Meet Jill Rathburn, BSN, RN, PMH-BC, BCC, CPRC, a substance use disorder (SUD) advocate, holistic and mental health nurse, and board-certified recovery coach. She aids many women on their journey from early sobriety to sustainable recovery from alcohol use disorder (AUD). She is also a new member of Sobar’s Board of Directors. We sat down to discuss mental wellness in recovery.
As I listened to her life story, it was clear that she is passionate about both treatment and recovery, since she experienced AUD for a long time. As a high-functioning person who was running her own business, she was constantly telling herself that she “couldn’t possibly have a problem.” Her journey began in her early to mid-forties. For many years, Rathburn was hesitant to believe she had a disorder, yet she couldn’t imagine a life without alcohol. She soon found herself always needing a drink to make the day complete. Once she arrived at this realization, she started on a path of overachievement to prove that she didn’t have an issue with alcohol. However, the psychological burden soon spilled over to the physical. Her disorder began affecting her weight and an onslaught of brain fog took over. At some point, she “just stopped caring.”
Around this time, her family intervened. In her words, they “impressed upon me that they could not watch me do this any longer.” She promptly went into treatment at the age of fifty-five. Despite relapsing a few times early on, Rathburn describes a persistent thought: “All I could think about was healing myself, and felt confident that was my path for sustainable recovery”
In about nine months, she had “ begun a genuine transformation of the mind, body, and spirit.” She credits her recovery journey to her consistent daily routine of lifestyle choices, such as an organic plant-based diet, yoga & other exercise, intermittent fasting, consistent sleep, meditation, journaling, time in nature, reading enlightening material, and her “focus on food as medicine.”
Rathburn decided to start a recovery coaching practice to help others in early sobriety with AUD. As an up-and-coming coach, she found that health was not usually the primary focus of the recovery industry. Many coaches “understandably focus on the many strategies for staying sober, but if we stay in an unhealthy state (whether it’s poor diet or an unhealthy mindset), it’s near impossible to truly transform.” In her words, “Healing is the pathway to transformation. As a result, my recovery is my superpower… I am stronger than ever before and at a much more sustainable and authentic level.”
One of Rathburn’s fundamental lessons is that recovery is “about removing unhealthy habits and replacing them with healthy ones.” In her line of work, when someone is committed to the process of recovery, changing behavior is essential. However, behavioral change isn’t just about what to remove, it’s also about being intentional regarding what to add. Also, “the key is to be conscientious about not trading one addiction (or unhealthy behavior) for another, and food is the number one challenge on that list since eating and sugar can be soothing.”
Jill is very excited about Sobar because it stands for choice, health, and community. For many people, “we find ourselves in an emerging unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Often, it gets better for a while, but then there's a bump in the road or simply we go back to the drink out of boredom or… sometimes because it feels like it’s the only option” which is why she loves a community where health is valued and “that's what Sobar proudly offers!”
Rathburn met our founder, Beth Harbinson, at a Women’s Giving Circle event. She was inspired by Sobar’s mission - putting front and center that there are other beverage choices, in fact healthy ones. “Sobar is carefully prepared, organic, and promotes wellness.” To explain why Rathburn loves mocktails, she used an analogy of when we prepare food for loved ones - it shows compassion, and we want it to be delicious. When you prepare a mocktail, it's a similar situation—a form of caring, and to drink a mocktail is a beautiful act of self-love.
As we concluded our interview, I was inspired by Rathburn’s current work advocating for evidence-based contingency management (CM), a behavioral health approach using motivational incentives for SUD treatment and recovery. Over the past 20+ years, the robust data shows its effectiveness with all SUD, but especially for stimulant use which has limited treatment options and is often implicated in OD and OD deaths. Furthermore, using today’s technology, many of the previous management, financial, & policy-related challenges with CM are rectified using a digital health platform, such as the tech-enabled system DynamiCare Health offers. Countless addictionologists, SUD treatment administrators, behavioral health experts, national health leaders, and NIDA/NIH, ASAM, NHS and the National Drug Control Policy all support protocol-driven and evidence-based CM, but the payment methods are trailing woefully behind. Rathburn works with commercial and state payers, SUD clinicians, and many professionals in the SUD marketplace to educate on the advances in CM, and advocate for CM reimbursement methods so clinicians and SUD treatment centers can be paid and patients can get the much needed treatment.
Rathburn encourages anyone who feels they have developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol to take a pause and consider options. “There are many options on social media to support a reduction or abstinence plan, and countless different peer support groups available too.” Also, she shared that often people don’t realize there is medication for AUD that supports a lifestyle of recovery by reducing the desire to drink. The truth is that alcohol misuse is toxic on the body, and not sustainable. “Choosing to remove alcohol from our daily life gives us our power back.” Through all the challenging moments with overcoming active addiction and learning how to live a life in sustainable recovery, Rathburn reminds us “there's a way through every block.”