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Meet Jennifer Gimenez: VH1's 'Sober House' Mom

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The Cast of VH1's Sober House (L-R): Amber Smith, Seth "Shifty" Binzer, Rodney King, Andy Dick, Jennifer Gimenez, Steven Adler, Nikki McKibbin, Mary Carey
Imagine MTV’s “The Real World” on crack. Now imagine “The Real World” with a crack hangover. That’s almost VH1’s “Sober House,” the “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” follow-up.

At the show’s center is house manager, or ”house mom,” Jennifer Gimenez. The former runway model is a recovering alcoholic herself. Dr. Drew Pinsky once predicted alcoholism would kill Gimenez. A few years later he would ask her to join “Sober House” as a source of hope and discipline.

Jennifer Gimenez’ story is much more than your average Hollywood comeback.

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Sober House’s first episode joins struggling celebs from Celebrity Rehab’s two seasons. The next phase of their televised treatment is residence in a sober living home. Gimenez says, “a sober living house is a transition from when people come out of an institution or rehab.” Dr. Drew Pinky, who plays a reduced role in the show, says (via his VH1 blog) that Gimenez is “responsible for the integrity of the household, that it stay together.”

Drama At The House

The first episode of “Sober House” kicks off with Steven Adler arriving high as a kite. This behavior was how the former Guns ‘n Roses drummer was kicked out of the hard partying rock band. Heroin and needles were found in Adler’s belongings.

“I had heard Steven was this wonderful, remarkable guy,” says Gimenez. But “he was very aggressive and abusive from the get-go. I was talking to him like I talk to everyone else and he was really upset with me.”

In the third episode Gimenez revealed bruises and welts she had received courtesy of Adler. “The bruises were from him throwing furniture, and slamming doors on my face and body,” she says. The physical abuse was in compliment to Adler’s verbal onslaught. “You only see maybe a minute of that. It was hours, and hours and hours.”

“To me, he was a monster. Safety was at stake," recalls Gimenez of one of the toughest nights of her life. Adler’s abuse extended to the show’s crew as well. Dr. Drew’s advice was for Adler to go to Pasadena’s Las Encinas Hospital. “He didn’t want to go,” remembers Gimenez. Her next move was to call the police to ensure Adler’s safe escort.

Gimenez remembers her teary, late-night phone call to the LAPD as “one of the hardest things” she has ever done. “I was dying inside for him because I knew what it felt like. I saw this fragile little soul that ultimately has a good heart but needed a lot of help.” Dr. Drew remembers the night on his VH1 blog. “The police were called to put him in a safe place. That’s eventually what happened, it’s just the safe place wasn’t where we thought it was going to be.” Discovering balloons of cocaine and heroin in Adler’s socks, the police escorted him to a Hollywood jail.

“More people relapse on the show. It is so sad and tragic,” Gimenez says of the rest of Sober House’s season. “Sober House” is a show on reality, it really is,” she offers, echoing a favorite phrase of Dr. Drew.

Jennifer’s Beginning

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Jennifer Gimenez' journey to the “Sober House” in the Hollywood Hills began in West Covina, a city east of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley. At 13, a trip to the Santa Monica Pier turned into one of the most significant moments in Jennifer’s life.

While enjoying an afternoon with her mother Nelida, and brother Dwight, Jennifer was approached by renowned photographer Bruce Webber. This starmaker thought the 5’6” Jennifer, who “hadn’t really developed,” as she recalls, was top model material.

“At that time it wasn’t really that common for girls to be so young in the business,” recalls Jennifer who says she had “graduated from her dolls six months earlier.” Two months later Jennifer and her mother were thrust into Paris' glitz and glamour. This was quite a shock for Jennifer’s mother who came from a village in Argentina with dirt roads and wild donkeys.

Soon Jennifer Gimenez was the covergirl of Elle magazine’s biggest issue of the year. This high school freshman was 14 years old.

“A Cinderella dream” was taking place for Jennifer, though it started losing luster. “The pressures came very quick,” says Jennifer of top-tier modeling. She remembers being encouraged to take sick days from school to lose weight. “I’d be going to the gym for five hours and not eating.”

Jennifer began internalizing the rising pressure. “I’d been taught to put on The Mask,” says Jennifer on sporting the appropriate face for whatever was asked of her. Some days the world wanted her to be a provider, or a high school student, or to sell sexy. “My voice didn’t really matter.”

Hello Booze

She wasn’t looking to detach from responsibility, but she found that opportunity in a wine bottle. “I didn’t have to be the provider, I didn’t have to be the model girl,” says Jennifer of alcohol’s welcomed release. By 16 she believes her “alcoholism kicked in.” She would drink to get drunk, and not for the taste. “If you take the drink, and you have the gene, it’s going to manifest,” she says looking back.

Hello Cocaine

“I remember seeing these two girls snorting cocaine with a rolled-up hundred dollar bill off a really nice china plate,” recalls Jennifer of life at 18. Gimenez dove in. “As soon as I had some I wanted more,” she says of cocaine, a drug with which her biology was instantly smitten. “It was a huge craving.”

Like alcohol, Jennifer found respite in cocaine. It “allowed me to avoid what was really going on,” and it worked well. “The cocaine suppressed everything,” recalls Gimenez on becoming an introvert and loving it.

Hello Sobriety... Sort Of

Gimenez first time quitting the booze and drugs was at 21. This unsuccessful round of sobriety was very much on her terms. “I only knew to abstain,” recalls Gimenez, though abstinence did her well. “I got everything I had lost in life back really quick.”

She enrolled in acting class and was soon cast opposite Johnny Depp in “Blow.” Though sober through production, she relapsed after wrap. Her relapse “wasn’t because of the movie,” says Gimenez of the film about cocaine commerce. “I thought I was capable of handling a drink again. I was in such denial.”

“I was struggling with alcoholism, but my life was beautiful on the outside,” Jennifer says. “I was really good at acting okay, but I wanted to scream I'm dying."

Yet again, Jennifer threw herself into the rooms of recovery. This time she put together more than two years of sobriety before learning a hard lesson. Having taken Ambien for sleeping troubles, she learned it was “a narcotic that wakes the beast.” That beast took her back to a drink. That drink soon led to cocaine. “Within 11 months I was spiritually broken.”

They Tried To Make Her Go To Rehab...

Jennifer had felt she had reached her deepest bottom. “My soul was spiritually sick,” she recalls, “and it was in critical condition.” In 2005, her mother and a friend helped her get into Las Encinas Hospital.

“I got the alcohol and drugs removed from me and I was petrified. I was left with me and I had no idea what that was,” recalls Jennifer. It was at Las Encinas where she first met Dr. Drew Pinsky, one of the hospital’s chemical dependency specialists. It’s a position the longtime “Loveline” host maintains today.

“I’m one of the worst patients Dr. Drew’s ever had in the history of his profession,” she says looking back. “He’d be the first to testify that.” She remembers she’d lift her top to shock group meetings. “I think I have bumps on my boobs, you have to feel them. I was like an animal.” Jennifer recalls Dr. Drew predicted she wouldn’t live past 2006 if she didn’t get serious about recovery. She thought he might be right. “I thought I’d be dead anyway.”

Thanks to the staff at Las Encinas, and some eventual willingness, Jennifer made it through her difficult first year of recovery. “When I turned a year, I felt like I woke up from the nightmare, like I had been in a coma.”

One Year Sober

With a year of sobriety, Jennifer wanted to return to work. “I came back to L.A., and I was going to shoot a TV show.” She wasn’t ready, and was afraid she was going to use. “I was going loony.” Jennifer's sober mentor in recovery told her, “if you want to do this Hollywood thing dig a grave, because you’re going to die.” Jennifer knew she was right.

“I was willing to not do it my way,” she remembers. Jennifer Gimenez moved out of Hollywood and didn’t work for a year. “I threw myself into recovery. I was told I wasn’t allowed to be in any kind of intimate relationship, let alone sex or kissing.”

Gimenez kept getting better. “I was hopeless and I found hope in recovery. Through hope came faith, through faith came the will to live,” she says through a smile.

Two Years Sober

Her intense focus on recovery paid off. Gimenez gained another year of sobriety. She credits her willingness to take direction from women with more sobriety than her which helped keep her sober. Gimenez notes that many young actresses have trouble getting sober because they go right back to work, foregoing a strong foundation in recovery.

Dr. Drew’s experience is that building a foundation is the way to go for Young Hollywood. “The celebrity lifestyle works against their sobriety. It’s the hardest thing to get celebrities to do -- they drift back into their celebrity stuff and they start using again,” he says (via his VH1 blog.)

Something Was Wrong

Gimenez, having once been featured in global campaigns for Calvin Klein and Guess, had “forgotten about the outsides.” She looked at her body and saw “a fat suit.” The former Maxim Top 100 Hot Girl had reached 220 pounds.

She had put down the bottle, and the rolled bill, and picked up the fork. The model who used to cut weight for runway shows was now on the other side of the battle of the bulge. Food became “my protection shield.” She had traded The Mask for The Fat Suit.

Though unhappy with her peak scale reading, Gimenez dove deeper into recovery. She made regular visits to Las Encinas, the hospital where she once hoped for death. At the request of Dr. Drew Pinsky she would share her experience and hope with newcomers to recovery who were “struggling, broken and shattered,” as she puts it. Dr. Drew thought those patients would relate to the depths that Gimenez’ disease took her. He was right.

Dr. Drew’s "Sober" Request

Despite having never worked professionally in recovery, Gimenez recalls Dr. Drew telling her she would make a perfect “Sober House” manager. “Sober houses are often run by recently sober people,” says Dr. Drew (via his VH1 blog.) “She was a tough patient that I thought could really relate to this group. And she’s an actress, so I thought it was a perfect match,” he added.

Dr. Drew’s request amazed Gimenez. “The girl that was the hopeless case, that everyone predicted dead, was asked to be an example to millions of people. That made me want to cry,” she remembers. This opportunity did carry some concern. She remembers thinking “I’ve never run a house before.” But at the same time she knew it was another chance to deepen her role in the recovery process. “I went on the show to do that.”

The former covergirl remembers being afraid to appear on camera. “It was really hard because I was really heavy. I went from a size six to a size 16.” However, at two and a half years sober, she knew she had much to offer the newly sober cast.

Gimenez recovery had been hidden from Hollywood’s eye. She felt “Sober House” was the right time to reveal who she really was. “All I’ve done is hide my addiction, and hide my recovery.” Her participation in “Sober House” showcased the truth. Jennifer Gimenez is a sober woman.

30 Days in The Sober House

Gimenez had no idea what was in store for those 30 days in the Hollywood Hills. No stranger to photo shoots, having “five cameras in your face, 24/7 for 30 days” was new for Gimenez.

She immediately noticed the newly sober cast members featured addiction/alcoholism which had “progressed so much that it was vomiting out of them.” Gimenez says that “most of them, except Rodney had relapsed” between “Celebrity Rehab” and “Sober House.” Gimenez looked at those individual’s struggles with gratitude for her own sober fitness. “I was grateful I was not there.” But she recalled she once was. “I am a reflection of them.”

Enter Andy Dick

With the intense drama surrounding Steven Adler (more on Thursday’s fourth episode,) Gimenez was thrown another curveball. Andy Dick would be joining "Sober House." She had believed the media hype about Andy Dick and did not welcome his addition. Not only did Gimenez want some sleep (she slept nine total hours the first week,) she didn’t want another sick addict to disrupt the house.

Today, when asked about Andy Dick, she doesn’t just talk about him, she swoons. They’ve become close friends. “When I opened the door I saw this little guy -- shaking, freaked out, scared. I saw the most kind, fragile spirit,” recalls Gimenez. She states that while Dr. Drew once predicted she wouldn’t see 2007, he never stopped treatment. “One person did not give up on me. Therefore I am here today.” Gimenez gave Andy Dick a chance.

His stay touched her. “I saw that one person wanted this. It reminded me of me.”

“Wanting comes from such a deep rooted place inside,” Gimenez says of Andy Dick. “He was willing to go to any lengths, and I didn’t see that in everyone else. He was sick and tired of being sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Post “Sober House”

After “Sober House,” Gimenez concluded that it was time for her outsides to match her insides. “My insides were so beautiful and precious.” For the first time in her life Gimenez would connect the two. She approached health and fitness with a humble ferocity which mirrored her recovery. Gimenez started walking and jogging. Then came boxing and kickboxing. She thanks her trainer Eric Paskel for that. She also adjusted her diet with a nutritionist.

The results have been that the woman who watches “Sober House” each week, with her family and boyfriend, doesn’t look like the woman featured on “Sober House.” “I sit there and I pinch my boyfriend’s hand, and say “I can’t believe how fat I was."

Gimenez is back to a size six. “It’s really exciting to see my transformation. It’s also exciting to see that I can own who I am as a woman.” Like all of her hard times, Gimenez doesn’t wish to shut the door on any of it. “Now I can talk to women and men about the struggle of being heavy.”

She says the best part about watching the show is that she knows doing it was the right decision. “When I watch myself I think wow, there’s a woman with integrity. I can’t believe what a grown-up I’ve become.” Though there were times when Gimenez wanted to walk away from “Sober House.”, Jennifer Gimenez “shows up no matter what.”

Despite the insanity of the show she says “I would do it all over again,” though, “when 'Sober House' was done I couldn’t believe I went through it.” She knows “Sober House” helped at least one person, and that was her. “I’m really grateful for that too.”

La Vida Sober

Gimenez’ recovery comes before everything else in her life. “If I don’t have recovery, I don’t have anything.” She continues, “in the midst of all the madness I always go to the rooms of recovery.” Today she volunteers even more of her time. She sober mentors a lot of women, who she says, “ask for guidance on a daily basis -- from one girl who has a few years, to one who has a few days.”

“Women are my everything in recovery,” Gimenez says from the heart. “I speak at hospitals, institutions and women’s homes. A lot of people are two hours into recovery and detoxing. I tell them I’ve gone through that. I let them know I understand.”

When Dr. Drew sees Gimenez, who speaks regularly to his patients, she recalls “Drew” often shakes his head and smiles. “Who would’ve ever thought,” he wonders to her. Gimenez has great praise for the doctor she once antagonized daily. “He’s devoted to helping the addict. He really cares.”

Her Good Life Today

Gimenez believes that her life today is about more than being photographed. “I actually have a purpose today, and it has nothing to do with what I do, or where I live, or what I drive.” Her old Hollywood life preached the opposite. Gimenez says, “who I am has to do with what I’m able to give in life.”

“I realized if I love you, it’s okay if you don’t love me back. Today I don’t need someone’s validation. Today I can say I love myself." After putting her family through hell, Gimenez has her mother and brother back in her life. She also has a healthy relationship, with her boyfriend, another man in recovery. “I’m very blessed to have him. I respect and honor him," she says.

Gimenez says lately she’s been hearing “I’m proud of you Jen.” She describes that as “the most overwhelming joy of words I’ve ever heard.” That was praise she didn’t hear when harming herself with drugs and alcohol.

The Future's Bright

Thanks to inspiration from Andy Dick, a “light” in her life, Gimenez is going to get back into acting. She’s ready. “I’d like to say I’ve fully given it my all. I haven’t ever been able to say that before.”

“I feel like this is just the beginning. I’m in my prime in my life.” She adds, “I know no matter what I’m always protected. I believe in something bigger than me, and I call it God.”

Today Gimenez believes her insides do match her outsides, though she aims to continue to grow emotionally, and to tone her body. She no longer hides beneath The Mask or The Fat Suit. She beams, “I now am myself, and I don’t care if people know.”

Gimenez wants people new to recovery, or those who are sick of how they’re living, to know “most recovery communities are free -- there are no dues or fees.” But, like her experience, if you need “a little guidance or protection, there’s rehab.”

“If I can do it anyone else can do it,” she says with a knowing smile. It’s hard to argue with someone who probably shouldn’t be here.

Photos courtesy Jennifer Gimenez / used with permission
Jennifer Gimenez blogs each episode's experience of Sober House at VH1. Sober House airs Thursdays at 10 PM.

Follow Caleb Bacon on Twitter @thecalebbacon.