The ugly cycle of abuse and addiction tore her life apart but Tracy has grasped hold of a life worth living
Trapped in "a private prison of hell" due to all forms of abuse and addiction as a little girl, Tracy Hilton searched desperately for a way to heal her wounds.
Her Vietnam War veteran father and cancer-stricken mother turned to drugs, alcohol and violence to numb their unresolved pain, leaving Tracy to retreat to her own fantasy world for comfort.
Experiencing many types of abuse in her childhood, Tracy says she was using drugs and alcohol from age eight, and was sexually active at age 10 because she was led to believe that sex "was how you loved people."
"I learnt early on that you don't deal with your problems, you medicate them with drugs and alcohol," Tracy says.
Around this time her mum was diagnosed with mouth and throat cancer and her death from drug poisoning five years later set Tracy's course into a rapid downward spiral.
Loneliness engulfed her and, after attempting suicide to 'reunite' with her mum, Tracy retreated to her world of fantasy – role-playing and pretending to be someone else – to gain friends and relationships.
She ran away from home and started modelling but this soon led to topless waitressing, then stripping, homosexuality, pornography, prostitution and a sex addiction.
Sometimes she would meet people on the street who would try to explain that God loved her, but she could not believe them.
She remembers scoffing at them, thinking, "How could God love someone like me? I was gutter trash, a product of circumstances and choice."
Still searching for love and fulfilment, Tracy decided to create her own family but the parental abuse that she had experienced was replicated in her own household.
Depression, time spent in mental institutions, escalating drug addictions, a house foreclosure and her two babies being placed in foster care led to another decision to run away.
She ended up on the doorstep of a Christian pastor and recalls being astounded that they "could just invite a stranger into their house."
After staying with them for several weeks, their kindness motivated her to attend church with them and, after being touched by the message, she was eager to pray with the pastor.
Tracy arrived home ready to "make things work" but church attendance and her "exhausting efforts to change" were crippled by destructive thoughts from her old lifestyle, leading to more depression medication and another suicide attempt.
She returned to her old lifestyle "with a vengeance", thinking she had given "the Christian life" a go and had failed.
"I realise [now] that I was looking for a quick fix for a lifetime of deep issues and pain, yet God was at work all along, helping me confront who I was," she says looking back.
After watching Tracy battle severe memory loss from the drugs in her system at age 27, her pastor and a church friend stepped in and called Teen Challenge, a Christian drug rehabilitation centre in Esperance, Western Australia.
Arriving there covered in tattoos, piercings and a Mohawk, her walls went up when she was paired with a Christian mentor, Belle, who had never touched alcohol, drugs or slept with anyone, and yet she displayed the divine love that Tracy was looking for.
"This was not about religion, but about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Belle reflected the unconditional love of Jesus Christ and enabled me to establish my own personal relationship with Him."
In addition to a program that helped Tracy confront her issues, learn life skills and change her bad habits, a vivid dream proved to be a major turning point in her journey.
She dreamt that Jesus was balancing a box on his finger and told her to surrender all her old coping mechanisms, patterns of behaviour, abuse, hurt and pain.
"After I placed each thing in the box it literally disappeared. Jesus told me that He was going to do something new in my life. My heart and spirit would be made new. I was never the same after this day," she recalls.
"The Holy Spirit was, I believe, the source of the difference between the time I first tried to receive God's salvation up until the new life I was experiencing at Teen Challenge. Real change was taking place as I yielded to the work of the Holy Spirit by learning to listen to and be led by Him."
Forgiveness was still a battle but, understanding that God had forgiven her, Tracy says "true forgiveness released me from the hold that the events of my life had over me. Although the memories remained, in time the pain was removed from these memories."
Now married with five children, Tracy says she still struggles at times but her confidence is in Jesus.
"God has not brought me this far to leave me now. God made a huge difference in my life, but I had to do my part too. The Bible states that God rewards those that diligently seek Him (read Hebrews 11:6)."
It has been a long journey but today Tracy is a motivational speaker, Director of Grace Academy at Teen Challenge, and has written an autobiography called Wasted Life restored – a life worth living.
"I have confidence and purpose and I relish the opportunity to continue to help people caught in the never-ending cycle of life controlling problems, addiction and abuse," she concludes.
"I want to inspire people that real change is possible. What was once a life of heartache and pain is now a work of beauty, a life of victory, a restored life and a life worth living."
While Christmas and New Year once held little value or joy and was "just a struggle for existence", Tracy says as a Christian it is now a time to celebrate with her family what Jesus has done in her life.
"He gave me a life with hope, peace and joy. Jesus is the reason for the season!"
Find out more about Tracy's ministry at tracyhilton.com.au