The Mistress of 'Sober House'
Jennifer Gimenez, the former den mom of Sober House, battled her fair share of demons on her road to sobriety. Then she met Dr. Drew.
You know ahead of time that a former model (who was discovered at the age of 13 by Bruce Weber) and actress (who appeared in Blow with Johnny Depp) is going to have some pretty wild stories. But 34-year-old Jennifer Gimenez’s tales of fashion shoots in Tokyo and wild nights in Hollywood pale in comparison to what she can reveal about her recovery from multiple addictions (including alcohol, cocaine, and food).
So, how long have you been sober?
I last got sober on the 15th of January in 2006 so I just had five years and nine months. It’s not my first time: I have been trying to get sober for 13 years. I always clean up really well, but I could never deal with the inside stuff. And this time around, I literally gave up everything: my career, my life, my friends, and a long-term relationship. I have dealt with being in the spotlight since I was a child, but am now redefining boundaries and overcoming drugs and alcohol. Just for today, I have recovered from drugs and alcohol. I am learning how to live life, and that’s been the scariest challenge. I have also overcome eating disorders and weight loss and weight gain, and all the abuse I have done to myself with that. But I finally realized that sobriety had to come first, and it has not been easy. Thank God that nowhere in any 12-step book does it say you have to look cute while you’re in recovery! [Laughs] There was nothing cute about my recovery…it was do or die, literally.
"Sometimes my ego helps me stay sober because I broke my anonymity...whatever it takes!"
Tell us how you hooked up with the Celebrity Rehab and Sober House franchises, and what Dr. Drew is really like.
Before he was on Celebrity Rehab, Dr. Drew was my doctor; I was a patient at PRC [Pasadena Recovery Center, where Rehab is filmed]. With Dr. Drew, when you see him on TV, the camera does not lie—he is exactly who he appears to be. I wasn’t the easiest of his patients; he was tough-love from the get-go with me. And he not only saved my life, he gave me a life. I am grateful for Celebrity Rehab, I am grateful for Sober House, because it’s given me a platform—not only to help others but also to launch my comeback.
Obviously, in appearing on these shows, you are breaking your anonymity as an addict and someone in recovery. How do you feel about that?
Breaking my anonymity was just my choice. I didn’t realize that, in the end, it was going to help others, but it helped me. It keeps me accountable. Even on those days that are really dark, I go, “There are so many people looking at me—through the Internet or phone calls or whatever.” And sometimes my ego helps me stay sober because I broke my anonymity. You know, whatever it takes! I had no idea that—and it’s such an honor for me to say this—but I’m part of a movement. Doing this story is part of a movement. I am part of a movement that has brought awareness to the disease of alcoholism, drug addiction or any kind of addiction. I kid you not, when the show is airing, I get about eight to 10,000 emails a week on my Facebook alone—forget the Twitter and the personal email and the phone calls I get, day and night, from friends and family. But I respond to every one of them. It’s rewarding but exhausting.
You are very open about your relapses. Do you think they built a stronger base for your sobriety?
Once you’ve known sobriety, using is never as fun as it was. Relapse does not have to occur for some people, but, for me, relapse had to happen. That doesn’t mean that anyone out there reading this should think: Oh, I should go relapse. But some of us die, and that message helps others to stay sober. If you’re lucky, you come back. I have been—I was lucky enough to come back. I could never get high enough, after that first line of cocaine; I remember it so vividly. I remember the first drink like it happened five seconds ago. There’s still not a bathroom that I don’t walk into in the world where I don’t think, “Man, I could of used there—or thank God I didn’t use here.”
What are you working through in your recovery now?
I am single now, and working on being happy being alone. My sponsor has told me: “You’re gonna date yourself!” And I’m all like “What does that mean? Okay I am dating myself, I’m dating God, I’m dating Jesus!” [Laughs] My sponsor asked me last week: “What would you want a guy to say to you right now?” And I said, “At this moment, I’d want a guy to tell me I was going be okay, and that he loves me and he won’t leave me or abandon me, that he’ll always be loyal and will never turn on me.” And my sponsor says, “Great! Now I want you repeat that back to me now.” And I did. And then she said, “Now, repeat it back to yourself.” And I was, like: This is weird! So, I am dating myself. Anytime I want someone to validate me, I have to do it myself.
What’s new for you, career-wise?
I really believe the sky’s the limit. I’m in the process of writing a book. I’m acting again—I’m going out on auditions and getting offers. I’m modeling again—I never thought that in my 30s I’d be modeling again, never—and I just did a bikini shoot for Star magazine. I appear as a spokesperson for recovery on CNN and HLN and other news channels. I’d really like to do a theatrical run of a one-woman show with Andy Dick. In Sober House, each of the cast members has to get a job. So, in the first season, Andy’s job was to direct me in a one-woman show. We did it at the Andy Dick Theater [Andy Dick Black Box Theater at i.O. West] in Hollywood—what normally would take three months we did in four days! So we’ve been talking about turning it into a real production, and it’s starting to come to life. I’m a lucky girl, having Andy Dick directing me…that’s what encouraged me to get back into acting. He said I should do it and gave me hope and so much inspiration.
Any other sober wisdom?
Recovery is like a full-time job. I wish the “outside world”—people who are not suffering from addiction, the “normies” as we say—could understand the work that goes into it. It is not easy. However, today I am blessed beyond my own understanding. I’ve realized we all have a story to tell, and it’s up to me to choose how I tell it.
Laura Vogel is a Los Angeles–based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Elle, Real Simple, Travel+Leisure and The New York Post, among other publications and websites. She has written about the best sober apps and recovery radio shows, among other topics, for The Fix.