‘Dry January’ isn’t just a challenge, it’s about taking back control

Coronavirus has severely limited the amount of time we can spend around other people. But it hasn’t all been good news. It’s also turned us into a bunch of drunks, heightened by the booze-heavy holiday season.

For many, January represents a period of reflection, a reset of sorts. It’s an opportunity to focus less on the bad things and be grateful for the really wonderful things that happened throughout 2020: like LSU having one of the worst seasons ever by a defending national championship team.

For me, I’m trying to reset my liver and make better overall choices. I’m doing Dry January.

I started on the morning of Jan. 3, so I’m just coming up to my second week. It’s about now when I usually give up, declaring forthrightly that two weeks is more than enough for a reasonable person, and we shouldn’t be punishing ourselves when it’s so grey and cold outside.

This year, I fully plan on making it until the end of the month. And it’s not just because I want to complete the challenge. I need to know that I still have control over my drinking habits. For context, Dry January was a piece of cake until I moved to Mobile, Ala.

This is a hard-drinking town. It’s in the fabric of the city, one of the reasons it’s known as the city that is “Born to Celebrate,” owing to locals celebrating it as the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States. It’s not easy to escape alcohol here, even if you’re trying to be healthy. Bike rides go between bars, and yoga classes often take place inside breweries. Thursday night kickball is a drinking event, and Monday nights are for The Bachelor, which cannot be viewed without an altered state of mind. 

But to be fair to alcohol, it can also be helpful. It takes you places. And I don’t mean waking up on a train going to a different city at 3 a.m. without any knowledge of how you got there, which has happened to me. I mean it opens doors, creates opportunities. While we might like to think otherwise, alcohol creates relationships, it cements friendships, and it can ease us into uncomfortable situations.

Ernest Hemingway said it helped make other people seem more interesting. And he has a point.

But then there is pandemic alcohol use.

My alcohol consumption has increased steadily as the months went on and peaked over the festive period when I found myself, quite literally, drunk and talking to three goats on a hill in North Carolina.

But it’s not just that, my hangovers last days, and sap me of mental clarity.

I tried to give up alcohol in October but, after a few days, I decided that it made as much sense as taking an accordion player on a deer hunt. I failed miserably. Rather than see the broader personal consequences of that failure, which are that alcohol clearly had a strong grip on me, I got drunk and forgot about it.

That said, I don’t blame people who don’t want to give up or have already uncorked a bottle this month. After all, suppressing experiences and feelings using alcohol is one of the great privileges of being an adult. 

But if you are still hanging in there and struggling day-to-day, here are some tips and realizations that have helped and encouraged me along the way: 

You will feel healthier and energized. Other goals will also seem more achievable, whether that’s simply emptying the dishwasher or fighting with your uncle about politics on Facebook.

I also haven’t felt the urge to take naps so far this year and I seem to be sleeping much better. At first, I thought getting eight hours of sleep a night meant I was sick. That’s how unusual it is for me. I’ve also found myself more engaged in conversation with friends, even the desperately boring ones.

And I’m proud that I’ve taken more control of my life and that my anxiety has subsided.   

But if we are going to make it through the next two weeks, you’ll probably have to avoid triggers, whether that’s a bar or a certain friend’s house, or maybe it’s just watching people sing sea shanties on TikTok.

Plan for temptations to drink and find alternatives. Shout out to Busch and O’Douls Amber for making the tastiest non-alcoholic beers I’ve tried so far. Drinking NA beer, as it’s known in only the very coolest bars, helps you feel a little bit more like you belong at the party or bar. Nobody really notices what you’re drinking anyway.

Even if you’re not fully doing Dry January, what I like to call moist January, you can still limit your drinking and have a happier, healthier start to the new year. 


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