I am a noob (8 months) who seems to have had a pretty easy time of it. I also totally relate to your struggles with breathing and technique. I recently had an issue where my breathing froze up over the course of a couple of sessions and I had to figure out how to unwind it. (Look for the post; "HELP all of a sudden I can't breath" in the O2 in H20 forum.)
two thoughts that might be helpful.
1) SLOW DOWN...I've found that practicing at a super slow rate and with absolutely minimal effort reveals all flaws in my balance and, because I am moving slow enough, start to address them. Going slow also revealed to me how the challenge is less about 'breathing hard' than breathing in the right cadence.
2) Balance breathing over time, not every time. As Terry put it for folks, try to have roughly equal breathing over the course of your swim. Warming up I will keep 4 breaths on 1 side before switching. Once warm I will do 3 on 1 side before switching, and occasionally flirt with just 2. If I feel my chest get tight I will spend a little more time on the same side. Additionally, I will speed up my stroke cadence when I do the switch. (switch is 3 strokes before breathing) This is something I am still working on but I like where it is headed. This brings my stroke cadence into more alignment with my breathing.
The Most Important thing is awareness and finding a way to enjoy the journey of discovery. With those two elements everything else will fall into place eventually.