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Dry January - Jonah's Reflection

“My co-worker is doing Dry January too – just pills and powders for her”

Dry January – the epitome of a self-guilt-ridden Wisconsinite limiting their drinking for one twelfth of the year. Dry January is a trend of ditching alcohol (and hangovers) for just one month. My experience started in an ironic yet surprisingly common fashion – a hungover bet at a bar in December with my best friend on who could hold out the longest in a Seinfeld-esque wager.

We both made it one month “dry” before mutually agreeing to break our streak for a Modelo on our way to a snowmobiling trip in Michigan. Despite appreciating the lack of hangovers and saved beer money, little change proceeded this first Dry January. In fact, almost immediately, I returned to my habits of over-indulging on the weekends after a long week of work. The desire to assume more responsible drinking habits remained, however those flames flickered out quickly at the expense of limiting my social life.

Year after year I participated in Dry January, and as I write this I am finishing my fifth one. Now, admittedly, I have grown in multiple facets of my life during this time. Most substantially I have dated the love of my life for the past three years which has made drastic changes to how I spend my Friday and Saturday nights (and Sunday Packer Games). Alcohol, however, is a loyal friend and manages to keep in touch no matter where you go. Despite my lifestyle shift, the creeping guilt that always follows a day of fun has never been far behind.

This January, as I reflected on why I was subjecting myself to another year of limitations, an unnerving truth presented itself. It had become abundantly clear that in five years of acknowledging a problem, I had failed to gain control over it. Every January I'd acknowledge my desire to be more in control of how often and how much I drink, and yet, every February, I found myself wondering how to make rules for myself when the rule wasn’t being completely dry.

The reason I didn’t have a sustainable strategy – is I knew I did not want to control my drinking as much as I wanted to enjoy my social life. I had no confidence I would have the will power necessary to remove myself from a situation when I am enjoying life – I’m only young once… right?

This year, I had an epiphany: stay the course, even if the course is unclear. There will be situations in which I fail to discipline my drinking and self-doubt may creep in, convincing me there is no point in having a strategy at all. But by not being willing to fail and learn and adjust the plan, I am denying myself the ability to make incremental progress towards my ideal self. Realizing this has allowed me to come up with a strategy for 2022 to stay the course the best I can. Although I think my rhetoric is common – I want to preface that this is simply a reflection on what I’ve learned, and may not apply as we’re all on a different journey. Please take this with a grain of salt.

How to succeed:

Acceptance/Desire to change: First, acknowledge this is an aspect of life that you want to change. By the fact you are reading this, you most likely have thought about this in some capacity. I accepted wholeheartedly that I wanted to limit my dependence on this vice. And then I realized that I can’t allow perfect to get in the way of better. I think a lot of people have the desire to change but are scared they can’t. In the past, my desire to change wasn’t greater than my desire to keep alcohol in my life. So I didn’t change. Now, I’m calling bullshit on myself. Trying and failing is part of changing. My advice is to accept and forgive – if you cut loose a little more than you planned, own it, drop it, and return to your strategy the next day.

Peer Pressure: Changing behavior is hard, especially when people expect certain behaviors from you. Going out with friends and being the only one limiting or abstaining from alcohol is not an easy behavior to change. Fear of judgment and anxiety over being sober in a non-sober social environment is enough to make you feel like you need to drink. Remember – as confident as all the others may sound about how much fun you’re missing out on – it’s overwhelmingly likely they envy your choice to a certain extent.

But what if they don’t let it go? If they continue to hassle you to return to your old habits, you need to make a choice – exercise your mental fortitude to ignore them, or make it part of your strategy to separate yourself from them when you want to discipline your drinking. Approval from toxic friends always feels good temporarily, but if they make you question your character and priorities, their approval will bring you further from who you want to be.

Social Anxiety: The other silent enemy of sobriety is social anxiety. Finding yourself uncomfortably alone or thinking too much about something stupid you just said feels a little better with something to drink in your hand. After many years of Dry January, I now know which NA Beers I enjoy, how to make a good Mocktail, and how much I appreciate myself for staying hydrated (sparkling water with a lime makes it easy). These options provide safety in being able to have a drink in my hand through all awkward conversations, without accidentally drinking more than I want to.

Weekday Sustainability: One of my all-time favorite self-guilt trips is reflecting on how many days of the week I have had a drink. Even on a weekday when it is easy to be responsible with a single drink, the frequency of indulgence can be draining. I’m not looking to indulge, but a beer or glass of wine just hits a little different than a glass of ice water. Finding an alternative that TASTES good has been a great way to receive the dopamine hit of winding down and relaxing after a long day, sans alcohol. For Eden and I – that has been a cocktail glass full of ice cubes, a splash of kombucha or ACV, and topping it off with sparkling water and a citrus squeeze. The key is really pouring it in a nice glass, add some garnish. Don’t underestimate the aesthetic appeal, and having a ritual that feels like making a cocktail. It feels fun. And KEEP IT STOCKED – we almost always have alcohol stocked – make sure your alternatives are too.

I won’t be perfect – but I hope to be better than I was last year. I hope to have less hangovers, enjoy more activities, and discover what I like to do outside of alcohol. I want trend away from my vices and put myself in positions to find newer, healthier ways to enjoy life. I will still occasionally cut loose and enjoy alcohol when I choose to fit it in my life, but alcohol will no longer be an inherent part of my life. Lastly – I hope to inspire others - not only by writing about this for those who want to change – but through my actions for those who don’t find issue with indulgence. Remember it’s a journey – not a destination.


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