If someone would have told Tiffany Jenkins as a teenager that she’d one day become a wife, a mother, an author and accumulate a devout following that amassed more than 42 million Facebook followers, chances are she wouldn’t have believed it.
“I didn’t think I was meant to have the normal life that everyone else lived,” said Jenkins, 36, in a phone interview. “Either that, or I thought I was meant to live a short life that fizzled out.”
For the better part of a decade, Jenkins found herself in the throes of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.
A bright student who once held court as the captain of her high school cheerleading squad, the Sarasota, Fla., native began drinking at age 18, later dropping out of school, accepting prescription painkillers from a friend and partying the next several years away.
In 2009, Jenkins inherited money from her mother and decided it was time to get clean. She invested and committed herself to rehab, she fell in love with a sheriff’s deputy, and for a time, the road to recovery seemed promising. But Jenkins found herself turning back to opioids — even trading sexual favors for drug access — to help numb the feelings that arose from her internal struggles with depression and anxiety.
Things came to a head in 2012, when she stole her boyfriend’s guns and used them to pay off the drug debt she had accumulated. Jenkins later was arrested. While in jail, she suffered such extreme opioid withdrawal that she attempted suicide by hanging herself from a bunk bed with a bed sheet until a guard intervened.
Jenkins later plead guilty to felony counts, including fraud and grand theft of firearms. She was sentenced to 180 days in jail and six months of rehab.
But according to Jenkins, it was a verdict that saved her life and set it anew.
“I broke the law, and the law caught up with me,” she said. “But it was during that time in jail that I realized what I had gotten myself into and that nobody was coming to save me. I had to save myself. If I was going to change, I had to be the one to make that change happen.”
After successfully completing her time in rehab, Jenkins made the move to a halfway house, where she had the freedom to finish school and get a job.
While there, she met a boy — Drew Jenkins — and became pregnant.
“I assumed he would run,” Jenkins said. “Instead, he married me.”
Six months after the birth of that child, the couple became pregnant again. Jenkins also has an 11-year-old “bonus daughter” from a previous relationship of Drew’s. The couple’s other children are 5 and 7.
“Before I knew it, I was a married mom of three,” Jenkins said, with a laugh. “It was incredibly overwhelming, so I looked to the internet. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like everyone else was doing great when I was really struggling. I felt like I was failing.”
A doctor diagnosed Jenkins with postpartum depression and suggested she write about what she was going through.
In 2017, Jenkins starting writing a blog, “Juggling the Jenkins,” using her natural knack for humor to share her story of recovery from addiction, as well as tales of marriage and motherhood.
It resonated with readers. Lots of them.
“All I knew was that all of these mental illnesses that I had been dealing with were never addressed. They were never even talked about,” Jenkins said. “I suffered from really bad anxiety. I was always the kid sitting on the side of the playground. I was painfully insecure and felt out of place and awkward. I was 100% shocked that so many readers related to that, and not only that but how loving and understanding they were. It was the first time I felt like none of those issues were really that weird after all.”
Today, the Facebook sensation — now sober for nine years — also has authored a book, “High Achiever,” has a second book in the works and continues to share her story and the stories of others through her blog. She also travels across the country, connecting with audiences.
“That has been very cool,” she said. “So many people come up to me or send me mail, thanking me so much. For a lot of people, they like the opportunity to talk about their shared struggles.”
Among her treks will be the Telegraph Herald and Her magazine’s annual Her Night Out, set for 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 4, at the Grand River Center in the Port of Dubuque.
Among the topics Jenkins is most passionate about broaching with audiences is brain health.
“It’s very interesting because if I hadn’t struggled with addiction, I might have never found out what I’m passionate about,” she said. “It turns out that having gone through all of that and learning the tools and coping skills through rehab made me become a better person for it. I’ve learned how to stay in my own lane and how to be a good person. And I’ve always been a goofball. Talking about these topics using comedy helps me cope, too, and also cuts the tension when things get too serious. People tend to listen if you make them laugh more than they do if you’re just preaching or lecturing.”
Jenkins credited the last nine years of her sobriety as nothing less than miraculous.
“Looking at my children, it’s just crazy to me,” she said. “Every time we’re giggling and playing together, I think about how my life could have ended in jail. I almost missed this. It truly is a gift. I don’t know that I necessarily deserve to have been blessed with this second chance, but I’m glad that I was and that I can be here to tell my story.”
Readers can continue to follow Jenkins’ story at JugglingtheJenkins.com.
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.