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Reflecting on Dry January: Insight, Hindsight, and Clarity

Millions of people go Dry for January, for many reasons. Most often, it’s because they feel they need to “detox” after all of the holiday party, New Year’s Eve, staying indoors with wine during cold weather drinking they partook in.

I personally tried dry weeks, days, months, between the ages of 19 and 22, and I did them. I did them, and I always went back to drinking the way I had before, with consequences that led me to try and go dry in the first place. In my case, the reason it was unsuccessful is because it turned out I was an alcoholic, and simply stopping didn’t stop the craving, the thoughts, the feelings that made me want to soothe myself with something warm and fiery.

The Dry January Journey

Last week, I spoke to a 30-year-old named Stacey who lives in Nashville, who was planning to stop drinking after what happened on New Year’s Eve anyway – it just so happened that the next day was January 1.

Stacey plans to continue to abstain from drinking in February, March, April, and so on. While she can’t predict how “the rest of her life” will turn out, it’s a commitment she’s sticking to.

Her experience not drinking this past month has been largely positive. She can go out with her friends to clubs or bars while they’re all drinking and sip a seltzer with line – her new go-to – and not feel like she’s missing out. She does not need the social lubricant. She does not miss the alcohol at dinner. She relishes the extra time she now has after going out to come home and do some yoga, or just stand on her head, something she was never able to do coming home after a few drinks – it was just Netflix and sleep.

“When I did used to drink in my 20’s, it was because I was on the music scene in New York, and it was just part of the culture, every day,”  Stacey said. “I could down 10 drinks in one night and maybe be slightly hungover the next day, but not think much of it.”

Struggling with chronic lifelong sinus, inflammation and allergy troubles, she would actually hold off on taking medication until the weekend was over, even if she needed it, so she could drink.

It was a problem, but not an addiction, she says. Stacey began to work with health conscious clients, and when saw the role alcohol played in hurting her health, especially in aggravating her inflammation, and she let up. The craving was not there when she didn’t drink, and she cut back over the past two years that she’s been in Nashville. This was partially due to her commitment to a new relationship and a new job, partially because she became “woke” about the damage she was doing.  Still, she enjoyed the occasional glass of whiskey, her favorite, and sharing a 12-pack of craft beer with her boyfriend at the beach once in a while.

Then came this past New Year’s Eve: She had two cocktails and two glasses of wine, came home, and passed out at 9:30pm. She slept through New Years Eve, and woke up with one of the worst hangovers with her life.

“It was like the Universe was telling me, ‘Hey, it’s time to rethink what you’re doing and reset. New year, new you, let’s try stopping,’” she said.

So she did. She started to lose weight and have more energy, and she didn’t miss drinking at all. She did not wish that she could, she didn’t think about it when she wasn’t, she didn’t envy what was in someone else’s glass.

“I also started to add up how much I saved, and it was like $40 a night, multiple times a week. That adds up. Plus, I’m saving money on Uber. I don’t need because I know I can actually drive home and back safely,” she said.  “I would recommend everyone try it. Being able to be social without the security blanket anymore is really nice. I’ve discovered I don’t need it.”

The Spectrum of Relationships With Alcohol

So what happens if you discover that you do need it, or not even need, but realize Dry January is making you miserable?

Lynn Zackeri, LCSW, says that in her opinion, those who commit to Dry January most likely represent a spectrum of relationships with alcohol.

“I think that like many activities, they can be categorized as a hobby or a passion, an enjoyment or an obsession, a controlled activity or an addiction. One person might have had a long summer and holiday season of three or four night binges,” she said.

There are too many “signs” and nuances of alcoholism to cover in this story alone, but as far as Dry January goes, a good place to start is to think about motive.-Helaina Hovitz

“Whether they need an excuse or not, the excuses are easy to find, like a bar-b-que, a boat ride, July 4, New Year’s Eve, three-day weekends, birthdays, and so on.”

If you feel like not drinking is ruining your good time, if you plan to have one but have ten, if you are irritable, cranky, jealous and anxious every time you go out, and you’re counting down the clock until you can drink again to continue “living your life,” that’s something to look at. For people who can drink “normally,” they may just miss the taste of a good red wine with their meal, or being able to taste craft cocktails at their favorite bar when they’re out on a girl’s night.

There are too many “signs” and nuances of alcoholism to cover in this story alone, but as far as Dry January goes, a good place to start is to think about motive.

“If that same person says ‘I am going to commit to Dry January to prove I don’t have a problem,’ that same person perhaps should reflect carefully if February through December becomes more of the same three and four nights of binges again,” Zackeri said.

“On the flip side, if that person says they appreciate waking up remembering details, having no regrets on things said or done, having energy, feeling fresh, and wants to continue that habit, well, then Dry January may have started you on a new habit and mentality that you are better off sober than a heavy drinker.”



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