Dry January: What I Learned During my Month without Booze

My unhealthy relationship with alcohol began over a decade ago. I started drinking my senior year of high school. I had actually been afraid to start drinking, but my fear of not fitting in was much larger. When I realized there were parties and sleepovers going on that I wasn’t being invited to, I quickly began to see alcohol as a social tool.

When I left for college, I embraced my new-found independence and wasted no time filling up my social schedule. Though I wasn’t drinking every night of the week, by the time the weekend rolled around, I was ready to socialize; and that usually (ok, almost always) meant drinking. I rarely scheduled weekend activities that didn’t involve a frat party or club; I even remember feeling incredibly anxious or sad if I stayed in on a weekend night - as though I was missing out on some tremendous opportunity. During college, I met most of my friends and roommates on the party scene and knew a bouncer or bartender at most of the cool clubs and bars in town. I hardly ever slowed down and, while I managed to keep up my responsibilities, I can’t imagine how much I could have achieved without the all the partying. I spent too much money, built phony friendships (and was admittedly a bad friend), made bad decisions and slacked off on my responsibilities. I was relentlessly chasing my spot on the party scene while simultaneously running from my problems. I was selfish and empty and completely unaware that I was causing my own problems.  

It wasn’t until I got into graduate school that I took a break from the party scene. At that point, I had a serious boyfriend and had also earned a graduate assistantship which required me to teach a lower-level undergraduate course. I had a deep desire to be taken seriously and do well in grad school. I knew running into my students out at the bars wasn’t part of that plan. Graduate school was such a blessing in many ways, but primarily because it forced me to buckle down and focus on work, school and building more meaningful relationships.

As I transitioned from grad school to my career, I also ended the relationship with my long-term boyfriend. With no relationship or school to worry about, I slowly slipped back into my party-girl ways. I went back to spending my weekends out on the town and basically stayed in that mode for the rest of my 20s. I was binge drinking on the weekends and completely wrapped up in the see-and-be-seen crowd. During the process, I also got involved in a relationship that was both defined and limited by alcohol. Additionally, I was feeling stressed and unfulfilled by my job, which led me to turn to booze even more. I spent most of my weekends hungover and most of my weekdays praying for another way.

Just before my 30th birthday, the Universe pointed me in the direction of Austin, TX - desperate for a life change, I followed the cue and packed up my life for a change of pace. By this point, I had started to dabble around with a more spiritual way of being, but didn’t know how to fully integrate the principles into my life. I really expected Austin to be a wellness mecca where I’d meet tons of cool, health-conscious folks and easily fall into a new type of lifestyle. Predictably, I instantly gravitated towards the 30-something party crowd. Though it seemed natural going out and drinking; something felt different now, my body started sending me signals in a big way. After a night out partying, I’d have tremendous anxiety; a feeling of regret - like I’d done something terribly wrong. I’d often feel this way for more than 24-hours after a night out. In addition, I struggled to overcome the physical effects of a hangover after 30, which I found to be particularly treacherous. My mind and my body were both telling me I needed to slow down.

 Don't worry folks, that's just a delicious mocktail I enjoyed while celebrating a friend's birthday.

Don't worry folks, that's just a delicious mocktail I enjoyed while celebrating a friend's birthday.

I knew something had to change, but was slightly afraid to navigate the social world without a drink. I asked myself if I had a problem; should give up drinking altogether? Should I be in a program? So many of the spiritual gurus I followed had openly denounced alcohol - I felt deep down that if I wanted to be like them, I should give it up too, but I continued to delay. I did, however, try to be more mindful about my drinking - if I went out with friends, I’d monitor myself closely and always tried to make my exit at a reasonable hour. I cut out “party girl” drinks like shots and vodka sodas, but allowed myself to have drinks I actually enjoyed such as a glass of wine or a margarita. This plan actually worked out pretty well, except for the few nights when I had moments of weakness. The problem was, once I got sucked in, I didn’t know how to stop. Honestly, even a couple of drinks changed the course of my next day and had a serious impact on how I felt. Nearing the end of 2016, I had a couple of late nights with the girls that rendered me completely useless the next day. On New Year’s Eve, I stopped myself at two drinks and made the decision that I was participating in “Dry January.” This post is the documentation of what I learned during my month without booze.

*I started this post as a day-by-day review of what it was like living sober. While I think the frequent check-ins were helpful for me (and I would highly recommend this method for anyone going on a sober journey), I quickly noticed several similar themes and have decided to summarize them here rather than have you read my extremely long daily journal :) .

  1. Success is all about perspective. At the beginning of the month, there seemed to be swarms of people on the sober wagon with me. By the first weekend of the month, most of them had fallen off. The biggest difference I noted was our perspective: I approached Dry January as an opportunity; most of my contemporaries approached it as a punishment. By staying sober, I wasn’t depriving myself of anything. Rather, I was allowing myself to be healthy, present and vibe at a higher frequency. While I was understandably unsure about navigating social situations without a cocktail, I chose to embrace the challenge. Truthfully, the most awkward thing about Dry January was asking wait staff to split a bill awkwardly when I was the only one not drinking.

  2. Sobriety feels great. While the whole month wasn’t doves and rainbows, it’s difficult to fully describe how great it felt to be sober. It wasn’t just the lack of a tremendous physical and mental hangover that left me feeling amazing. I really spent most of the month feeling powerful, like I’d had a huge burden lifted off of me. When you think about it, I actually had. Without alcohol, I was free. My weekends were spent doing what I wanted as opposed to sulking, slothing and trying to recover.

  3. There is nowhere to hide. Remember, I did say it wasn’t all doves and rainbows. Sobriety doesn’t solve all your problems. And when they come knocking, there’s nowhere to hide. Before, I’d relieve the symptoms of a long day at work or the awkwardness of a first date with a cocktail. When the option is off the table, you have no choice but to feel your way through every sad, uneasy, nervous or angry moment. Was it difficult? Of course, but choosing not to soothe my bad days with a drink was worth it.

  4. Sobriety makes you question why you drank in the first place. What is it, exactly, that drinking does for us? It lowers our inhibitions, calms our insecurities, soothes our ailments. Yes, for a few hours, alcohol does make things seem easier; as if our troubles are a distant worry. But then, those troubles return; and somehow they’re magnified. At some point during the month, I asked myself, “Who am I if I can’t survive a dinner with friends, a social outing or a date without a drink? What does that really say about me? Is that the person I really want to be?” No. It’s not. I’m not a 17 year old girl any longer who thinks she needs a cocktail to fit in. I don’t need alcohol to be confident or cool...maybe I never did.

  5. Sobriety makes you question if you really need to drink again. There were several points within the month when I contemplated what would happen when February rolled around; when Dry January was over. Should I consider giving it up for good? But then, what would I do when I was staying sober for more than just normal get-togethers and events? What would happen when my birthday or a bachelorette party or a wedding rolled around? Would I want to stay sober for those? What would I do with the assortment of barware I’d accumulated? Perhaps I should just go back to being more mindful about my drinking. But then, that never really worked. Plus, my body seemed to be super-sensitive to booze. Not in the sense that I got drunk easily, I’d always had a rather high tolerance, but rather the way my body reacted after I’d been drinking. Did I really want to keep putting up with the emotional and physical hangovers that caused me to be anxious, lethargic and depressed?

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Truthfully, I’m not ready to answer any of those questions, but this month-long experiment has got me thinking about what it would be like to live sober, so I’ve decide to spend an additional 60-days in sobriety. I want to experience what it’s really like to navigate this world without a drink. During the next month, I’ll celebrate my 31st birthday, it will be my first sober birthday in over a decade; it’s scary, but also exciting. My hope is that I’ll vibrate at a higher frequency; feel healthier and happier; be able to show up for life in a bigger, better way; and maybe event figure some things out. Truly, I don’t know what will happen, but then, that’s the beauty of an experiment; isn’t it? I’m not quite sure how I’ll document my “Dry 90” journey, but I’ll definitely be sharing it with you.

Curious about kicking booze for 30 or more days? Follow this link to learn more about my 30-Day Alcohol Detox; a month-long program I created for people who want to change their relationship with alcohol, but need help shifting their mentality about drinking first. In addition to helping you identify and shift your current drinking mentalities, the program will help you change the way you think about alcohol and drinking altogether.