My month without wine — Dry January
Have you ever wanted to quit drinking alcohol for an extended period of time to get a healthier perspective on your relationship with alcohol? I have and this year I did “Dry January.” Here are some of the highlights and lessons I learned from going alcohol free for a month in January.
First, let me share what drove me to take a month off from drinking wine. In early December I was pouring myself my second glass of wine while cooking something for dinner. I was happily going through new cookbooks, making fun new meals like roasted chicken with honey and hazelnuts. That glass of wine turned into another half glass and I realized that I was already a half-bottle in. This wasn’t something new, it was becoming pretty normal. I kind of think of it now as mindless, habitual drinking. I’m not a binge drinker and hate the feeling of too much wine, but I noticed that my two glasses of wine habit had become daily. Sure, I took some days off here and there, but overall I always had a good reason to drink wine. Great day of work! Wine. Crappy day of work! Wine. Its a warm evening…wine. Cooking dinner…wine. You get the idea.
With all the health news about the connections between cancer and alcohol, I was nervous that I was doing damage to my body (I also tend to worry about any and all deadly heath conditions, but that’s for another post). Also, I was waking often in the middle of the night (probably from the sugars from the wine) which bothered me. Additionally, I was concerned about the message I was sending my young children by having a glass of wine in my hand every evening.
The Challenge: Dry January
Wine is one of my favorite things. I admit it – I love all of it, the smell, the flavors of the different types of grapes, fermentations, and the stories behind them. I love the rolling hills of grape vines, and visiting wineries. Who doesn’t love a good terroir story? What I don’t love is feeling dependent on something that I know is not healthy.
So, in December (also after seeing my weight creep up by five pounds) – I vowed to do Dry January. My first attempt at an alcohol-free lifestyle in a long time. I was apprehensive, but also very, very excited about getting healthier. With a fridge stocked with sparkling water and lots of new herbal teas I was armed with non-alcoholic beverage options. I was a little apprehensive. Questions like, “Am I going to be able to do it?” “How bad will the cravings be?” “Will things be as fun without wine?” “What if I have some intense anxiety and need to cope?” swirled in my head. But I was resolute in the decision. Now that the month has passed I decided to share some of the things I learned.
The Results of Dry January
-Being sober is FUN
All of my worries about life being not as fun were totally unfounded. I went to a wedding, dinner parties, and several football and birthday parties and managed to have a great time without a buzz. My husband was thrilled about the fact that I could be the DD for a wedding we went to LA. I also loved how great I felt every morning when I woke up and the feeling of not being dependent upon anything to feel “good” or relaxed. A cup of tea was fantastic for that evening wind down time.
-Perspective is everything
If you have the mindset that something is going to be awful, and a hardship, its likely it will be. I tried to go into the month with an excited attitude about healthy changes, and attempted to be really mindful of all of the great things about not drinking. There is so much out there about “Battling” – like battling weight loss, or drinking habits. Personally, I don’t think the combative message is helpful. Battling something means to fight against. Instead, I tried to focus on letting unhealthy habits go. (More time with my kids, less middle of the night wake-ups, a new appreciation for herbal tea). It worked. I found myself really enjoying a wine-free lifestyle.
-Better understanding of my emotional state and why I drink wine
If you drink regularly its insightful to take some time off to really understand WHY you drink. Is it to relax? Unwind? Is it to numb pain, or anxiety? Or is it simply a habit? This month has been great for me to examine my motives for drinking. What do I like about drinking wine? When I think back about wine in a positive context, I enjoy a great bottle paired with a meal – or a romantic night with my husband. What I don’t like about wine is how I’ve used it to cope with seasons of stress or anxiety. Medicating with wine is not a good reason to drink. In fact, in medical research, it makes anxiety and depression WORSE. Additionally, I noticed after the month that my trigger for drinking wine was more often than not, cooking. It had become routine to pop the cork on a bottle as I prepped dinner.
I have learned such a valuable lesson this month that I plan to take into February and beyond about what is a positive and moderate way of drinking and what is habitual and/or used for the wrong reasons.
-My skin looks great
I read about this online — people talking about their skin looking better. As someone soon to enter her 40’s this was a great benefit. After two weeks of no wine I looked in the mirror one morning and noticed my makeup free face looked great. Fine lines were not as visible, less redness and discoloration. Alcohol dehydrates skin. I am looking forward to maintain far, far less drinking moving forward to retain this youthful glow 🙂
-Saved money! (sort of)
Despite an increase in sparkling water and tea consumption, cutting out wine saves a lot of cash. I tend to drink bottles (generally purchased from Trader Joes and Costco) in the 8-15$ dollar range. Cutting that as well as drinking at restaurants (which is crazy expensive) easily saved $150 plus over the month. Unfortunately, I compensated by buying a more than normal amount of clothes at JCrew during some crazy sales. (The Project 333 person in me was not happy with my choices). My husband thinks I was shopping to get my dopamine fix that I would normally get from wine. I’m going to work on this!
–Deeper Sleep with less middle of the night wake-ups
I sleep pretty well, but when I drink wine I almost always wake up to go to the bathroom and then I’m awake for an hour or more. I found that this month I slept longer, and deeper with less middle of the night wake ups.
-It wasn’t all roses
To be fair there were many times I wished I had a glass of wine in my hand. The toasts at the wedding for one, and the awkward dinner party where I didn’t know anyone. However, that said, these were both great learning experiences to teach my brain that its A-OK to not have booze and still have fun. Overall though the positives FAR outweighed any discomfort or feelings of deprivation.
Tips for Going Dry
(keep in mind, these are really for people who are not medically/physically dependent upon alcohol — if you feel that you have a deeper problem you should speak to your dr. before stopping).
1) Find some like-minded friends. I joined a Dry January challenge group on the fitness site MyFitnessPal and we cheered each other on every day. Also, if you have a partner or spouse, let them know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Its great having support of a partner, even if they don’t go dry with you. For example, I wanted to taste my husband’s beer at a wedding we went to at a brewery and he looked at me and said, “No! You’re not drinking this month” — it was great!
2) Download an App Like Dry January where you can track your progress, it shows money and calories saved (very encouraging!)
3) Keep some alternative drinks on hand, I had teas and sparkling water on hand whenever a craving to sip on something hit.
4) Do go out and enjoy yourself at parties and events you would normally drink at. I think most people will find that they have just as much fun if not more.
5) Find fun ways to spend time with friends that don’t involve alcohol. For so many of us – meeting for happy hour is an easy fall back. It takes more creativity for booze free quality time, but the options are endless. Meet for coffee, go for a walk, tackle a craft together, get lunch, go for hike or a bike ride etc.
6) Think about all the things you enjoy about not drinking (skin, better sleep, saved money, less regret, no headaches…etc.) and smile, its awesome!
7) when you have a craving for a glass of __________ ask yourself why you want to drink. Is it anxiety? Is it to relieve stress, or to decompress, or to just numb up? If you really think about it, then you can figure out what it is you need. There is always a good alternative. For example, go for a run, bake some banana bread, read a book, pour some hot tea and snuggle with a good book, tackle a new hobby. For me, I realized that my drinking wine was primarily as a tool to relax, and a habit formed while cooking. Simply by switching out wine for sparkling water while cooking made it a pretty easy transition. I used an electric kettle to make hot tea in the evening which really helped with relaxation.
8) Do some reading — Even though there is a lot of information out there about how moderate wine consumption is good for your heart. There are a lot of negative consequences to drinking. I found that reading up on what alcohol does to our bodies is a good deterrent to drinking too much or too often. Many people in my MyFitnessPal Dry January group loved reading Annie Grace’s book “The Naked Mind” — She has quite a following on Facebook and some great videos on YouTube — I really enjoyed her perspective on drinking and her videos and interviews with guests.
In closing, I absolutely LOVED Dry January. I plan to do this yearly. But I also plan to take all of the lessons I’ve learned with me into the rest of the year. Am I excited for a glass of wine? Heck yes! However, I am really looking forward to maintaining a much lower quantity and frequency of drinking. If anyone has questions about doing a dry month, let me know!