AK: Transitioning from addictions of youth to sober adulthood

Mason (l) and Jazzmyne (r) Ballison outside the Alaska Public Media studios. (Hillman/KSKA)
Mason (left) and Jazzmyne (right) Balison outside the Alaska Public Media studios. (Photo by Anne Hillman/KSKA)

A year ago, we first heard from a young couple who were trying to overcome their addictions to methamphetamines. Their strategy was to move away from Anchorage and try to start over in Wasilla because being around friends who were still using made it much too hard.

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They ended up back in Anchorage when they lost their housing, but despite their challenges, the couple is still sober. And now, they’ve entered a new chapter.

First thing you need to know: originally I called the couple “Kylie” and “Madison.” “Kylie” was a minor, so I had to change both of their names. They hated it and my choices. (I asked them what fake names they wanted, but by the time they emailed back, it was too late. The story was done.)

But now, they are married and are both legally adults, and they want the truth out there. Madison is really Mason Balison, 20. And Kylie is actually Jazzmyne Ballison, 17.

At this point, they both say meth isn’t a big issue any more. They both drink a little but say the cravings for the drug went away after about five months. They have a frequent reminder of its impacts: Jazzmyne’s little brother was born with drugs in his system and is developmentally delayed. Both her dad and the baby’s mother were using substances.

“It makes me angry thinking that they had to put themselves first so much that there’s a new life that is…” Jazzmyne trails off and Mason jumps in. “Suffering.”

“His life is effected immediately and he has no choice,” Jazzmyne concludes.

But the young couple does have a choice, and they’re focusing on their futures.

For Mason, his future is in transition. He recently came out as transgender. He says it was a hard thing to admit, even to Jazzmyne. Their first conversation about it was over text.

“Thank god for texting,” he quips. “It was just really hard to say out loud.”

Mason says he always knew in the back of his mind that he was born in the wrong body. He preferred boy’s clothes, wanted short hair, and liked it when people thought he was a boy. But he saw a friend transition and the backlash scared him.

“People were mean to him. They’d call him by his birth name,” and purposefully use the wrong pronoun, he says. But when you’re born in the wrong body, everything feels off. “So you hate your body, and you hate your voice.”

Mason says he tried to deny to himself that he was also transgender. It made him depressed and that might have contributed to his drug use.

Now that he’s out, he says he’s happier, but it’s still hard when someone calls him by “she” or “her.”

“It feels like a giant stab in the face. It’s really hard. Even if somebody is trying, or somebody doesn’t know, it just sucks,” he pauses. “It just sucks.”

Jazzmyne says she is being as supportive as she can. She loves Mason, and she says it doesn’t change their relationship.

One of her main focuses right now is making sure they are financially stable. She’s working part-time and looking for a second job. Her current employer can’t give her full time hours and promote her to co-manager until she turns 18 this summer.

Jazzmyne says she likes being a legal adult and finally having control over her life. “Like I went and signed up for insurance for myself. And my PFDs. It’s nice knowing that I don’t have to rely on anybody else.”

She’s also trying to earn enough credits to graduate from high school because someday she wants to start her own interactive improv company.

“I like theater because people feel things from that. And I think being able to actually get up and do things with the actors is going to be something that not only people enjoy but remember more than going and sitting in a dark theater watching a bunch of other people do something.”

Mason says his goal is to go into politics so he can help the homeless community and people fighting addictions and mental illnesses.

It’s been a year of major life changes for the couple, but they’re no longer looking back at the life they once had. This chapter isn’t about drugs or recovery, it’s about achieving the goals they had almost forgotten.