MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Overcoming abuse and addiction is a difficult challenge and a huge accomplishment. For Sarah Demerath, her drug addiction took her to prison, but her time there also helped her find her passion.
Now, she works for a nonprofit organization, helping other women going through some of the same things she’s been through.
That time in prison also helped her realize her talent and passion for art.
“I really wanted to be able to tell my story through art,” Demerath said.
Looking at the bright and vibrant colors in her art pieces, it’s difficult to tell the inspiration comes from a difficult place.
“In the darkest times of my addiction, I had track marks all over my body,” she said, motioning to a piece filled with slashing lines.
The piece represents the healing she’s gone through since beating her drug addiction.
“I wanted to do one that represented those veins,” she explained.
For Demerath, the color means recovery and hope.
“It's been a crazy ride, that's for sure,” she said about the last few years of her life.
It’s a ride that started when she was a teen with a heroin addiction. That led down a dark road to human trafficking and two stints in prison, first in 2012 and then in 2015. That’s where she started drawing in black and white.
“Someone will ask you to draw them a card and then they'll pay you so you can get hygiene and things like that,” she said.
That small beginning is leading to big accomplishments. Demerath was named featured artist at the 2020 International Human Trafficking and Social Justice Conference.
“It blew me away. I was like, what, wait, what,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief.
Demerath said the one positive side of the pandemic is that it gave her the time to create the more than 100 pieces she needed for the conference. Because of Covid-19, the conference was forced to go virtual, so she did, too.
She created a website and Etsy store called Silver Lining Studios. She said her art has been her silver lining.
“It's helped me to heal,” she said. “It's helped me to express my story.”
Her art and her new career are coming together to inspire others. She’s helping other women who’ve had similar experiences.
“I work with a lot of the girls coming in, clients, and I see a lot of their struggles are the same struggles I had,” she said.
Demerath is a survivor advocate for Convergence Resource Center, which is a nonprofit offering services to women who’ve been in jail and survivors of human trafficking. She can relate to their struggles.
“They don't have a place to live. They don't have food. They don't have a job,” she said. “They fear that they won't have opportunity.”
Executive Director Debbie Lassiter remembers when Demerath first came to Convergence as a client.
“That's why we're here,” Lassiter said. “We get knocked down a lot, but when we see even one person make that kind of a transition, it's worth it all.”
Lassiter has watched Demerath grow and said she inspires others to see what’s possible.
“It's a testament to who she is and what she does. But it also says to someone else who's struggling with the same kinds of things, you can do this, too."
One of Sarah’s first large canvasses now hangs on the wall of her office.
“This is the piece that started it all, yes,” she said with a proud smile.
What started as doodles in prison has now turned into a life-changing career.
“It drives me,” she said. “Getting to see their lives change like mine did drives me to do better, not just for myself, but for them.”
Her darkest times have turned into a bright future.
“Through Convergence, and everybody that's supported me, I've just really been able to see the silver lining in everything,” she said.
To check out some of Demerath’s art, just visit www.SilverLiningArtist.com. She is using some of the proceeds to buy supplies for art therapy classes at Convergence. So far, she’s been able to donate $500 to the program.