was happy, I was in a good mood, I was looking forward to the future. And this is after three or four days of taking kratom by itself. 

So I actually stopped, and I continued going to the doctor for the next month. I had to wrap my head around it. I had to get in the mindframe of, I can be a decent human being again. I can have a little bit of hope. It took a while to adjust to that.

I hear that a lot from people I talk to about kratom. It kind of opens you up to this new optimistic mindset.

I was just sitting here waiting to die. To go from that to 20 minutes later, feeling like I could take on the world, that’s a big friggin adjustment. 

Had you kicked the Suboxone before starting kratom?

I had already weaned down because I was trying to get off of it for a long time, before I’d even heard about the kratom. I was down to about two milligrams every other day. I couldn’t go more than 24 hours, because then I would start getting diarrhea pains, and that anxiety knot.

That’s the one thing I tell people to pay attention to. It took me a while to accept the fact that, yes, this works, every time. Yes, this is how I feel. Yes, it’s actually real. No, it’s not addictive. It’s not trading one for another. It took me a while to get my head wrapped around all that and to actually trust the plant. 

There’s a ton to learn about it. And it’s all different. A woman around the corner from me, we were talking and I brought it up. She said “I heard about that.” I said, “You wanna try some?” She said “Yeah sure I’ll try it.” She’s about 60. 

“Kratom brings me back to myself.”

So I gave her some that night. She continued to get it. She asked me for the website. She gave it to her son. It worked for his depression. Her and her husband both take it for pain and all-around good mood stuff.

I bumped into her a few months ago and she goes, “I’ve been looking for you! I lost 20 pounds in the last 6 months and I haven’t even tried!” And I told her it’s because the kratom balances out your brain chemicals so you don’t have those cravings. You’re not trying to satisfy some esoteric notion of what is “happy”. You know what I mean? You just ARE. You’re not looking for that satisfaction. It pacifies all that external need for validation.

And it seems to do so in such a way where it’s like having coffee everyday. It doesn’t seem hard on your body.

Addicts have to go through withdrawal. Kratom does fight the withdrawal because it’s so effective for depression, anxiety, and pain. Those three are the trifecta of withdrawal. You get hit hard with all three of those once you don’t have your medication. On top of that you have to worry for the future. How long am I gonna feel like this? When am I gonna get my pills to feel okay again? With kratom there’s none of that.

But you have to readjust your thinking. I had so much free time when I started taking kratom. My brain would automatically float to, “Ok who’s got pills?” For years I had gone through this routine where I was looking for medication, wondering how I’m going to feel tomorrow, how much money do I have, how many pills can I buy, how long will that last me…That was no longer a worry of mine. I had no idea how much time, and energy, and effort I had put into that for all those years. It was unbelievable. 

A lot of people talk about “kratom withdrawal”. Is it anything at all like opiate withdrawal?

No. For me I was on opiates for ten years, give or take. My body was beat up. Trained to need these chemicals for years and years. 

You have these people who, you’ll give them kratom, and they’ll try it, and they’ll say it was good. They’ll try it once in the morning, and that’s it. So they’ll end up relapsing and going back to the pills. 

When you’re coming off of [opioid] medication, you need probably two or three teaspoons every two or three hours. That lasts for the first week or two, depending on what you were coming off of. Suboxone, by far, is the worst to come off of. Even heroin addicts don’t need the amount of kratom that people coming off Suboxone do. 

It took me a year and a half before I had absolutely no withdrawal feelings whatsoever. A full year and a half of kratom use, all day, every day. Every month, my kratom use would lighten up a little bit. When I first started, as soon as I woke up I had to take it. Six months into it I could be awake for a half hour before I felt that need. A year into it, I could be awake for a couple hours before I had to have it. Three years later I wake up and I don’t even think about it until my back starts hurting, or my foot starts hurting, or I’m fucking miserable for whatever reason.

You have to give your body time to heal. So many addicts want an immediate, overnight cure. They think this is what it’s supposed to be, and it’s not like that. You have to put in the time and the work. I had to spend a year and half, two years taking kratom every day to get to the point where my body pretty much doesn’t even remember the effects of the Percocet and everything for 10 years. That’s a pretty good trade off if you ask me. I got off easy. And my recovery was painless. Don’t get me wrong, the emotional stuff, you have to go through that on your own, and that’s a personal process for everybody. The physical part was painless.

Do you make it into a tea, or do capsules?

I just toss and wash. I wanted to get it over and get it into my system as soon as possible, and that’s the quickest way. Sometimes I make that red bubble if I want to get fancy.

Do you have preferred strains?

When I first started I just mixed them all together. Like I told you my friend gave me a couple bags, and it was red, green, white, yellow. I threw it all together because I couldn’t tell the difference anyway because I had so many chemicals in my system. Maybe six, eight months into it I started feeling the different effects. Whites would give me a little more energy. Reds would be relaxing. As time went on I could feel those differences were more pronounced. So I kinda progressed from going with the whites to begin with because I was used to coming off of Percocet and I wanted that speed. Greens and reds are my favorites now. 

How much do you do on an average day?

Maybe two or three teaspoons a day.

That’s it?

A little bit more if it’s a crappy day out. If it’s raining, and I’m hurting, stuff like that. But on I good day I might not take it at all. There’s some days when I don’t feel the need.

If you go a long time without it, do you ever get withdrawals at all? Even mild ones?

The worst thing that happens is I’m a little bit crankier than normal. That’s only the first few hours of the first day. But once I get going, it’s not even something I think about. Once I started being able to go through a day, say a year and a half into it when all my bad withdrawals were done, my nose would run. Which I thought was completely bizarre.  But, hey. Now that doesn’t even happen.

Did you have any other side effects when you first started taking it?

Oh, constipation.

That’s pretty common.

Yeah. I was not hydrating enough, at all. Magnesium citrate is your friend. Nowadays I just drink coffee and water and that’s about it. I usually don’t have any problems unless I’m in a bad mood and not paying attention to drinking water.

Do you think it helps with your job? You have a high-energy job and you have to focus.

I’m a pastry chef by trade. I was looking for a job where I would make shit money because I didn’t trust myself with a paycheck. I didn’t work for five years on purpose because I had a lot of making up to do. The whole time that I was on Suboxone. I babysat my niece, for my sister, so she could go to work. Making a lot of things up to my family.

So it got to the point where, I have to go to work. This is fucking getting crazy. I went down there looking for a shitty job, and that’s what I got. What happened was, they kept giving me raises. I started out making $10 an hour, and after the first year I was up to $16. 

Kratom brings me back to myself. I was running around doing things. I had the energy I did when I was 17. And the interest. All that stuff. Honestly it made me a better employee. I gave it to all the guys I work with, and it made all of them better employees. It’s unbelievable. 

“I felt like I leveled up in life. I’d never taken mushrooms, ever in my life. I was really skeptical at first.”

They try to paint it as a bad drug. But it seems like a tool in getting sober. You get excited about little things, like what the snow smells like in the winter. 

All that stuff, dude. It helps you stop and smell the roses. To be honest with you, that’s something a lot of people need that they just don’t realize. 

Exactly.

I did mircodosing too, with magic mushrooms.

Really? How was that?

That was amazing. I felt like I leveled up in life. I’d never taken mushrooms, ever in my life. I was really skeptical at first. The guy I was talking to, he was walking me through it. So I said, alright, it’s a microdose, a tenth of a gram, it’s not gonna make me see smurfs running around. 

I had a itty bitty little scoop. It tasted like mushrooms, no big deal. It was crazy. It felt like I was getting hit in the back of the head. And it was going, “Open up! Open up! Open up!” Finally I let my defenses down and it came through. It walked me through my past trauma. A lot of my emotional stuff came from not being able to fulfill my want to be in the military. The mushrooms helped me see that my past was not the military in this lifetime. That might have been my last lifetime. It sounds absolutely insane, but once you go through it, it makes total sense. It helped me understand so much more and accept things I didn’t even want to think about.

Did you ever read Nietzsche?

Yeah. 

He talks about going to the deepest, darkest places you can possibly imagine. That’s what it helps you do but it holds your hand. Some people cry when they do it for the first week or whatever. Some people laugh. It’s very different and personal emotionally. But I was so much more calm. 

I had done a Facebook live in a group where we talk about kratom tea, before I ever had the microdosing.. And I’m a pretty hype individual to begin with. That’s putting it mildly. I came back and did another one about three weeks later. People were watching it, saying, “You look so much more calm”. I felt so much more calm. I was giving off a different vibrational thing. I felt like I leveled up in life, honest to God.

The one thing I got out of it was that I needed to slow down personally. It helped me do that. I quit smoking too. 

It’s good to know you can do that without hardcore tripping.

I looked at it as a medicine. Basically like a sacrament. It worked out. I leveled up in life. It was amazing. I wish I had better words. I would do it again. I did it for about a month.

I would do it in the morning, 1/10 of a gram, 2/10 of a gram. It was like eating a strong edible. I wasn’t impaired, I wasn’t delayed, or giddy, stupid, nothing like that.

But on the weekends I would go and take a walk down at Penn’s Landing and sit by the river. And I would take a bigger dose. So Saturday and Sunday it would be a bigger dose. I would have headphones on and just be in my head, like a meditative state. I did that for a month. 

I was aware of the fact that microdosing is good for depression, and mushrooms can reset your brain. I read about it but I didn’t get too deep into the reading because I didn’t want to talk myself into something happening, and that’s why it happened, you know what I mean?

After I had done it, I read a few articles, and I was like, Jesus Christ!  That happened, that happened, that happened. It was crazy the way everything lined up like they said it was going to be, after the fact that I didn’t know what was supposed to happen. 

It was good stuff, man. I highly recommend it. It really does work. You set an intention. I would take my scoop in the morning and set my intention. If there was something I wanted to delve into deeper, that would be my intention for that day. It would actually work. It wasn’t overwhelming, it was very subtle. But I would have an idea like, Oh!, that’s why that might have happened. I would just feel like a release.

My body is so much more relaxed now and I’m in a lot less pain. I would meditate at night before bed with those healing frequencies. I would wake up with a minimal amount of pain.

Do you get involved in any #keepkratomlegal activism?

My state representative is Elizabeth Fielder. I’ve been down there to talk to her a couple of times about legislation. We had this guy Scott Kaplan who was trying to ban kratom. There’s one vendor, Philly Kratom, Sean and Megan Zamarano, they were really active in that. I had gone up there one time, because Sean was in the Navy too. We had both gone in there to talk to Fielder, because their ears are a little more open for a veteran.

I’ve asked the representative a couple of times if we could get a community meeting in like the library or something. My neighborhood knows how bad I was on drugs. They can all see the difference in me in the last few years. I want them to know how. I’ve asked multiple times. Sean and Megan have offered to put up some kratom for people to just have in their house. So if your son is withdrawaling, the kid can try it instead of going out and maybe robbing somebody for a bag of dope. Little things like that. 

I’ve been asking multiple times, emails, everything. I get nothing back. They say, “You can go talk to Project Ride, or go volunteer here.” No. I’m not volunteering here because they are not doing what needs to be done. The things you guys are doing now, you’ve been doing for the last 40 years. It doesn’t work. I’m putting my time and effort and energy into something that I know for a fact works. 

On top of that, I’ve given kratom to at least 60 people over the last couple of years. I would say at least half of them have continued with it and gotten sober. It’s unreal.

A big thing with addiction is, you develop your addiction in private. You might do drugs with friends, but the extent of your addiction and the depth of it, that’s personal. That’s only on you. And some people go so far in the hole that they don’t know how to fucking get out. That’s what happened to me. I didn’t know where to go, who to turn to. I was afraid. But kratom, you don’t have to go to an AA or an NA meeting and stand up and tell a room of 50 people your deepest, darkest secrets. You don’t have to go to a shrink and sit there, and lament over things that happened years ago. You can work on this all in your bedroom, in your house, by yourself, in your own mind. And it actually works. The privacy aspect of kratom shoots up the benefits a thousand times more than any recovery program. 

That’s why they’re trying to ban it. Because it actually does work, and it’s cheap. 

Yeah! The “wrong” people are making money off of this. If kratom was manufactured by Monsanto or Pfizer, it would be in every fucking corner store. But because brown people from Indonesia and shit are the ones making money off of this and not old fat white guys that’s why we have a problem. 

The plant material itself is already safe. Unless it’s adulterated, it’s already pure how it is. Just like marijuana, you can’t make it more safe. 

Even extracts. Synthetic marijuana, how many people were sent to the ER in the last year? Like five, six hundred? But we have emails from the FDA going to specific county coroners that if they have opioid deaths with kratom in the system, then you need to classify that as a “kratom-related death”. Ignore the fucking 45 mg of Xanax and the cocaine floating around in the system and the alcohol in the blood. 

And the gunshot wound.

Yeah and the gunshot in your fucking chest. But blame the kratom. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of. 

It really seems obvious that the pharmaceutical people have their guys in office protecting them.

You know what my one dream is from the time I really started trusting this plant and seeing the effects it would have on other people? I would love to have a place off-grid somewhere and just let people go recover. Here’s kratom, go sit by a lake, don’t worry about anything, work on yourself. That’s what people need, dude. They need time, and privacy, and just time.

We’ve had opioid crisis town halls, and I’ve stood up in the middle of it and I said, “I am an addict.” There will be at least two or three people at each one who know who I am and what I did. I was a very straight-A, good fucking person before all that military stuff happened. I’m back to who I was before that. People see that. It’s crazy. I got up in the middle of the meeting and I told them, “This is the answer. We have the answer.” You sit here and spin your wheels and nothing gets done. Everybody wants to sit here and complain. But you don’t want to give me an hour in a fucking library once a month to talk about this tea that actually fucking works. 

That’s a good idea. I’m in the city of Pittsburgh and I’m trying to think about the best thing to do around here. One of our country reps ran on the fact that she was a recovering opiate addict…

Dude, I’m not even kidding. I’ve been thinking about that. If there was ever a time to do something like that, it’s right now.

Hell yeah! You should.

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