updated 03/28/2011 AT 5:00 PM ET
•originally published 03/30/2011 AT 9:10 AM ET
Jessica White says that right now is the best time in her life. But the model, who famously dated Sean Penn, has endured a painful past, she reveals.
Focusing on the happy place she’s in now, White tells PEOPLE: “I’m living out every girl’s dream.” Currently, she is filming her own docu-series for Oxygen, launching a skincare line, starring in pal Kelly Rowland’s new music video and working on her women’s philanthropic organization, the Angel Foundation.
“I never denied getting into an altercation,” she says. “But people painted me to be the bad girl, which was 110 percent false.”
Instead, White, 26, calls her involvement an act of self-defense. “I was flagging a cab, and she came from behind me and pushed me,” White says.
While the Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to comment, alleged victim Vanessa Kian (who could not be reached for comment) claimed in the police report that the model struck her, “causing lacerations, swelling and substantial pain.”
White, who says she has a video supporting her side of the story, adds: “I didn’t strike her until she hit me in the face. I don’t lash out at innocent people.”
The rumors that the altercation was a result of her split from Sean Penn? More nonsense, according to White, who says, “I love Sean and wish him all the best.”
A Painful Past
White, in fact, says that she hates violence, particularly because she was the victim of abuse herself. Revealing her story for the first time, White explains that as a child in Buffalo, New York, she not only watched helplessly as her loved ones coped with abusive relationships, but, at 14, she was molested by a family member.
“I had to go through the hurt secretly,” she says, adding that when she first came out about the ordeal, she was told that she should keep it private. “I look at modeling as a savior, because [it allowed me] to leave and travel to Paris and New York when I could finally relax and be out of the abusive environment.”
Still, after moving out of her mother’s house at 17, the loneliness and pain caught up with White, who turned to cocaine as a way of dealing with her problems. About three years later, she overdosed.
“I was going to lose everything,” she says of the time she saw her “whole life flash before me.” “But I was lucky, because I came face to face with evil, and it wasn’t something I liked seeing.”
After taking off a few months to recuperate, White felt ready to repair the professional and personal relationships she’d damaged when she was using. Now, she says, she’s off drugs and considers her mother to be her best friend.
“I truly am living out what true joy and happiness means,” she says. “I’m in the best place possible.”