Editor’s Note: This article explores alcohol consumption habits from the personal lens of the author and is not meant to be a professional recommendation for how others should approach their relationship with alcohol. If you’d prefer not to read a piece that discusses alcohol, you may want to sit this one out. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please consider reaching out to a resource such as the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Helpline at 1.800.662.HELP (4357).
I first decided to take a month off of drinking on the sledding hill. It was January 1 and I had lugged my children down the block to get some fresh air. It was a bright winter day, around 10:00 am, and I had a gnarly hangover, as many do on New Year’s Day. I felt ~fine~, but under the feeling of ~fine~, there was a sea of anxiety and sweatiness and nausea inside me.
A friend was also on the sledding hill. He mentioned that he was going to do a dry January this year. I immediately jumped on board. I knew I needed a little break. I needed some time to reset.
Strangely, everyone I spoke to the following week was also doing a dry January. I didn’t even know “Dry Jan” was a thing. I’d never heard of it before, but Dry Jan was everywhere. Perhaps a lot of us had been leaning a little too heavily on the old, comforting crutch of alcohol. It makes sense, what with the global pandemic and being locked up at home and all.
I’ll say here that I’m not an expert on anything related to alcohol. What I’m sharing are my personal notes on being a consistent drinker who took a break. Nothing more.
I’d also like to preface this reflection with the statement: Talking about alcohol is weird. Weird and intimidating. It feels a bit taboo, right? Like you might say the wrong thing and accidentally paint yourself as a raging alcoholic, even if you don’t feel like one. Or, you might offend someone by categorizing them as an alcoholic without intending to. Not that being an alcoholic makes someone inherently bad (Agh! Another landmine!), but you don’t want to use the term in reference to someone without their consent. Are we together on this?
There are aspects of my drinking habits I’m not proud of. I started drinking in high school (Sorry, Mom!) and have continued drinking at a pretty steady pace until, well, now. It was a routine and something I looked forward to after a long day.
Obviously, I took breaks when I was pregnant, but as Braunwyn Windham-Burke discussed on the RHOOC 2020 season finale, there’s a difference between taking a self-imposed break from alcohol and taking a break to have a baby. The framework behind choosing to take a break and having to take a break are much different.
The first half of Dry Jan was not hard. Once I decided to not drink, not drinking wasn’t an issue. Sometimes, midafternoon, I’d feel bummed when I’d remember I couldn’t look forward to a glass of wine that evening, but it was a fleeting feeling. And that was mostly the extent of my chagrin.
I noted many positives. Of course, I felt better in the mornings. I had more energy that lasted until later in the afternoons. I was able to exercise more often and I read more books.
Alcohol had been giving me a spike of energy to chat (not a bad thing) but without it, I’m more likely to read, follow up on my skin-care routine, and go to bed early (also not bad things). It could be that I’m a bit more in tune with my natural ebb and flow of energy when I’m not drinking.
It felt weird admitting this, but I felt less social without alcohol. You’re probably thinking, duh, but I didn’t see it coming. Pre-January, I’d gotten into the habit of calling friends in the evening after I got the kids to bed. It was nice to reconnect with dear buds who live far away. We’d set dates and have drinks together over the phone. Once I stopped drinking, the calls did also. I wondered if I was even as social with my partner in the evening when I wasn’t drinking. It felt icky to consider that alcohol might be the only access point for connecting with others.
I sat with this uncomfortable idea for a bit. Then I thought, Maybe I’m just tired in the evenings and that’s ok. Alcohol had been giving me a spike of energy to chat (not a bad thing) but without it, I’m more likely to read, follow up on my skin-care routine, and go to bed early (also not bad things). It could be that I’m a bit more in tune with my natural ebb and flow of energy when I’m not drinking.
Still, wondering if alcohol made hanging out more fun, especially with my partner felt…like a bummer. It took a few weeks, but I began to see that alcohol didn’t serve the function in my life I thought it did. I thought it helped make things lively and silly. But, when Caleb and I watched Survivor during Dry Jan, we’d discuss live tribals with the same intensity. (Sidebar: Survivor is a really good show and Caleb is probably going to be on it someday so keep your T.V. critiques to yourself.) We still made millions of weird, stupid jokes throughout the day, which is our love language. We were still as goofy with each other as ever. It just took a few days to recalibrate.
Chatty evenings fueled by two (fine, three) beers are nice! However, Dry Jan was showing me that I also like being chatty in the mornings with a cup of coffee or during our weekly nap drives* or when I call a friend (fine, my dad) from the car when I’m out running errands. There are just different ways and times for connecting.
The second half of January went a lot like the first. I still didn’t miss drinking as much as I thought I would. A friend suggested drinking La Croix from a wine glass, which was actually a fun substitute.
The only hiccup came when I recognized how much less anxious I felt every day. It took a while to see it, but things were generally easier when I wasn’t drinking. There was a more even keel. It sucked to admit, but it’s true.
I decided to make a plan for the future instead of berating myself for my past drinking habits. I recognized that life was nice without alcohol. Noted. Could life also be nice with a little alcohol? Maybe I could employ a more mindful approach to drinking, instead of just automatically opening a bottle of wine while cooking dinner every night. Maybe I could find a nice balance.
I recognized that life was nice without alcohol. Noted. Could life also be nice with a little alcohol? Maybe I could employ a more mindful approach to drinking, instead of just automatically opening a bottle of wine while cooking dinner every night. Maybe I could find a nice balance.
January might be a good time to take a hard look in the mirror, but February is the month for finding flow. Instead of taking up a harsh regiment to moderate my drinking, I’m going to ease back into things. I’m going to do that by being thoughtful about when I’ll have a drink. I’ll take a minute to notice if I actually feel like having some wine or if, in fact, I’m tired or overwhelmed or bored.
So far, this approach is working well. As I write this, we’re done with the first ⅓ of February, and I’ve only had a couple of drinks to mention. One night I did have two (fine, three) beers with Caleb and we had some laughs. Many other nights, I haven’t felt like having anything.
I feel protective of the success Dry Jan brought me. I like feeling good; it’s weird, I know. If I can’t find a gentle, easy flow with alcohol, maybe I’ll take an even longer break. Knowing what I know now, another break wouldn’t seem scary. In fact, I might welcome it, if it felt like the right choice.
For the time being, I’m going to feel out this new rhythm. The amazing thing about being in the groove is, you know when you’re there. I think I’m getting close—closer than I’ve ever been (!!) to my own personal balanced pace with alcohol and I’d like to thank Dry Jan for her help. Couldn’t have done it without her.
*We’re magicians who figured out how to make all our children nap in the car at the same time so we can take long Sunday drives while I read out loud. It’s pretty cute.
BY Meggie Maas - February 19, 2021
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.