In 1998, at age nineteen, I moved to Montreal to attend Concordia University. Most days were spent smoking cigarettes in a dark basement and dancing alone to PJ Harvey. Most nights were spent ordering six double Rum & Cokes; I got to know the bar scene well. On weekends, I would get a twelve-pack of beer delivered from my local dépanneur and consume that with ordered-in poutine and chocolate cake. On occasion, I would attend class; sometimes after a helping of magic mushrooms. Yuck…the routine was pretty gross. Did I have fun? Yes. Was I happy? Not sure. Life is very different now.

My hard partying ways continued throughout my twenties, got real complicated when I hit thirty and by thirty-one my body basically said “FUCK YOU!” I am what they call a “high-functioning alcoholic”. I held down jobs, got promoted, launched a business and watched it grow. But the drinking began to get ugly and was certainly a factor in the demise of my marriage; a beautiful relationship that lasted a decade but slowly unraveled and eventually collapsed last summer.

In 2010, I got sober. In 2011, I got divorced. To say the past two years were trying would be an understatement. Sad, difficult, confusing, scary; those are the words I would use to describe that time. Every day was a battle. It was a constant challenge to stay sober that came with combating emotions and overwhelming feelings. But from pain and heartache comes a strength; a strength I did not know I had. And when you finally begin to feel strong and confident again, a new life begins to take shape. Happiness emerges slowly, the emotional fog dissipates and is replaced with a kind of foreign sense of clarity. Eventually life begins to feel calm and stress becomes entirely manageable. Thus far, the journey has been remarkable.

So what am I doing back in Montreal? I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps I am here to redo this city on my new sober terms. Maybe I’m here to escape the hectic pace in Toronto and just breathe. I knew I needed time for myself: time to be creative, time to be still, time to just think. And heck, Montreal summers kick ass. Without hesitation I rented my home out on AirBnB to a lovely couple from NYC and rented a cool loft from an artist in Montreal. I’m entirely pleased with my decisions.

Montreal is a city that is hard to imagine enjoying sober, even for those who do not have addiction issues. The streets are lined with gorgeous and sprawling patios, alluring bars can be found on every corner, restaurants invite you to bring your own wine and, of course, that mischievous 3AM last call. It’s incredibly seductive. Am I nervous? A little. Who doesn’t want a glass of wine with their moules-frites? But that romantic image is never how I drank and I remind myself of that every day. I didn’t think it was possible, truly I didn’t but I am now at a point in my sobriety wherein I find romance and magic, all the time, without wine.

My goal is to share with you all the cool culture, delicious food, vibrant city life that I discover and experience while also proving to myself that a rich, exciting and full life can be enjoyed sober.

Without my close friends, family or AA group surrounding me, I’m definitely more vulnerable but I haven’t had a relapse since I began my sober journey in the fall of 2010 and I don’t plan on doing so. That said, I am using this outlet – along with hitting up local meetings – as tools to ensure I stay on the right track.

For the next month, I’ll be posting daily updates Mon-Friday, and will hopefully inspire you to visit Montreal or perhaps create your own other-city-work-life adventure.

Let’s do this.

~ Jen McNeely