John's recap: What I learned from Dry January

I haven't had alcohol since New Year's Eve. It was hard at first, and then it got easier -- most of the time. What did I learn?

January 30, 2020
John and his water bottle

I took it! It's a selfie!

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It seemed like a crazy idea, but I committed to Dry January and I did it. I’m writing this on January 30, but by this weekend I’ll be able to say I went for 31 days without alcohol. How much of a sacrifice was this for me? What exactly was I giving up? Well, that’s one of the things I learned.

I learned that I was more accustomed to a nearly daily intake of some kind of alcohol than I would’ve admitted if you’d asked me back in December. I almost always celebrated Friday afternoon with an icy gin martini (up, dry, olives) as I prepared dinner at home or met someone for dinner downtown. If it was a weekday, more often than not I poured myself a glass (or two) of wine with dinner. (Okay – before dinner, and then with dinner.) In other words, I was in the habit of drinking regularly – maybe not excessively, but frequently.

So it took a while to shake the impulse to automatically reach for something to drink in any number of situations – when friends came over to watch the Seahawks, killing time at the airport, sitting at my desk at home paying bills.

I know people who are sober who still enjoy “mocktails,” or non-alcoholic beer. I found that for me, it didn’t really help to simulate the cocktail experience by faking out my palate. I just went with bottled sparkling spring water when I was out, and kombucha or flavored La Croix at home.

And what changed? People who stop drinking, either for a month or forever, always seem to mention how much more energetic and clear-headed they feel. I’d say the first thing that happened was that I felt extra cranky. Whose idea was this, anyway?

Eventually, that subsided and I definitely felt less tired at the end of the day, even after tending to my 8-year-old son. It took a week or two before it was easy to resist the temptation to pour myself a glass of wine once I’d successfully confirmed that he was indeed asleep. I just went right to the herbal tea and I was more or less okay.

I felt more energetic in the morning (and remember that I get up at 4:15!) and generally in a better mood. (It’s easy to be very grumpy when you get up that early, and I don’t think that has anything to do with alcohol. Trust me, it’s just not that fun getting out of bed at zero dark thirty.)

One of the reasons I did Dry January was to cut out all those empty calories from alcohol, not to mention the calories from the snacks I ate when my judgment might have been a little impaired after a drink or two. I did drop 8 or 9 pounds fairly easily, although I actually found myself snacking a little more, probably to make up for the pleasure I was missing from the lack of alcohol.

I will say I had a lot more energy for working out at the gym and generally getting more exercise. I was dying to ride my bike and I know I would’ve gotten a lot of miles in if January hadn’t been so flipping cold and rainy and even snowy. That put a damper on the cycling part of my fitness plan.

Oh, and one more thing -- I've been told by reliable sources that I haven't been snoring in January. I think alcohol relaxes some flap that causes snoring in your respiratory system or something, and for some people -- including me -- no drinking, no snoring.

A sober friend of mine told me that a month of not drinking is a good start, but that I should really challenge myself to 100 days without alcohol. At the beginning of January, I thought that sounded ridiculous, but now I would consider it.

Actually, I might take a hiatus from the hiatus and have a little Super Bowl weekend relapse, then resume abstinence for the rest of February. After all, it’s the shortest month, even in this Leap Year. It should be a piece of cake!

For me, the biggest takeaway is that I know I can survive pretty much any situation and things will be fine if I don’t have a drink. Just taking away that “automatic” impulse is a big change. I’ll be curious to see if I can stick with that mindset because if I can, I think I’ll be a better friend, partner, parent, morning show host, whatever.

If you did Dry January, I hope you, too, felt some positive benefits. Cheers to us!

 

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