Over the last few years, I noticed the rising popularity of a movement called Dry January, which Alcohol Change UK launched in 2013 with 4,000 people. The movement has grown rapidly to an estimated 4 million participants in January 2020. I’ll admit that I didn’t instantly appreciate the purpose behind it and was cynical after hearing that many participants jump on the bandwagon in January yet overindulge February 1st. My skepticism changed when I learned that the genuine aim of the campaign is to start a new conversation about alcohol consumption and inspire changed behavior after a positive and fun-filled month of sobriety.
I decided to finally partake in Dry January this year for three main reasons. Primarily, I wanted to start my 2020 with a focus on my health. In the last few years, I’ve dealt with several health issues including my gut due to food allergies and intolerances such as gluten. I was born with hypothyroidism and recently discovered how alcohol can interfere with your thyroid medication’s effectiveness. It seemed impractical to focus so much energy on improving my wellbeing but not evaluating the role that alcohol plays. Second, I turned 30 toward the end of 2019, which led to a reflection of my 20’s and goal setting for my 30’s. I realized that although I’ve cut back, I haven’t taken a true break from alcohol in around a decade. If I could spend that long with alcohol, then a one-month break was the healthiest decision for my body. Third, I wanted to prove to myself that socializing doesn’t need to include alcohol. My January included a vacation to Florida, a trip to California, happy hours and brunches with friends, my boyfriend’s birthday, and presenting to a crowd of over 75 people.
My initial fear of Dry January wasn’t just about whether I could do it but also not wanting to miss out on celebrations. At first, saying “I’m doing dry January” felt strange, like I had to make a joke when telling a friend. The month wasn’t without its temptations, from saying no to wine at the airport before a redeye flight to choosing water at a networking event. Alcohol is not only ingrained in social settings but also into our culture from TV shows to social media advertisements, which market alcohol as the answer to everything.
Many people get through dry January by reducing their social outings however the long-term benefit comes from challenging yourself to be comfortable with sobriety in your routine, especially social settings. For me, I discovered that part of my drive for a drink was due to stress and anxiety. In reality, alcohol’s effect on your brain chemistry can cause anxiety, depression, and mood swings. After a stressful day, I replaced a glass of wine with flavored seltzer water or tea. The behavior of having a nonalcoholic drink was still relaxing, which validates why alternatives such as Recess and Health-Ade Kombucha are growing fast. After the first week, having an alcoholic drink began to dwindle to the back of my mind. I felt empowered by my decision to take a break and focus on my health.
In recent years, I assumed that the puffy bags under my eyes were just a part of aging that I could not escape. To my thrill, ten days into dry January the puffiness under my eyes faded and friends were complimenting my natural glow. By drinking more water instead of dehydrating my body with alcohol, the swelling in my face evaporated and my body could also absorb more vitamin A, which increases cell turnover and keeps your skin looking healthier and younger.
Most mornings I need a cup of coffee to get out of bed, which I’ve assumed was a mix of hypothyroidism, a stressful job, and the fast pace of NYC stealing my energy. By the second week of January, I no longer needed a cup of coffee to start my morning and felt well-rested for the first time in as long as I can remember. Drinking alcohol limits your body’s ability to fully recharge because it lowers the time spent in the deep sleep zone, which is the most vital part of sleep for feeling well-rested and staying healthy.
My fear that going dry would limit social situations was mistaken. I became more creative when making plans and made a bucket list of restaurants, coffee shops, stores, art galleries, and workout classes that I had been wanting to try. I was more present, clear-headed, and intentional in conversations, which in our digitally distracted age is more valuable than ever. I also realized how socializing can not only surpass the recommended intake, 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men, but also burn through your paychecks. Surprisingly, at many restaurants, a mocktail costs almost as much as a cocktail so avoid those if you’re hoping to also save money.
Miraculously, my weekends stopped disappearing. While I don’t brunch as much as I did in my 20’s, it’s still a common way to celebrate a birthday or meet a friend in town for the weekend. I chose not to avoid bottomless brunch settings but stuck with my coffee and water as friends shared pitchers of mimosas. After a typical brunch with friends, we would continue to another bar or go home and veg on the couch with Netflix. Instead, I had an entire day after brunch or evening after a happy hour. I could run errands, read a book, go to the gym, get ahead on my freelance work, or call loved ones that don’t live nearby. I had time to refocus priorities, I purchased a planner to track how I spend my time and set ambitions for each week. Looking back, I’m embarrassed how much drinking was consuming my free time and controlling my weekly accomplishments.
When I started dry January, I thought that by the end of the month I would be counting down to a glass of wine. Surprisingly it was the opposite, I felt so amazing that I didn’t want to start drinking again. The health benefits are clear; a University of Sussex study shows that 71% of people who took part in Dry January said they slept better, 67% had more energy, 58%, lost weight, 57% had better concentration, and 54% had better skin. Dry January allows a moment to evaluate your relationship to alcohol with 82% admitting that they think more deeply about their relationship with drinking and 80% feeling more in control of their drinking. While I’m no longer dry, I am sober curious and have decreased the occasions and amount that I drink. This is a common trend according to studies, which show that six months later participants in Dry January drink on fewer occasions and consume less when they drink.
If you’re wondering if you should try Dry January, I’m here to encourage you to go for it and not just wait for January. You can make any month your dry month. I’m considering going dry two months a year as a way to reset my body and feel refreshed. Saying yes to socializing does not have to mean saying yes to alcohol. While not everyone will understand your decision, your friends, family, and significant other are likely happy to spend time with you sober and might even thank you for opening their eyes to their relationship to alcohol.
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Photo: Alasdair Elmes via Unsplash