Now What: When Dry January Ends
Recently, I was attending a (virtual) dinner party with friends. French-themed and adorned with tiny hats I bought in bulk on Amazon (#QuarantinePurchases), the subject of “Dry January” came into play.
Dry January, for those who haven’t heard of the term, is the resolution to go “dry” from alcohol and abstain for the month of January. The catch phrase has caught on internationally, particularly in the United States and England, and every year articles spread through the media cycle about the health benefits of quitting booze for a month.
During our pandemic dinner party, my college friend mentioned he was enjoying the separation from booze. “I sleep better,” he noted. “And I’m more clear headed. I think I drink to relax from the day, but all it does is make me more emotional. Almost irrationally so.”
I agreed. “I’m just tired of pretending that it’s a revelation how good I feel each time I quit drinking,” I paused. “I know how drinking makes me feel. I’m sick of it. And this time I don’t want to look at it as Dry January or this black-and-white statement that I’ll ‘never’ drink again, but more as a lifestyle evolution.
Some people agreed, some didn’t. I had one friend proclaim she’d never do Dry January because she rejects fads, and it annoys her how much people talk about it when they do it.
Slightly harsh; I think she’s missing the point.
If people are talking about this extensively, it’s because they’re learning something. We’re all collectively learning something when we quit drinking.
We are wrapped up in a culture that depends on drinking for every social event and stereotypical “big” moment in life. It’s a billion-dollar industry that so many of us hardly question. It’s just “what we do” to have fun, relax or celebrate. We don’t question how it might be hurting us or how it long-term disrupts our life.
And we certainly don’t question how it may affect our eating disorder recovery.
For those of us with eating disorder history, multiple, sobering reports show that 50% of us struggle with substance abuse. Not to mention the terribly-termed Drunkorexia, a colloquialism for eating disorders combined with alcohol abuse.
My own history with alcohol has taken many twists and turns. I know that it’s affected my eating in the past, even in recovery, and I’ve used alcohol as a way to numb or avoid eating. I’ve always felt like I knew when I’ve had enough, so I’m not necessarily a binge drinker, and that logic has haphazardly convinced me in the past that I didn’t need to explore life without alcohol.
It wasn’t until I was 26 that I began to question whether alcohol was serving my life well, and it came after making several questionable recovery choices while drinking and socially saying several questionable things to people in the emotions that seem to sit at the bottom of my wine glass. I quit, made grand proclamations about going sober, and then found myself overwhelmed at the thought of “forever” and never again clinking a glass of champagne with a friend or loved one on a trip.
When I didn’t quit forever the handful of times I’ve explored not drinking, and fallen to what feels like the peer pressure to have a glass of wine with friends, I felt shame, guilt and failure.
And this is why I spoke to it at the dinner party as an evolution. I find it’s much easier to explore my relationship with alcohol without the weight of “needing to quit forever” or making grand proclamations. And while this is my fourth or fifth exploration in not drinking, I’ve been noticing that year over year, my drinking lessens. I drink less when I do drink, and I have longer periods of time with no drinks at all.
On Instagram, I’ve been asking people who are sober curious, participating in Dry January, or who have stopped drinking sometime in the last year what they are finding. And it’s been interesting how many in recovery from an eating disorder have noted that they’ve used alcohol as a way to cope with recovery feelings like fullness and body image plagues, or are using it still in connection with their eating disorder.
So, what happens when January turns to February?
We know the black and white thinking isn’t an effective method (understatement of the year). But what happens when January turns to February?
For many of us out there in the recovery community, it seems we are all having similar feelings that we want to continue to explore our relationships with alcohol and notice what it does for our life.
I asked people online to share their desires for the road forward when this month ends, and here are a few responses to inspire you in your own journey, whether you’re sober curious, newly sober or participating in Dry January:
“Be more mindful about it.”
“I have a desire to drink less now.”
“Watching my eating disorder recovery evolve without alcohol has been eye-opening. I’m eating more, but it feels so much more mindful and intuitive without alcohol.”
“I know I want a better relationship with alcohol. I don’t want to drink because I think it relaxes me when it doesn’t.”
“To find myself and how I have fun without substances while coping with feeling full.”
“To drink for the right reasons. Are there right reasons to drink? Trying to figure that out.”
“Just want to be more mindful about it and less of a generic thing to do.”
“Reaching 100 days this week! Plan on keeping it up, there’s only pros to not drinking. I finally feel like myself.”
“I don’t have a set date/time frame. I’m just seeing how I feel without drinking. That’s the goal.”
“I was going to do Dry Jan and then move on but I haven’t slept this well in years. Not stopping!”
As I inch along in my own evolution with alcohol, I’ve found that books like "Quit Like A Woman" by Holly Whitaker have helped tremendously to make sense of the alcohol industry and its subliminal marketing effect on us as a society.
If you’re curious, stay curious. Ask yourself why this is calling you in to explore. Mostly, take a few minutes each day to take account of how you feel.
Life’s all about exploring, and the exploring often brings us a lot of joy we wouldn’t know otherwise unless we took the plunge of trying something different.