What I Learned from My Dry January Experiment
When my good friend suggested I do “Dry January” with her, I thought it was the dumbest idea ever. Why would I do that to myself? Why would ANYONE do that to themselves? Deny myself wine? Wine, that I love so deeply and completely? How would I ever survive?
How would I get through the dreaded after-school hours without my “homework wine?” My girls are complete spazzes when it comes to homework. How would I do it?
And no wine with lunch? My all-time favorite thing in the world is taking myself out to a nice lunch and enjoying a cool, crisp glass of Sauv Blanc (preferably with some salmon nigiri.)
And what about my poor husband? We love opening a nice bottle of red wine and hanging out after the girls are in bed. I wasn’t going to make him suffer along with me, was I?
And what about nights out with friends? So what… I’m the boring sober driver? What about the dance parties? (I prefer to do the Roger Rabbit with a few drinks in me, thank you very much.)
So yeah, when my friend suggested I try Dry January, I’m pretty sure I said, “SUCK IT. See you in a month.”
So yeah, it’s true. I’m a bit of a wino.
I drink wine pretty much every single day. I drink it when I’m stressed out. I drink it to celebrate. And much of the time, I’m either stressed out or celebrating.
I think one of my problems is that I don’t really have an “OFF” button. If I’m in, I’m all in. One glass can easily become one bottle.
I rarely get a hangover, so I’m not forced to cut back for lack of functionality. I exercise almost every day, so if I’m feeling a little…ahem…not-so-spry…I know that a morning run will sweat it out of me. I juice every day and I eat super clean and I do yoga. So how bad can it be? I’m not that much of a jackass, am I?
And then…then there’s New Years Eve. I’m pretty sure I drank enough Veuve that night to kill a small pony.
And it was exactly that moment…on New Year’s Day, 2019, when I was sporting a WEE bit of a hangover, that my friend sent me that text, and I pondered the merits of Dry January.
At that moment, I took this picture. (And yes, I did run that morning.)
Not looking so good.
Maybe there is something to this Dry January. What if I did it? How would I feel? COULD I do it? Of course I could do it. I did it for 9 months for both of my pregnancies, right? The bigger questions is, SHOULD I do it?
What if I did it as some sort of social experiment? I could prove everyone wrong. I seriously doubted I would feel any different. I certainly wouldn’t lose any weight. The only thing that would happen is I wouldn’t be able to manage my stress, and I certainly wouldn’t have as much fun. Everyone would hate me. The Earth would turn on its axis.
Yeah, I was going to do it! I’d expose the silly truth behind “Dry January.”
So I made the announcement on social media. To my surprise, most people didn’t seem to take me very seriously. It was like they thought I couldn’t pull it off!
That just bolstered my resolve.
And guess what? I did it. Except for a “hair of the dog” I had on New Years Day (a margarita at the Mexican Village) before the before-mentioned pivotal text, I didn’t have a single drop of alcohol for 31 days.
Here’s what happened. Here’s what I learned. And yes, it was profound.
1.The “detox period” is real.
They say when alcohol leaves your body, you officially start the detox process. I have to say, I was miserable for the first 10-12 days. I’m talking MISERABLE. My anxiety was off the charts. I couldn’t sleep at night. There was so much floating around in my head, I couldn’t get a handle on it. People kept texting me, asking how it was going, and this is what I told them via text.
“This is horrible. My kids and my husband are making me crazy. I’m going all month because I said I would. I will NEVER do this again! I’m not even sleeping better. THIS SUCKS.”
Then, there was the fact I hadn’t lost a single pound. Wasn’t I supposed to be losing weight? “I already eat super healthy and work out daily, so I’m guessing that’s why I haven’t lost any weight.”
Then it gets worse. I wrote to my friend, “This is a crock of sh-t. Seriously, I want to write an article about what a crock of sh-t this is.”
Withdrawal anxiety, anyone?
2.I grew to love Arnold Palmers, tea and golden milk.
If I wasn’t going to drink wine in the afternoons or evenings, I needed to drink SOMETHING. And water was so boring. The Arnold Palmer seemed to work ok for my lunches. (I actually liked it.) But I needed something for nighttime. I tried the “flavored soda water in a champagne glass” idea, but it seemed like a bunch of baloney to me. Soda water isn’t champagne. And it’s a pretty lame substitute!
So, I turned to tea. I got Calming Tea. I got Sleepytime Tea. I made my own detox tea with ginger, turmeric, cloves, lemon, honey and cayenne pepper. I made Golden Milk.
Then, a few days in, I found myself actually looking forward to my tea, looking forward to my golden milk. Something about the hot liquid in a coffee cup was strangely comforting. Maybe this is why tea is such a big deal in England?
3. I gathered friends and literature to keep me on track.
Most of my friends were super-supportive. (Probably because they thought I was going to fall off the wagon!) But seriously, a couple girls even drank iced tea with me instead of ordering drinks. (Not that I minded if they did. I really didn’t. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, right?)
I also joined a group of girls who were in a texting circle to offer each other support. That seemed to help.
And there’s this.
A pretty mind-blowing book. I highly recommend reading this if you are thinking about taking a break from booze.
4. I felt hyper alert and aware.
This happened right away. I began to notice everything. EVERYTHING. More shades of green on the trees. The smell of the earth on my morning run. How my daughter’s hair smells in the morning. How my husband is smiling much of the time but his beard hides it.
I noticed how I was feeling at the present moment. I noticed lots of really good things. But I noticed bad things, too. If someone in my family did something unkind or something I didn’t think was appropriate, I addressed the situation right away.
I didn’t let anything slide. I don’t think my kids or my husband liked this very much, but I was completely incapable of letting anything slip. Nothing was getting passed the gates! I found myself processing, dealing, and handling things immediately, head on.
When I showed up at a friends dinner party four days in, she asked me how I felt. “Super alert!” I answered. “Too alert. I’m noticing and feeling everything. It’s weird. It’s almost too much to take in.” It kind of was.
5.My productivity skyrocketed.
A few days in, I noticed I was getting ten times as many things done in a day as before. Even though I was edgy and anxious, I was also hyper-focused and sharper…a more driven, determined version of my previous self.
Which blew me away because I already considered myself super-productive. Now I could be even MORE productive? I could get even MORE done? I had more power and energy and focus than I thought I did? Even while I was feeling uncomfortable and edgy and pretty miserable in the detox stage, I could feel the energy exploding out of me. I could get all of the laundry done, folded and put away in one day instead of in stages. I got more writing done, and more quickly. Where was all this energy coming from?
6. I realized I don’t need wine to help me cope with stress.
This is major: Wine doesn’t actually help me deal with stress. It only hurts me.
I learned this quickly, the very first day my girls went back to school after Christmas break. It was a Monday. I was dreading pickup. How would I manage to get through homework time with NO wine? My girls are always crazy when they do their homework. It takes my 7-year-old everything she’s got to make it through the school day so by homework time…she’s a mess. Many times there are tears. Sometimes there is name-calling and depreciating self-talk.
It’s my basic nightmare. And I was going in sober.
Before we sat down to start homework, I made some Calming Tea. I took a sip and sat down. You know what happened? We did our homework, that’s what. No one cried. No one yelled. It was relatively peaceful. When tricky situations came up, I took a deep breath and we worked through it. WE WORKED THROUGH IT. And I didn’t need wine to help me.
I thought…this is magical. And it didn’t happen just one time. It happened again and again. When something bad or stressful happened, I couldn’t go open a bottle of wine… it just wasn’t an option. So I drank my tea, and worked out the problem.
I realized that all this time, when things got really stressful, my first line of defense was to numb myself from the problem. And it worked. It always did. I always felt better.
But the problem never went away. It kept coming back. Why? Because I never actually SOLVED the problem.
There is a bible verse that says “Go to the seat of your trouble and build yourself a new heart.” I never understood what that meant. Now I understand. You can’t solve a problem unless you are aware of it. Going to the “seat of your trouble” means feeling all those yucky moments. Existing completely in the stress, the unhappiness, the frustration. Because only when you feel it and you are completely aware of it are you able to take steps to change it. You build yourself a new heart. Then you can let it go.
When I’m stressed out, this is when I need to check in…NOT check out. If I’m stressed out, it’s usually because there’s a problem to solve. These are the times I need to have my thinking cap on. I need to be a builder. Numbing myself to the problem just to get through it, only to have it surface the next day wasn’t going to do anything. It was a disservice to myself and my family.
In this particular situation, I had a great idea for my little one…a sticker chart made of boxes in the shape of the letters spelling out LEGO which she’s obsessed with. Every day, she would have chances to earn stickers and fill up the boxes for her chart by not using hurtful words, by doing her reading/math/etc without spazzing out, and by doing her chores. I separated it into three distinct periods…before school, after school and bedtime. I ordered some cute stickers from Amazon for her.
And you know what? It worked. She loves this chart and loves the positive reinforcement. IT has made homework time (although its not perfect) MUCH easier. I’m sure it will lose its charm at some point and I will have to come up with something else, but for now, it’s amazing!
Do you think I would have thought of this idea and implemented it if I was drinking wine just to get through homework time? Just to survive it? No way. Not a chance.
7. I became super mindful about what I ate.
Because I was so conscious about what I was putting into my body, I became extremely mindful about what I ate.
I wasn’t on any sort of a diet, but I found myself instinctively wanting to eat more plants. More veggies, specifically. I already ordered a Farmers Market Box from Farm Fresh to You to be delivered to my house every other week, but I decided to rev up my deliveries to weekly. Why not? I would be forced to use all the fruits and veggies and prepare super healthy dinners for us. Most nights we eat vegetarian meals prepared with veggies from the box, other nights I get some chicken for husband to grill to add to the meal, and some nights we eat out. But most nights I found myself cooking at home with the fruit & veggie box.
I also found I didn’t crave carbs like I always thought I have. I just didn’t want that burrito. It would taste good, but I knew I would feel bloated and yucky after I ate it. And instead of baked sushi rolls I wanted a seaweed salad and nigiri. Weird, right?
The only new craving I found is that I actually DO have a sweet tooth. For the last 20 years I haven’t had a sweet tooth because I drank wine every night, and that was sweet so it was doing the trick. But now that the wine was gone, I really, really wanted something sweet at night! So I let myself eat a small bowl of ice cream. Or some dark chocolate. And it was DELICIOUS!
8.I lost 7 pounds without even trying.
So yeah. It did happen. And yes, I workout almost every single day but I was doing that before. So my workouts haven’t changed. And I don’t even really think it’s the lack of calories from the wine that caused the weight loss.
More than anything, I think that my TASTES and CRAVINGS change when I’m not drinking. I don’t crave pizza and burritos. I want a salad. So that’s what I’ve been eating.
9. My mind grew sharper.
My brain felt like it was on steroids. I felt like I could do anything! And I did! I started another side business. I started a big new project. I planned three vacations. And I realized…I have a beautiful mind! Shouldn’t it be operating in its full capacity ALL of the time?
I felt super quick-witted and funny. I had a comeback for everything. (Hey, don’t you know? I’m funny, people!) I had fun going to dinner parties where everyone was drinking because I got to crack jokes and make everyone laugh. I learned to play poker (sort of.) I was less forgetful.
10. I felt more confident.
I didn’t have any need to second-guess myself because I was always completely in control, in the present moment.
I never worried…did I say something inappropriate? Did I misunderstand this situation? Was I oversensitive? Was my comment rude? Because I was 100% there, 100% of the time, I didn’t have to worry. If I thought something was effed up…well, that’s because it was. My bullshit radar was accurate and on task. I felt invincible. And I had complete trust in myself.
I felt so strong, armed with the knowledge that I didn’t need wine to help me navigate stressful situations. I already had everything I need inside of me.
11. I realized didn’t need wine to celebrate and socialize.
I went out for five or six dinners during the month of January when I wasn’t drinking. I also stayed at a family member’s house for the weekend where everyone was drinking all night for a birthday party. How did this play out?
Well, after initially feeling weird…I had a great time. I had amazing conversations because I was fully engaged. I laughed super hard because I was totally present. And I learned how to play poker because I wasn’t drunk. And when I started to get bored (and this did happen, a few times) it was because I was at the same dinner with the same people for more than four hours and it was time to go home. (The only people who were truly having fun at that point were drinking a lot.)
And I realized, I had an edge when I was the only sober person in the room. I noticed everything, I remembered everything, I could handle everything. I could notice the blurred edges of people around me who were obviously over-served. But they seemed blissfully unaware. I could hear it in the soft slurs of their voices and see it in their soft, but kind eyes. Was this me? Was this how I looked? And I wasn’t judging them. I was one of them, after all. I was just noticing.
12. I started to sleep better.
Yes, it took me two weeks but I finally started to sleep better. Sleep has always been tricky for me, so this is major. I usually woke up around 2 or 3 in the morning (was this my blood sugar level plummeting? I don’t know.) And I usually don’t sleep at all unless I take some natural sleep aid or a Z-quil for extra stressful days. I would wake up fully refreshed and excited for the day. I’m already a morning person, but now I was a morning person on crack!
13. I started to look better. Do you ever catch of a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and think to yourself, “Hey! I’m looking good!” (Yeah, me neither.) But this started happening a few weeks in. Not only was I less bloated (Probably from not eating the alcohol-fueled carbs) but my skin looked clearer. My eyes looked brighter. I felt like I looked…shinier, if this makes sense.
14. I saved a lot of money.
I decided to do some math. If I was drinking (on average) two or three glasses of wine a day, and more on weekends, averaging out to about 7 bottles of wine a week…and I was spending like $10 on a bottle of wine (Joel Goett Sauv Blanc from Boneys treats me just fine, thank you very much) then that’s $70 a week.
Now let’s talk lunches. I found that I didn’t dine out as much for lunch anymore because it just wasn’t as much fun without a glass of wine. And lunch out with wine is usually around $25-$40. And I was going out for lunch two or three times a week. So let’s round up and make that another $120. So already I’m saving almost $200 a week. So we are talking a savings of like $800 a month.
That’s significant! I could DO something with that money. I could go shopping with that money. That’s, like, two GG belts, people! Or…the money could pay for private school or riding lessons for my seven year old, or dance or gymnastics classes for my ten year old, or could go towards a mortgage.
So yeah…the money savings is no joke!
15. I learned what I actually like about drinking wine.
I really don’t need wine to celebrate. I certainly don’t want it for stress. And I’ve obviously realized some incredible benefits of taking a break from booze.
So what does this mean? Am I destined for a life of enlightened sobriety? Not so fast!
I’ve discovered that what I really, really like about drinking wine is that when I open a bottle, I feel like I’m off the clock. Like I’m no longer in charge. It’s a cue that most of the hard work of the day is done, and it’s time to take it easy. (Although as a parent, though, are you ever really off the clock? So I’m aware this is just an illusion!)
As moms, we’re always executing. Always thinking, always planning, and always moving forward. It’s exhausting! I think, for me, the allure is, I have a glass of wine, and I’m giving up some of that control. And that’s liberating.
So what does this all add up to?
I can’t believe what I’ve learned in this process. And..SHOCKER…I’ve learned that I’m not a 100% sober-kind-of-gal. I don’t think sober living is for me, and I don’t think that its sustainable for me in this society. (And that’s an entire other blog post.) What I DO like, is the idea of drinking wine as a special treat, something relaxing to do and savor.
And enjoying wine should be special. I don’t need to drink glasses of wine every night just because. I certainly don’t need to drink as much as I was drinking before. Why would I, when I saw so many positive changes when I stopped?
So I decided that come February, I would allow myself to drink Friday-Sunday. I wouldn’t drink wine during the week—no exceptions– unless I was on vacation somewhere. That seemed pretty easy to stick to!
And I wanted to take steps to drink better wine. I wanted to find some organic wine without a bunch of yucky additives or pesticides, so I had some research to do.
You may be wondering…February is almost done. How’s my plan working out? Did I stick to it?
Yes! So far, so good! I didn’t spiral down into madness with my first glass of wine, although my tolerance is shot and I did fall asleep at 7pm on a Sunday after having two “yacht club wine pours” at CYC. And I even found some organic wine I like!
And strangely enough, on Mondays, I’m happy it’s a Monday and I’m back to my tea and golden milk.
Do I encourage you to do your own version of Dry January? Absolutely. It was a major eye-opener for me, a total game-changer. I’m so glad I did it, and I am equally excited for the days to come. Thanks for reading, and I would love to hear any of your comments or experiences with Dry January!
And yes…if you ever catch me drinking wine Monday-Thursday, feel free to call me on it! (But I am pretty sure you won’t. )