After more than a decade of drug use, a Ladysmith High School graduate is now sharing his story about breaking free from meth addiction.

The community is invited to participate in upcoming sessions to hear first-hand accounts from a former Rusk County drug user.

Matt Jablonsky, 32, a former drug user from Rusk County, will be presenting to the community on Monday, Feb. 4. in the lower level of the Rusk County Community Library in Ladysmith. The community forum includes a free meal from 5:45-6:30 p.m. followed by a 1-hour presentation. Child care will be available.

Jablonsky will follow the evening session with presentations at all three schools in the county on Tuesday, Feb. 5, with Bruce scheduled at 8:45 a.m., Ladysmith at 10:45 a.m. and Flambeau at 1:45 p.m.

His program is entitled “The Point of Change.” He will be speaking out against addiction.

Jablonsky grew up in Rusk County. He was everybody’s friend. He was always joking and having fun. He was always friendly and outgoing. He was considered the good kid. He was on the A-Honor Roll his senior year of high school.

Sadly, in an attempt to cope with depression and anxiety, he started using drugs in high school. Soon, he was unable to stop. His first drug to use was marijuana. From there, he began experimenting. Eventually he was using any drug he could get his hands on.

Jablonsky readily admits to being an active meth addict for 13 years, starting using the drug while in high school and continuing into his 20s.

“I just happened to cross paths with methamphetemine, and when I tried it I was instantly hooked. I liked it way more than I should have,” he said.

His use of the drug skyrocketed, and his downward spiral descended into darkness.

“It was no secret in the area that I was a drug addict. I was fairly well-known in the area as a drug addict,” Jablonsky said.

He had been arrested for drugs. Everyone knew.

He finally was forced to stop his drug addiction after being arrested on Feb. 3, 2017 and eventually jailed for 97 days on a probation revocation.

“I had to make a choice. I had to change something. I knew I needed to make a drastic change if I wanted to better myself,” Jablonsky said.

After his release from jail in May 2017, he accepted an offer from a friend to move to Whitewater. Within a week he accepted a factory job at Generac Power Systems and went to work.

“I just started my road to recovery from there,” said Jablonsky, who now lives in southeastern Wisconsin.

He was plugging along at a factory job for about a year, not making as much progress as he had hoped, until faith was again tested last May.

“When my father passed away was when I had my spiritual awakening,” Jablonsky said. “After his funeral I was arrested on my way back home.”

After leaving the funeral, Jablonsky was stopped by law enforcement for driving with a cracked windshield. He was arrested for driving without a license and jailed for two weeks on a probation hold.

He credits his jail inmates over those 14 days for keeping him on the path toward recovery. He praises one inmate in particular, named Shane, for building up his esteem.

“While I was in jail I really got a lot of insight from a lot of the guys. I just happened to be in the right cell with a good group of guys,” Jablonsky said. “When I came out of jail I had this newfound hope. I came back, really ready to start building something for myself. Up until that point, I was kind of at a lull in my recovery.”

Jablonsky had lived with his father, Michael, for five of the last six years of his life, but much of that time he rarely spent time with him. They lived in the same house. He was in his room. He was gone. He was doing drugs. He missed out on the last five years with his father.

Losing his father resulted in Jablonsky finding his path toward recovery.

“When he passed away I really realized the importance of time spent with family,” Jablonsky said. “After my father passed away, I realized the importance of family and building something for myself. I wanted to see others succeed the way I have.”

He has been clean since Feb. 3, 2017. He works with other addicts to help them find their way, still fully understanding he has been clean only two years.

Using his gifts of knowledge, comedy, compassion and love, Jablonsky will have the audience in tears of both laughter and sadness as he shares his story in the hopes to keep others from the same path.

“I feel like addiction is like a dark forest, and we are all just walking around lost in there.  I feel like I have found a way that leads out of this forest,” Jablonsky said. “I feel like I am on the edge of that woods, and I have found a way out. I want to shine my light as bright as I can so others can follow me, and we can get out of there.”

Ladysmith Mayor Alan Christianson was one year behind Jablonsky when the two were in high school.  After Jablonsky graduated, they lost touch.  

Last spring, while at a Main Street Director’s Conference in Whitewater, Christianson got a message from Jablonsky stating he was now living in Whitewater, saw his Facebook post about being in town and asked to meet for coffee.  They met and discussed the last 12 or so years since high school.

“I was shocked and saddened to learn how far he had fallen since high school,” Christianson said. “How could this happen to the funny guy who would joke around with me in class and always have a smart comment to make?”

They stayed in touch through Facebook. Jablonsky shared his goal of presenting his story in the community where he grew up.

“As a resident of Rusk County and as an elected official in Ladysmith, I have a huge interest in the future of our community and in the future of our children. It is an interest that I know many of our residents share,” Christianson said. “If we are going to have a better community for new generations to grow up in, this is a problem we must work to address.”

Christianson and Jablonsky kicked off a social media fundraising campaign to cover Jabklonsky’s travel and make up for his time off of work for the upcoming presentation.  

Christianson was impressed by seeing the community come together to take a step toward addressing a crisis that has gripped the area and hurt to so many.

“There is no magic, singular answer to the addiction crisis we face, to the poverty we see in our community,” Christianson said. “These presentations aren’t meant for that, but they are an important step. One of many different steps we must take together if we are going to move forward into a brighter future as a community.  It is in our best interest to do what we can to address these issues for our sake and for the sake of the children in our community that are growing up in these conditions.”

Matt has many connections to the community and this presentation will be a great chance to bring people together to look at what can be done to help reduce substance use, according to Julie Bever, prevention director for the Rusk County Youth Council at Indianhead Community Action Agency.

“People are always complaining about drug use in Rusk County.  Here is an opportunity to come to hear someone local talk about his experiences.  Join us to learn how you can be part of the solution,” Bever said.

Jablonsky already has spoken on the UW-Whitewater campus and at the Irvin L. Young Memorial Library in Whitewater.

It can be difficult to admit to an audience about being a drug addict, according to Jablonsky. Discussing the old memories can be emotionally draining, but he believes the message is important to share.

“This really gives me an outlet to share my story, share my experiences and get it off my chest,” he said.

While speaking, he often mentions the three months he spent in jail. Sobriety was forced onto him after more than a decade as a meth user.

“While I was in jail over the course of those three months I realized I had pushed everyone who cared about me away, and I was surrounded by people who didn’t really care about me at all,” Jablonsky said.

While he sat in jail, he had items stolen from his home. The people he thought were his friends never wrote or called.

Others he had known, however, were writing regularly, offering him money and helping in ways he never could have envisioned.

“That would be a big reason that I woke up,” Jablonsky said.

Then, his mother, Patti LeMay, visited him in jail. It is not a moment he is proud of.

“That was another big awakening moment for me, my mom seeing me in that orange jumpsuit,” Jablonsky said.

They looked at each other through the glass. They didn’t know where to start. They didn’t know what to talk about.

“I think that silence and that awkwardness between us was almost worse than if she had come in there and yelled at me. Instead she came in there not even knowing what to say, and I think that really hit me,” Jablonsky said.

Jablonsky still loves the northwoods. He wants to help the area where he grew up. His heart still belongs here. His head is clear. He sees the damage meth and other drugs are causing in communities where he grew up.

“I want to help the area where I came from,” Jablonsky said.

In a few weeks, he will be speaking for the first time in his hometown and speaking in a public forum in front of people he has known since childhood. He believes these community and school presentations will hold extra meaning and emotions.

“Since I started this it has been my goal to help the area where I came from. I guess I wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon,” Jablonsky said.

When he walks on the stage he expects to rely on the wealth of support  and encouragement he continues to receive from friends and family.

“That means a lot to me because it really tells me I am doing this from the right place in my heart,” Jablonsky said.

The strangest encounter at these sessions might come from those hearing an anti-drug message from a past addict. It could also be inspirational to see there is light above when hearing the talk come from someone who looked up while seemingly lost at the bottom.

“That is what I really hope. Sometimes in life things may seem impossible in your mind because you have never seen anyone else do it. I am hoping seeing that I have done it might inspire others to try,” Jablonsky said.

The events are sponsored by the Rusk County Youth Council, Indianhead Community Action Agency, Ladysmith Mayor Alan Christianson and Rusk County residents.

For more information, contact the Rusk County Youth Council at 715-532-4222 or on Facebook at RuskCountyYouthCouncil.

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