Compassion Is Shame's Kryptonite: Our Talk With Jen Elizabeth

"I thank my survival of those experiences for gifting me empathy, creativity, and the ability to see deeper than most people look into the heart of this world."

Content Warning: This article contains some graphic descriptions of abuse and addiction that may be triggering for some readers.

Jen Elizabeth is a mom, a writer, a speaker, a survivor of childhood abuse, a woman in recovery from addiction, and a harm reduction advocate. Jen has a new book called Shape of a Woman, where she bravely tells her story of redemption and how she has been able to heal from her life where she held in the pain she was too terrified to confront. Jen also has her own website as well as her Instagram @resurrektion_of_me where she advocates and raises awareness for abuse, addiction, and the LGBTQ+ community. Her incredible story and triumphant recovery have 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.

SWY: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experiences with trauma and abuse?

JE: My name is Jen. I’m a writer, an author, a speaker, a woman in recovery from addiction, and a harm reduction advocate. The things I celebrate most about myself though, live in the words, “I am a survivor.”

I’m a survivor of familial abuse, cult abuse, childhood sexual abuse, and a rape survivor… but today, none of those things define me. They are important. It is in the surviving of those experiences where you will find the gold of who I am.

But for the majority of my life, they were not what I celebrated. They were the experiences that convinced me that I was too damaged, too disgusting, too broken for anyone to ever lay their eyes on.

I was born into pain. Pain that never even belonged to me, but became the weight I had to learn to carry. My mother abused me in a lot of ways and my father never had the courage to stop it. They joined a religious cult when I was 3 yrs old.

And when I was 5, an elder there began to sexually abuse me; he knew my mother suffered from severe mental health conditions and I was safe to abuse because there was so much chaos going on in my home that I had no one safe to tell if I ever wanted to.

That trauma staid with me in my heart. And even though we left that cult when I was 10 and the sexual abuse ended, the memories changed the way I viewed the world and distorted how I saw myself.

I found alcohol when I was 12. It was the first moment of peace and safety within my body that I had ever felt. Alcohol turned into drugs and my life in addiction spiraled for the next 12 years. I have been homeless, eaten from dumpsters, living in cars, abscesses and track marks covered my body, and my teeth began falling out. But none of that felt worse or painful to me than facing my childhood.

I got sober in 2011 after spending time in state prison. Sobriety saved my physical life. It still boggles my mind how I ever survived all those years; I was desperate to feel nothing… through the use of heroin.

Sobriety also brought my trauma front and center with no way to avoid it all. Recovery saved my life and trauma work saved my recovery. It has taken me many years to travel back through my life and take all the past versions of myself by the hands to carry them home with me. They are my heroes. They are the most beautiful parts of me. Scars and all. I hold them close to my heart and give them the love they have always deserved. And I listen. I listen to what they have been dying to say because loving them through their stories holds the keys to loving myself.

SWY: How do you think the effects of these experiences manifest themselves currently in your daily life?

JE: The truth about trauma and especially childhood trauma/abuse is that it does shape us a certain way. But we are not bound to how we have been shaped. Through the healing process, I have found both challenges and gifts from being a trauma/abuse survivor. I do still battle with C-PTSD symptoms at times, (nightmares, hypervigilance, anxiety, etc.). I will always need to keep watch over myself to be sure I face my pain rather than turn away to avoid it, and shame still creeps in on me in various parts of my life. Shame is sneaky… it will attempt to taint accomplishments and relationships, gifts and goals, and even show up during very routine moments when you least expect it.

But being a survivor also gives me some gifts. I never thank my trauma for them and certainly not the people involved in my being abused, but I thank myself. I thank my survival of those experiences for gifting me empathy, creativity, and the ability to see deeper than most people look into the heart of this world.

SWY: In your compelling autobiography, Shape of a Woman, you discuss many issues such as mental illness, abuse, and your struggles with addiction. What inspired you to write this, and what have you learned from writing?

JE: I was inspired by all the incredible souls who reach out to me daily and show so much courage as they choose to face their own painful wounds. I wanted to show that we are not broken. We do not need to hide or suffocate in the silence we keep our secrets buried under. We are worthy of speaking our truths. We are capable of everything this life has to offer. And most importantly, we are not alone!

Writing is my favourite tool towards healing. Getting everything out, using a pen and paper, is therapeutic. I write every single day. Sometimes I write letters to my younger self or to the little girl of my childhood. It's freedom. Finding words to describe what is often times indescribable pain, gives a survivor a sense of power.

SWY: As an individual who is a part of the LGBTQ+ community - What is one piece of advice you would give to a child or youth who is not only struggling with the trauma they have experienced but also trying to figure out their identity?

JE: There is so much I would say to them, but I think the most valuable thing for a young person who is grappling with not only the effects trauma has on our lives but also questioning their sexuality or gender identity is this… go where the love is! Find communities who will love and accept you just as you are. You are perfect. Questioning is perfect. Knowing is perfect. You do not have to tuck your sexuality or gender away in a tiny box labeled, “things probably caused by abuse.” I did that for many years. What I’m here today to tell you that it literally does not matter where, when, what, or how it came to be. What matters is that this is you. And I personally would never want to imagine a world without us in it.

"What matters is that this is you. And I personally would never want to imagine a world without us in it."

SWY: As a young mother yourself, what do you think parents should be teaching their kids when it comes to reducing instances of abuse and trauma?

JE: Be aware! I talk to many parents on a daily basis who are still just shocked to hear that around 93% of children who are abused are abused by someone they know and trust. What survivors don’t need is parents to look away. Be present. Listen to your kids and believe them if they tell you they have been abused or made uncomfortable in any way. Advocate for them to be in control of their own bodies. Trauma comes in many forms. Children not being heard or loved for who they are by their parents will drive them to seek out love and support from anyone who may give it to them. That is a very vulnerable and dangerous position for a child or teen to be in. It is normal I think for parents to struggle with some of these issues, but there are so many support groups out there who can help you accept your children as they are and be more conscious of the ways a parent can cause harm. Seek to educate yourself.

SWY: What was your first step in the healing process? What have you found to be most effective?

JE: My first step was saying the words, “I was abused.” I had always felt like a participant because I never told anyone. And that’s a lie. Abuse is always the fault and responsibility of the abuser. No matter what. Then I googled those words and what I found was entire communities of people talking openly and healing together. Hearing that you’re not alone in anything is the most powerful thing that a trauma survivor can ever experience.

I have found so much healing in EMDR Therapy and inner child work. Those 2 things along with the communities of survivors walking by my side have changed my life in ways I never thought were possible for me.

SWY: What has been the most difficult barrier to overcome throughout the healing process? How would you go about surpassing such barriers?

JE: Shame. Hands down without hesitation, shame is THE beast. It tries to keep us from seeking help, from living our truths, and from having relationships. I used to try really hard to “fix” myself. I stopped doing that. Today I show myself and all the ways I survived compassion. Compassion is shames kryptonite.

SWY: If you could speak to your 12-year-old self right now, knowing all that you know, what would you say?

JE: “Sweet girl, you are love and light and none of that was your fault. You are worthy and deserving of compassion and happiness, to run free in the sunlight and laugh in the rain. Thank you for all you have survived. Thank you for doing your best and keeping secrets because you wanted to remain safe, but you can tell someone now about your pain. You are brave and courageous and beautiful. I BELIEVE YOU.”

We want to thank Jen for taking the time to share her story and experiences of abuse and addiction with us, and for showing us that recovery and healing are possible! If you want to learn more about Jen and the steps she has taken towards healing, check out her blog and Instagram!