The holidays are over, and 2020 is finally in our rearview mirror. And if you're like most people — myself included — it was a season of heavier-than-usual drinking.
Dry January has been a thing for a while, but this year it feels especially timely. It also feels like a Herculean effort, though. After all, if you're like me, drinking has become a coping mechanism and a habit ingrained in my routine. Kids are in bed? Wine o'clock. It's 5 p.m. on a Friday? Cheers to the weekend. Sunday morning? Mimosas and brunch (at home, of course).
But that's exactly why I'm signing myself up for Dry January 2021 after doing Sober October for the first time in 2020. I don't want drinking to be something I have to do. I'm breaking the pattern and re-establishing a healthier relationship with booze. I hope you'll join me!
To help get you started, I'll share some of what I learned in my last 30 days of sobriety. And while I'm no expert, I did chat with a few, so I'll include their words of wisdom as well.
If your drinking feels out of control, consider calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit their website for more resources.
1. Adjust Your Expectations
Similar to New Year's resolutions, you shouldn't expect any sweeping, life-changing things to occur straight out of the gate. I didn't lose weight, even though I thought I would, and I didn't suddenly want to ditch the booze forever.
But I did feel better, have more energy and felt healthier overall. And there were differences I couldn't see.
"The biggest change would be an improvement in liver function," says Bankole Johnson, MD, CEO and founder of Privee Clinics and author of Six Rings: Beyond Imagined Borders of Brain Wellness and Addiction Science.
"It will take a few months to get important changes in the brain, but any reduction or cessation in alcohol use is helpful with respect to clinical outcome."
So think about what you want out of the month — and be realistic about it. You might not drop 20 pounds but waking up without a hangover is surely something to celebrate.
"While you may not notice changes day by day, if you look back on your notes week by week, and compare your starting point to your current date, it can keep you going on hard days."
2. Get Rid of (or Hide) Your Booze
Forgoing alcohol when you're surrounded by your favorite bottle of red and your go-to IPA is like trying to cut out processed sugar while working at a bakery — hard.
"Especially now that we're spending more time in our homes than prior years, eliminating temptation in the house serves as a big help to having a successful Dry January," says Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge. Sure, you could toss it down the drain, but there are other, less-wasteful options.
"You can opt to give it to a friend to hold onto it for the entirety of your challenge," Sheinbaum says. "You can also place it in a room or space — perhaps a storage unit or a utility closet — that you don't frequently visit so that you aren't reminded of drinking every time you open the refrigerator for a snack."
3. Take 15 Minutes When Cravings Hit
I couldn't rid my home entirely of alcohol (my partner was still imbibing), so distraction was essential. "Most cravings subside within 15 minutes, so an effective strategy is distracting yourself or finding another activity during this period," Dr. Johnson says.
What can you do with those 15 minutes? I could personally give the "I work for a health website" answer and say: Stretch! Meditate! Go for a walk! And while all of those are valid and approved by Dr. Johnson, I found something else that worked for me — crocheting.
I'm not saying there's magic in wielding a crochet hook, but learning to crochet provided a new way to engage my brain, gave my hands something to do other than hold a cocktail and left me with a sense of accomplishment (and some really cute stuffed animals and a scarf).
What's that new hobby for you? Gardening, photography, journaling, video games, cooking, knitting, needlepoint, drawing, coloring, origami, woodworking, bird watching, welding — the world is your oyster.
4. Treat Yourself to Something Sparkling
Not talking about jewelry here but sparkling water. Or whatever other fun, tasty, non-alcoholic beverage feels special and a step above club soda with lime.
"Tea, coffee, soda, juice and flavored seltzer are some beverages that come to mind," Sheinbaum says. "But, if you're still craving the taste of your favorite brew, vino or cocktail, a bevy of brands produce non-alcoholic beers, wines, spirits and pre-made cocktails — and they actually taste great."
One I recently tried was Mocktail Club. If you're craving an old fashioned, Italian spritz, mojito or Manhattan, their bottled drinks re-create the experience of sipping on your favorite cocktail sans alcohol. Plus, they include antioxidants and prebiotics (which booze definitely doesn't).
Other brands include Ritual, Seedlip, Monday and Lyre's, many of which are calorie-free. You can also try kombucha and zero-alcohol cocktails like Curious Elixirs. Or another one of my go-tos: black cherry sparkling water in a glittery wine glass I bought on Etsy. (Yes, the glass was essential to complete the experience.)
5. Track Your Progress
Thinking back to #1 on this list, it can be incredibly motivating to see the physical and mental benefits your efforts have reaped, including better sleep, clearer skin and more energy.
"While you may not notice these changes day by day, if you look back on your notes week by week, and compare your starting point to your current date, it can keep you going on hard days," Sheinbaum says.
You don't have to write full journal entries each day — simply jot down how long and how well you slept and how much energy you feel like you have, then rate your overall mood on a scale of 1 to 10.
Another easy way to see noticeable progress? Take a photo of your face on day 1, then again on day 31. By the end of the month, you just might notice that your eyes look brighter and your skin clearer.
6. Reward Yourself
When February 1 rolls around, it's time to celebrate! And while you may be tempted to booze it up big time, don't head straight for the liquor cabinet. Find another way to reward yourself.
"With the money you've saved, treat yourself to a fancy dinner or exercise equipment, or whatever your heart desires," Sheinbaum says.
"If you don't want to spend money, you can still promise yourself a reward like watching your favorite TV show all day or throwing a Zoom party to celebrate your success."
Just don't forget to cheers to your health!