A mum who sought solace in drink and drugs after she was raised in an abusive cult has made an astonishing transformation.
Before and after pictures chart 42-year-old Jen Elizabeth’s harrowing journey from drug addiction and alcoholism to a clean life of sobriety.
The California woman had become an alcoholic at age 12 after fleeing the cult where she had been molested.
Jen, now an author and mum, has shared her experience of learning to process her pain and shed the shackles of addiction in hope of inspiring others to follow her path.
Pictures of her recovery journey show her transformation from a woman with a haunted, blemished appearance whose bleak stare is captured in a series of police mugshots to a happy, healthy mum.
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“It was completely shattered. I started to record it to send to our family group chat when the glass split.
The moment when the glass split sent tiny pieces of shards falling into the living room where some landed on the sofa and carpet.
“It smashed, everywhere, leaving me in shock,” he continued.
She has told how addiction and mental illness were key features of her home life as a child.
When she was just three years old, her parents joined a religious cult where she was molested until she was nine, when they finally escaped.
The years of sexual abuse she endured lured her into a destructive path and she had her first taste of alcohol when she was just 12 years old, in the form of a bottle of vodka.
At first she used booze to find peace, but then progressed to harder drugs.
She was in and out of hospitals and became dependent on opiates.
Throughout this dark period, she became homeless and was offered her first taste of heroin.
She became a frequent user and spent 13 years in and out of homelessness; living in cars and motel rooms, and was arrested many times over drug possession, receiving stolen property and violations of probation.
In 2010, she was in her state prison cell, halfway through her sentence, when she had an epiphany.
She decided to get help and turned her life around.
Though the road to recovery was a long and challenging process, she re-built her life and set up a daily routine of drinking coffee in the morning, praying, meditating and playing with her two children; Gage, six, and Ava, two.
Having children has helped her appreciate her life and given her a sense of purpose. She plans to be open with her kids about her journey and believes that you are never ‘too far gone’ to turn your life around.
“I was born to a woman who knew nothing about maternal love. She was elusive and abusive; mentally, physically and spiritually. She was also an opioid addict,” Jen said.
“I would beg for her love; trying to be pretty enough, skinny enough, polite enough for her to even just hug me.
“I was raised around a lot of sadness and confusion. My parents joined a religious cult when I was three; I was molested there until we escaped at age nine.
“I was consumed with shame and secrets from my childhood. When I was twelve years old, I found a bottle of vodka; It was the first peace I had ever known. I was an alcoholic from that age on.
Jen said of her drug-using years: “At that point in my life I didn’t care about myself or my life at all. I became an IV heroin user and spent around thirteen years in and out of homelessness, living in cars and dirty motel rooms, in and out of jail; desperate and destitute.
“I hated myself; I had never faced my sexual abuse or the abuse I suffered in my home. I thought I was worthless, dirty and unlovable.
“I was a slave to my addiction. I did anything and everything I needed to in order to survive, to stay well, to silence the shame in my heart.
“Each time I was arrested it was humiliating and terrifying because I knew the withdrawal I would soon be suffering.”
She said the epiphany in prison felt like a “divine intervention”: “All the sound left my cell and a sensation came over me,” she said.
“A tiny spark was ignited that finally believed just a little bit that I was worth more than that life, that I wasn’t meant to die alone from an overdose in some riverbed as a transient whose identification was pending.
“It’s been a long road; addiction had filled every fibre of my being. I had to learn how to be a human; to shower and make my bed, how to talk to people and go to the shops.
“I’ve had a lot of healing work on my childhood trauma, which is the root to all of my problems. I had to learn that none of that was my fault or my burden to bear. “
She said her children had been the inspiration to get clean.
“Being a mum has definitely made it clear about what kind of home I wanted to raise my children in. They are little still, but I plan on having very open communication with them about the lessons I’ve learned in life.
“I want them to know that nothing they ever do will make me love them any less and that anyone can turn anything around.”
Jen published a book this January entitled Shape of a Woman, which documents her journey to recovery.
She urged other people to seek help escaping addiction: “I believe in recovery; there is nothing too bad and no one too far gone for healing to reach. You are not alone. There are so many of us out here recovering together. I love you.”