What a long, strange month it’s been. If ever we needed a reason to drink, January 2021 supplied it.
Like many Americans living through the Covid pandemic, I frequently turned to alcohol to help numb life’s stress and uncertainties. While alcohol quickly relaxed me, the peace and calm were short-lived. My sleep was fitful, my morning headaches more frequent. I felt bloated and unhealthy, though it was not always apparent, as I was mostly wearing sweatpants. I convinced myself that I needed to drink to stay sane.
Enter Dry January. The annual tradition of abstaining from alcohol during the first month of the new year began in 2012 as an initiative by Alcohol Change UK, a British charity, to “ditch the hangover, reduce the waistline and save some serious money by giving up alcohol for 31 days.” Millions of people now accept the challenge, with more Americans partaking each year.
For some, it’s a New Year’s resolution; others claim it’s a way to “detox” after the excesses of the holidays. Dry January was especially appealing this year, following the isolation, anxiety and loneliness of 2020, during which a majority of Americans upped their drinking to deal with pandemic-induced stress. A recent Nielsen poll found 13% of Americans participating in Dry January. 79% of participants attributed the decision to a desire for improved health; 72% said they were trying to drink less alcohol in general; 63% wanted to “reset” their drinking and 49% said they had been drinking too much during the pandemic.
Having checked off all of these boxes, I determined that it was time to take a break and committed to a month-long hiatus from alcohol. I was psyched!
On January 1st, I faced my first challenge. My husband and I were enjoying an outdoor dinner capping off our stay in Florida before our long drive home. As margaritas, mojitos and chilled glasses of white wine passed our table, I felt an intense urge for a drink. This was exacerbated by my husband’s ordering a gin & tonic (my go-to quarantine drink.) How could I stay dry for a month if I couldn’t make it through one dinner? Fortunately, my resolve won out and I ordered a seltzer with lime. Day one was in the books.
I soon realized that I needed an alternative to alcohol– something fun that I could enjoy like a cocktail. Almost as soon as the thought hit me, I was greeted with a flurry of Instagram and Facebook ads for beverages like Seedlip (“the first distilled non-alcoholic spirit”,) Monday Gin (“a non-alcoholic gin,”) St Pauli Girl NA and Heineken 00. Who knew there was an entire product category of non-alcoholic adult beverages? I promptly ordered a bottle of Seedlip and purchased a six-pack of non-alcoholic beer. Although I’m not really much of a beer drinker, the non-alcohol beer tasted pretty good. (Side note: I wondered whether zero-alcohol beer gives you a beer belly… I did not want to find out.)
Meanwhile, on January 6th (our first full day home from Florida,) insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol. Additional political upheaval and the deadliest month to-date of Covid followed. My anger, fear and distress were compounded by personal challenges with Seasonal Affective Disorder (“SAD,”) which always rages during January– our coldest and darkest month. Suffice it to say, there were many days during January when I really craved a drink.
But somehow, I kept calm, sipped my original Seedlip cocktail (mixed with elderflower tonic, soda & lime juice) and carried on.
Today is January 31st. In a few hours, I will have survived Dry January. Not only am I proud of this accomplishment, but also, I have learned a lot about my relationship with alcohol and how it affects me. During the past month, I have slept better without alcohol interrupting my sleep cycle; I have also awakened with greater mental clarity, without the lingering headache that wine, especially, can give me. I feel less bloated and healthier overall. I believe it is important to listen to the messages our bodies send us– and mine is telling me that it feels better without alcohol. And I am not alone.
A research study from the University of Sussex in the UK found that partaking in Dry January improves life in many ways. The study, led by Psychologist Dr. Richard de Visser, surveyed more than 800 Dry January 2018 participants. The respondents were still drinking less in August, seven months later. Additionally, participants realized other important benefits:
- 93% felt a sense of achievement
- 88% saved money
- 80% felt more in control of their drinking
- 71% slept better
- 70% had improved health
- 67% had more energy
- 58% lost weight
- 57% had better concentration
- 57% had better skin
I enjoy drinking, but am now confident I can go a month without it. Dry January has been a good way to “sample sobriety” without being overwhelmed by the concept of never having another drink. I like how my body and mind feel and realize that a dry week or month is worth doing from time to time.
Beginning tomorrow, I think I’ll take a page out of TODAY anchor, Savannah Guthrie’s, book and try for a Dry-ish February. Drier than December, but a little less dry than January– the overall goal being to consciously drink less, without giving up alcohol altogether.
Now, what better way to close out the cold, wintry, tumultuous month of January 2021 than with a nice, hearty bowl of turkey chili and an iced cold Heineken 00? Cheers!!