Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Dry January


Happy New Year! It’s officially 2019, and right now, all over the land, people are nursing hangovers and recovering from a festive period full of fun, good cheer and excess. But not me. No, for not only am I now basically middle-aged, it is also ten years since I quit drinking alcohol. Which means my New Years Eve was a nice quiet evening with a cup of tea, crochet and P&P (for the ill-informed, I am of course referring to the 90’s BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, which comes in at a cool 6 hours, and means that while I might not be able to party to midnight, by God I still have stamina.) Today, January 1st 2019, instead of clutching my head and trying to find my dignity by staying in bed for three days (as I did in 2009), I am attending a two hour yoga workshop. Times, they definitely do be a’changing. 

Most importantly, today is also the day that I am unleashing the very first actual episode of Breaking Free on the world. Or at least on the ears of my mum and best friend. (thanks for listening, you’re the best Biggest Fans ever!) To mark the New Year, a time of resolutions, fervent promises of self-improvement and renewed yet unused gym memberships, I’m talking about Dry January.

Calvin, the child philosopher - if only we could all be so wise

Dry January, along with Dry July, Sober September (and October now!) is an event where people commit to going alcohol-free for 30 days. Dry January was started in 2014 by the charity Alcohol Concern, and it has grown and grown in popularity - according to a YouGov Poll, 3.1 million people in Britain did Dry January in 2018. Sober months have become a phenomena it seems, and according to this Australian article, “Sober is the new black”. But before we all go jumping on a (band)wagon - or throwing ourselves off it - and congratulating ourselves on finally, finally being fashionable, let’s have a wee look at the pros and cons of the thing. Ooo, yes, lets, I loves a good pros-and-cons-list I does. 

I present The Pros:

Creating consciousness
I think this is one of the most important benefits of doing a sober month. Removing yourself from drinking could help to show you just what your drinking habits are - who you drink a lot with, when you drink and why. Let’s not forget that in the UK, the NHS advises not to drink more than 14 units a week, which is only 6 pints of mid-strength beer or roughly a bottle of wine. If you have a pint or a glass of wine when you get home of an evening, every evening, you have reached the limit, possibly without even registering it. Maybe you’re so ingrained in the habit of reaching for the vino after a stressful day that you don’t notice it anymore. Do you always get shit-faced every time you go out with certain people? A few weeks of saying “No thanks, I’m doing Dry January” will make you more aware, and more awareness is the first step to making changes.

Getting Healthy
There are significant health benefits to quitting drinking, even for a short time. Your blood pressure drops, your insulin resistance improves, your skin will look better, and you may even lose a bit of weight. 

Safety in Numbers
It’s a shame to say it, but in my experience, no one likes a quitter. Of alcohol that is. Social pressure from friends and family to drink is real, and often over-whelming. Participating in something like Dry January gives you support from other people, motivation, and an excellent excuse to shut down people who just won’t stop giving you shit about the shit in your glass (which happens. Be prepared.)

All good stuff, I hear you say.  Undoubtedly. But it’s not perfect. Bring on The Cons!

If there’s not a problem, it’s not a problem
The thing with sober months is that they generally are most effective for people who don’t have a dependancy on alcohol. In other words, if you take part in Dry January and it’s a breeze, then that’s wonderful for you, but you probably don’t have a problem with alcohol. If you do however, and you try to go sober or 30 days and you fail, (which statistically you are highly likely to do), then you will just end up feeling worse about yourself. There’s very little education or support for people with genuine dependency issues. All-in-all, it ends up feeling like a great big pat-on-the-back-and-a-gold-star for people completing a challenge that wasn’t all that challenging for them, and neglectful judgement for those that need the most help.

Give me a little more time…
I’ve mentioned this before (in this wonderful post about humps and getting over them). 30 days is not a very long time. It might seem it, in the scheme of things. For some people one day is a very long time. But to really feel the benefits of being sober one must first get sober, and in practice this can take weeks. Weeks of detoxing poisons from your system mean that it’s possibly not until the final week that you might start to sleep better, feel more energetic and begin to enjoy doing other things again. And while, as mentioned above, there are health benefits from quitting for a month, it’s not long enough to have an effect on more serious health issues, such as cancer, liver and heart disease. Any health benefits accrued during Dry January will also quickly disappear once you start drinking again. 

Thank Fuck it’s February
This is the mindset I feel a lot of participants of Dry January fall into. They are taking part because they feel like they should (social pressure works both ways), but they’re counting down the days until February 1st, when they go out and get shit-faced, and then it’s business as usual for then next 11 months. Let’s put it this way, it’s not a mindset that is conducive to change. 

Luckily, Dry January and its ilk are not the only options. May I introduce The Alternatives!

Sober Spring
Catherine Gray, (who I’ve mentioned in blog posts before and who has written this lovely book about being sober), has started the initiative Sober Spring, which is from March 20th-June 21st - 93 days of sobriety, to allow the benefits to really make themselves known. They are the key motivators for staying sober, and if you never allow yourself to experience them, you’ll never know just how good it can be. If you want to make some real lasting change, this challenge could be for you.

Alcohol-free days
For those of you who balk at 30 days (and frankly just laughed out loud and told me to sod off when I suggested 93), this alternative could be what you’re looking for. Instead of taking one solid month off drinking, and then continuing to drink heavily for the rest of the year, try taking two or three days off every week. Two days a week works out at 3.5 months, three days is 5 months, nearly half a year. It’s a lot less daunting, it feels more achievable, and the outcome is dramatically reduced drinking. 

The Alcohol Experiment
If you’re still keen to try an alcohol-free month, I highly recommend Annie Grace’s The Alcohol Experiment. Her approach is great - it’s all about experimenting, having an open mind and learning about alcohol and it’s affects, so there’s a lot of information and guidance that is missing from other sober month initiatives. If you want to know more, you can check out Annie’s podcast, This Naked Mind, and listen to the next episode of Breaking Free, when I interview her!

In conclusion, Dry January and sober months have their flaws and they don’t work for everyone. But. If they raise awareness of an issue that becoming more and more of a problem, and if they help people become more mindful of their drinking habits, then this can only be a good thing. 

I quit drinking before Dry January was even a thing (not trying to sound fashionable and trend-setter-ry, ok, maybe I am a little, I’m a crocheting cat lady, you gotta let me have something cool.) so I’ve never participated in one. This year I’ve decided to take it on in spirit, and work on something that I believe will help enormously on my journey with sobriety - meditation. It’s something that you kind of have to do regularly so I’m making a pledge to meditate every day in January. I’ll keep you posted on my progress, and I’d love to hear how you’re all doing. 

Ooo, be still my beating heart. 

If you want to make a change but you don’t think sober months would be for you check out the alternatives. For all those embarking on your own version of Dry January, you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire, and love you…erm, sorry, little bit of Pride & Predj there for you, couldn’t resist. But seriously. Good on ya and good luck.


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