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My Sober Life in Montreal Day 10: How I knew I had a problem

The amount of supportive and kind emails I have received over the past two weeks has been extremely touching. Many of you have bravely confided your drinking issues with me and are somewhat at a loss as to whether or not you have a problem. Truly, only you can discern that, but I’ll share a little a bit about how I knew, in hopes of providing a bit of clarity.

From my very first drink, at age fourteen, I knew I had fallen in love. I had found something magical that could release the feelings of anxiety and stress I carried around. I loved being able to escape and I always wanted to drink enough to reach that point. Wild and set free: I enjoyed how uninhibited I felt. There is no denying that it was also fun.

But even at that young age;  I drank differently than my peers. The missions and lengths I went to to get my weekly fix of booze were practically James Bond tactics.

By grade ten, I had already sourced diners that would serve me and bootleg operations in donut shops. I would not hesitate to steal from my parents, my friends’ parents or the parents of the kids I babysat. My MEC knapsack was constantly jingling with bottles. I had elaborate schemes of how to shoulder tap at The Beer Store that involved stuffing my bra, sleuthing in a telephone booth and flirting with any man who pulled up. I would even suggest that I wait in their car. (So safe!) I struck deals so they’d receive a small profit. I stole from Bay Street boardrooms, guzzled half-drunk beers at house parties and raided my grandparent’s kitchen while they were on vacation. There was absolutely no way I would spend one weekend without booze; I made sure of that.

My friends at school also enjoyed drinking, but while they nursed Mike’s Hard Lemonade in Sherwood Park, I downed vodka and passed out on the grass. One time, kids thought it was funny to walk over me while I lay there barely conscious. I arrived home with shoe tread marks all up and down my white t-shirt. No one else packed a screwdriver in their lunch box. I much preferred math class with a buzz. Miraculously, I never got caught. And did I ever think I was hot shit for pulling this all off. Still kind of do.

In university everyone drank, but not as much as I did. Bar nights often included trips to the washroom to puke before heading back to order more. Consumed with when my next drink would arrive, I could hardly concentrate on whatever nonsensical conversation I was having.

I made sure to roll in packs of people who liked to drink, hard. This was pretty much a requirement, an attribute I sought in a boyfriend. And if he wasn’t in the mood to join me one night, I would happily pull up a bar stool alone, and make conversation with drunks twice my age.

In my mid twenties, I got a grip on things a little bit. I stopped drinking at bars alone but still maintained a well-lubricated lifestyle with lots of reckless behaviour. I had countless nights where I puked in alleyways and danced on tables and flashed people at Lee’s Palace but somehow, none of this affected my work life and I was able to disguise my issues, branding myself as “girl who likes to have fun.” That is, until I showed up one morning with a black eye and a missing tooth. My self-deprecating sense of humour allowed me to pass this off as a hiliarious drunken mishap, even though when it happened I was bawling my eyes out whilst crawling the Ossington pavement.

Sure, I had conversations with friends where they’d recommend I calm down but no one told me to stop. People loved inviting me to parties, because they knew I’d turn it up a notch and always be the last one (barely) standing, putting on some kind of demented dance show or, more often than not, passed out on a couch.

The last two years of my drinking looked different than my wilder years. I did not go out as much, but when I decided it was a night to get drunk, all stops were pulled. You may have been in my backyard. I probably looked quite normal, even elegant, pouring wine by candlelight. I’d serve you food, it was a nice set-up. But what you didn’t see was that likely, at some point in the night, I’d duck to the washroom to vomit. I’d refresh with makeup, return to the patio and quietly pour another.

The nights that I did go out, usually once every two weeks, would never end. I always wanted more and either found an after party or created one. If I hadn’t invited a dozen strangers back to mine, I’d often return home at sunrise and I’d be too drunk to even put my key in the door.

I could tell you a hundred amazing stories of colourful, fun nights. But I could also tell you about smashing my face on a pile of ice because I was too drunk to stand. Drinking wine alone in my backyard at 3AM, crying. Shaking at my desk in the morning because I had, once again, poisoned my body binge drinking.

It’s easy for any alcoholic to remember the good times. We all had lots of them. But you have to remember the disgusting, the dangerous and humiliating to ensure you don”t pick up again.

I had no problem going for days without booze, weeks even. But when it was decided that the night was going to be a drinking night, there was no telling where I’d end up and no way I could control how much I drank.

AA provides a questionnaire that anyone can take if they aren’t sure whether or not they have a problem. Sometimes people don’t answer it honestly at first. Sometimes they never answer it honestly.

At nineteen, I was advised by a doctor to take that test. I got a good score. I knew way back then that I was an alcoholic, but at that point, I was sure as hell not going to stop.

It’s a beautiful day out in Montreal. I’m going for a walk to the mountain now.

Have a nice weekend.

~ Jen McNeely

On day 1, Jen outed herself as a recovering alcoholic. On day 2, she wondered why the hell she did that. On day 3, she compares the dark days of 1999 with vibrant life in 2012. On day 4 Jen randomly meets Steven Tyler while strolling the streets late at night. On day 5 Jen took a meditative morning walk through the Plateau.On day 6 she found serenity in the Fuchsia Tea Room. On day 7 she hits the town for mocktails and shots of OJ. On day 8 she broke down the stereotypes of AA. On Day 9, Jen had a run-in with the circus.

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