What Dry January taught me about myself

You can’t have been on social media in January and NOT seen a post about Dry January. Dry January is a public health campaign with its roots in Britain. Launched in 2014 by the non-profit Alcohol Change UK, the organization’s aim is to reduce the harm from alcohol. According to their website, one person every hour dies as a result of alcohol. That’s certainly a sobering statistic.

When a friend on Facebook posted in late December to say she was starting a fun/casual “support group” for Dry January, I decided to join in. 31 days later, I’m sharing some of the insights and lessons I’ve learned along the way!

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The Why

I didn’t publicly declare I was doing Dry January because I was afraid I wouldn’t make it. Another reason was that I really didn’t want to answer the WHY question. People think you’re either crazy, or a bit of a stick in the mud when you refuse a drink.

To be very clear: no, I’m not an alcoholic (I have many, many people in my life who can vouch for that fact.) But as I’ve written before here on the blog, I have become increasingly aware of the harmful effects of drinking culture among parents. It’s always bugged me that I rely so much on that glass of wine at the end of the day. In recent years (that previous post was written in 2015!) my resolve to drink only on weekends has certainly been successful - if you define “weekend’ as Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and the occasional Monday.

When I first entered my drinking habits into the handy “Try Dry” app, I was brutally honest and also quite shocked at how much I’m drinking in an entire month. The one glass of wine would often turn into 2 (or even 3) on weekends and who actually pours themself a UNIT of alcohol? Most of us are drinking 1.5 or 2 units per drink.

The final reason? My dermatologist recommended I try a month alcohol free to see if it would help with my psoriasis.

The How

As I mentioned above, I didn’t think I could do it! But the combination of support I received in the Facebook group, the satisfaction of clicking that little “I stayed dry” button on the app every night, and the benefits I was seeing propelled me forward. In fact, it almost became easy - sure, I still had my moments of longing, but those were few and far between the moments of pride.

To make sure I didn’t fall back into old habits, I knew I had to REPLACE or REDIRECT. I replaced my favourite brew with a non-alcoholic IPA called Partake. Obviously this was not going to taste exactly like my favourite beer, but if it was nicely chilled it hit the spot and my cravings vanished. I replaced my wine with sparkling water (often mixed with fruit juices) or kombucha, which I drank in a wine glass. I also drank a lot of vanilla rooibos tea with a dash of cream and maple syrup.

The worst time for me is right after work/school when everyone is hungry and tired. That’s when I’m most likely to pull out the wine and pour myself a glass. So I had to redirect myself to healthier habits - I tried to rest on the couch if it had been a long day, or played a quiet game with my girls. Most cravings disappear within minutes, so as long as you’re finding something else to do, you’ll get over the hump soon enough.

The Results

A few of the benefits I’ve observed:

  • Brain fog is gone. I can’t believe how clearly I can think! My memory has almost certainly improved, and I’m feeling much more organized in my life.

  • Mood swings and anger: I’ve noticed a huge decrease in my mood swings, which could be related to blood sugar - alcohol wreaks havoc on our blood sugar levels, and I’ve noticed I’m feeling much less angry and more calm overall. My kids are definitely feeling those effects, as I’m less likely to be snapish with them (especially around dinner and bedtime)

  • Healthy habits: without alcohol, I’ve been forced to turn to healthy habits to reduce stress and anxiety in my life. I’ve found an amazing yoga class, and have also started Zumba. I’ve been taking a lot of long walks (yes, in the snow!) and have even cut down on caffeine. I think without the “fuzziness” that alcohol seems to bring on I don’t need the same caffeine kick to keep myself going throughout the day.

Sadly I haven’t noticed any change in my psoriasis. I’m convinced it would heal if I just moved to a warm and humid climate, but alas, that’s not happening anytime soon. I also haven’t noticed any change in weight, but I’m a slim person who doesn’t fluctuate anyway, so I’m not he best test case.

The Future

To say that this challenge has forever changed my relationship with alcohol is not an exaggeration. I know I won’t be going back to the same drinking habits (although many people who do Dry January do, and that’s OK if it works for you!) I don’t think I want to be 100% alcohol free, but I’m going to be much more careful about when and why I’m drinking. The Try Dry app will help me with those goals, as I’ll be able to continue tracking my drinks throughout the year. And now that I’ve done it, I know I could do it again - and for longer if need be.

The health benefits of daily alcohol intake rest on shaky evidence and there is mounting research that points to significant harms from alcohol - particularly for women. This makes so much sense to me, as I’ve always wondered why I can sometimes feel hungover after only two drinks. Women metabolize alcohol differently, and our fluctuating hormones add another layer of complexity to the issue.

Overall, I feel strong and quite proud that I achieved my goals. It’s given me more confidence in myself and has had a ripple effect on many other areas in my life. I’ll definitely be doing it again!

If you missed the Dry January boat and feel curious, why not try another month? February is shorter ;)