So, Christmas and New Year are over for 2019. It’s that time of the year when, emerging from the haze of overindulgence – be that cheese, sugar or alcohol – our bodies scream at us to change something and try for a healthier happier lifestyle.
I know that when I started Dry January in 2018, I had reached a breaking point with alcohol, but I also knew that I had reached that point before in my 22 year drinking career, and that despite promises to myself and repeated attempts to quit, I always ended up back where I had been.
Every New Year I thought “this year will be my year” and “by Christmas next year I will have stopped drinking”. Every year, Christmas came around and I was there, drinking away, as I had been every other year.
Yet, incredibly, here in New Year 2020, I have been sober and happy for 20 months. 2 birthdays, 2 Christmases and 2 New Years.
What is Dry January?
Dry January is a campaign run by Alcohol Change UK, a charity that aims to change attitudes to alcohol in order to reduce the harm caused by alcohol.
The Dry January campaign started in 2013 and its popularity has skyrocketed. I think statistics regarding alcohol consumption are dodgy as hell because most people either don’t want to admit to drinking too much (in case they are branded an ‘alcoholic’) or they have don’t know how much they are actually drinking. But according to alcohol change, 78% of people in Britain drink more than they want to, whether that is from pressure to drink, social anxiety or the fact that alcohol is used to mark every event from births to funerals.
Stopping drinking for 31 days will definitely help you to reassess your relationship with alcohol and with yourself, and potentially, as for me, change your life forever.
Should I try Dry January?
I think if you are questioning yourself regarding your drinking, then alcohol probably already has more of a hold on you than you would like. In which case, taking a month to reassess your relationship with booze can only be a positive step forward.
In my case, I was not in control of my drinking and especially not in control of the effect alcohol had on my anxiety and emotional state. Many people who drink moderately, still find that alcohol is dreadful for their mental health. If this is the case, why not try a month off to see whether it improves.
Benefits of Dry January
The benefits of not drinking are immense. A quick google search with leave you inundated with reasons why cutting the booze is the best thing ever.
Better sleep, less illness, less anxiety and depression, more energy, weight loss, better skin, happier, more confidence, more self-respect and more time.
Not to mention reducing those long-term effects such as heart disease, liver failure and cancer.
On a personal level I have been staggered by the effects of quitting alcohol. My anxiety has basically gone, my depression has gone, I have lost 10kg, I have achieved a huge amount, I am kinder to myself and don’t beat myself up constantly, I have a better relationship with my husband and my children know I am there all the time. I am less emotional, less snappy and less rollercoaster. I have a realistic exciting plans for the future, not just escapist pie in the sky plans, but I also love living my day to day (most of the time anyway!). I am fitter, healthier and happier than I ever though possible.
For more on this see my post How to build a life you don’t want to escape from
How to complete Dry January
It’s all very well saying all this lovely stuff about stopping for a month and all the lovely benefits of this, but what if you don’t think you actually can stop. What if, like me, you’ve been trying to stop drinking for years and years but always end up in the same place? What if, other than pregnancy, you’ve never managed more than a week off, despite desperate efforts?
Here’s my advice on how to successfully manage your first Dry January.
Take it one day at a time
Don’t worry that this will always be the case, I promise you it won’t – I don’t crave alcohol anymore, and although it does cross my mind on occasion, thinking about drinking takes hardly any headspace.
Don’t say forever. If you launch into your cutting alcohol project saying ‘this is forever’, then you are far more likely to get completely freaked out, and what do we do when we are freaked out? That’s right, we drink to ‘cope’ with it. So, give yourself a break. Each day is a huge achievement to be proud of, you can extend it later if you feel up to it.
Be extra kind to yourself
One of the worst things we do to ourselves is be unkind. Every time I slipped up and started drinking again, I would pour recriminations on my head, cry and tell myself I was pathetic and useless. I would then drink more to ‘cope’ with these feelings and would go back to my normal drinking.
This is the worst thing you can do. And I will admit, in my Dry January I had a night alone, about halfway through, and I had ½ a glass of prosecco. But I realised what I was doing, cried, tipped the rest away and carried on with Dry January.
That is the key. If you slip up, DO NOT just go back to normal. Pick up where you left of and carry on. I promise you that you are not alone. Every person who has succeeded in quitting drinking as slipped up again and again and again. But if you keep picking yourself up and carrying on then you will succeed.
See my post How to stop alcohol cravings to find out more about the incredible workings of our brain in relation to changing habits and breaking cravings.
Also please realise that you will have all sorts of emotions and feelings during this time. You need to treat yourself as you would treat a child or a new plant. Be gentle, kind and nurturing.
Sign up for my free 7 day email course below to find out how to start being kind to yourself.
Take time for yourself
You are your only priority this month. You need to do exactly what you need to do and put everything else aside.
Have a look at my suggestions below, but also have a think about what you like doing that really nurtures you. Do you love reading but never have time? Do you long for a hot bath with candles? Do you wish you had more time to bake? Whatever it is that you long to do, that is your focus this month.
I promise you, that your home, children, relationship or job will cope with a little neglect, and they will gain hugely from a happy sober you.
Do what you WANT to do
Like my point above, only do what you want to do. You don’t HAVE TO do anything. Most people slip up in Dry January because they go back to their normal drinking haunts with the same people and expect that they will be OK. This is not true. Later on, in your sober career, you will be fine, but in this first month, why put yourself through that? You’ll probably be challenged on why you are not drinking, your automatic brain triggers will want to say yes to alcohol, you’ll crave like mad, you will worry that you will never quit drinking, or that if you do, you’ll always be craving and miserable. The upshot of this is that by the end of the evening you’ll have had a drink to ‘cope’ with your internal battle ground.
So, for this first month, don’t go near your triggers. Do things differently. Plan activities and events away from your usual ones and away from alcohol. Give yourself a proper break. You may also find out that there are things you love to do far more than drinking.
Track your progress
Be accountable to yourself. Alcohol Change UK have a Dry January app that you can use to chart your progress. This should help you to keep a track of where you are and how you are doing, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the whole experience.
Here is the link to the Dry January tracker app.
There are other apps such as Drinkaware tracker, AlcoDroid, SoberTool and Sobriety Counter. They all offer slightly different things so have a play and see what works for you.
If you’re feeling slightly more old school and like a pen and paper, writing a diary of your journey – with thoughts, feelings and achievements is a big help. Try in this diary to think every day about a few things you are truly grateful for. Gratitude, especially in hard times, can have a profound effect on hoe you see things. See my post How to practice gratitude for more on how gratitude works.
Find your community support
Another way you can track your journey is on Social Media. I wish I had known when I first quit about the huge community of people on social media in the same boat I was. Instagram is particularly good as it is easier to find and connect with people who are in the sober world. I have found everyone on Instagram insanely supportive. Just what you need to keep yourself positive and motivated, and most importantly, make you realise you are not alone in your struggle. You are not abnormal!
Have a start with my Instagram page here.
Being part of a community like this can help you to stay accountable to them and to yourself. I think this is part of why Dry January works so well. You are not just you, struggling with your ‘alcohol problem’. You are part of a huge community all with the same intention. Support is an incredible thing. For more support from Alcohol Change UK you can sign up to Dry January and they will send you motivating emails and messages to help you through.
Another amazing website for community spirit and getting help to cut down is One Year No Beer. It was these guys that helped me through Dry January when I read their book, but they have website dedicated to their One Year No Beer Challenge. Don’t worry, you don’t have to start with a year! Like Dry January, you can start with 28 days.
Telling your friends that you are taking a challenge is so much easier to say than trying to explain why you are not drinking.
This is their book which helped me hugely.
The link to their website is here .
Read Read Read
So many people find that reading can help them through difficult time. I was certainly like this. In the sober world, self-help books are called ‘quit lit’ and here are my top quit lit choices.
If you are an overwhelmed mummy and don’t feel like you can ‘cope’ without the booze or simply don’t have time for a whole book, have a look at my four part post series of mummies and alcohol.
- Why do mums drink?
- What’s wrong with the mummy wine culture?
- Why mums DO NOT need to drink
- How to survive and thrive as a sober mum
Find your alcohol alternatives
It is so helpful in the beginning to find your alcohol-free alternatives. Luckily as the sober movement is taking off, more and more places offer alcohol free alternatives.
- Budweiser Prohibition
- Heineken 0.0
- Birra Moretti alcohol free – no link I’m afraid
- Non alcoholic spumante
Find your activity alternatives
Like a said before, find something different to what you normally do this month. You might be surprised by what you actually enjoy more than drinking!
One year no beer and many groups like it, suggest taking an exercise challenge such as Couch to 5K or even training for a half marathon! The effects of exercise are incredible and will help you to complete and maybe even continue Dry January. All those lovely happy hormones released by exercise, not to mention feeling better, healthier and more energetic.
Getting out in nature can also be hugely beneficial. There is something about being at one with the outside world and breathing in that fresh air that can make us feel grounded, connected and supported – just wrap up warm!
If an exercise challenge is not for you, don’t give up on exercise completely. I didn’t do the couch to 5k, although I did do a 5K park run in January 2018 and ended up with a whopping migraine!
I started with a 30-day yoga challenge. I used Yoga with Adriene on YouTube as it is free, and she is amazingly accessible. After a few days you can start to feel the difference. But like I said before, if you don’t manage to do the challenge every day, don’t feel that you have to give up or start again. Just pick up where you left off and carry on. It is all progress on your journey.
Yoga helps with mindfulness, and mindfulness has been shown to help people to cope with the day to day ups and downs of living.
Mindfulness can come in many forms including yoga, meditation and a walk in nature. Sign up for my free 7 day email series below to find out more.
Mindfulness will help you to learn more about yourself, your real interests and passions and your relationships with others.
My Dry January
While I’m making all this sound easy and positive, it probably won’t be like that to start with. Personally, I hated every second of Dry January. I was miserable, craving and thought that if I quit for good, I’d feel like that forever. But it fundamentally changed something in me and I quit for good, relatively easily, 3 months later. What I am trying to do here is give you the benefit of my experience. I did Dry January all wrong and everything I have written above was learned in the following 3 months – and it worked!
I am sober, happy and more sorted than I have ever been. I understand myself better, and I actually like myself now.
For more on my story see Why I quit drinking
You can do it too.
For more advice on how to quit drinking see my other post How to quit drinking
To read more on what other people have experienced have a look at the blogs for
Good Luck! I’ll post daily on Instagram for motivation and support. Let me know how you are getting on!