"My highest hopes were that I would be dead by now…" Faces Of Recovery: Jenni Rolow

I was born into my family the third and last child, the only daughter. My parents owned a 24 hour a day business which was always number one over family obligations or anything else. The business was in the service industry and my father went out and worked and my mom answered phones and did paperwork from the house.

As I got older the business got larger and eventually moved out of the home. My family was dysfunctional in a way that my dad was a rage-aholic and extremely abusive and my mother was not allowed to think for herself when he was around. He had to control everything and he had unrealistic expectations of all of us. Nothing was ever good enough for him.

People outside of our family loved my father. He was a good talker and could sell ice to Eskimos, so to speak. He was not exactly honest, though, and he was always trying to come up with something, sort of like a con artist, but more just working those around him to see what he could get out of them.

I went to a Christian school for the first five years of my school-years and I always felt different from everyone else – like I didn’t belong there.  I never found God there. As a child I was extremely sensitive and had no skills at learning how to cope with that.

I also remember being very lonely. We had a liquor cabinet next to our refrigerator in our home. When I was 8 or 9 and home alone in the summer, I would sometimes go to that liquor cabinet and pull out whatever hard alcohol was in front and mix it with orange juice and drink it. It was like I was in tune with the fact that alcohol was my escape – even though I never remember getting drunk from it.

Because of my hypersensitivity, my feelings were hurt very easily, and I actually remember making the conscience decision to turn it all off. I was 12 and my father had hurt my feelings due to a B on my report card. As I was crying and he sat explaining why I could do better, I tuned him out and I made a pact with myself that this would never happen to me again. I would never care what others thought or let them affect me in this manner. I would be fully self-reliant. It was all about me now and I could only depend on myself. Not surprisingly, that same year, I started drinking more with my friends and smoking weed eventually followed.

I spent the rest of my teen years looking for trouble and looking for the party. I looked for people who knew how to not care – because that’s who I was, or at least who I wanted to be. Nothing was ever enough for me – friends could be friendly enough; no one could ever love me enough.

Inside I strived for that unconditional love that never failed and some type of meaning or purpose for life. My parents separated when I was 15 and although I portrayed that I did not care, I felt abandoned when my father moved to Florida that same year.

I kept drinking and partying to fill that lonely and hollow feeling I had inside. I somehow graduated high school with honors. I went to college for one semester but quit because it interfered with my partying. I switched groups of friends every couple years, always looking for people more lost than me, or who were doing worse things than me. I hung out with people who sold drugs and committed crimes, but I was more just an accessory at that time.

Soon after I turned 21 I was introduced to meth. Up to this point I had never really done hard core drugs, but I was very intrigued with the idea of them. They say it only takes one time and you either love it or hate it – I loved it. It filled me – it completed me. I was alive with no cares in the world – no regard for others or mankind.

Of course I did have “friends” – those with a similar agenda – but those come and go in the meth world. I held a job most of my meth career. It was part of the lie to myself that meth had not taken over and that I wasn’t one of “those people” – the ones who had no control and had sold their soul to the drug. By the time I realized that meth ruled me and I was indeed one of “those people," I no longer cared. I had alienated my family and real friends – anyone who really cared about me.

I started dealing drugs, mainly because I was sick of all the dealers out there. They were all small time and ripping off their clients. So I took what I knew about business and I sold drugs and I made money.

Eventually the task force kicked in my door. I went to jail and got released on bail. I was empty. I was soul-less. I used my words to play people and manipulated to get what I wanted. I could talk my way into and out of everything and anything. I could argue things I didn’t even believe in, just for the sake of winning that argument. I didn’t believe in God but I did believe in the devil as I knew I was living in his world and doing his work. I remember right before I accepted my plea bargain I had a moment of complete surrender.

I was sitting outside smoking a cigarette and I looked down at myself and realized it was done – meth had won. I pinched myself hard – with everything I had – and I couldn’t even feel it. In that moment I realized I was dying, and that was okay. This was all I had to look forward to and that was all right. I surrendered to my bondage. I would let myself die this way. It was all the hope I had.

Just a few weeks later I was ready to go to jail for my first charge. My lawyer had gotten me a pretty good deal which included 3 days of jail time and then I would be furloughed to treatment. I had four years of prison time hanging over my head and I was immediately put on probation. I had no intention of changing my life. I actually had my “breakdown” for treatment all planned out. I knew exactly how I was going to play them and when, making sure I gave them enough time to notice how well I was doing before I left the program.

I never made it to turn myself in to jail. Just hours before I was supposed to turn myself in, I got arrested on a new drug charge. I was given $100,000 bail but I was also put on a probation hold because I violated my probation from the first charge by getting a new charge. I had finally gotten myself into a situation I could not talk or manipulate my way out of. Honestly, I exhaled and breathed a sigh of relief. I felt as if I had been given a second chance at life. Today, I see the circumstances of my arrest as a divine intervention on my behalf.

So there I was, alone and broken, sitting in Hennepin County Jail, fighting my charge.  I was not fighting it on the premise that I was not guilty – I was fighting the evidence against me and the way it was obtained. I was in a 12 bed dorm and a woman (Lynn) came up to me and started talking to me about Jesus.

For the first time in my life my heart was open and I listened. We started reading Psalms and Proverbs together each night. All the other ladies started joining in. As a unit, we prayed together. We broke bread together – sharing candy bars and potato chips – that’s all we had. Miracles were happening and people were going home that probably shouldn’t have and families were being re-united.

One night I bowed a knee and asked Christ into my heart – to be my leader and to forgive my sins. But what does that really mean to someone like me? My friend left and I was moved to a different unit. I didn’t know how to follow God. I asked around hoping someone could give me some guidance. A lady in my new unit told me that the Bible is full of God’s words – so if you repeat His words back to Him – He will answer you. Ok – I could do that - that made sense to me.

I was sitting in jail fighting my charge and I wanted to win, so I picked a bunch of scripture that spoke of victory and protection from your enemies – and I read it faithfully every day. Over and over I prayed and read for months. I did not win my case and I assumed it was because I was in fact guilty and God didn’t love me enough to totally wipe my slate clean. How could He – look at my past and where I came from. I was sentenced to 70 months in prison and transferred to Shakopee Prison.

One day in my room I was reading a daily meditation about freedom from bondage and I would say this was my first spiritual awakening. I realized that my enemies were not the cops testifying against me or the judge or prosecutor. My enemies were my bondage – my addictions and bad behaviors that kept me sick. God had indeed answered my prayers and given me victory through Jesus. I was physically incarcerated but this time locked up was the freest I had been in my life up to that point. My slate had without a doubt been wiped clean. I started to feel that love that I always sought my whole life – and then I really started to love myself.

I ended up only serving two years as I went through a prison boot camp style program. This program changed my life and gave me so much confidence in myself as a person. I am so grateful for the CIP program. Upon release I immediately started going to a church and got involved with AA. I also got baptized. I am very grateful for AA and the solid understanding of recovery I got from it.

Working through the program and being honest with myself helped me realize and release my fears, my resentments and my defects that made up that sick person I used to be. Yet, it always seemed as if something was missing. That missing piece was Jesus. Being in AA and trying to sponsor with a “higher power” was difficult. I did not know what to call this hypothetical higher power.

The church I was attending was not overly friendly and didn’t reach out to new people or share the gospel and grow. I remember sitting there at times and wanting to serve just out of gratitude for this new life, but the only place for women was the nursery, which is an area I am not skilled in. It just seemed like there should be more – like going to church should feel like you are going to be with family.

One of my friends brought me to the Crossing Church – which changed my life. Being there I am somewhere I belong and I am with family. I have learned so much about who Jesus is and what that means in my life. I started to volunteer and serve Jesus there. I love being a part of seeing other people’s lives change. I believe that my life now has purpose and meaning because of Jesus – I can share my story and help people move towards knowing the Lord.

I became a part of Crossing Recovery because I thought it would be cool to be involved in a 12 step recovery program where I could talk about Jesus openly. It’s actually beyond cool. I leave each meeting overflowing with gratitude that I get to be part of something so awesome and life-changing. 

I had to quit AA because I couldn’t go backwards. I can’t not talk about Jesus and put Him in a “higher power” box.  I am so grateful that I get to share my story with others. God has restored and recovered my relationships with my family members. I even got to make amends, build a relationship, and talk about God to my father before he passed away.

If you would have told me back in 2005 that this is what my life would look like today – that I would call myself a Jesus follower and live a life without drugs – I would have laughed in your face.

Thank God that His plan for our lives is so much better that we could ever imagine or hope for. My highest hopes were that I would be dead by now. Praise the Lord!!!