Jen Elizabeth of ‘Sober Mom Squad’: “Bad behavior”

I wish someone had told me that getting sober was just the beginning and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of for needing outside help to deal with the trauma I was living with. As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Elizabeth. Jen Elizabeth […]

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I wish someone had told me that getting sober was just the beginning and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of for needing outside help to deal with the trauma I was living with.

As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Elizabeth.

Jen Elizabeth is a writer, speaker, trauma educator, harm reduction activist, and the founder of Resurrektion of Me, a community for people healing from trauma and addiction. She is the author of the book, “Shape of a Woman.” And founding host of “Sober Mom Squad.” As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, familial abuse, addiction, the prison system, and spending the majority of her adult life experiencing homelessness, she has taken her power back and dedicated herself to helping others heal from trauma. Her incredible story and triumphant recovery has been shared worldwide in publications including The Mirror, LAD Bible, The Sun, and The Daily Mail. She is a mother to two incredible children and lives in beautiful Southern California.

Thank you so much for doing this! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?

The road between trauma and addiction is a loop that just keeps leading back into itself. Trauma (particularly childhood trauma) increases the risk of developing Substance Use Disorder, SUD increases the likelihood of a person being retraumatized by engaging in high risk behaviors and existing in dangerous environments. It is also true that individuals who are addicted to drugs (alcohol is a drug as well) are less able to cope with traumatic events.

This is the loop I existed on for most of my life.

Being sexually abused until the age of 10 and growing up in a very unstable and unsafe home environment, I became overwhelmed by the pain I was carrying deep inside of me. That pain and those experiences changed the way I saw myself. I suffered from hypervigilance, depression, anxiety, dissociation, nightmares, and began making plans to end my life.

When I was 12, I found drugs and they felt like the answer to every question I ever had about why I felt the way I did about who I was. I spent the next 22 years chasing the only peace I had ever known; chasing what I believed to be freedom. Many of those years were lived on the streets, being unhoused… eating from dumpsters, washing up in public restrooms, being sick, tired, hungry, and ashamed. But none of that felt more terrifying than turning around and facing the trauma I was running from.

I got sober in 2011 while in State Prison and I’ve spent the last almost 10 years working to honor not only who I am now… but who I’ve always been.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid and drug addiction?

I guess it would be my own story. I see myself in the eyes of so many beautiful beings I work with and every day I’m reminded of how intricate the human condition truly is. Society wants to either cast us aside or profit off of our suffering. If you’re “too far gone” then they want to criminalize you. If your using is “socially acceptable” then they want to target you with their marketing.

Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?

That is a many layered answer where one size definitely does not fit all. But ultimately, addiction can happen to anyone. No matter what your history or socioeconomic status may be. As long as there is pain in this life and systems set in place to profit off of, silence, or exploit that pain… we will have an addiction epidemic in this country.

Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?

By sharing openly about the things that we are conditioned to be ashamed of, I believe we can bring awareness and hope to people who are struggling. Healing happens in safety. The goal of Sober Mom Squad and all of the other work that I’m involved in is to provide a safe space for anyone to come and lay down what they’ve been carrying for so long. Shame destroys more lives than any drug on this earth. No one should feel ashamed to struggle. No one should be cast aside or have access to care obstructed by some moral umbrella that hangs over the use of drugs to cope with individual hardships and pain.

Wow! Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your initiative?

Oooof… that’s tough to pick just one. I receive messages almost daily from women who had been hiding in their closets drinking or living on the streets and believed that there was no hope for them; women who had bought into the lies that we are sold about “will power” or motherhood, or what it means to be a survivor of abuse, and today they are coming out of that hiding and owning who they truly are. Who they have always been.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

I am most proud to be a woman who believes in the goodness of people regardless of whether they use drugs or not. When I see someone receive acceptance and love for who they are without an agenda and they blossom from those seeds of kindness… my heart feels like it might explode with hope. I work with women who on the outside look like they have it all together and I work with people who are living on the streets in Skid Row, Los Angeles and I see no difference in their worth as priceless human beings.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?

In regards to the ever growing number of moms who’s drinking is destroying them on the inside and slowly removing them from being present with their families… we need to recognize how we, as a society, glorify the images of women who seem to be doing it all and doing it all without help. In most countries and societies, parenting is a community effort. Women come together and raise their children with the support of other women around them. The pressures of motherhood and mothering in isolation, (which was prominent even before the pandemic) adds to the culture of moms who are encouraged to drink in order to survive it all.

As far as addiction as a whole, if we stopped looking at drug use as a “bad behavior” and really let it sink in that all drug use is, is a way to cope with much deeper things going on inside of a person, then maybe we would have more collective empathy and a therapeutic response vs a punitive one.

If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?

I look forward to the day when the alcohol industry is seen in the same light as the tobacco companies. I believe that day is coming.

I want to see mental healthcare and addiction treatment including medications be made more accessible to people without requiring a person to jump through a ton of hoops to qualify.

Safe injection sites, syringe exchanges, condoms, and female care should be free and accessible to every person who may need it.

The way we treat people who may happen to live a different life or have a different set of challenges than we do, trickles down into the fibre of this country.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

I remember exactly how it feels to be discarded. To suffer in silence because I thought that no one would ever be able to look me in the eyes if they knew the truths of my life. I love sober people and I love people who use drugs equally. Because I am both of them. There is no difference. I feel so grateful to be alive today and to have found the courage to speak about my abuse, to talk about drug use and incarceration, and to be a voice for those who haven’t found theirs yet. And to be a presence to stand up in place of and fight for those who are no longer with us.

Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?

I have hope that one day we will change the way addiction is viewed and in turn change the way people with addictions are treated. That in itself will save lives!

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

True leadership to me, is not walking ahead of someone… but being a partner by their side as they learn to walk on their own.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I wish someone had told me that I was worthy of love even while using drugs. I remember one rainy night when I was living on the streets. I went into a store to stay warm and dry. I was just waiting for the clerk to tell me to leave or she’d call the cops… but she didn’t. She let me stay and try on sample makeup and she spoke to me like I was a human being. I will never forget those 30 minutes for as long as I live.

I wish someone had told me that getting sober was just the beginning and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of for needing outside help to deal with the trauma I was living with.

I wish someone had told me that traditional addiction treatment and programs are not trauma informed and seeking other communities for support does not mean you are doing recovery “wrong.” I was told by many people in traditional recovery groups that “it works if you work it,” so when I was working it but still dealing with all of the debilitating symptoms of cPTSD… they advised me to work harder instead of supporting me as I sought the care I really needed.

I wish someone had told me that just because you keep secrets as a child doesn’t mean that you were a participant in the abuse you endured. Children keep secrets because they’re afraid and have no one they can trust.

I wish someone had told me that even when I wasn’t sure I was ready to get sober, I was still supported in being ready to take better care of myself. Giving people ultimatums or restricting access to services because they aren’t necessarily geared around becoming completely abstinent from drugs plays a huge part in people dying unnecessarily.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would bring a movement to have all addiction treatment programs, facilities, and professionals be required to have trauma training and give trauma informed care.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Being human is not about feeling happy, it’s about feeling everything.” — Glennon Doyle

I used drugs to numb out my pain, but there is no such thing as selective numbing… my addiction numbed out the joy too. It erased me entirely from life itself. All of life. My job every single day is to do my best to allow myself to feel everything. It is in the everything where healing lives.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Glennon Doyle! Hands down. Recovery for me is very little about being sober. It’s about reclaiming who I have always been. It’s about staying with myself when all I’ve done is abandon and dismantling every single cage that I find myself in. Everything she writes and speaks about just ignites the woman inside of me to choose what feels best for her despite what anyone else has to say.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me at @resurrektion_of_me on Instagram and Facebook.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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