What I learned from doing Dry January.
You’ve probably heard of Dry January or Sober October: a chance for the sober-curious to test drive an alcohol-free lifestyle. I had always been cognizant of Dry January lore, but I saw it as something better fitted to someone who parties a lot and could use a hard reset to start the year. A little background info: my partying days are behind me and I’ve morphed into a major homebody, but if there’s one thing I love it’s a glass of wine after a long day. And full disclosure, I was branding almost every day a ‘long day’. I didn’t drink to get drunk — in fact I don’t like the feeling of it and rarely had more than one glass. But in a way, I saw wine as a part of my identity. As an ex-bar manager, I found a passion in learning and talking about wine, even completing a sommelier course. While I told myself I just liked the taste and culture of wine, there had to be something more there. I liked the taste of sushi too, but I didn't have it every day and feel like I needed it as a part of my nighttime routine to wind down. So, I decided to give Dry-err, Damp- January a shot.
I would assume most Dry January participants share a common goal of cutting out alcohol to see what benefits their bodies reap. I too wanted to see the difference it made on my body, but deep down I think more than magnifying the negative effects of alcohol, I wanted to prove to myself that one glass of wine a night wasn’t that bad. What I proved to myself instead was that while it may not have been that bad, it definitely wasn't good. Here’s what not drinking for (the better part of) a month taught me.
I wake up with more energy. I have never been someone that struggled with sleep — if anything I felt like I could never get enough sleep. But just because you fall asleep easily and stay asleep doesn’t mean you’re getting a restorative, deep sleep! I’ve never considered myself a morning person, but since quitting drinking I’ve found it much easier to transition out of dreamland and into reality without either having to drag myself out of bed or be shocked awake by checking the time.
I’m in better shape. I don’t know about you, but in my mind alcohol calories didn't count. Not only do they definitelycount, they are empty calories with no nutritional value that your body can use for energy. Beyond this, alcohol consumption affects the way your body processes fat. Because alcohol is technically a toxin, your body has to prioritize metabolizing or getting rid of the alcohol rather than focusing on other processes like absorbing nutrients or burning fat. Not only do I feel a little more comfortable in my skin since not drinking, I have more energy to exercise and have been much more consistent with my workout routine. Exercising, in turn, tuckers me out and helps me sleep better. It’s a win-win-win!
You don’t have to quit cold-turkey. In fact, I’m glad I didn’t. I would label my January experience more damp than dry, as I had a few drinks on a weekend trip and one or two other occasions. I’m not someone who does well with total restriction as I tend to want what I can’t have, but if you’re an all or nothing person, go for it! I say I’m glad I didn’t restrict full stop because personally, those few isolated incidents of drinking served to shine a harsher light on the effect drinking had on my body. Kind of like a quasi-independent variable, drinking for a night being the only thing that changed in my routine really showed me the effects that it had on my body and mind. I woke up with anxiety, feeling less focused and more sluggish, and just generally worse. In this way, I feel like I’ve sort of Pavlov-ed myself into genuinely not craving alcohol rather than having to restrict myself and feeling like I’m being deprived of something. You know how they say when you drop a frog in boiling water it’ll jump out, but if you gradually increase the temperature it won’t notice until it’s too late? That’s kind of how it was for me — I thought waking up with anxiety was just how my brain was, but it turned out to be such a simple omission.
I’m saving money. Wine being my drink of choice was not a cheap habit! This may be obvious, but drinking, especially if you’re alone rather than sharing memories with friends, is the biggest waste of money. You end up with nothing to show for other than some hangxiety.
Rather than alcohol, sometimes all I really needed was a snack or a fun beverage. I would always crave a glass of wine when I got home from work, but I realized it wasn’t the alcohol I wanted, it was just a little treat. I’ve been substituting my nightly glass with a Shirley Temple, a Ghia mocktail, or some cheese and crackers and it does the same job!
The main thing I learned from doing all this is to do what makes me feel good. Generally that means abstaining from alcohol, but if one night what makes me feel good is sharing a bottle of wine and good conversation with my loved ones, I will honour that too. This month has changed the way I feel about alcohol — rather than it being a nightly ritual, I see it as something that takes away from me waking up feeling 100%. And hey, sometimes I’ll deem that worth it! Life is short — do what makes you feel less shiddy.