Dry January might have started easily enough. Chances are you were totally partied out after the holiday festivities, and made it through the first week or two without feeling like you sacrificed too much. But then the novelty wears off and temptation starts to creep up. Now you're at the midway point and might be considering just one happy hour.
With six sober months under my belt, I like to think I know a thing or two about how to make sobriety work while still living a great life. I quit drinking in June after a particularly boozy vacation. I wasn't quite Game of Thrones' Tyrion Lannister washing down my breakfast with "a mug of that good dark beer" — but I wasn't far off. My first toast to the Spanish sun was getting earlier every day and when the bubbles wore off, I did not feel good. I arrived back home bloated, bleary-eyed and more than a little worried about my drinking habits.
For anyone out there who decided to kick 2018 off with Dry January, a practice of giving up alcohol for 31 consecutive days that began as an official campaign in the U.K. in 2015, you're halfway there. Here, my mid-month guide to sticking out the month when things get tough, with a little help from the experts.
1. Make a Plan
Don't put yourself in situations that are ripe for caving in. Instead, prepare a little ahead of time by developing specific plans for how you'll cope in the times and places when you'd usually drink—before they pop up, says John Mendelson, M.D., clinical addiction expert, chief medical officer and co-founder of Ria Health. So if you're going to a party, for instance, maybe you'll pick up a non-alcoholic beverage as soon as you get there and keep it in your hand. If appropriate, you can even BYO drink. "Nobody tends to question your level of thirst if you have a bottle of water or a fancy coffee cup," says Christopher Gerhart, a licensed and certified substance abuse counselor. If you're a habitual at-home drinker, make evening plans that involve getting out of the house — but not to a bar or restaurant where alcohol will be flowing. And it goes without saying: don't keep any alcohol in the house.
2. Brace for Sugar Cravings
I was not prepared for this aspect of going sober. Alcohol is made of sugar, so if you're a regular drinker expect sweet cravings to go through the roof once you abstain. "Having a chocolate bar or a couple of hard candies may take the edge off a specific time-of-day craving," says Gerhart. The good news (for your teeth, your mood swings and your arteries) is that the crazy sugar craving normally subsides after a few weeks. I'm no longer inhaling an entire box of cookies at 4pm every day.
3. Make Your Own Rules…
Obviously, the main rule is not drinking. But you'll have to set some guidelines for how you're going to stick to it. Since I got sober, I've been to two weddings, a boozy baby shower, and several birthday parties (including my own). I've spent a week on vacation with my wine-loving parents and attended countless dinners and parties and family get-togethers where alcohol was the guest of honor. I've had to figure out how to make these events fun for me. In the early stages of sobriety, I drove everywhere, which took a lot of pressure off because I knew I couldn't drink even if I was tempted to, and nobody else would try to persuade me to drink and drive. I've realized that it's fine to leave a party as soon as everyone gets too drunk and it stops being fun. It's also fine to say no to an invitation if you really don't feel like being around people who are drinking.
4. … and Stick to Them
This is where willpower comes into play. Even after six months, it can still hard to live by my new-ish rules, mainly because I'm normally the only sober person at the party. And even after six months, I still get invited to drink. Being offered a shot on Christmas Day was infuriating, but saying no (and meaning it) felt great. Remember, while it might feel as though everyone and their grandma is questioning your decision not to drink, it's nobody's business but yours. And because Dry January is an actual thing, you have a quick, easy answer whenever anyone asks why you're turning down booze. (Spare a thought for me — I've had to endure six months of "Are you pregnant?")
5. Find a New Tipple
It could be a mocktail. It could be a full-fat Coke with tons of ice. It could be a cup of English breakfast tea with milk and two sugars. (Yes, there's that craving again.) For me, it's ginger beer — something I only ever enjoyed in my drinking days with a double shot of vodka. Over the past six months I've sampled several brands, decided on my favorite, and make sure I always have a sizable supply on hand.
6. Enjoy the Perks of Not Drinking
Yes, there are some. Lots, in fact. "Count the successes, not the losses," Mendelson says. Among the many "successes" I count are a clearer mind, more energy, a huge surge in creativity, more patience with my children, more productive evenings, and more stable relationships. Make a list of the things you can do when you're not drinking: reading, writing, making art, learning a new skill, getting fit, volunteering… it's endless. This is a great time to take up a new hobby or sport — you could finally master that tennis backhand by the time the month is out.
7. Treat yourself
Rewards don't have to come in a long-stemmed glass or in a six pack. When I first quit drinking, I invested in a money pot for what used to be my weekly "wine fund." Even if you don't consider yourself to be a heavy drinker, you might be surprised at how much you'll save. And you don't have to let the money build up over a long period of time—Mendelson suggests that after a pre-set milestone, such as five days without a drink, you reward yourself with a treat worth at least as much as you saved.
8. Think about February — and beyond
Instead of wishing away the rest of the month just so you can pop open a beer on February 1, try to see Dry January as a step toward a healthier lifestyle. Look at this initiative as a statement of your self-worth, which can have lifetime benefits, says counselor and mindfulness teacher Christene Burgess.
When I quit drinking, I took it one day at a time, without setting any specific goals. I've considered having a drink on a couple of occasions, but I honestly prefer — and value — my sober life way more than a few glasses of wine. Dry January might do the same for you. It might make you re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol, and encourage you to seek help if your drinking is problematic. It might lead to a more balanced approach to drinking that doesn't involve using alcohol as a numbing agent or self-medication. Whatever your reasons for doing Dry January, and however it works out for you, good luck!
If you're struggling with an alcohol problem, speak to your doctor, or get more information at findtreatment.samhsa.gov or by calling 1-800-662-HELP.