I’m two weeks into #DryJanuary, a worldwide resolution embraced by millions to ditch alcohol in January. The tradition started in Britain to help people revaluate their relationship with booze and that’s exactly what it’s helping me do.
I’ve been sipping beer, wine, vodka, scotch & tequila for most of my life. Okay not all at once, more like a couple of drinks a week. Apart from a mishap or two—a run in with Jägermeister on my 21st birthday and a more recent encounter with a concoction called, The Bee’s Knees—I’m a moderate, responsible drink.
So why go sober? First I was curious. The last time I was dry for a month was when I was pregnant with my son, Marcus, and he just started shaving! Numerous spiritual teachers extol the impact sobriety has on spirituality, and I wondered if forgoing my Happy Hour habit would enhance my creativity and connection with the Divine.
In December articles by folks who’d ditched drinking kept appearing in my inbox, nudging me in that direction. The authors celebrated the benefits of being clean which included: more energy, glowing skin, weight loss, better sleep and saving money. Several loved ones had given up alcohol for medical reasons. One friend had liver cancer, another had acid reflux and a third was experiencing mental health issues that required abstinence, and I wanted to show my support through sobriety solidarity.
One of my core values is Wellness. Although there’s evidence that drinking in moderation has health benefits, I sensed that alcohol was hindering my wellbeing. The body treats alcohol like a toxin channeling energy into expelling it. Alcohol is also a depressant and triggers the release of insulin lowering blood sugar, which can negatively impact mood and energy.
Initially #DryJanuary was easy. Holiday overindulgence had left me feeling tired and toxic. I wasn’t enjoying the effects alcohol was having on my body, mind, heart & spirit. I was happy to let it go. I felt sharper, focused and more present for my self and the people I love. Evening yoga & meditation replaced the Happy Hour habit offering more lasting benefits. Without alcohol’s numbing impact, I experienced more joy, peace and happiness. When I felt upset rather than sloshing my emotions, I paused, tuned into my feelings and gave myself what I really needed. Why had I been drinking for so long?
By the end of week one the cravings kicked in. Despite how much better I felt, when the sun set my brain screamed for dopamine (a neurotransmitter that rules the reward system). After a long day and various conflicts (My daughter was home from college and driving me crazy!), I longed for that familiar alcoholic haze. I defused the craving bomb by sipping Yogi tea and Cherry-lime Seltzer water, cultivating inner wellbeing and reminding myself that I after the first sip or two I didn’t enjoy alcohol’s effects.
I admit I slipped. I was out with friends and somebody handed me a glass of champagne. We made a toast. I raised my glass and seconds latter the champagne was drained. (Score one for dopamine.) Rather than feeling defeated I let it go.
My self-compassion practice has taught me that we all make mistakes, fail and slip up. Being imperfect is part of the human condition. The more we hold on to needing to do everything perfectly, the harder it is to stick with our intentions. By settling on realistic goals we’re more likely to achieve them. Focusing on progress, not perfection moves us forward. Sure I want to be and do my best, but perfection is too lofty. I’m okay with aiming for something slightly less ambitious.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far from #DryJanuary. The pros out weigh the cons. I feel physically, spiritually and mentally brighter and lighter without alcohol. Giving up a life long habit is incredibly difficult. I have more empathy for friends and clients who struggle to let go of substances or activities weighing them down.
Going forward, I plan to incorporate what I’ve learned. For me abstinence is not the answer. It tends to increase my desire. Ironically, when I give myself permission to sip, I typically lose my cravings. Rather than quit completely, my intention is to drink less frequently and more mindfully. I’m also upping my self-compassion game. I’ve ditched my inner critic. I’m tuning in and giving myself what I need and not turning to alcohol to mask uncomfortable emotions and problems that will remain once my glass is empty.
Breaking my Happy Hour habit is a start. The bigger challenge is loving myself and uncovering the beliefs, thoughts and fears that lead me to seek solutions and solace in a bottle. That’s where the work is.