If you’ve ever had a booze-heavy December filled with many holiday parties, glasses (ahem, bottles) of red wine, and plenty of festive cheer, I can probably guess that you’ve asked yourself once or twice, “is a dry month challenge actually worth it?” Well, I’m here to tell you that after completing my first dry month this past August, taking a January leave of absence from the bar is worth the reroute, and actually might be a lot easier than you think.
Before diving into the many Dry January benefits, I think it’s important to clarify my history with alcohol. I really didn’t start drinking until I was in college. I was a nerdy, goody-two-shoes in high school who never got invited to any alcohol-fueled parties, and I can only remember a handful of times during those four years where I can’t remember much from the night.
When I moved from Texas to New York for college in late 2010, I made a commitment to myself to leave behind the nerdy, reserved, scaredy-cat Daley in Texas, and reinvent myself into a “cooler, friendlier, and more fun” DQ. While some parts of DQ 2.0 were healthy, evolved, and certainly happier, there was one part, the part of myself where I was drinking excessive amounts of alcohol every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, that high-school-Daley could not recognize.
Considering I’m 5’2 and 110 pounds, it’s really not difficult for me to get pretty drunk after about 3-5 beers. That being said, I’ve frequently ignored my limit for a long time, attempting to keep up with whoever I’d be drinking with because 1.) I wanted to embody that “cool” DQ 2.0 version of myself and 2.) I love the taste of alcohol and have always had a really hard time stopping myself from having another.
After moving to Boston from NYC 2.5 years ago, I experienced pretty severe depression for the first few months of quarantine in 2020, where I’d find myself downing bottles of wine (while my boyfriend was busy playing golf or gaming) to drown out the pain of being locked up and isolated from my family and friends. It was during this time that I realized I’d been using alcohol as a crutch to escape my life, but I still didn’t stop.
Fast forward to the summer of 2021, and my boyfriend and I are back to living in NYC, which included very late nights with my friends out at bars, trying to enjoy the freedom we’d all been robbed of for too long. Every Friday night this past June and July were spent getting wasted with friends, where I found myself violently hungover and completely immobile every Saturday. I was thrilled to have been back in the city, but quickly realized that I can’t live my life incapable of getting up to even open the blinds every Saturday. Especially while New Yorkers were out and about, enjoying the bright, sunshiny day and taking advantage of everything that New York has to offer.
It wasn’t until this year, the year I turned 30, that I realized I’d been either getting drunk or blacking out almost every weekend for the last decade. This incredibly sobering thought (no pun intended) had me reevaluating my whole relationship with alcohol, and by the end of July, I’d decided to try my first dry month challenge in August.
Before diving into my dry month, I did a lot of research on how, exactly, I was going to go from drunk-as-hell every weekend to dancing-sans-booze for a month straight. I watched multiple Youtube videos for reviews of the best non-alcoholic beers, wines, and spirits, and binge-read a few books about sobriety and dry challenges (shoutout to Hilary Sheinbaum, who wrote a great book about taking a month off from drinking called, “The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month”).
A friend of mine recommended a book called “This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life” by Annie Grace, and it ended up being one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Unlike some other books I read during my sobriety research, where the author made me feel terrible and shameful about my lack of control (looking at you, “Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol” by Holly Whitaker—note that I didn’t actually end up finishing this book), Grace was able to write about alcoholism and sobriety through a compassionate, understanding lens.
She wrote about how alcohol, by nature, is addictive to everyone on different scales, and that you really shouldn’t feel less than if you have trouble controlling your alcohol consumption, because alcohol is designed to be craved by your body, both physically and psychologically (yes, I am really paraphrasing here, and I highly suggest you read her book). After devouring her book, I binged her amazing podcast (This Naked Mind Podcast), learning the tools and building the confidence to quit drinking for a month.
Looking back on it now, I think August was probably the worst month of the year to try a dry month challenge, and I’m incredibly proud of myself for staying booze-free during a time when I’m usually taking a long vacation.
The first weekend of my dry month challenge was the most difficult. I went down to the Jersey Shore with my friends and boyfriend, where five of us were hopping from bar to the beach, back to another bar all weekend long. My relationship with alcohol has never been tested more than the moment I entered D’Jais in Belmar for the first time (IYKYK). Through sheer determination, I managed to avoid consuming any alcohol (I did not avoid getting completely doused in spilled booze, though) while my toes broke off after getting trampled on constantly, my eardrums ruptured from the “music,” and I basically suffered a seizure from the light show.
After I barely survived the Jersey Shore sober, I headed to Rhode Island for the rest of August, where my parents have been renting a beach house for most of my life. Although there were no wild ragers I needed to avoid up in Rhode Island, there was my mother, who has never skipped happy hour in her life and refused to call my non-alcoholic beers anything other than “near beer” or “queer beer.”
That being said, it was nice to not be drinking around my family for once, and I found it pretty easy for me to avoid drinking alcohol during this time. My saving grace was definitely my new favorite beverage, the Athletic Brewing Company Run Wild Non-Alcoholic IPA, which I downed every day on the beach at 5 pm while the rest of my family enjoyed their booze. I found that all I really needed was one NA beer to satisfy my craving, and I never really felt like I needed more after that.
There are so many beautiful lessons I learned during my August dry month challenge that I will carry with me as I complete Dry January. Although my dry month in August was definitely difficult at times, it forced me to come to grips with the fact that alcohol really, truly isn’t everything. I got so consumed with the partying lifestyle that is college, and hadn’t really been able to shed that wasted version of myself until I took a month off. This concept was hard to believe in college, especially when everyone else around me was drinking as much, or more, than I was, but I’ve learned that there really is more to life than getting trashed every weekend, and it’s awesome to wake up on a Saturday morning and actually be able to do something.
I learned that (minus my time at D’Jais sober), it actually is possible to have fun without alcohol. My interactions with people feel richer when I’m sober, my laughs feel that much more genuine and true, and it’s kind of exhilarating to dance your ass off while everyone else is drinking.
The way I view alcohol now has drastically changed, and I’m a lot more conscious of my drinking choices than I ever have been (read: I never really counted my booze or noticed how much I actually drank before doing a dry month challenge). Of course, there are still some nights that I get too drunk and am stumbling into bed way too late, but those nights are a lot less frequent these days.
My dry month taught me just how much my friends, family, work, society, everyone completely normalizes excessive drinking, to a point where it’s the societal default to be drinking. It’s never been, “oh, why are you drinking?” My August was filled with questions like, “oh, why aren’t you drinking?” I felt like everyone was essentially asking me, “why aren’t you actively choosing to poison the shit out of your body with ethanol like the rest of us do?”
Although it was hard to feel judged for not drinking, I’ve now learned that the people who make you feel uncomfortable being sober, or those who try to pressure you to “just have one drink,” are usually the ones who don’t want to face their own relationship with alcohol and would rather encourage you to ignore the problem right alongside them, instead of cheering you on in your sobriety. My dry month challenge made me really feel for those who choose to abstain from alcohol entirely (like my amazing father did for almost 20 years!)—in a world where drinking alcohol is expected, being a sober person is hard. Difficult, but also life-changing, and in many cases, life-saving.
I hope this little journey down mocktail lane inspired you to question your own relationship with alcohol and will encourage you to partake in Dry January with me! And just because we’re a week into January doesn’t mean you can’t start today. Believe me when I say, you will not regret it (although, maybe don’t go to D’Jais in August sober…like, ever).