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Hi, my name is Neily – today is a special day

Today is a special day—an anniversary I acknowledge every year, but not publicly. This is a first, a vulnerable moment.

Thirty years ago was my last drink. Yes, I was a mere child (smile), barely old enough to drink. I will never forget the day, the event, what I was doing, who I was with—at least most of it.

I was living in a wonderful near North high rise condo in my hometown Chicago, had a terrific job with the NCR Corporation, and had everything going for me, sort of.

Cubs vs. Phillies – Cubs win!

My dad – Jim Neily 1935 – 1989

It was a Sunday—time I often spent with my dad.

We had tickets to the Cubs vs. Phillies game at Wrigley Field. It was hot, very hot—as many mid-summer afternoon Cubs games were. Night games were a thing of the not-too-distant-future. It was almost one year to the day that lights went on at Wrigley.

Our post-game destination was El Jardin’s, well-known for their strong margaritas, an urban legend. Cubs won 3-2, 10 innings. But I never saw the end of the game leaving early to snag a table at the restaurant.

I’ll leave out the details to not make this long post longer, however, there is not much I remember after beginning my second margarita. That was after drinking beer at the ballpark. What I’ve thought numerous times over the years is this—thank goodness camera phones and social media were years away.

That unflattering point of my life was never memorialized on YouTube. Thank you! Thank you!

I wanted to crawl under a rock

I woke August 3, 1987, knowing the drinking had to stop, at least temporarily (I naively thought). Having limited memories of the day before, my boyfriend gladly shared the details. The fog lifted and bits and pieces came back to me—I wanted to crawl under a rock. A month prior, divine intervention helped me recognize and then stop my rising dependence on cocaine, so I wasn’t surprised about the alcohol.

Fortunate to have an Employee Assistance Program with NCR, I made an appointment. The counselor asked three questions forever cemented in memory:

  • Have you ever had a blackout? Not remembering what happened the night before. (Um, yeah, doesn’t everybody? Um, no.)
  • Has anyone expressed concern about your drinking? (Yes, my then boyfriend and my mom and I’m certain some friends.)
  • Does either of your parents have a drinking problem? (Yes, my dad. He passed away a year and a half after I got sober never receiving help. He thought he was too old. He was 53.)

My positive response to all three led to the next 20 questions and confirmed the counselor’s suspicions.

“What if I said you could never drink again if your life depended on it?” I burst into tears. Not the response someone without a drinking problem would have. Short story, I got help.

Food reared its ugly head

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all roses and butterflies. Letting go of alcohol and drugs enabled my first drug of choice—food—to rear its ugly head. Food was my addiction until I was old enough to experiment with drugs and alcohol. My story is briefly described here where I made mention of quitting alcohol but didn’t give details.

Food and dieting was a life of restriction—going on and off diets. I guess it wasn’t surprising bulimia was in the picture at one point. Without a doubt, I would have fallen prey to cleanses, gluten-free eating, Paleo, keto, and probably been a distributor of every pill, potion, and program possible had they been prevalent at the time.

This will be the last!

Every diet was going to be the last. It never was. Each always ended the same. Restriction, deprivation, ultimately craving foods I restricted leading to an uncontrollable binge followed by guilt, self-loathing, depression, feelings of worthlessness, failure, etc.

Thankfully, it’s not a life I live anymore. What changed? Education (well, and a lot of therapy!). I was ready for a career change so went back to school to get my Masters in Exercise and Sports Nutrition becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and then a Wellcoach® Certified Health Coach.

During my journey, I realized being healthy, confident, and full of energy was not about restriction, dieting, good foods/bad foods but about empowerment, freedom, and guilt-free eating.

I tell my clients and students there are only two bad foods:

  1. Foods that are rotten
  2. Foods that have been stolen

Those are bad foods. Don’t eat them.

Back to the alcohol

Quitting drinking seemed “easy” compared to food. Alcohol can be out of sight out of mind. Food is another story. You need to eat to live. You don’t need to drink (alcohol) to live.

You might have been around me, at a social event, at a friend’s, at a conference, a networking event. Does your drinking bother me? No. If it did I wouldn’t be there.

Please, enjoy your glass of wine. ?

Shoot, I’ve seen more wine and champagne flowing at some of my family gatherings and no one ever treated me different, nor did they need to.

What is an alcoholic? Who is?

Good question. I’m not an expert. Never have been and never will be. All I know is this:

  • Did I drink every day? No.
  • Was I a falling down drunk? No. (Not usually, not to say it didn’t happen.)
  • Did I ever need to drink first thing in the morning? No.
  • Did I ever drink without the intention of catching a buzz? No. (Why waste the calories?)

To me, it’s not so much how often or how much, but, what happens when you do drink? For me, I don’t want to know. I used to know but I choose to keep my sobriety.

My life would not be what it is today without it. For that I am grateful.

Happy 30th anniversary to me.

-Neily xo

Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Wellcoach® Certified Health Coach
@JenniferNeily Twitter | @NeilyonNutrition Instagram

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36 Responses to Hi, my name is Neily – today is a special day

  • Thank you for sharing this vulnerable and amazing story.

  • Wow, Neily. I never knew. You never once said a word. This is a miraculous story. You turned your life around and look at what a success you are! You’re an inspiration not only for overcoming alcoholism and food addiction, but also for being authentic and vulnerable. Congratulations and thank you for sharing your amazing story!! ❤️

    • Deb! So good to hear from you. Yes I know kinda crazy all those years eating lunch together…just wasn’t something top of mind to talk about. Thanks for commenting – appreciate you! And miss you too~ xoxo

  • Amazing how your life changed and sharing this honestly helps other people out too ! Keep giving them hopes because it’s great knowing that you did it ! Happy anniversary professor & may God keep blessing you (:

  • WOW what an inspirational story thank you for sharing

  • That’s my girl.

  • What an inspirational and uplifting message! 30 years? Amazing and many congratulations. You may have saved or given hope to many by your journey. Hugs.

  • You have always been a picture of grace, beauty, success, determination, fortitude, and strength to me…..and now I know a bit more about why. Much love my friend.

  • HAPPY ANNIVERSARY from another long time friend of Bill’s- I loved you as my professor and I am thrilled to see you on this page. Enjoy your day and remember to KEEP IT IN THE DAY.

    • I can’t believe you came across this on Facebook Eileen – it’s been so long since teaching at Kaplan! Thanks for taking a moment to post – appreciate your sentiment! -Neily

  • Hi Jenny. Thanks for sharing your story. So glad everything worked out and you are helping others.

    • Aly! Hope you are doing well – appreciate your comments! xo -Neily (I always know when it’s an old high school friend…when I see “Jenny”!! :))

  • Awesome Jennifer, 1987 was a fun year. but I was deep in the alcoholic grip as well. It was also my first introduction to the rooms. My Dad took me to my first meeting, but I thought I was also too young. After a few more years of doing research for my lead, I surrendered. In 3 weeks, God willing I will get my 13 year coin. Through good sponsorship and 3 meetings a week, life is good now. Love your posts as I always bug you with food questions!

    • Thanks Phil and congrats to you! Amazing what I’ve learned about people since this post. I figured I would “see” some other friends of Bill. I’m trying not to second guess myself for posting…someone gently reminded me of the 11th tradition which I’m sure I would have remembered had I been attending meetings. But TBT, I haven’t for years, many years. Life changes. Needs change and I found other means of support. I think if I was still living in Chicago, where I found sobriety, I likely would. We all have our path. Plus, my post wasn’t about the program. Ok, I’m done shoulding on myself! 🙂 Hope all is well!

  • Congratulations Jennifer you have always been and will always be an inspiration for me! Thank you

  • Can I be you when I grow up? I have always admired you since the first time I heard you speak when I was an intern. That’s why I came up and introduced myself to you 🙂 Thanks for sharing your vulnerability and also being a mentor to me (and other upcoming RDNs).

  • Firstly I want to congratulate on Quitting drinking. It really need guts and lot of inner power to get rid og this habit. You inspired us all! I hope you will do something very great in the world and will put an impact on others.

    • Thank you so much – what a kind thing to say. Quite honestly I don’t think about it much since it’s been 30 years ago. But it was top of mind this year due to this anniversary. Appreciate your comment. 🙂 -Neily

  • Congratulations! Lovely website and lovely , easy to understand very clear ideas. Thank you!
    Would you reconsider tradition eleven?

    • Thank you Maryann and yes I did. If you note however I make no mention of any program, especially the one you are referencing. I made sure of that. Perhaps my title was insinuating so I changed it. My story is very much about my journey to where I am today and what I do in the world of nutrition. On August 2 I hesitated to hit the publish button but have no regrets. Knowing I helped just one made it worth it. Due to the untold people who reached out to me personally…I believe it’s been a few more. Again, thank you, I now have a new title 🙂

  • This is such a powerful post. I cannot believe this is something you went through. Never would have believed it basing it off what you have told us about you thus far. Congratulations on your anniversary and all the accomplishments you have been through !

    • Thank you so much Anna! It definitely gave me pause when I was writing and deciding on posting it, but it was a huge milestone and felt it an important message to share. Appreciate your thoughts! -Neily

  • Laura johnson – your so inspirational with words that, and impacting other on more healthier lifestyle. ???
    Congratulations on your anniversary

  • You are so brave to put this out there, I think of myself at that age,doing the same. And now my 39 yr old daughter…breaks my heart that it’s passed on, her father died in a drunk driving accident,he killed himself and another older gentleman…which made my dealing with it being drunk for a few years … we come from a long line of alcoholicsight, I so hoped she would miss that damn gene or whatever it is that destroys so many lives.

    • Rebecca- My greatest fear happened to your daughter – the loss of her father in such a way. My dad spared me that angst by passing in the privacy of his home.

      It sounds like you got help. I’m sure you know she needs to find her way…I pray she does. You just never know. Best to you -Neily

  • Thank you for being so open with your story of addiction.

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