As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Jessica Zeinstra.
Jessica will help you dial in your messaging and get super visible online so you can scale your business to its first 6-figure year. She built her first business from the ground up in 2008, in the middle of the recession, in the worst winter Minnesota had seen in years. Since then, she has built several six-figure businesses using social media and a little google savvy. Jessica has worked with several internationally recognized brands, building their global branding strategies, creative content and social media presence. She now travels the world, teaching courses and working with high-level private clients. Jessica is constantly learning, creating marketing curriculum and content to help people unleash their inner CEO.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?
Thank you so much for including me! Honestly, my childhood was seemingly relatively normal (or as normal as any childhood could be). I grew up with two loving, dedicated parents and have two younger sisters. My parents both had great careers and worked hard to provide us with everything we could ever want. We took vacations to Disney every year and I was enrolled in dance from the age of 4.
Both my parents are from a small town and grew up with incredibly strict religious beliefs. They worked very hard to impart those same beliefs into my sisters and me. We went to church every Sunday, bible study Sunday nights and youth group Wednesday evenings. We had parental controls on our TV and were only allowed to listen to certain kinds of music. Let’s just say I could recite every lyric to Steven Curtis Chapman, Amy Grant was my very first concert and “Greatest Adventure Stories From the Bible” were my Saturday morning cartoons. When I was younger it was amazing, I absolutely loved it! As I got older, however, I began to develop my own opinions and things started to shift.
Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
I was introduced to addiction when I was very little. I didn’t learn how to properly express my emotions and developed severe anxiety that went undiagnosed until my mid-twenties. I used food, sweets, and TV to cope with my emotions. I had no idea I was using outside things to numb the confusion and massive insecurities building within me. This grew into using adrenaline activities like sneaking out and stealing.
When I eventually tried alcohol for the first time in middle school, I turned on like a light switch. I was the last one of my friends to drink. They had all been pressuring me for years… even a few of my friends in elementary school were already drinking. I was always the good girl. Never said anything bad, always did her homework, dressed appropriately, and was always early. I was the perfect lady my parents raised me to be.
We moved to Colorado when I was in middle school and I was determined to start over. I was determined to be one of the cool kids, instead of the one everyone made fun of.
So, that one fateful evening in seventh grade, I wasn’t going to let my old reputation continue. I got wasted, it numbed everything. For the first time in my life, I felt totally and completely comfortable in my own skin, and I loved it.
As the years progressed my addiction grew from drinking at weekend parties to drinking during school. In high school, I was introduced to cocaine and MDMA. There was no turning back for me, I was locked in and dove deep quickly without abandon.
What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
I never felt like I was myself. Growing up I was always told how to act, what to say, how to dress… but none of it felt like me. I felt like I was living someone else’s life. I was taught by my parents and religion that all of my primary instincts were shameful and that I was wrong for having those desires. I constantly felt like I had to change who I was to make everyone around me happy. I was never smart enough, never pretty enough, never thin enough, not athletic enough, not Christian enough, never non-christian enough. I was just never enough no matter what I did. I needed to escape. I needed to breathe. I just wanted to feel free for once in my life.
I had been trying to tell people for years, but because I was never taught how to express my emotions, it didn’t translate so no one understood. Or maybe they just weren’t paying attention, it’s hard to know at this point.
When I was wasted it was the only time the ticker tape of insecurities and anxiety shut off in my brain.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
The lowest point was when my younger sister had to pick me up from detox. I honestly can’t remember how many times I’ve woken up on detox, but this last one was the absolute worst. My parents had enough at this point. They wouldn’t even come to get me so they sent my younger sister instead.
On our drive back to my parent’s house I wanted to jump out of the car. I no longer wanted to live.Plenty of other horrific things had happened which lead me to this point, but the look in my sister’s eyes was the absolute worst.
This was the same girl I remember holding the day she was born when I was 4 years. The same girl I swore to myself I would always love and protect because that’s what big sisters do. The same little girl who looked up to me for so many years was now picking me up in shambles from a night in detox. None of the other shameful and embarrassing situations could ever compare to the pain in her eyes.
Can you tell us the story about how were you able to overcome your addiction?
I had to change everything. Staying in Boulder, CO wasn’t going to work for me. There were too many painful memories that could send me spiraling at any moment. I went to treatment for the second time on October 21, 2008 and on November 14th I moved across the country to a place I knew no one.
St. Paul, MN is jokingly referred to as Sober City because of the large number of treatment facilities and sober houses. It was the perfect place to re-set, breathe and finally get to know myself. I had to first go through the pain of pulling out all the old stories about myself I was hanging onto. That I wasn’t good enough, that no man would love me if I wasn’t sexual enough, that no woman would ever be a good friend, etc. It was a lot, but it’s exactly what I needed. The biggest thing for me was surrounding myself with good people and being incredibly selective with whom I spent time with.
I needed to build a better life than I had before… a life so good that I was too afraid to lose with going back to my addiction. I quickly got to work.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
This is an ongoing process for sure. With deep wounds, both to myself and others, there’s no quick fix. That person I was during that time feels so disconnected from who I actually am.
I had to come face to face with my demons in order to move past them which was incredibly painful and intense. The first few years definitely weren’t pretty. There was a lot of therapy and a lot of amends.
Today I’ve embraced that chapter of my life. It’s made me the go-getter I am today. It gave me an extra level of grit I think a lot of business owners lack.
In my mind I’ve already been through hell and back so when I face a challenge in my business it doesn’t seem as overwhelming.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
I poured myself into my career and building a life I was actually excited about. One of the primary reasons I turned to drugs and alcohol was because I was horribly insecure and hated my life. I knew if I was going to make it, I had to overcome all of my deep limiting beliefs about myself and create a life I was crazy in love with. I dialed in on my long-term goals and jumped at every opportunity that would bring me one step closer to accomplishing them.
I had huge goals I assumed would take a lifetime to accomplish, but here I am 10 years later creating a whole new set of goals because I’ve accomplished them all already!
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
So many, honestly, but I’ll stick to the main ones that have helped me:
Moving my body daily – whether its a full blown high-intensity workout or just a walk around the lake with my dog, I make sure I move my body. This helps spur endorphin and serotonin production and just makes you feel accomplished.
Journaling and meditation – I meditate every day, even if it’s just for 5 minutes, and then journal immediately after. I’ve worked through some of my deepest demons thanks to journaling.
Surrounding myself with positive people – I’ve become very selective with who I spend the most time with. I know how easy it is to fall back so if someone is unsafe, I remove them from my circle. With so much negativity in the world, we don’t need more of it from our friends and family. I’m blessed to have created an amazing support system – positive, nourishing, genuine people who will call me on my shit when necessary!
3 x 3 List – this is something I teach in my workshops and it’s been so transformational for myself and my clients. Every morning, before doing anything (maybe after you’ve gone to the bathroom and grabbed your coffee), write down 3 things you’re grateful for, 3 positive statements about yourself, and 3 things you need to accomplish that day to be your best self.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
I’ve always been a budding entrepreneur… When I was 9 I painted the rocks from my parents garden with chalk and sold them to our neighbors. Then when I was 11 or 12, I dipped marshmallows in chocolate and various toppings and sold them around our neighborhood. I was always coming up with new ways to make money!
Most recently it started when I was asked to help 2 multi-7-figure serial entrepreneurs start a business in Minneapolis. They had a huge vision for the company and needed someone to run things on the ground at their brick & mortar location. Of course, I jumped at the chance just to be able to learn from them!
We built a brick & mortar service and retail business coupled with b2b and b2c retail. When they wanted to build out the third leg of their business, they handed the reins over to me and I got my first taste of what really running a high-grossing business was like. I was a sponge soaking up everything I could. After several years, we attracted several investors and I facilitated an incredibly lucrative sale.
After seeing the yearly profit statements and how much they made in the sale, I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do for myself, so I did!
After creating online marketing courses and curriculum for large corporations and seeing how much money they were making while barely even advertising the products I knew I could do it better myself. Large corporations have a layer of disconnect from the consumer so I wanted to create something different. There’s a certain rigidity in their approach, It’s very vanilla.
I noticed a shift in the online marketplace with the rise of social media and reality TV, so I wanted to infuse some of that into my business approach. I started offering 1 on 1 mentorship programs to better understand what people actually need when building their small businesses. I realized that most business owners have no idea how to actually market themselves or build a loyal brand following. They were using the same cookie-cutter strategy they saw other businesses using.
I also realized that they all have layers of fear and not feeling like they’re good enough, which I could totally relate to from my past.
I took everything I learned over a couple of years mentoring business owners and infused it all into an online marketing course. Of course, I cover online marketing strategies, but ultimately it’s so much more than that. We dig into how to listen to your own intuition and learning to trust yourself. We give practical tools like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique or Tapping) to help them overcome the fears that are keeping them from taking action. I take a holistic approach including mind, body, and spirit in everything I teach. At the end of the day, people generally know what they need to do to grow their business. The question is WHY they aren’t doing it. In my workshops and online course, we figure out what those reasons are. Sometimes it’s because the business they’re building isn’t what they actually want to be doing so I guide them on the journey of pivoting. Other times it’s because there’s a deep-rooted fear blocking them, so I guide them to remove it.
It’s amazing to watch the transformations that occur! People think they’re buying a marketing or Instagram course and in the end, they get so much more than that,
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship? Please share both the positive and negative.
I’m all in, full tilt, all the time.
In my addiction, I was so focused on one thing. I do the exact same thing now, sometimes to a fault. When I’m excited and passionate about something, I’ll spend 14 hours a day working on it. I literally pour all my energy into it until my goal is reached. This can be amazing because I’ve been able to accomplish amazing things in such a short period of time, but can also be rough because it affects my personal life and self-care.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
Unfortunately, there’s still so much shame associated with it because of the things people do while deep in their addiction. People do pretty hurtful, messed up, sometimes incredibly dark, unimaginable things. It’s not pretty to showcase that level of pain. It doesn’t fit the perfect exterior we all try to portray. It’s messy and our society like to just sweep things under the rug.
No one grows up wanting to become an addict. No one is walking around thinking, “yea, that sounds fun, let’s turn my life upside down and hurt everyone I know”. It doesn’t happen like that.
There are warning signs years before any mind-altering substance is consumed. As a society, there’s a negative stigma around discussing mental health.
Our healthcare and justice systems are reactionary. Instead of focusing on fixing the root cause of the problem, they continually try and plug holes in a sinking ship. Prescribing medications and implementing harsher punishments don’t fix the problem. Until we, as a society, remove the negative stigma around mental health, it will only continue to escalate.
I’ll get off my soapbox now 🙂
Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?
Call me haha. In all seriousness though… reach out to someone for help. If you don’t have anyone in your life you can open up to, go see a therapist who specializes in addiction. The first part is just realizing you need to make a change. Sometimes it helps to just talk to someone you don’t know.
Know you are not alone, even though it might feel like it right now. I’m continually amazed at the people who come out of the woodwork when I share my story. There are more people who struggle with this than you realize. Some pretty powerful people.
Be proud of yourself. Just reading this article or coming to the realization you’re struggling is a huge step! We get so down on ourselves. It’s important to remember all of the positive things.
There is a bigger purpose for you on the other side.
There is power in your story and someone will need to hear it. It was so therapeutic for me when I shared my story publicly. There was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I no longer had to hide. I felt like it opened up a whole new level of myself where I could truly be me. I could breathe finally.