Jeff Bristol is in his ninth year of recovery from drugs and alcohol, and is currently the co-owner at one of the top 10 gyms in the US. Jeff shares his heartbreaking story of spending his twenties in the turmoil of his addiction- in and out of prison and rehab for almost a decade.
Jeff gives his biggest takeaways on how he climbed out of the darkness of overdoses and criminal records into living his best life. Now thriving, Jeff wants to give back in his recovery to families still in the trenches of addiction and alcoholism.
Listen as you don’t want to miss his biggest lessons learned, but most importantly, his message for the families of the addict or alcoholic: “Never lose hope.”
You don’t want to miss this one!
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Jeff Bristol on Conquering Addiction: Never Lose Hope
I am honored and privileged to be with Jeff Bristol, Owner of Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego. You are in for a treat because Jeff is a model of what it means to be a success story during a time of crisis and adversity. Jeff, thank you so much for being here.
Thank you so much, Stiner, for this interview, and I’m honored to be here too because Jenn is a long-time friend of mine. I want to thank Jenn and the Voices InCourage for having me on.
I interned for this guy, so I have to be good during this interview. Before we dive into your background and everything, I want to tell everybody why I chose to have you on the segment. You are in your ninth year of recovery.
On February 10th, 2022, I celebrated nine years.
Congratulations. That’s a huge accomplishment. Why you are here is because I see you every single day show up with energy, positivity, commitment, and self-discipline. I don’t know if you could say that you were in the same place several years ago. There were a lot of things that you had to go through and experience and then come out on the other side. I would like to share your success story with people who may not be in that same spot now with their addict or alcoholic. I want to show everybody that you are a sign of hope, and we all need that sometimes. Before we dive into the tough stuff, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what it is that you do?
I’m the Co-owner and General Manager of Fitness Quest 10. I have been at Fitness Quest 10 in Scripps Ranch, San Diego, for several years. I came to work here when I was newly sober. When I got a job here, I worked at the front desk and transitioned to becoming a trainer here. I was a busy trainer there for a couple of years and then transitioned into management and worked as a General Manager for a couple of years.
In the last few years, I became a Co-owner with Todd Durkin, my business partner. He’s a mentor and a friend of mine. He’s somebody who I’ve learned a lot from over the years. It’s an honor to be an owner at this place that did have a big impact on my life and continues to do so. I have a team of about 30 people here at Fitness Quest 10. We have 15 trainers, 4 massage therapists, 2 Pilates instructors, several directors of first impression at the front desk, and a chiropractor, physical therapist, and naturopathic doctor.
We are a whole team of health and wellness professionals that work from all walks of life, moms, dads, kids, retirees, people recovering from injury, and professional athletes. Jenn knows the community here at Fitness Quest 10 well through her background in fitness. We have an amazing community and culture here. I spend a lot of time here and pour into the people because they pour right back into me in many ways that help me thrive. I’m here a lot and late, and I’m starting to lose my voice. Friday is not my best day for interviews because I could barely talk by then.
You’ve got a lot of responsibilities. That’s a lot to handle. With that being said, I don’t know if you could say the same thing as several years ago. You’ve got a totally different picture now. If you could paint a picture of what life was like for you in your twenties.
A little background on my childhood and stuff is that I grew up here. My parents are from San Diego. I grew up in Temecula. I’m the oldest of three. I had a great childhood and upbringing. I went to a private school when I was younger and went to a public high school. I played sports all through my childhood. I played many different sports and excelled in wrestling as I got older in high school. I got a scholarship to wrestle in college. My childhood was very great. I had a great experience as a child. I have loving parents.
I’ve seen your parents around. They are very friendly and approachable.
They are. They gave me, my brother, and my sister a great childhood and played a lot of sports. I had a lot of opportunities for activities and education. I ended up getting a scholarship to wrestle at UC Davis. The lifestyle that I started to develop in high school and college was more of recreational partying, and I was a very social guy. The drinking, smoking weed, and trying other recreational drugs started at an early age.
My freshman year in high school was the first time I smoked weed. One thing leads to the next. Maybe it doesn’t work for everybody but for me, it did. My personality and the effect it had on me was like, “I like that. That was fun. Let’s do it again. Let’s try this.” I was always attracted to the party scene and older people. My personality, combined with my experiences and the people I hung with in high school, led me to start drinking and drugging hard at an early age. Despite having good grades, being a good athlete, getting a scholarship, and all that stuff, I was still partying, drinking, and using a lot more than I should.
Are you functioning well?
Yes. I was a very high-functioning alcoholic addict at a young age, which I got away with for a while, which a lot of us out addicts and alcoholics do. Until it caught up with me in my early twenties. Even I suffered some consequences in high school and college. I got a DUI in high school and was caught with weed. I had all these little red flags but it was always my performance in other areas and my ability to talk my way out of anything.
You’ve got a great personality.
I had many talks with teachers, principals, coaches, and policemen or women. I could talk my way out of everything. That’s a skill that many addicts and alcoholics master. I was one of those people but the house of cards came crashing down my junior and senior year in college, where I was there at UC Davis on scholarship. I started to miss practices, and my friends and my coach talked to my parents. It was so apparent to everybody that I was having real problems. At that point, I started using hard drugs. It moved from beer and weed to coke and pills to heroin and meth. That’s the progression I went through.
I had no idea.
By the time I was a junior and senior in college, even though I was at UC Davis, from the outsider’s perspective, it’s like, “Jeff Bristol, he’s at UC Davis on a wrestling scholarship. He was the standout student-athlete,” but a lot of people didn’t know my lifestyle and where it had brought me and what I was doing behind everyone’s back. It was so apparent that something was wrong with me but a lot of people didn’t know the extent of everything.
My disease progressed pretty fast and hard in those years through high school and college. By the time I was in my senior year in college, my guy had done an intervention on me and said, “You need to go get help.” School, wrestling, and everything are off the table now. That was the first time I went to rehab was during my senior year in college. I took a quarter off, went to rehab in Palm Springs, and talked with my therapist. The first thing that happened was that my parents sent me to a rehab in Riverside before I ended up in Palm Springs. This was the same trip to rehab.Addiction is a family deal. It's never just one person that's going through it. All the people in the periphery trying to help or save that person gets dragged through the mess. Click To Tweet
I went to this place in Riverside, and there were some court-appointed programs and stuff. There are all these people that were from different walks of life from me. People that weren’t in college and scholarships. They were there because they came from jail. I remember being at that rehab in Riverside and calling my parents as a 22-year-old kid who grew up in the upper middle class and was in college. I was like, “I don’t belong here.” I did not see the similarities at that time.
My ability to talk my family through anything, and after a lot of whatever, they took me out of that rehab and put me at this other rehab in Palm Springs. Throughout my whole battle with addiction, my parents dumped thousands of dollars into trying to save me. That was the start of that. I went to that rehab in Palm Springs. I was too young and wasn’t able to even accept anything about my responsibility and what was going on with me at the time. That was the first time I went to treatment. That was the beginning of a long hard battle with drugs and a lot of trips to rehab, in and out of jail, and overdoses.
It was a lot of pain and suffering for myself because I was the one doing it to myself. As much as you know, addiction and alcoholism are a family deal. It’s never one person that’s going through it. It’s like all the people in the periphery, the moms, dads, brothers, sisters or the people that are trying to help or save that person get dragged through the mess. That’s what my family went through in my twenties. There were so many ups and downs. Go to rehab, get out, a little bit of hope, “Maybe it’s different this time,” and then back in jail and then overdose. “Is he going to die?” It was terrible, and it almost killed my parents and me. Physically and emotionally, they were like zombies for a long time.
By the grace of God or however, there’s no answer to this. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be such a pandemic as the pandemic of alcoholism and addiction. I’m so grateful to be sober because there were times in my twenties when I didn’t even think I would be looking down the road and thinking about a family, career, purpose, confidence, and all those things that come with sobriety that wasn’t even a thought. To be here now and be able to do this, I’m grateful, and this is why I do this. It brings me back to those days.
I’m looking at years of sobriety and all these great things in my life now, and it’s hard to go back to that. Now, I want to try and go back to 25- or 26-year-old Jeff, where I was in the depths, and going through those things did give me a perspective and experience on life that you don’t have unless you go through that stuff.
I told you that I read the episodes because we’ve talked about my tech abilities and how lacking they are.
I get you on that.
I wrote down a bunch of the different things that you said. One of the things that you said was, “You can’t scare somebody into sobriety,” and I don’t know if you recall saying that on one of the episodes, but can you talk a little bit about that because there’s so much to your story. It doesn’t sound like there’s may be one event that totally altered and changed your life. It sounds like a buildup of a bunch of different things.
For the parents who have decided, “My son or daughter needs to go into a rehab facility,” speak on the part of, “You can’t scare someone to sobriety” because we went through the same exact thing. It was our choice. Tucker went into a rehab facility but it was unsuccessful. Can you talk a little bit about that point for parents?
My memory is terrible, honestly. It’s probably because of all of the drinking and drugging from my earlier years but I remember that first treatment I went to that place in Riverside where there were guys from jail there. I totally didn’t think I related to them because of my background. A couple of years later, I was in jail doing the same stuff. I remember one of the people at that rehab showed me a picture of my family. When somebody is in active alcoholism or addiction, you can’t say, “Jeff, if you don’t stop using heroin, you could die.”
That thought doesn’t stop the addict from getting their drugs or going to the liquor store. The mind is hijacked by the physical urge, the mental obsession, and all the physiological brain chemistry crap that happens when you are drinking or using and addicted or dependent on something. If you tell them they are going to die or lose their kids, that’s not going to necessarily change them. Rock bottoms are a thing that people talk about in their disease like this person’s rock bottom could be getting a DUI or when they almost lost their kids or whatever. Those things do happen but it’s not the answer.
It has to be the addict’s choice. Is that what you are saying or leaning towards?
There must be something that comes from within the person in the experience. There are a lot of people out there that don’t have this network of support, family support, community support or whatever. I had this freaking army. Parents, siblings, girlfriend, wife, coaches, relatives, and everybody that was trying to talk to, support, and help me.
It is different for every person and there is no one clear answer but to the parents that are struggling, you got to hold onto that hope. Sometimes love from a distance. I can’t even imagine because I haven’t been there. I witnessed it with my parents. I’ve witnessed it with other friends and people I know. Clients and friends of mine have lost their sons to overdoses and stuff. Before that time, it’s like, “How do you love your kid but also have that boundary that you can’t save them and can’t let them keep continue to like ruin your life? There’s no formula for success.
There’s no roadmap at all. First of all, everybody is different, and everybody’s path and journey are different. I want to talk a little bit about your parents because I’ve seen them from a distance and one day I’m going to go up and introduce myself.
You have to.
I see how they walk through the space and how proud they are of you. It’s very apparent. If you could touch on people who are still in the midst of the chaos. For me, I called it a storm, which took years for me to take my foot out of the tornado and stop it because we get so used to this chaos going round and round at almost to a point, we get comfortable because this is what we are familiar with.
For the families, spouses, siblings or friends who are in a bad, chaotic spot and being hurt by the actions of the addict- you don’t realize in that state of mind what you are doing. It took Tucker a few years for his brain to get back to functioning normally. Can you talk a little bit about when you are in the state of active addiction, you don’t recognize the hurt and the impact that you are placing on the family members?
The addict or alcoholic cannot see or have that insight. It wasn’t until I got cleaned and sober that I could really even grasp it. I was remorseful and ashamed. I didn’t want to be putting my family through the hurt I was, and there were so many long talks and meaningful times where I spoke with 100% truth to my parents or whoever else, “I don’t want to live like this anymore. I don’t want to do this. I’m going to change.”
It was the same little bit of hope and promising up one side and down the other that things are going to be different and then they don’t change. A person that’s in their disease cannot have insight on the impact or the damage that they are causing to their family, relationships, or whatever else it may be. The individuals that are within the family unit of the addict or the alcoholic is like, “What can you do to stay strong, have a support system, and learn how to navigate those waters?”
As we said, there’s no map for this stuff. Resources like Voices InCourage, Al-Anon, therapist, community or taking care of yourself to be able to best your mind and body and deal with the stress, the challenge, and the emotions that do go through living with or trying to help addict or alcoholic. You can only control your side of the street.
You said in one of your interviews, “The hardest part was what I did to my parents. My parents did everything for me,” and that’s a hard statement to make. It’s a pretty courageous thing to say out loud because there’s a lot in those words. What are some things that you know now that your parents have done for the parents out there that have helped your parents be successful in maintaining their own identity through the chaos?
It’s easy to make your identity a part of the disease because it’s there. Did you notice that your parents got involved with Fitness Quest 10? What are some of the things that your parents actively did that you are aware of that other parents can do if you are aware of anything in particular that you know was successful for them?
To be honest, through those years of my disease, a lot of times, it was a survival mode for my parents. When somebody is suffering, the addict or the alcoholic that is in their disease is going to isolate and stay away from the people that want to help them or whatever. The same thing goes for the people that are suffering in the family. For my parents, that was something they did a lot. They withdrew from life and did not want to answer the phone or isolated themselves and suffered. At the times that they maybe were able to cope better than other times or times that they reached out to friends, went to see a therapist or did things to help take care of themselves.
I’m changing the chapter now. We’ve talked about all the tough stuff. One of the main reasons why you are here is because you mentioned community, and that is what Fitness Quest 10 does best. That’s when I’m in shape and out of shape. I keep going back to you guys. The reason why you are the best of the best truly is that any person who walks through that door, size, shape or whatever you grant them a massive welcome, grace, and compassion by meeting them where they are. Everybody is a part of the Fitness Quest 10 community. One of the other best parts about it is that you take away the stigma of shame.
You show up authentically. One of the biggest things that we are trying to do with the show is to take away the stigma and to show up authentically and real to people that you surround yourself on a daily basis. That’s what you’ve done from the moment you’ve pretty much stepped through the door. How do you think your presence there of authenticity would be if you didn’t show up the way that you show up? How do you think your space in the community would be different?
You are right. The biggest thing that Fitness Quest 10 offers anybody is that community, and that’s what it provided for me as somebody who was newly sober, trying to get his life together, and didn’t have a purpose and a community of people that were trying to lift each other up. When I started working here, I found that. What a blessing it is to be able to come in here.
During the first couple of years of sobriety, I was filled with so much shame, guilt, and embarrassment. I wasn’t comfortable in my sobriety, especially in so many organizations, communities, a workplace or in the community of all the parents, it’s so hard. It’s like social media, you are putting on your best. You don’t want people to know what’s going on with the family or what’s really going on.
For me showing up, I was in that place. I found Fitness Quest 10 and saw this community of people. As I started to work here and stayed sober, I started to be open about my background and sharing it, and becoming more comfortable and confident in whatever about it. People appreciate that authenticity, as you said. People might look at me from the outside and be like, “He doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle with depression. He doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle with weight loss,” but when people do know the experiences that I’ve had, it has helped me connect with a lot of my clients and people in my community on a much deeper level.
I can empathize with the parents that are going through a challenging time with their kids. I have a client that’s a dad or a mom that has a kid that’s struggling with whatever. I still can empathize with that person because I’ve seen my parents struggle in a major way. People love that. That’s something that’s so nice about going to an AA meeting. Sometimes, honestly, for somebody that has never been and you go, you hear people being real and open. It’s refreshing. It’s what I’ve done since I’ve gotten here.
As a trainer and a coach, I’m trying to help them live healthier and happier lives. As trainers and coaches, we are life transformers. That’s what we are trying to do. A lot that can go way beyond the pushups, sit-ups, nutrition, and all that other stuff. It’s more about life stuff. I gained a lot of life experience in a short amount of time. I saw pain, suffering, loss, all these deals, and family struggles in my twenties. By the time I turned 30, I had experienced a lot. That’s helped me connect with my clients, my community, and my team a lot. It’s helped me as a teammate, trainer, coach, and mentor.
You set the tone of approachability. Not everybody who’s coming through the door, even though it’s awesome to have NFL players, but not everybody is an NFL player. The empathy part of you is one of the most outstanding qualities that you have. I want to let you know that I very much noticed that. An important question I have for you that I want to make sure I touch on is your relationship with Todd Durkin because he’s had a tremendous impact on your life and my life as well. He’s an incredible human being.
You mentioned in some of the other interviews that you relapsed. It was the first year that you were working for Todd. I will let you speak a little bit on it but what hit me was when you said that he didn’t give up on you. He gave you grace, compassion, time, and patience. There were a lot of executives out there who find that some other employees are using or active addiction, and Todd didn’t give up on you. Can you talk a little bit about that impact on your life and how your life might be different if he didn’t grant you that grace?
That goes even a little farther back. These are the bigger things working in my life. I had moved to San Diego and had gotten hired at a local company and started to work here. I was trying to get my life on track. I started working there for two weeks and did the orientation program. I got let go because they did a background check. Right after I had gotten let go by this HR department at this bigger company, that led me to look on Craigslist and find a job opening for a director of first impression at Fitness Quest 10.
I came in here to Fitness Quest 10 with my resume and met with Julie Wilcox, the General Manager at the time, and had a couple of interviews. They offered me the job as a front desk director of first impression. I remember being super concerned and worried, “What if they do a background check?” I need to set the tone here and meet this head-on.
After she and Todd had extended the offer to me to join the team, I physically left the building. I turned around, came back in, asked her if I could meet with her real quick and I said, “Julie, I want to give you the heads up. If you do a background check, there might be some things that come up, because I had multiple felonies on my record for my twenties.” After several meetings with her and me coming in and doing interviews, she said, “Jeff, thank you for your honesty. There’s a reason why we are hiring you, and this is how we are going to start off on the right foot.”
What a pivotal moment.
That’s how I got the job. I was newly sober and had good things going on in my life at that time. I was dating a special lady, my wife.
I’ve met her. Sam is wonderful.
She’s a big reason why I’m here now. I was dating her and got a job despite my record and that whole situation. I was working at the front desk but I was still battling those urges. The first year, you are not out of the weeds. There were some good things starting to happen in my life. What happened was that my wife went to grad school in New York, and after she left, I had a little freedom.Different people suffer differently. One person's rock bottom is not the same as another person’s rock bottom. Click To Tweet
Within a short period of her leaving, I had been working here for one year, had my first year of sobriety, and relapsed. It took about six months for anything to happen because I was using. Looking back, people knew something was going on but my wife had found out in a terrible way. This was 2012, and she caught me using on Christmas Eve. It was terrible. This was another example of addiction ruining families and the whole holiday.
The next day on Christmas day, my wife, Sam, called Todd and told him that I was using again. People like my college coach, my high school coach, Todd, other people in my life or my parents don’t know what to do with an addict. They all loved me for who I was or the person I was. This Jeff right here, they love that person, and then they find out I was using, they don’t know what to do.
Todd sat with me at his desk in his office. I was sitting across the table and he’s like, “Jeff, we love you but you can’t be on drugs and working here. What are we going to do?” Todd is such an action man. He set up a contract between me and him that said, “Jeff Bristol, I’m going to stay sober. Submit to a drug test if need be and go to meetings.” I signed that contract but have never been able to stop using on my own when I have not been in rehab or jail, no matter what’s going on or who’s trying to stop me.
That was right at Christmas. I went through January and February 2013, still telling everybody that I was going to stop but I wasn’t. I was still using behind everyone’s back. I went through it so many times that I threw in the towel. That was February 10th, and that was the last time I went to treatment. I went to a place up in Riverside that I had been to before.
There are so many addicts and alcoholics out there that are good dads, good people, good husbands or wives, that have a lot of potentials, and they can end up on the street corner with nothing. When I finally went to treatment, he said, “Jeff, don’t worry about your job. It will be here when you get back. Go off and get some help.”
At that time in my life, I was 29 years old. When you were 29, you had all these friends that had built up lives, careers, and families. That’s where something changed. Right at that time in treatment where I was like, “I got a good life ahead of me if I want to live it or I can continue living this life of pain and destruction.” I got sober at 29. When I got sober, I didn’t have any money and had thousands of dollars in court fines. I had no car and had a record but I had my family. I had an amazing woman in my life. I had a career right in front of me that was there.
It’s hard to look back and say, “What was it?” For me, it was a series of many rock bottoms and experiences that led me to that being my last time in treatment. I got sober on February 10th, 2013. They talk about the promises in AA. Those have continued to happen for me. Life is tough. You go through life struggles as everyone does but in sobriety, I can now be a source of support for my brother, my sister, my mom, my dad, and my wife.
Your parents live with you now, right?
How old is your son now?
You got a whole crew. You are taking care of everybody.
It’s a special deal. My wife and I asked my parents to move in with us. My wife is in a Doctorate program and doing a residency up in Sacramento and flies up and back every week. It has been cool. My parents have been able to move in with us, live with my son, and develop this special relationship with him. I am motivated from those years that I put a lot of hurt on my family and drained them of everything.
Now, I’m trying to be the son that they raised me to be, where I can be a support for them, my siblings, my wife, and my kid. I have been very lucky to have a family that I do. There are a lot of people that don’t have that support out there. You got to find it, whether it’s through a church, AA, gym, people that are trying to get sober or Voices InCourage. It’s different for everybody. I’ve seen people get sober in different ways.
I can safely say that you’ve surpassed your parents’ expectations watching you maneuver during that day. You’ve hit the nail on the head with that. We all have different peaks and valleys, if I take a look at you, one could say that you are at the top of the mountain, and I appreciate what you gave us as a gift. You spoke to us about all the peaks and the valleys because it’s not as interesting to see somebody at the top. People want to know how did you get there because the story lies in the journey of the ups and the downs and the peaks and the valleys, and it takes a courageous person to share that story.
Thank you for sharing that with us. I know that you do it on a daily basis because I see it. That’s pretty impressive. I’m sure you get this question all the time. Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you or was there one thing that I missed? To that mom, dad or whomever, is there anything else that you would say as a piece of advice for the people who are still struggling out there?
Never stop loving that person and holding onto hope, even if you have to love them from a distance and even if they are lying, cheating, and stealing from you. Not to label or say what everybody is doing out there but don’t give up on hope. Take care of yourself and surround yourself with people that have been through what you are going through, and don’t hesitate to reach out for help, whether it’s the addict or the family. I’m always available here at Fitness Quest 10. I love staying connected with addicts and alcoholics that are trying to get sober. I have a good network of people in sobriety and stuff. Never give up hope and stay connected.
Thank you, Jeff. I appreciate your time and everything you do on a daily basis.
I really appreciate you, Stiner.
Thank you. If you live in San Diego, treat yourself and go to Fitness Quest 10. They are 1 of the top 10 gyms in San Diego. I can attest that they truly are. It’s not just the label but they live it every day. If people don’t live in San Diego, where can they find you on Instagram?
My personal Instagram is @BristolFit, then follow Fitness Quest 10 at @FitnessQuest10 on Instagram as well. We have an amazing community, and we put a lot of good stuff. I’m grateful to have you as part of our community here, Jenn. Thanks for having me on.
If you do follow him on Instagram, you will be seeing the 5:00 AM group of stories of everybody that will get you moving in the morning.
That will get you motivated.
Thank you so much, Jeff, for coming. We appreciate everybody being here. For all of you who are reading, please make sure that you continue to take a peek at Voices InCourage and all the people that we have in our community here to help you take it to the next step.
Thank you for all you guys are doing over there, Jenn.
Thank you. We appreciate you.
I appreciate you, Jenn.
Thank you. Bye.