It was a late December night and over fishbowl sized glasses of red wine, I was Skyping with an old friend about planning our upcoming high school reunion. 2 hours later, the Skype call ended and so did my bottle. High on liquid hubris in the wake of a brainstorm, I was bursting to share one last idea. So I created a video message for my friend – something I never do – but I was shit faced and thought “yaasss, she’ll love it”.
Camera rolling, with my finger held in the air the way drunk people do when they’re trying to make a point I declared,
“Wouldn’t it be ah-mazing if in the invitation, we all sang ‘Landslide’ acapella over an ‘80s photo montage of us and put on ‘nst-gram? Lemme show you.”
Oblivious to my lack of vocal talent, I belted out every verse of ‘Landslide’; swagger on fire like this was the Grammy performance of my life and face contorting as I struggled to hit the high notes (or any note at all).
If there there are two things you never want to see in life, it’s 1) you’re parents getting it on, and 2) you on video either singing or dancing while drunk, the latter of which was waiting for me to enjoy in the harsh, sober morning light.
And that my friends, was my invitation from the universe to give Dry January a try.
Dry January first caught on a few years ago in the UK where alcoholism is akin to a public health crisis, and more recently in the US. Originally, the possibility of giving up the tipple appealed to my vanity after pictures like the one below (credit Daily Mail) circulated on the Internet and demonstrated what an impact giving up booze can have on your looks.
Photo Credit: Daily Mail UK
But asking me to give up wine for a month was like asking me to stop breathing. Life in the middle of the U curve of happiness was hard and a good bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape became my boyfriend, my best friend and the thing that made me feel like I was funny, sexy, smart and fabulous, just the way I was.
Besides, the image of a problem drinker conjured up “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” Kim Richards, or even Amy Schumer in “Train Wreck” to some degree. Not me.
In the back of my mind though, it bothered me that I was starting to buy half bottles of wine as a form of portion control, and that I was parcelling out servings in a measuring cup. Calorie control I told myself.
But there were a few too many moments like my singing video-gram above where I simply drank too much, too quickly. It was never deliberate – I never said “I’m going to get wasted tonight”. Ever. But I noticed over the past few years that one drink was never enough and that while I intellectually processed that I shouldn’t go beyond two drinks, that second one only served as a gateway to drinks 3 and 4. And when you’re drinking outside your home, that’s easily a bottle of wine.
Part of me wanted to prove to myself that I could do this and not have a problem, but instead it revealed how complex my relationship with alcohol had become. I also learned I’m not alone.
According to a 2010 Gallup poll, two-thirds of American women now drink “regularly,” a number higher than at any time in the past 25 years. Additionally, between 2005 and 2015, binge drinking among women jumped 17.5% but only 4% among men. Binge drinking is defined as 4 or more 5 oz drinks per occasion. So think about it, if you regularly enjoy 2-3 healthy pours of wine a few times a week – you’re binge drinking.
But why? There’s been a lot written lately about women and the rise of heavy drinking, but I don’t think anyone’s truly nailed the reasons behind it. In her book “Drink”, writer Ann Dowset Johnson claims the rise of female drinking is linked to modern day perfectionism, whereas Gabrielle Glaser, in her book “Her Best Kept Secret” implies it’s a disease of white female, upper middle class privilege (although rates of alcoholism among Black and Hispanic women are rising just as fast). Others say it’s the net effect of wine in pop culture, #firstworldproblems and the wonders of marketing.
Blah blah blah…I’m blaming it on The Real Housewives.
What is frightening clear is that today’s indulgent habit can be tomorrow’s alcoholism. In fact, according to a 2007 study by the NIAAA, it’s estimated that between 75% and 90% of alcoholics are high functioning, meaning they’re successful on the outside – job, home, relationships.
Only 9% of alcoholics are the severe fall down drunks, ala Denzel Washington in “Flight”.
Addiction aside, there’s also some major health reasons for a monthly booze break. After 30 days you have better liver function, lower blood pressure, you reduce your risk of diabetes, your sleep is infinitely better, you save money and you’ll lose weight. I can attest to the better sleep, and my face looked amazing – my eyes brighter, my jawline firmer and in general I was less puffy.
Here’s how I survived Dry January:
1) Find your V.o.R.Ts (Veg-out, Relaxation Treat substitute). Yes I made that up. Friday’s and Saturday’s were especially tough so I needed a game plan. Mine were hot baths (try coconut oil, Epsom salt, baking powder and lavender oil), meditation apps (I like Headspace and Gabrielle Bernstien) and Netflix binging, but for the love God avoid Real Housewives (too much wine) and the Kardashians as they cannot be consumed sober. Sometimes it was a professional message or getting a mani-pedi. Other times a movie. Anything to distract me.
2) Avoid your trigger zones. Restaurants were my obvious no fly zones, but the real enemy territory was my kitchen around dinner time. I didn’t realize how much of a sanctuary cooking dinner had become; what I thought was a chore, was actually decompression time where I could turn on the music and do something mindless, like chop garlic or push microwave buttons. With a bottle of wine as my sous chef, the result was my husband and son got a poor man’s Carol Brady, slightly buzzed and disheveled, but dinner was in hand and I was a lot more pleasant than the troll who walked thru the door after work. Another trigger place for me were airplanes. No one loves airplane wine, but that mini plastic bottle of Woodbridge carries a skanky badge of honor among fellow business travelers that says you’ve got grit, you drink airplane wine.
3) Tell people you’re doing a Dry Detox. If you’re known for enjoying a cocktail and suddenly get cagey about not drinking, it can catch people off guard, putting them on their back foot. However, you’ll be surprised how supportive and helpful people can be if you just say “I’m doing the dry detox thing”. Everyone drops the subject and moves on.
4) Find a mocktail and make it fancy (you’re worth it and you’re exhausted). My go to mocktail was Pelligrino with fancy ice (shaved!), fresh mint, cucumber, pink lemons and limes. Why all the work? It fooled my brain into thinking I was getting my pacifier and the act of doing so calmed me down. It was an elegant solve for going out too because it still looks like a cocktail.
5) Recognize when you’re vulnerable and make a mental note. Trigger places and times aside, for most it’s anytime you’re hungry, angry, alone or tired. A lot of times we drink to numb our feelings, so you may become acutely aware of feelings that otherwise were muffled. See item #1 and pull out your V.o.R.T.s.
6) Exercise. Even just taking a walk was enough to clear my head. And endorphins are the new Molly.
At the end of 30 days, you may ask what now? Some say there’s a rebound effect where people go harder with a super wet February, but I found myself more sensitized to my drinking. I began to look for ways to rotate healthier habits into my life (namely meditation & Netflix). I’m far from perfect, but a lot more aware of the role I want alcohol to play in my life.
Learning and references:
- Dry January
- I Quit Drinking for a Month and These Things Happened (Refinery 29)
- The Benefits of Going A Month Without Booze (NPR)
- Alcohol as an Escape from Perfectionism (The Atlantic)
- Characteristics of high functioning alcoholics (Psychology Today)
- CDC Fact Sheet on Alcholism
- Are Americans Drinking Themselves to Death (Time)?
- Dry January Non-Alcoholic Cocktails (GQ)
- 6 Surprising Health Benefits of Dry January (The Guardian)