I have steered away from tackling the question “Why did you drink?” or “Why are you an alcoholic?” Those are very challenging questions and no matter how hard you try to come up with answers, there is no simple reason.

The far more important questions are “Do I have a problem?” And if so, “What do I do about it?” I concentrate my attention on the present instead of the past.

Lest you assume my history is riddled with darkness and tragedy, let me briefly clarify my past. I grew up in a beautiful home in sedated Lawrence Park. I went to Havergal College and my parents enrolled me in a slew of after-school activities to enrich my life. I excelled at tennis, skiing and drama and joined the school orchestra as a second violinist. I was loved, nurtured and well cared for. But life is more complicated than that.

There are lots of people in AA who have very disturbing and abusive histories. There are also lots of people whose lives echo mine. Could I blame my alcoholism on my parents’ divorce? I suppose I could. Would I have drank the way I did had they stayed together? Entirely possible. There is no way of knowing. Placing blame on another person, institution, life event or genealogy is hardly time well spent.

Alcoholism runs in my genes. I have always been someone who carries around an excessive amount of anxiety. I enjoy pushing boundaries and am drawn to escapism. I could sit in a therapist’s office for hours (which I do) and never really find the answers to why; it is not an exact science.

What I can do, however, is change my life. At their core, the 12 steps of AA are a blueprint to right living; anyone can benefit from this course of action. The steps teach you how to be brutally honest with yourself, how to live each day mindfully and concentrate on gratitude versus blame, serenity versus chaos. Through readings and discussion, one begins to identify triggers and thus understand behavioural patterns. By rigourous self-analysis, we learn how to alter learned responses and find alternative solutions to innate reactions; ever modifying patterns and editing our script. Slowly, by following its guidelines for living, change takes shape in many forms. It is a program that heralds progress, not perfection.

Although I am approaching my two year anniversary of sobriety, I am still at the beginning of my life-long journey. It’s important that I remember that; I’m not 100%. I never will be. For a competitive high-achiever who struggles with impatience, this is an annoying and aggravating concept. But flip the coin, open your mind and suddenly the journey becomes much more complex, mutli-layered and infinitely interesting.  It may occassionally feel like a tiresome exercise but what you discover along the way is fascinating; a never ending voyage of self-discovery or an opportunity to constantly work on myself.

I suppose you could compare this to exploring a city. I have been in Montreal for three weeks and, although I have experienced a lot, there is still much exploring to be done. In front of me lies a map of Montreal, and if I circle areas ventured with a red pen, it appears as though I’ve hardly scratched the surface. If I lived here all my life, I would still never know or understand all of the intricacies that come together to create such palpable urban life. 

It’s intriguing to ask why but much more rewarding and inspiring to concentrate on how to change and where this journey will take me. Everyone can benefit from those questions. 

Now… where to go today…

~ 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. On day 10 Jen talks about how she knew she had a problem. On day 11 Jen recalls her last drunk meal and gains an appreciation for good food.