This weeks Interview is one that is close to my heart as Jill Breidenbach is someone that I’ve known for many years. I first met her a meeting and was drawn to her honesty and directness. She shares her experience with others in such an open and loving way – that you want to get to know her and learn from her. She is a great example to many and someone I hold her in high regard as she is out there helping others every day find their way.
What was your relationship with Alcohol/Drugs/Food before you got clean and sober?
At 13, I began drinking & doing sporadic drugs. The initial effect they had on me was that they quieted my mind. I felt empowered because I was less self-conscious. I had a new sense of bravado that I credited to alcohol. I was good at it, too. I would pride myself on my ability to drink. I dabbled with drugs until I was 30, but the alcohol was a constant throughout. We were attached. I didn’t want to go anywhere that alcohol wasn’t going to be present.
What is your relationship with Alcohol/Drugs/Food today?
We don’t have a relationship anymore. When I first got sober, I feared alcohol/drugs, as if they were going to get me unless I ran from them. They no longer have power over me, so I do not need to run or hide anymore. I don’t hate it … or think lesser of people who do drink or do drugs. I choose not to participate in the lifestyle I once had. Just like any relationship … you know when it’s over.
How were your relationships with your family before you got clean &sober?
Almost immediately after I started drinking, things changed with my family. We weren’t really that close, but it was even worse because I was hiding from them – right under their noses. I began lying. I neglected everything they felt was important for me – grades, church. Eventually the dependence interfered with my ability to be present for anyone/anything else. My family continued to treat me like a child, as if I couldn’t take care of myself. My whereabouts & actions were always discussed at family get-togethers. I was the hot topic, because of all of the disruption I caused.
How are those relationships today?
Even after I got sober, my family didn’t trust me. They were very skeptical when I began to change. My father & I never had a relationship growing up. When I got sober, I decided I could no longer hold him responsible for my feelings or shortcomings, if I wanted to change. I also realized that if I wanted a relationship, I would have to bring it. I was the one working a 12-Step program, not him. I have put loving time into that relationship & he has matched my efforts. My family treats me like I’ve got it all together these days. They actually treat me like an adult & tell me on a regular basis how much they enjoy me today.
Regarding your prior romantic relationships – how did your addiction affect those?
Hahaha … the majority of my relationships were one-night stands! I never said, “no” to anybody! I did have a few relationships that lasted a minute, but never more than a year for any of them. I figured that sex was what men wanted, so why try to connect on any other level. I had no experience with a loving relationship, except for one … it lasted 9 months. I ended it because I was uncomfortable about how much I loved him. That’s how I rolled. I treated romantic partners as if they were my possession … a reflection of me – my status, worthiness. A notch in my belt. I was a collector & I was proud of my quantity over quality.
What is your current relationship status today?
Single as I’m picky about who I date!
How has this changed since being sober?
When I got sober, I realized that I liked women. I was not happy about this at all, but have no issue with it at all anymore. In sobriety, I decided that whether I dated women or men, I was determined to do something different. I now treat them like people, not conquests. I treat a romantic relationship the same way I do a friendship, so rarely do I change the way I act when they’re around, like I used to do. Physical contact & sex are now just another avenue of expression for me. I stopped using it for “power over” others. I also stopped shaming myself for past behaviors, because I needed to give myself a shot at being a different person. I couldn’t do that when I had myself labeled as a failure in that department. I used to say, “I have a fear of intimacy,” and “I don’t know how to have a relationship.” My sponsor pointed out that I had a skewed view of myself, because I had been telling myself these things for so long. I judged myself from my past. These things were no longer true, but I kept repeating them well into sobriety. She pointed out my friendships & how intimate they are. I stopped telling myself that I was defective so that I can truly bring my best self into any relationship.
How did you feel your relationships with friends and co-workers are now that you clean and sober?
I am present with everyone I meet. I no longer lie or tell anyone what they want to hear, so that they’ll like me. I realized that I never let my friends get to know me, because I had only brought the version of myself that I thought they would like. I agreed with them. I did what they wanted. I didn’t know myself until I got sober. Now I give full disclosure & am authentic. I found that people like me better that way too! Who would’ve thought!?
My friendships & the way I view them, have not changed over the years, whether sober or not. I don’t leave friends. There may be distance & change, arguments & misunderstandings, but my opinion is that the love between friends never goes away. When someone gives me that title of “friend,” I take it very seriously. I fall short many times. But my unconditional love gates stay open & I think all of my friends know that.
I no longer make excuses to coworkers & show up late or not at all. I always thought I was doing everybody a favor when I showed up for work & did what I was supposed to. I take other commitments seriously, so my work should be no different. I no longer lie about the work that I’ve done or not done. I no longer give false promises & leave someone else holding the bag. It took me awhile to figure out how to work as a team, but I’m now a good person to work with. I’m not shy about telling my coworkers that I am in sobriety & it’s paid off numerous times. I’ll get phone calls from people I used to work with when they have someone who has a drinking or drug problem.
Do you have relationships with pets and if so, how has that helped with your recovery?
I’ve always had a close relationship with animals, but there have been times when I was drinking/drugging that I’ve been slightly more neglectful than I normally would. I feel like my dog, Cody, helped me get off of drugs. She showed up at our house (literally came to the door & wouldn’t leave) the same week I was trying to stop using. She was my purpose for getting sober. Today, I treat animals as friends. I used to only turn to my human friends for help & just use my pets for comfort & cuddling. People say I’m weird for this … but I truly allow my pets to help me heal these days. I have no idea what their capabilities are, so I don’t take for granted the space they’re holding for me. They’ve taught me throughout the years how to love unconditionally, so I try to mimic them in all of my relationships.
How is your relationship today with Society at Large?
This has changed so drastically, and continues to change. I always felt that my actions had no impact on the world. Plus, I was unaware of any problem larger than in my little pocket where I lived. I see now that every action – whether big or small, effects the whole of my community & on out. There’s a ripple effect that I like to envision. How one act of kindness to another person, leads to their act of kindness and on & on. So if I impact one person, then I’ve actually changed the world. I try to be mindful of that whenever I open my mouth or take action on anything.
What have you been able to contribute?
I contribute in my circle by being myself – authentic, goofy & allowing them to see all of my insides. I think it grants others permission to do the same. On a larger scale, I feel that when I am sharing my experiences with others, then someone out there might not feel as alone or weird, or different. I want to contribute more though. My passion is addiction & mental health treatment. I want to revise our current addiction/psychiatric treatment; from facilities to other groups who help them. There is a way to help “the problem” that is currently outside our standard mode of operation. Too much to go into here, but just know … I’m not done!
Jill Breidenbach Bio: Jill has over 20 years of experience as a drug, alcohol, & psychiatric nurse. She currently consults with treatment facilities on incorporating holistic practices and how to make the shift to the “empowerment” paradigm. She has 15 years of sobriety and continues to work with people on a personal level. You can find her at; www.theholisticrebel.com