Apr 24
  • Written By Scott Drochelman

  • #181 – Jessica Buchanan

    #181 - Jessica Buchanan

    Kidnapped By Somali Pirates And Rescued By SEAL Team Six

    On October 25, 2011, while on a routine field mission in Somalia, working as the Education Advisor for her non-governmental organization, Jessica was abducted at gunpoint and held for ransom by a group of Somali pirates for 93 days. 

    Forced to live outdoors in deplorable conditions, starved, and terrorized by more than two dozen gangsters, Jessica’s health steadily deteriorated until, by order of President Obama, she was rescued by the elite SEAL Team VI on January 25, 2012.

    Jessica’s ordeal is detailed in her New York Times bestselling book, Impossible Odds: The Kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and Her Dramatic Rescue by SEAL Team Six.

    Jessica has been named one of the ‘150 Women Who will Shake the World’ by Newsweek, and her story was the most highly viewed 60 Minutes episode to air, to date. 

    Today, Jessica is a highly sought-after inspirational speaker, host of the podcast We Should Talk About That, and the founder of Soul Speak Press, where she supports women who are ready to share their stories through Memoir Manifestos-books that are one part memoir, one part self-help, and one part inspiration. 

    Jessica’s first anthology project, Deserts to Mountaintops: Our Journey to (re) Claiming Our Voice is out now.

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    Episode Transcript

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:00:00):

    Coming up on this episode of The Courage to Change, sponsored by Lion rock.life,

    Jessica Buchanan (00:00:06):

    And I hear the crack of the butt of an AK-47 on the card hood. And then all of a sudden we’re, it sounds like we’re surrounded by a lot of screaming men, like yelling in Somali. And I can hear like weapons hitting the outside of the car. And I’m thinking nothing really at this point. Things are moving very fast. And Abdi Reza, actually, the security advisors sitting next to me, we’re in the back of the Land Cruiser and his door is pulled open and this very angry man dressed in like a police uniform is holding an AK-47. He pulls Abdi Reza out of the car and hits him in the head with his A can, then gets in next to me and puts a gun in my head and starts screaming at the driver to drive in English.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:00:50):

    Hello, beautiful people. Welcome to the Courage to Change Recovery podcast. My name is Ashley Lo Blasting Game, and I am your host. And today we have an incredible guest for you, Jessica Buchanan. On October 25th, 2011, while on a routine field mission in Somalia, working as the education advisor for her non-governmental organization, Jessica was abducted at gunpoint and held for ransom by a group of Somali pirates for 93 days, forced to live outdoors in deplorable conditions, starved and terrorized by more than two dozen gangsters. Jessica’s health steadily deteriorated until by order of President Obama. She was rescued by the Elite Seal Team six on January 25th, 2012. Jessica’s ordeal is detailed in her New York Times bestselling book, impossible Odds, the kidnapping of Jessica Buchanan and her Dramatic Rescue by Seal Team six. Jessica has been named one of the 150 women who will shake the world by Newsweek. And her story was the most highly viewed 60 minutes episode to air to date.


    Today, Jessica is a highly sought after inspirational speaker, hosted the podcast, we should talk about that. And the founder of Soul Speak Press, where she supports women who are ready to share their stories through memoir, manifesto, books that are one part memoir, one part self-help, and one part inspiration. Jessica’s first anthology project deserts to mountaintops. Our journey to reclaiming our voice is out now. So if that bio didn’t do it for you, I’m not sure what will, I am going to say very little in this intro, other than Jessica is incredible and she’s incredible for so many more reasons than that bio and what happened to her and the sensationalized pieces of it. She has come through this experience and is somehow a more evolved better person because of it. Incredible. Without further ado, I give you Jessica Buchanan. Let’s do this.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:03:10):

    You are listening to the Courage to Change a Recovery podcast. We are a community of recovering people who have overcome the odds and found the courage to change. Each week, we share stories of recovery from substance abuse, eating disorders, grief and loss, childhood trauma, and other life-changing experiences. Come join us no matter where you are on your recovery journey.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:03:38):

    So you helped me learn something new in my marriage about my husband.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:03:43):


    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:03:44):

    So I said to my hus, I tell, tell my husband, you know, I’m, I’m interviewing this woman today and, and, or you know, Friday, whatever, and I I give a little background about you, and he goes, is her name Jessica? I go, what? Yeah. And he says, I know every operation that Seal Team Six has completed. I was like, honey, that’s, that’s really weird.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:04:04):

    Is he, is he in the military?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:04:05):


    Jessica Buchanan (00:04:06):

    Oh, okay. <laugh>.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:04:07):

    No <laugh>. You know, it’s like, wow, that’s really weird, babe. Something. So we’ve been together 15 years and I learned something new. I was like, wow. Okay. Well that’s interesting. I guess I’ve had no idea that you knew all the missions of Seal Team six.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:04:22):

    Wow. And maybe he’d make a better interview then,

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:04:25):

    <laugh>. Yeah, yeah, that’s true. I’ll, I’ll consider it a considerate <laugh>. Well anyway, thank you so much for being here and sharing your story. I appreciate it.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:04:34):

    Thank you for having me.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:04:35):

    So tell me a little bit about what your childhood was like. Like what, what, what’s your background? I know you were a teacher by profession. Did you always wanna be a teacher?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:04:44):

    No, I think my earliest memories were that I wanted to be a fashion designer. I’m, I grew, my parents were both craftspeople artists. My dad, uh, made and still does somewhat ma made furniture and my mom design jewelry. And so they were, you know, a product of like the sixties and seventies and the hippie movement. And then they found Jesus somewhere in the, like, early, late sixties, early seventies. They lived out west for a really long time. My sister and I were both born out in Portland and then they moved back to the Midwest where they had been raised to be closer to family. And what I then came into, what, how they reared us was very steeped in religion and very conservative. But also there was this kind of like paradox of creativity that allowed I think a lot of time for creative expression.


    You know, school was really important to my parents that worked really hard to provide us with a good education. Um, we went to like religious private schools and you know, church was a huge part of our, it was like our social construct really. And, you know, so I grew up on casseroles and, and the gospels and then service, you know, service was very important in, in the way I was raised at home. And also like, you know, going to church so much and also school. And so I internalized this mindset or belief I guess, that to whom much is given much is required. And so I think it was really like drilled into me that, you know, I had been born into a, I mean, we were very middle class, maybe lower middle class even, you know, but the certain privileges, and there were so many people, I, I was just like very sensitive and aware that there were so many people out there in the world that had less than I did.


    And if I could do something about that, then I should, I, I, you know, I had a great time, you know, with my youth group and in, in high school ended up getting actually married really young because that’s what you do when you’re in the church. And that was not a great situation. Got out of that and then went back to college to finish up my degree. And I think at the time, you know, I had been studying English and decided to get a teaching degree because that seemed to be practical <laugh>. And I figured, you know, um, I liked kids and I could always feed myself if I was a teacher, not realizing that teachers make literally no money. <laugh>,

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:07:07):

    Yeah, yeah. Questionable. But, but I, I understand the

    Jessica Buchanan (00:07:10):

    Logic myself, crackers at least. Yeah. I went back to school in like my first summer I applied for a, like a teaching abroad position, and they sent five people from my program to Honduras to teach for the summer. And for some weird reason they picked me, I didn’t know a lick of Spanish and I, I had no idea what I was doing, but they like, let me go. And they sent me on this trip and it was amazing. And I really felt like I, that like started me on this journey of exploring the world and, and meeting new people outside of the very small bubbles that I had been in. The safety, the safety net, right? And so that really is what got me interested in going to Africa in the first place.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:07:51):

    So when you had the opportunity to go to Africa, did you know much about the continent?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:07:58):

    I mean, no, I think I thought I did <laugh>. You know, I read books, <laugh>, um, this is, and again, I’m like, I feel so old, but I’m like, this is the, it wasn’t like before the internet, but it was before we would like go Google everything, right? I don’t know, like I had email, but I was checking books out from the library and stuff to learn and I, um, I got really kinda like obsessed and involved in this like, nonprofit essentially called Invisible Children. And they were the, this group of guys that had ended up the same thing, right? Like had no idea what they were doing or where they were going. And they ended up catching something in South Sudan or Northern Uganda, these child soldier, this phenomenon really. And, uh, made this documentary and I didn’t even know how I came across it, but, um, I’m an advocate.


    I’m always like, that’s my personality. If something moves me, then I’m gonna tell everybody about it. I think it makes me a good salesperson too, you know, it’s just like that part of me, like when I believe in something, I want everybody else to believe in it too. And so this really grabbed my attention and got into my heart. And, and so it was like cosmically aligned because I met someone who knew someone else who had a connection at some orphanage. And so, you know, blah blah, blah, blah. So long story short, I ended up going just me and this other girl that I didn’t know. I talked to her on the phone a couple of times and now when I say it and I think about my kids doing this, I’m like, oh dear God, it is so stupid. <laugh>. No, I dunno. This is just what you do when you’re in your twenties.


    We were gonna go spend this summer volunteering at an orphanage for recover Child soldiers in Southern Sudan. We got ourselves there, didn’t work out the way we thought it was going to, but we were okay. And it ended up further like sealing the deal for me. Like, this is what I wanna do. Like I wanna be in Africa working and teaching, and I needed to finish my teaching degree. So I got a student teaching position at international school in Nairobi, Kenya, and they offered me a job and it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do, you know, I thought I was gonna be like out on the front lines or, you know, whatever, like getting my hands really dirty and, and working like really closely with really unfortunate kids who were really disenfranchised. But I thought this was a, my ticket in to that kind of work and it really was. And so I took the job and, and it was great. Like, I loved it, you know, I was living my best life, spending all day with fourth graders, having so much fun. Then I met my husband shortly after I started working there one night at a nightclub in Nairobi. We, that was 15 years ago. And that is what, how I ended up in Somalia.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:10:31):

    What did you know about Somalia when you, when it, when it became an option to go

    Jessica Buchanan (00:10:35):

    There? I mean, everything I knew was pretty much through Eric, my husband he’d been working with, and in Somalia at that point, probably for like five or six years, he’s from Sweden. He had been working with asylum seekers from Somalia. And then, um, his job was switching over and he needed to be based in Har Geese, Somali land, which was in, uh, the northern part of Somalia. We had decided to get married. Um, and I didn’t really, I think, you know, I, I’m always kinda like up for an adventure, right? So I didn’t feel like I wanted to have like a long dis, I don’t think either one of us had wanted to have like a long distance marriage. So I quit my job and Nairobi and moved up there with him and you know, I think there were some security concerns, but you get a little bit desensitized to living in, in parts of the world like this, where you’re regularly seeing weapons and they’re like bombings and, and stuff like that. He was working for an organization. They were, had protocols and procedures. They were in regular communication with the UN and their security advisors and stuff. So, you know, we were doing all the proper things, the necessary things to stay safe.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:11:42):

    Were there religious aspects of life there? Um, in terms of, you talked about coming from, you know, a background where Jesus was a, a very big part of your life. Did that play into any of your life in Somalia?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:11:58):

    No, I think at that point in my life, I had really started to deconstruct my faith. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Um, and so I was at a very confusing time in my, my spiritual life, in my religious practice I guess you would say. And in a country like Somalia, which is the Muslim, like a hundred percent Muslim, you’re not gonna talk about that. So, you know, I was not like openly exploring my relationship with Jesus Christ, you know, at at at work or at parties or anything like that. I was very much in a space where I was privately working through some things and it was confusing and a little weird, you know? I mean I had been exposed to all kinds of different religions and cultures teaching at Roslyn in Nairobi, even though it was a Christian school too. But I had really started to move away from that and start to think about what I actually believed myself.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:12:51):

    Right. And I’m sure with all the um, exposure that there was a lot to question and think about.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:12:57):

    Yeah. Yeah. And I think also when you actually are like confronted with real poverty and hard things, you know, like really hard, you’re witnessing all of this stuff that you can easily ignore when you live in a developed world. Like I live in a suburb of DC like not being confront, my children are not being confronted, although my children do go to a title one public school. So they are being confronted with some exposed, maybe not confronted, but I felt very, like I was being very confronted with like who we are as human beings and, and our responsibility to each other and to ourselves and what God meant in relation. I mean, I was just questioning everything because I was seeing real like human suffering, like real really bad. And um, that doesn’t line up with what you hear in church on Sunday.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:13:48):

    Yeah, yeah. Can’t imagine. That was really, really intense. So when you were in, so you moved to Somalia, Northern Somalia with, with your husband and he is working there, do you get a different job or is it the same sort of humanitarian teaching or are you not working there?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:14:05):

    So I mean when I first got there I thought, oh, it’ll be like a vacation <laugh>. And then I realized like no one comes here unless they’re working. So there’s nothing to do unless you’re working. And again, I think part of my personality is just like I’m up for the adventure. So I’m a teacher, what do I know how to do? I know how to create materials and curriculums to teach English and things. And you know, just so happened we were living on this big compound with a bunch of other aid workers and there were a few Ethiopian refugees living on the compound cuz they had left Ethiopia and come to Somali land of all places to find work. Um, if that gives you any context of what Ethiopia was like at the time. And there were kids. So naturally I was like, well let me, you know, let me start teaching them English.


    And before I knew it I had an entire dining room full of like grown men who wanted to like play memory and you know, like do all these English games and we would take our lunch hours and after their work shifts and stuff, it was fun because there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure either. It was just the joy of teaching, not having to worry about grading or standards or anything. It was just like pure fun watching the light bulbs go off. And then word got around, I think that there was like an actually like an actual trained teacher in town. And so I picked up work, I ended up like doing some really cool things, creating curriculum for the Ministry of Education and their social sciences around minor risk education. Cuz a lot of countries that are post conflicts still have unexploded ordinances and landmines littered and their organizations going in clearing them.


    But then they also have situations where, you know, kids pick things up and they, they explode or people are stockpiling things cuz they don’t know what they are and they think they might be worth money. And so that morphed into then starting to work for the Danish g mining group as their education advisor. Um, and creating programming and materials around our violence reduction, minor risk education and community safety. Because like a lot of like these post-military guys running these programs and stuff. And I remember going to workshop and kind of like chuckling, but I was also mystified because they were running workshops through a translator, but they had like these big flip charts and they were writing in English on these flip charts. And I was looking around and I’m like, you realize like this is a nomadic community and people are hurting camels and they can’t read. And no one had ever really thought about that before and <laugh>. So I was like, I have a few other observations I’d like to share with you from a teacher’s perspective. And then that landed the, into this job. Were you

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:16:44):

    Regularly seeing children who had missing parts and such from landmines and, and things that they were picking up? Was that common where you,

    Jessica Buchanan (00:16:54):

    I don’t think it was like super common, but it wasn’t uncommon either. And it wasn’t just children, it was grown adults too. Uh, there was an organization that I did some work for called Handicap International and they provided wheelchairs and things for people who had been maimed by exclusives. So it was just, it was very different <laugh>, different way of working, but it felt very meaningful.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:17:21):

    What was the training that you didn’t feel good about that you ended up going to anyway?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:17:29):

    So at this point I’d been working for maybe two and a half years for the Danish d mining group. And I had moved from just being the education advisor in the Somali land office to being the, uh, regional education advisor. So I traveled all over East Africa, so like was in South Sudan and Northern Uganda programs, Kenya, and then, uh, Somalia part of my portfolio. So like most people would un uh, be familiar with like Mogadishu cuz that’s what you’re gonna see in the news. Um, we had a project office in Gal cao, which was north of Mogadishu and not as quote unquote dangerous, but um, certainly not safe or peaceful by any means. There was a lot of clean conflict happening cuz the town was actually divided in the middle by two, two different clans. And there was often conflict around fighting over resources and, and land boundaries and, and such.


    And as a whole aid workers and development workers were not the target for any kind of security issue, but y you know, there, there could always be on the off chance that you would get caught up in something or whatnot. And I had on my schedule and in my budget that I needed to go do a staff training down in gal cao cuz I had a bunch of staff members down there on the education teams. And my good friend Paul that I had worked with in Harissa was managing that program, an older Danish gentleman. And I had scheduled it twice and canceled it both times because I didn’t feel good about it. Like one time canceled because of a bus full of women and children had been blown up by an opposing plan and that didn’t feel good to think about going somewhere where something like that could happen.


    And the third time I scheduled it, I still just had this feeling, like, this feeling of trepidation. I couldn’t quite distinguish if it was real or if I was just being paranoid. Maybe I was just like kind of burned out and didn’t feel like going down there. And so I called Paul and I said that I didn’t feel good about it and he was like, well this is part of your portfolio, like this is your job. I’m already canceled it twice before. And you know, I can’t remember word for word when he said, but like to the effect of if you don’t come down here and do your job, then I’m gonna report you to your supervisor and you know, they’re gonna have something to say about this. So I felt really like backed into a corner because I love my job and I felt a little bit insecure about my place in the company and you know, like I know it’s not everybody’s dream job, but it was mine. And, and so I was, I was worried that I was gonna lose it. And I remember getting off the phone and just feeling really conflicted. I talked to my husband and I think I talked to a colleague in the Harkeys office and everybody was kinda like, well, you know, like and is your job. And Eric didn’t feel good about it, but it was also like, you know, we’ve been in this business and in these regions for so such a long time again, it’s really hard to know what’s real and what’s not. Yeah.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:20:22):

    Cause you’re living with so much turmoil and it’s,

    Jessica Buchanan (00:20:25):

    It’s yeah, a little bit. Yeah, yeah. Like how serious is my gut? Like how, how seriously should I take that feeling?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:20:32):

    Were the people on the ground in, in that region that you spoke to, they were there. Did they give any insight? Were they concerned?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:20:40):

    This was Paul like, I mean he was down there, so, but he was down there. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. So I mean he was like, no, it’s fine. Okay. Nothing to be worried about. This is your job, get down here. So I’m like, well, you know, he’s right. I guess. Okay, let me, you know, let me do this. You know, and again, it, it was such a, it’s such a naive way to go about being in the world because I’m kind of like, ugh, school teacher from Ohio. Like, I grew up in the middle of a cornfield. I pray every night before I go to bed, like nothing’s gonna happen to me. And that’s just not true. <laugh>, you know, that’s just really, really not true sometimes. So I get on a un flight and I go down there, the trainings three days. We had two days scheduled in the north office where we were staying and then we had to cross over the green line and get to the southern office.


    We had two separate staff teams because we had to have staff that belonged to the northern clan and then we had to have staff that could work in the southern area that belonged to the southern clan and they couldn’t cross over those lines. So we would like take a convoy of vehicles, stop at this in the middle of town at this imaginary line, walk over, get into another, you know, group of vehicles. Everything was guarded. You know, we had armed guards and the whole thing. And I wasn’t worried necessarily about the first two days cuz we were staying. We didn’t have to move. But I was worried about the third day when we were gonna have to be transported cuz I knew because something was gonna happen. It’s probably gonna happen while you’re in transport. That third morning I woke up, I’d had nightmares all night long about being kidnapped by pirates.


    Actually only they were like storming the, the walls of the compound that we were in. And I woke up that morning just completely like drenched and sweat. And I, I remember getting, going into the bathroom and looking at myself in the mirror and saying out loud to myself, like, Jess, do you wanna do this? Did you have another option? Like, was there, could you, I mean, I could have gone down there and said, Hey, I’m sick. I don’t, I, I I can’t do this, but that’s not my personality either, you know, I’m not, I’m not gonna do that. And I kept thinking like, what if I just went down there and told him I look, I had these nightmares all night long that we were gonna be kidnapped by pirates. Like what, what would happen if I went down and did that? And I thought, well then I definitely would lose my job because they would think that I was crazy.


    <laugh>. Well, I mean there were pi pirates were a known entity, right? Yeah, yeah. They were true. They were. So it’s not outta the realm of possibility. No, it’s not like me saying I’m not gonna go to work now because I’m afraid we’re, I mean, Mel, you know, I think people will let me play that card if I needed to now. Yeah. You know, <laugh>, you know, but the average person, but if I said it, yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. But there hadn’t been any problems. So I think I just pragmatize myself out of it. And uh, it was the single most important decision I’ve ever made, I think in my life, like up there with deciding to marry my husband. And because it was my moment of self abandonment, I knew something was gonna happen. And it’s interesting, you know, how if we are not connected to ourselves and our intuition and we don’t know the sound of our own voice because we haven’t taken the time to connect with it and get to know how easy it is to dismiss that and how it changes our lives.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:23:49):

    I think it’s also really interesting too that you had this, you know, pretty normal. You know, if, if you will, beautiful childhood, you, you know, where there was a lot of safety and a lot of like, I’m, you know, I’m gonna give back and that sort of thing. Whereas myself and a lot of people I know where, you know, there’s a lot of trauma, it quiets that voice over and over and over again. And I, I don’t think I would’ve even had, like, I, when I think of situation, lots of situations, I think that it’s amazing how loud your voice was saying how in touch you actually were. Even though you that self abandoned you were really in touch with it. It was very, very loud over and over again. And a lot of the time, if you’ve been abandoning that for many, many years over and over again, it takes a while for it to come back.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:24:34):

    Yeah, I think that that’s a really good point. I think because of, I was in such a religious upbringing, I didn’t know the difference and I don’t know like, how to say that. Cause I’m not sure what I think, I don’t think there is a difference between, between god’s voice and my voice. I think it’s the same now from how I am in relationship to my creator. But at that time I would defer to other people thinking that that was like God’s plan for me or something. And so I didn’t know how to, yes, I could hear it, but I didn’t know I was allowed to listen to it.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:25:10):

    Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So what ends up happening? You, you, this is that moment of, of self abandoned, walk me through that day.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:25:19):

    So, you know, it was pretty uneventful. We go in, uh, we get safely to the, the office in the southern part of town. We do our training. I remember hearing gunshots a lot throughout the day, but everybody was like, oh, it’s fine, it’s normal. We’re near the gun market, which is so weird to think about right now, <laugh>. But I was like, okay, if you say so, didn’t think much about it. And we had lunch, which I thought, like ironically I was like, oh, I should have eaten more had I known what was coming. But you know, I, I was ready at that point to just like go, I, I wanna, I was like, I have made it to the finish line, I wanna get over the finish line and I wanna get home. And so it was around three o’clock in the afternoon when we were being signaled to get into a convoy of three land cruisers that were gonna take us back to the green line.


    And the security advisor was a local guy. His name was Abdi Reza. And he was in charge of transport and all the things. And I didn’t know him cuz you know, he wasn’t my staff, I wasn’t based there. But Paul did and Paul worked very closely with him. And, um, he kept getting on the phone and getting off and saying, okay, we’re gonna leave him five minutes. Oh no, they’re not ready yet. You know, all this stuff. And I thought it’s exasperating and weird, like how hard is it? Just get, just get the cars here and let’s go. You know, come on. Oh there’s something happening in town. Like, you know, there were all these things and it’s hard to sometimes like understand what’s going on and there’s a language issue too. And so I just, you know, I just didn’t really think much about it other than just being irritated.


    Um, finally the cars get there, Paul and I get in the middle vehicle and there are arm guards in the front vehicle and arm guards in the back to take us back to the green line. And we pull through the gates of the compound and I’m, I think I’m like on my phone, you know, like I’m, again, I didn’t have like an iPhone but maybe like a Blackberry or something like that. And I think I’m texting my husband and like thinking about what I’m gonna have for dinner <laugh> and, and if I can get my workout in, you know, just like normal after work things that you think about and all of a sudden a car pulls up, not pulls up, but it like, like roars up on our right side and cuts us off so we can’t go any further. And it splashes mud up all over our windows and our windshield.


    Um, cuz it had framed earlier that morning and we couldn’t see out the windshield anymore. And I thought, ugh, God, what a jerk. You know, like, who drives like that? And I’m thinking like, come on, let’s go. Like go around him. And then I hear the crack of the butt oven, an NK 47 on the cart hood. And then all of a sudden we’re, it sounds like we’re surrounded by a lot of screaming men, like yelling in Somali and I can hear like weapons hitting the outside of the car and I’m thinking nothing really at this point. Things are moving very fast. And Abdi re Zach actually the security advisor sitting next to me we’re in the back of the Land Cruiser and his door is pulled open and this very angry man dressed in like a police uniform is holding it in Keith 47.


    And he pulls a reac out of the car and hits him in the head with his AK and then gets in next to me and puts gun in my head and starts screaming at the driver to drive in English. And so we just take off through town and we’re driving. I, I mean it felt like we were driving a hundred miles an hour. And when you like talk about town, we’re talking about like a village, like very rough rudded roads, like big rocks and, and dirt meant for, you know, lots of foot traffic. So you know, lots of people on the side of the road. Um, I’m like thinking we’re gonna hit somebody, we’re up on two wheels, we’re down again. I’m thinking maybe we’re gonna flip over. Paul is begging the driver slow down because he is like petrified. He’s up in the front that we’re going, we’re gonna flip the car and we’re gonna get killed in a car accident and we drive like maniacs for what?


    I mean it was like hours. And we like at some point in stop, we’re out in the middle of the desert, we change personnel, we drive some more, we stop, we change vehicles, we do this over and over and over again. We change directions. Like it’s just this big huge maze of happenings. And at one point I can remember earlier in, you know, in the 30 minutes to an hour after being taken over thinking, oh maybe we’re just gonna be like kicked out of the vehicle and they’re gonna take all of our stuff and we’re just giving car back and we can walk back to town. And then his minutes grew into hours. I remember Paul turning around and looking at me like to check on me and I just mouthed him like, what, what’s happening? And he said, we’re being kidnapped. And I was just like, my God, this is so bad. This is so bad. This is so bad. Nothing in my life had given me any frame of reference had prepared me, given me any kind of infrastructure for dealing with this. This is the worst thing I could never have thought of happening.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:29:58):

    Except you did.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:30:00):

    Right? Except I did. But I was in so much shock during the whole thing that I didn’t even remember that morning until about 60 days into the whole thing.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:30:09):

    Oh wow.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:30:10):

    Yeah, I mean I just like my brain went into some sort of like survival and I was just living like minute to minute. And, but when I did have that realization, I was really interesting transformational experience, which is what I write about in my second book, um, deserts, mountaintops. I tell that story of when I connected again with that morning and realized, oh, oh actually I do know exactly why I’m

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:30:35):

    Here. Yeah.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:30:37):

    Yeah. I, in a way I kind of chose it.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:30:39):

    Why did the security, you ha you have all these armed people in the car, you have your advisor, you’re, you know, why didn’t they do anything?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:30:49):

    Oh, uh, cuz they set us up. They sold us for a hundred thousand dollars. So that’s why there was all this back and forth cuz they were setting the whole thing up. And then Paul realized, you don’t know how many weeks into the whole thing, you know, cuz you don’t have anything to do besides sit there and think. And um, he started putting some stuff together and he said he thought that this was their fourth attempt cuz he could like think back over to other site visits that he had done where something out of the ordinary had happened. But he didn’t really put two and two together until we were out there in the middle of the desert. And I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:31:25):

    So they wanted

    Jessica Buchanan (00:31:25):

    Paul, I think that he was the target as just like an employee of the organization. I think that having, they thought having an American and getting an American would be a big ticket item for them. I think that’s why they chose to, you know, carry through on their plan that day because they thought I was gonna be a cash cow.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:31:49):

    What was it like living out in the desert? What were the conditions when you finally stopped somewhere?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:31:55):

    I mean, they’re what you think they’d be? It’s like the most extreme camping experience you’ll I’ve ever had. And I mean, I consider myself an outdoorsy girl, but you know, I, for the first couple of weeks I think we just slept on a mat on the ground. We didn’t have a blanket or anything, we just laid on the ground out in the open at night and then we would pull the mat out under a tree. Or sometimes, like, there weren’t even trees, it was just like scrub bushes and they would make us climb underneath those and just lay down all day. Um, because we needed to stay out of the sun and we needed to stay out of sight. They were really paranoid. Um, they chew like culturally Somali men especially to a green leaf called CO or chat and it’s a narcotic kind of effect.


    And they sit all day and they chew it and get really high and drink this tea like sweet black cardamon tea to counteract the bitterness. And then they’ll come down off the high sleep a little bit and then start the whole thing over again. But it makes you, it makes them like really trigger happy and paranoid. So we had to contend with that. You know, there’s no, I was the only woman living amongst dozens, sometimes 30, 35 men, nowhere to wash myself. Nowhere to, you know, go to the bathroom. I mean, you just crouch behind bushes, trying to get as far away from the camp as you can, but stay close enough so that no one, you know, no one hits you when you come back, um, or chases you down. Of course, my first concern was that I was gonna be killed many times. And then my second area of concern was that I would be sexually assaulted.


    I think I had a couple of things working in my favor. I think the fact that I was 30, 31 made me like really old, um, for Somali men. Yeah, I know. I’m like on the brink of turning 44 now and I think, oh my God, I was just a baby. But in Somali culture, like, I mean girls got married at like 14, 15, so I think they just thought I was old. And I also lied at the beginning, the leader of the group abne at the first couple of days in asked me if I had kids and it just popped outta my mouth that I did. I said I had a son and that his name was, I gave him the name of my dog, Mullan. We had a dog in her. Because I thought, like, somehow in my mind I was like, well if they use this as like negotiating tactic, then Eric will know to say yes and agree and you know, like in my mind, right, right.


    I was like, has this whole thing constructed? But I think that moved me from being like, I don’t know. Yeah. Like, I wasn’t like sexualized really, I think Right? You’re a mother. I mean, so yeah, like some like Muslim men, like they, they respect their mothers, you know, like they, that’s a to be a mother is to be revered. And, and so the whole time I was just shaking thinking I was gonna be exposed and, and was that gonna get me a bullet in the head if they found out I lied to them. But, you know, it, it seemed to work. And so I, I’ll never know, uh, if, but I, I can’t help but think that that must have helped somehow. We, there was a, a guy named Gabrielle, he was the translator. He spoke like some broken English, he was mentally ill and hi all the time and made very little sense.


    And if anybody I was worried about in terms of like advances, it was him, he was just disgusting that he was the one who would like translate messages or like help with getting us onto proof of life calls and would like give us information, who knows like how accurate the information was that he was giving us. But he was kind of like our only glimpse into what was happening. So like for instance, we, he told us the first, in the first couple weeks they were asking for 45 million ransom. We wouldn’t have known that otherwise. So stuff like that.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:35:40):

    What did you think when you heard that that’s how much money they were asking for?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:35:43):

    Uh, I’m gonna die out here. The con context around such a big ransom demand has to do with the fact that like piracy really started on the water in Indian Ocean. Right. And their, their waters were being overfished so they took matters into their own hands and started taking over cargo ships. And I, you know, they would probably get like two to 4 million ransoms for these ships because they had merchandise on them and, and a lot of these container ships and stuff, they had, they were worth multiple millions. Yeah. And so, but um, after the Captain Phillips ordeal, uh, I don’t know if it was Seal Team six or one of the seal teams came in and, and it was like a four deal hostage, a four day hostage thing on, on his ship, the Maris, Alabama, they started moving more in inland and taking aid workers like out of refugee camps and you know, from their organizations like me. And so, but they did not seem to like, accommodate their ransom demands accordingly to the situation in the hostage. So our people, uh, countered with 20,000. So you’re thinking it’s gonna take a really long time to meet in the middle here.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:36:48):

    Well, and and they’d already purchased you for a hundred.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:36:51):

    Yeah. And it could have been like a, an advance, like everybody gets an uh, an I O U. Right. Got it. And so we gotta, we gotta cash in. Okay. You know, and then everybody will get paid out. I’m assuming. I think that that’s how it normally and who knows with AP Zach? So I, I mean if he had gotten his hundred thousand, he definitely would not have been, had stuck around. So I think it was an advance.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:37:12):

    What was the experience like mentally when you’re out there? What are, I mean, cause you were out there for 93 days, that’s an incredibly long amount of time to be out there with yourself even though you’re with all these people, right? You’re really, this is like an inward journey in some ways. What, what’s going on for you emotionally, mentally that maybe, maybe even something that surprised you that went on for you?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:37:40):

    Hmm. Oh, I think it’s an inward journey all the way. I think that yes, there were things outside of my control in terms of like food or where to sit or where we were going to be spending the night. But largely I had a great amount of autonomy around what was going on in my mind. And it took me probably, and I’m just guessing here, but I would say it was probably like a month for me to be able to like calm everything down. My nervous system was so freaked out that I just felt like I was gonna come outta my skin. Like I had just ingested like 20 pots of coffee or something. I just felt like I was on the verge of a panic attack all the time. And sometimes I did have panic attacks. Like I am a person who struggles with anxiety anyway.


    And so it got really bad there for a while and I was just like screaming into my head scarf behind bushes and stuff cuz there was nowhere to go. Like there was nowhere to take it. They’d get really mad if I showed any kind of emotion or if I started to cry, um, and threatened me. So I would have to go do that. I mean, I had to stay alive. Right? So it’s interesting to, and I think we probably collectively experienced this during the pandemic, that when your environment demands for you to slow down mentally and physically, like you start to acclimate. And I can remember like noticing that my brain just wasn’t moving as fast as it normally did because I’m also like I am, I’m like a, a high energy. Someone called it the other day, annoyingly productive, um, person. I love that.


    Yeah. I, I, you know, I I do, I just moved really fast and really extroverted, like, and uh, the, you know, I, I think things just started to slow down. Like my mental processes were really slow. My movements were really slow. And I remember waking up one morning a couple months in and I had this like realization I had lost my mom the year before. All of this happened like just a little over a year. And we had lost her really suddenly. And uh, very tragically and I was really like in the middle of deconstructing my faith and then having to like deal with grief in the middle of all of that. And I was really confused about a lot of things. And not to mention the fact of like, why me? Like why did I get kidnapped? What has happened to my life here?


    You know? And I had been thinking about going, taking some time off after this trip. I was gonna take a couple months like sabbatical and go like do the cliche of not like an eat, pray love cuz I was happily married, but just go find myself. Like go sit in a ash room or something. It wasn’t hard to get to India from Kenya. Go sit somewhere and just grieve, eat, pray, pray, eat, pray, pray. Yeah. Eat, pray, cry, eat, pray, <laugh>. I always think if you don’t cry, I didn’t get your bunny’s worth. So, and I woke up one morning and I like moved my mat from the field that I was sleeping in and I put it under the tree that I was gonna spend the next 12 hours sitting against. And I was really into yoga at the time, so I was like trying to do some stretches and stuff.


    I was losing weight very rapidly and I could tell like, oh gosh, like things are not good on that front. But I had this clarity really around the fact that I had an opportunity because I had all this time, God knows how much time I was gonna have in front of me and I didn’t have anything to do. I had no demands other than every once in a while they would come in and come over and yell at me about something. But for the most part I didn’t have anything going on. And there was no phone, there was no email, there was no work. And I thought about the fact that I was sitting at the base of this tree and remembered that the Buddha, for instance, had like received enlightenment while sitting under a tree. And then I thought about Jesus and how he had wandered around the desert for 40 days and 40 nights to really reconcile right.


    Some things and to meet himself struggled. And I thought about like, yes, all of the greats and the, the mystics and and the spiritual leaders that I had read about. And there had always been some sort of like desert kind of experience for them, right? And I thought, well again, being annoyingly productive, like let’s not waste this opportunity <laugh>, right? <laugh> like let’s, let’s see what we can do here. And I I, I like a good project, right? Yeah, I like a challenge. So, um, this is project try not to go insane. And I got like really organized with my thoughts and I decided to like set up a mental work plan for myself cause I didn’t have a pen and paper to like make a schedule. So I just had to do it all in my head. But I was like, you know what I’m gonna, I’m going to take every day and I’m going to think about like a time period in my life for this entire day and if I need to roll over into the next day to think about it cause I don’t get done, then I’m gonna do that.


    And so I started with my earliest memories and I spent all day thinking about when I was four years old and I thought about, you know, the first time my mom took me to the movie theater and I got so detailed, like so detailed in my memories. I could remember the blue dress with the white flowers that she wore could remember how stunty her arms were and the freckles and what her teeth looked like when she laughed. And I could taste the popcorn cause we went to go see Snow White and sums. And I would just get like so in it that I like literally felt like I was reliving my life. And there were moments of deep, deep pain and hurt, especially with my mom because we did have a complicated relationship and I just felt like I had left my current situation and gone back to relive this life that had actually been pretty incredible and beautiful.


    And I really examined why did I make that decision and why did I say that? And that must have really hurt that person when I said that. And why do I do the things that I, and I, it was the most and it took me weeks and weeks to do this. And by the end of it I, I was like had this profound I think understanding of myself that I don’t think I would’ve been able to do in an ashram or in my regular life. And I feel like I was just able to articulate this the other day actually because you know, we’re always learning something new every day about ourselves and our journey. And I feel like when life or God or however you refer to it brings you to a place where it feels like you’re in a void. And when you feel like you are in to total and utter darkness, there is a stillness that comes with that.


    And that is the moment where you meet yourself, you can accept and move forward with that person or you can reject and move away. And I to embrace her and forgive her and love her and join forces and say, you know, like, we’re gonna get through this and we’re gonna get to the other side and when we do get to the other side, I promise you I won’t ignore you anymore. I would never wanna go back and do the kidnapping again. But the knowing that I have received as a result of it is priceless. Was

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:44:55):

    Paul with you the entire time?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:44:58):

    No, no. We were together a lot, but then a lot of times we weren’t, we were generally punished with separation. So, you know, if negotiations weren’t moving well then they would take him and or they would take me and they would shoot their guns and come back and say, oh we killed her. You know, because they were only offering a hundred thousand dollars or you know, whatever. We realized that they were yanking our chains pretty clearly after, soon after. But it was just a constant, oh well we’re gonna go sell them to Al Shaba and you know, it was just a constant mind torture game thing the whole time. And the times that we were together, I was grateful for them because, you know, like <laugh> to be able to, even if even if we had some differing opinions about why we ended up out there <laugh> for instance, on day 27, he revealed to me that he in fact had received a direct kidnapping threat. That he had chosen not to disclose to me because he was afraid I was gonna cancel the training. I felt like that was unfair to offload on me in the middle of this whole thing because what was I supposed to do with that now? Right? Be

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:46:06):

    Angry. I mean, there’s no else,

    Jessica Buchanan (00:46:07):

    Like I don’t have energy to be mad at you and you might be the only person I talked to for the rest of whatever time I have left. So thanks for that. Um, so I shelved that, but then it came back full force and with a vengeance when we got out.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:46:19):

    Tell me about getting out. When did you realize or did you realize you were being rescued?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:46:25):

    I did not. I thought we were being kidnapped by another group, um, which was particularly terrifying. I had a urinary tract infection that had moved into a kidney infection cuz they wouldn’t bring me medicine or a doctor. And so we had our last proof of life call on January 16th, 2012. I didn’t know that, but um, I told our family communicator who would take messages back and forth, but I was pretty sure I was gonna die out here because I was really sick and it was getting worse and I did not know. I would have no way of knowing that that would set the wheels in motion. Um, and that information would climb its way up to President Obama who then ordered military intervention. And so like January 24th into the 25th, 2012, I, you know, did what I had done all the other 93 nights before and pulled my mat out into the middle of the field, lay down, go to sleep for a little while, wake up cuz I need to be sick.


    And so I’m saying the word toilet, which is how we asked to be excused our mat. And there were nine guys on the ground that night and not one of them was awake, which is very strange. Um, always at least one of them was keeping guard. No one wakes up. So I grab my small pen light and I move myself over to the nearest bush, do what I need to do, come back, try to wrap myself up in my blanket and go back to sleep. And then I can hear there are like tall, like desert grasses and we’re kind of sleeping in patches of sand in the middle of them. And it sounds like there’s grass being broken, like something’s walking through it and I think it’s like an animal or something, but I can’t see anything and I, so I just decide to ignore it until about 30 seconds later the night just erupt into automatic gunfire.


    And the pirate on my left, uh, his name is Dier. He, I, I can’t see him cuz it was very dark that night. And I bet I can sense that he’s just terrified and he’s whispered screaming at everybody to like, wake up and they, they’re rousing that, you know, like they’ve been dead asleep and there’s gunshots going like automatic, like just belts of ammo being fired. And I’m thinking like, wow, I’m really not gonna make it outta this thing alive. Am I? Because I don’t have it in me to learn another group. Yeah. I don’t, yeah, I don’t know what they’re gonna do to me, but I don’t, I don’t think that I pass, I’ll pass on this <laugh>. Yeah. Not another 93. No, I can’t, I can’t do this. Yeah. And then I, you know, I’m hearing awful things like these guys are dropping to the grounds, they’re dying around me and then somebody grabs my legs and my shoulders and, you know, I’m naturally like trying to protect myself and, and fight them off.


    And somebody pulls a blanket down away from my face and I can’t, I still can’t see anything. It’s just so dark. But I can kind of make out like some figures and they look bulky, uh, like they’ve got masks on or something. And I hear this guy, there’s a, someone bent down next to me, kneeling down next to me and he knows my name and he says, Jessica, it’s okay, we’re the American military, we’re here, you’re safe now. We’re gonna take you home. And he helps me sit up and I just immediately remember being overwhelmed by cold and just shaking violently. And all I can say over and over again is, you’re American, wait, you’re, you’re American. Like over, I just cannot even make my brain comprehend that these guys are not gonna kill me. And he says, we’ve been watching you for a really long time and we know how to keep Ben.


    And so he gives me some pills and a bottle of clean water. And I’m like, again, still just like, I don’t, I don’t understand, you know, one of them is like, do you know where your shoes are? Cause we gotta move, we gotta get outta here. I don’t know where my shoes are. I’m not even sure I can walk at this point. And he says, okay, well here’s what’s gonna happen. I’m gonna pick you up and I’m gonna pick you over my shoulder. And you know, and he does. And it’s like literally like my head is like bobbing hitting him in the back as he’s like hearing me like over his shoulder. And I, all I can remember thinking is school teacher from Ohio, like, how can this be? How can this be life? I just don’t understand. And so we get to a place that’s like deemed safe and they sit me down and of course my first question is, did Paul make Get Out?


    Is he okay? Um, and he is, he’s, he’s there, he’s sitting there and he leans over to me. He says, Jessica, do you know who these guys are? I’m like, I don’t really care who they’re Paul. Yeah, yeah. And he’s like, this is Seal Team six. Like these are the guys that got Osama Bin Laden, you know, and I don’t think I even really knew who Seal Team Six was. Like, you hear about it, but I am not like your husband who knew every detail. You know, like, I, I don’t know, like, what does this even mean to me? Yeah. I have no idea what this means. Yeah. I’m not a military family. Like none of it. Yeah. And so, you know, then it’s just crazy because they’re not sure the premises are safe yet. And so they have a slide down and a bunch of them lay down on top of us to protect us.


    And I remember looking up and there must have been like lights or something, cuz I just remember there’s, in my memory, there’s bright light and I can see that there are like five or six soldiers that have formed a ring around us. Their backs are to us, and they’re facing out. And then many of them are laying down on top of us to keep us safe. And I think, I don’t, I guess I really am I really gonna survive this. The helicopter finally comes in to evacuate us out and I did walk, I was able to walk to the helicopter, you know, you had to like climb into it. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, but I just like threw myself and I’m a tall person. I’m almost six feet tall. Threw myself onto the floor of it and just pulled myself across on my belly and slammed my body up against the wall. But thinking like, just get up in the air. Because as long as we were on the ground, I wasn’t sure that I was still going to survive. But we got up into the air, like 5,000 feet, 10,000 feet. And then I remember thinking like, oh, I think I am, I think I am going to live. I think I will get to see Eric again. And then, you know, then the whole thing just took on a life of its own.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:52:28):

    Wow. Wow. Did they kill everyone? That was all the people that had been there with you.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:52:34):

    Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, nine Somali men lost their lives that night. Um, there was no loss of life on the American side. I have complicated emotions around all of that. I don’t suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, but I was there as an aid worker. And so it’s a heavy thing to carry around the fact that people died so that you could live, even if they were there doing, they were committing a crime. That’s hard.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:52:58):

    Yeah. Even though it would’ve cost your life, it still feels,

    Jessica Buchanan (00:53:02):

    I mean, you can really get into those conversations and go down that rabbit hole of like, whose life is worth more. It’s really gray

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:53:09):

    When you get back on to safe soil and you have that realization that you’re going to live, your brain ta took, you know, let’s call it 30 days, 60 days to, to start to come down. How long does it take for your brain to get out of this traumatic situation and back into like, okay, you’re actually

    Jessica Buchanan (00:53:29):

    Safe. Oh, I think it still is. Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s the thing about trauma, right? Yep. Somebody asked me once, like, how long did it take you to get over this? And I’m like, oh, there is no getting over this. This is, this is what I carry with me. Now.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:53:45):

    People think that when you’re out of danger, that you’re out of danger, but what they don’t understand is that your nervous system doesn’t work that way.

    Jessica Buchanan (00:53:53):

    No. Because then you go into surviving survival. It’s a whole separate survival story and experience that we really don’t talk about. We definitely don’t have support and set up or resources for. I feel very strongly about advocating for that, that time after the actual trauma. You know, and again, my trauma is relatively short compared to many other traumas. And probably people that you talked to, like 93 days was long enough, but, you know, it wasn’t years. The fact too that I’m experiencing this as an adult with a fully like developed cognitive functioning brain, I think helps speed that process up. And so I would say, oh, well then it got really complicated cuz I got pregnant like a month after the rescue. And so that like, yeah, I was like, can I just get a break here? Like, what? Just, just a little break, <laugh>.


    Just, just a little break. Um, so that spun me off into a whole other nervous system. Yeah. Mal malfunction. But, um, yeah, I think pretty quickly I, I felt, you know, I was just surrounded, I was in a hospital then I, on a military base, and then I was moved to a military base in Italy where I was reunited with my husband and then, then with my family, my dad and my siblings. And so, um, I think I felt pretty safe and supported. Then. It’s like after that initial coming home, like that homecoming, then everybody kind of leaves you to your own, your own survival. And that’s when you’re like, wow, I don’t really know if I can order anything off of a menu because I haven’t had to make an choice in a while. And, you know, I, I remember trying to, we were given a trip, like my organization <laugh> was going to provide us with an r and r trip and trying to just die. Where did they offer go wait for you to go? I, we could go anywhere we wanted. You know, that was like payment restitution I guess for Yeah,

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:55:53):

    For like Salt Lake City,

    Jessica Buchanan (00:55:54):

    <laugh>. I, I don’t, I, we couldn’t, I couldn’t decide. Like every time Eric asked me about it, I couldn’t, I couldn’t decide on flights or like when to leave or about anything. Like, any of it. I couldn’t, I, decisions were really hard to make. Um, and I would get really overwhelmed. I struggled with like, debilitating anxiety for several years afterwards. I would say for me, it took me a couple of years to feel normal, whatever that means.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:56:20):

    So you’re out there, you have no information, have this translator, <laugh> who’s high, high half the time might not even speak English. You know, giving you all sorts of stuff, but then you get back and you start to get all of the information. And is there a sense, this is in my logical brain, I, I like to like, make sense of things and so putting information back into the story for me gives me a sense of even strange piece. Was there any ability or healing that happened from finding out what was going on and, and, and just getting a lot more information? Or was it, did it add to the trauma and confusion?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:56:59):

    I think it was overwhelming. Okay. You know, because oh my gosh, the amount of people involved in this, the whole situation from day one and then the rescue, I mean, it’s like thousands. Like I, you know, like shortly after, I remember we were in DC invited to the F B I headquarters to meet the f the director of the F b I didn’t know who any of these people were. They walked me into a room. There were like 500 people in there. Oh wow. That had all had something to do with my case. They, like, they start clapping and stand up when I walk in and I’m just like, all I can think about is the fact that my roots have grown out. Like, you know what I mean? Yeah. Like, I can’t, I just, I can’t, I don’t How, how do you, like did

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:57:38):

    They know about my uti?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:57:40):

    Yeah. Like I, they saw my butt. Like they, like everybody, like people, people, high ranking officials have seen my bare ass. Yeah. You know, like, that’s how they identified me. Like it’s just, um,

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:57:52):

    She’s still alive. <laugh>,

    Jessica Buchanan (00:57:53):

    We know you, you know, and I’m just like, uh, there’s no handbook. There is no preparation. I the vic, the f FBI victim’s assistants, two psychologists that they have on staff, I, they may have more. But the two that were assigned to my case, my family, extraordinary human beings, I cannot, I mean, they are, God’s doing god’s work. They’re angels in human form. They couldn’t even prepare me.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:58:14):


    Jessica Buchanan (00:58:15):

    Yeah. And so, yeah, I would just say everything felt really overwhelming and I carried around just this, this suite of like responsibility that I was never gonna pay. I was never gonna be able to pay everybody back.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:58:30):


    Jessica Buchanan (00:58:31):

    Like this debt kind of just society that I like. That has been some of my major healing work of, you know, like how do you, how do you start saying no <laugh> again? You know, like how, how, how do you work to reclaim once again when quite frankly, I mean, I think people do expect that you, you owe them something. Oh, it was a lot to, it was a lot to work through. There was a part of me that felt like I had tapped out all the goodness in my life. Hmm. And so I wasn’t allowed to ask for anything else. I know that’s not true. Now

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (00:59:04):

    What is the truth?

    Jessica Buchanan (00:59:06):

    Oh, that it’s infinite. Okay. I can, I can have a beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous life and that there’s no limit to what I, I’m allowed to receive. But I think for a long time I was like, Ooh, wow. You know, like, I, like I tapped that <laugh>, you know, like you can’t get anymore than being rescued by seal team sex and being returned back to your life. And so then I operated in this place of scarcity where like I just had to like be raped myself and struggle and strive and try to prove myself that I was worthy. And just really good friend. She invited me over for lunch and I, in my typical way, I am, you know, just like talk, talk, blah blah. I’m coming into her house and I had a cup of tea. And like, I was like so tweaked out that the tea was like slashing over the side on her, you know, table.


    And she’s just like very, a very calm like yogi kind of person. And she was making, she was roasting a chicken. I don’t know, like no one does this anymore. She was like roasting a chicken for lunch on a Friday afternoon. Like, who does that? She pulls this chicken out and like drops it on the top of the stove and kind of like knocks me out of my verbal vomit. Yeah. And she like turns around and she just have a MITs on her hands. She looks me right in the eye and she says, Jess, she don’t have to keep proving you were worth being saved. Mm. And that changed my life. I don’t have anything to prove, like, you know, and, and I’ve then since like, been reunited with many of the seals that rescued me and, and they’re like, let that go. You know, like, this is our honor.


    It’s what we do, it’s our job. We would’ve done it for anybody. You don’t owe us anything. And oh, by the way, you’re a badass too, Jess, because you survived out there for 93 days. Like, it’s not like we just came in and rescued this damel in distress a hundred percent. You know? And I was like, well, you might be right about something <laugh>. You know, like, okay, alright. It really helped me re like all of that stuff kind of happened around the same time and it really was helped me reframe moving forward because yeah, I don’t, none of us have anything to prove.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:01:07):

    What were some of the things you’ve done to recover and really get back to this person that you, that you are and always have been and wanna

    Jessica Buchanan (01:01:15):

    Be. I committed to emotional wellness while I was out there. So I very clearly remember promising myself that I knew. And I remember actually saying this to Paul, the longer we’re out here, the more mental health support services we’re going to need <laugh>. Right? But I am committed to getting the help that I need in order to heal from this. So I made that decision while I was out there and I, I mean, I think I’d always been like a, I had been in therapy before and, you know, grief counseling and stuff, my sister’s a counselor, so that was like not a weird taboo thing for me. So therapy, different modes of therapy, alternative forms of therapy have all been things that I have participated in that I think have offered me opportunities for continued healing. I am a avid reader again, I think, cuz I’m a teacher, right?


    So I’m always wanting to learn. I’ve just been a student of my own healing process. And then I have talked about it. But that has been really key for me to process. I know that that’s not for everybody. And you know, there’s no shame in, in that. I saw a quote the other day that said something about some of us heal in public so that those who are healing in private know it’s possible. I give out a lot of energy and the work that I do. And so I have to make sure that I really do take care of myself and my like spiritual and emotional hygiene. Um, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that looks like and what I need it. I think it just depends on so much. And I think it, I am really just kind of obsessed with healing and myself. I don’t make any apologies for prioritizing myself anymore. And I listen to myself.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:03:01):

    I think what to me stands out as the most impressive thing about what you went through has nothing to do with the sensational piece of it. Because I, I do think that the se, I mean obviously that’s an interesting portion of it, but to me, the mental productivity and the intentionality that you were able to find and zero in on and re-experience, I think that’s really unique and remarkable. And, you know, there’s, it’s one thing to survive, it’s another thing to survive. Well, believe it or not, you, you survived. Well you, you took advantage of a s a situation that was really intense and, and unfortunate and made it into something really beautiful. And that isn’t always the case. Many people survive situations and they don’t come out really understanding or better and start off on this journey. So I think that’s, I really think that’s the, the amazing piece. I’m sure you hear a lot like, wow, it’s amazing you survived 93 days in the desert, which of course it is, but it’s the mental work that you did that is really remarkable.

    Jessica Buchanan (01:04:05):

    Yeah. Thanks. I think like, I don’t know, in some weird way it’s like that was the easy part, right? Like it’s the aftermath, it’s the deciding to survive. Well now that has been the hardest part because it’s so easy to Mm. I mean, I think it’s, it’s easy to like hang out in victimhood and, and I think there’s a time and space for that for sure. A hundred percent. But some of us get stuck there and it takes a lot of intention and a lot of work to move yourself out of that. And maybe, if anything that that’s what I’m proud of.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:04:38):

    Thank you so, so much for coming on and, and talking to me about this. I know you talk about it a lot. I know, you know, you’re the girl that got kidnapped by Somali pirates and that probably gets really old. But I appreciate you and I appreciate the story and I think there’s a lot to learn from that recovery from anything at any time. And any place in the world really constitutes the same recipe and you have proved that. So thank you so much. I appreciate you.

    Jessica Buchanan (01:05:06):

    Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. This has been absolutely lovely.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:05:13):

    Well, geez, I mean, kind of unremarkable. Am I right?

    Scott Drochelman (01:05:16):

    Yeah. Snoozer.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:05:18):

    Yep. Real snooze.

    Scott Drochelman (01:05:19):

    This is one where it’s like, as soon as I’ve told people that this was an episode that we were recording, they just light up. I mean, they, they’re like, sorry, what Somali pirates?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:05:29):

    Am I what? They’re the captain now. I

    Scott Drochelman (01:05:31):

    Still see who <laugh> I, you, you mentioned this I think off the recording, but I do like, I, it’s the thing where it’s like, it is the sensational that gets you in the door sort of right? You like, you hear that headline and you’re like, wow. But I think to your point, like it is, the story gets much more interesting I think beyond that, right? It’s like, it’s what she did with that and what she’s done since that, that is really remarkable. It’s like the wherewithal to say, okay, what do I do with this? How do I use this time? And to be able to take her platform afterwards and say like, okay, let’s, let’s talk about this and about what happens and how I’m supposed to be fine now,

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:06:13):

    You know, it is of course remarkable that she survives, but it isn’t what I find so compelling if you think about it. Right. Paul survived as well. And I don’t find him particularly compelling. He’s not my favorite character in this story. <laugh>, thanks Paul. Thanks for coming out <laugh> next time let us know. Let us know if there’s a, you know, viable threat. That’s okay. Great. Paul is not a compelling character in this story and he survived, but she’s compelling because of how she uses this time. How she uses it to change her life, what she does when she comes home, how she gets into therapy, what she does with that therapy, how she talk. Like there’s so many things. And then her decision to relive all those parts of her lives, like go through methodically each part of her life and like really relive it.


    While she, that may have been intuitive for her, it isn’t intuitive for most people. Just her compassion and interest in life and people and her metamorphosis as a result of this experience is really beautiful. And it didn’t have to be, it could have remained traumatic. She could have passed the trauma onto her kids, her marriage could have blown up. Whatever. All those things could have happened because that would’ve been a normal and reasonable response to being going through that much trauma. Well, and we see that too in the self abandonment piece, which I felt like really strongly from her. How intensely she felt that this was a bad idea. How, how much that was that feeling was being communicated with her through whatever dreams where, wherever that was coming from. And you know, I don’t know if this happens to men as much as it happens to women.


    I, I don’t, it doesn’t seem like it, but I, I, I really, I don’t know. But what I can tell you is that this is a common occurrence in the female world where we have a terrible feeling about something. You could talk to any woman and she could tell you stories about situations where she was like, I am not safe. And when I say when, the reason I I make I gender it in this circumstance is because we are so typically keenly aware of safety as being women. Cuz we, there’s a predation factor that we deal with. And so, so many times where we’re like, something’s not right, this isn’t safe. And how often we have talked ourselves into painting that red flag green into staying in the situation into like the self-talk of like, oh, stop being a baby. Oh, stop being dramatic. Oh, you’re being dramatic.


    Oh, all these things. And then only to end up really regretting that. And I, I’ll tell you that some of the most ordinary circumstances of my life, and, and for her, this was an ordinary circumstance in the sense that she was going, doing a training. I mean, think about how ordinary train, like you’re doing a training, you’re transferring from one’s, you know, this is part of her job that an ordinary circumstance that you have a bad feeling about goes wrong. And you look back and you’re like, yeah, physically had an idea and, and ignored it. And I just, I really related to that experience of self abandonment and how I deal with it now is, which it, which is very, very different. I do not mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I do not ignore that stuff. Now I don’t, I, you know, I do not, I just don’t, to the point where sometimes it might be dramatic. And that’s kind of a weird feeling too. Like, I’ve left places and been like, you know what? It might have been dramatic, but I just didn’t feel safe there and I’m not willing to do that anymore. And I, I think she’s, that has been her evolution of like finding herself and not no longer abandoning herself. And that’s a really cool thing as well,

    Scott Drochelman (01:09:55):

    That I think that is such a societal thing for women to be taught not to trust themselves. The thing that popped into my mind was literally the phenomenon of women who go to doctors and how hard it is to get pain medication <laugh>, right? Where it’s like, I’ve heard so many stories of women who’ve had to like advocate and advocate and advocate and then finally it’s some horrible health thing Yeah. That they had been telling people all along and they’re Yep. They’re, they’re just told to not believe and you’re being dramatic and you’re all the, like, there’s these, all these societal messages that are so programmed in that, like, that perpetuates that thing. You know, like it sets people up for that situation. And like, how fucked up that is that you’re like raised to not even believe yourself. Like, that’s just <laugh>. I I I don’t, I have not gotten those messages growing up as a man. I have not. So I, it’s, it’s, it’s no wonder that in those situations where there’s pressure and there’s, you know, whatever, and there’s people telling you that, that there would be a challenge in trusting yourself.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:10:54):

    A and one of the unfortunate things is that the way you learn to trust yourself is by not trusting yourself. Because when you do trust yourself, something doesn’t happen. Right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So, you know, if she hadn’t had been there, she wouldn’t have been kidnapped. And then if she, so there wouldn’t have been that concrete evidence to that she had a reason to be concerned unless, you know, she found out about the the plot, uh, the plan. But a lot of the time, your evidence of not being dramatic or not abandoning yourself is that nothing happens. And so then you’re left to question whether or not you’re being dramatic. And unfortunately, I think for many of us, it takes the thing happening for us to be like, yeah, I don’t <laugh> you, do you, I’m not going, I’m not doing that. Not happening. And, and some age helps, you know, we’re all very, our twenties, we’re all very, you know, willing and interested and whatever, throwing caution to the wind. And I think that changes as we get old and tired. <laugh> speaking, asking for a friend, friend, speaking for a

    Scott Drochelman (01:11:56):

    Friend. I mean, I, I think her Jessica’s story is incredible. If you wanna know more about it or you want to get more into some of the psychology and some of the, the thoughts that she’s worked through, I would en very much encourage you to pick up her book deserts to Mountain Tops our journey to Reclaiming our Voice. Uh, that came out in January of this year, and I would very much encourage you to go pick that up.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:12:20):

    Yes. Yes. And my, and she has a podcast called We Should Talk About that they can also be found

    Scott Drochelman (01:12:27):

    And listen to and appreciated that. Couldn’t

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:12:30):

    Be listened, drew.

    Scott Drochelman (01:12:31):

    All right. Well I think it’s a gratitude episode for me anyway. Yeah. For me too. All the things that could, could be happening in my life. For everybody who’s listening right now, we are rooting for you this week. We hope that you don’t have any giant obstacles in your way, especially to this scale. Ashley, anything that you wanna leave the people with

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:12:52):

    This week, I wanna challenge you to journal about a gut feeling you once had that turned out to be true, whether it was through self abandonment or not, maybe you listened, maybe you didn’t. If you feel moved to do so, share it with us. We would love to hear about it, whether that’s, you know, any of our platforms, TikTok, Instagram, or you could email us podcast Lion rock.life. We would love to hear about it. Or you can just keep it for yourself and reflect on a time where your intuition was yelling at you and it was correct. That’s my challenge for the week. I will do the same and, uh, will see you next Tuesday. Have a great week.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame (01:13:36):

    This podcast is sponsored by Lion rock.life Lion rock.life is a diverse and supportive recovery community offering weekly over 70 online peer support meetings, useful recovery information and entertaining content. Whether you’re newly sober, have many years in recovery, or you’re recovering from something other than drugs and alcohol, we have space for you. Visit www.lionrock.life today and enter promo code courage for one month of unlimited peer support meetings free. Find the joy in recovery@lionrock.life.

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