Welcome to 2024. New Year’s Day is when the calendar turns over and we all start at Day 1. Some of us are filled with boundless optimism and wide-eyed idealism for the year ahead. Some of us will join gyms and take on ambitious new goals and projects, because that’s what we do for the New Year.
And some of us are really f**king hungover today.
While I’m not normally a fan of trendy Internet “challenges” that encourage people to do something (hopefully virtuous) for a given period of time - e.g. a 30-day reading challenge, an exercise challenge, or a challenge to give up smoking, drinking, or other vices - I learned about the concept of “Dry January” a few years ago and loved it on the surface.
If you are unfamiliar with Dry January, the gist is that you abstain from drinking alcohol for the entire month of January…which happens to be the month following the over-indulgent holiday season.
The reasons why I love the concept of Dry January but generally roll my eyes at Internet challenges or New Year’s resolutions:
- It’s well defined and simple to understand - You give up drinking booze for a month. Easy enough.
- It’s socially acceptable - You don’t have to worry about peer pressure since Dry January has been a thing for 10+ years and lots of people already do it.
- It’s within your grasp - A month is long enough to where you can see real results, but not so long that the challenge seems insurmountable.
Now here’s the part where I admit that I buried the lede on what I really wanted to convey with this post…and it wasn’t simply to pitch the concept of Dry January in itself.
Are you laying off “the sauce” for Dry January?
Why stop at January? Why not make this a Dry 2024? Or a Dry Forever?
Here’s the really interesting thing about giving up alcohol completely (if it’s something you’re open to) - it’s not as hard as you think. In fact, you just might find that the reasons you come up with for not giving up alcohol are mostly excuses rooted in fears and anxieties.
This is my second “Dry January” - but I gave up alcohol completely in 2022 so it’s not something I have personally circled on my calendar. And I am well aware of the fact that to anyone who drinks, there’s nothing worse than an ex-drinker lecturing you on why you should quit.
We’re all adults. We can make our own life choices. And believe me, I’m the last person who wants to be Sir Buzz Killington. You may or may not have a problem with alcohol. I’m not judging, and frankly I don’t care. You do you.
But as someone who drank alcohol for the better part of 30 years - starting as a sophomore in high school - I found that when I gave it up in 2022 to focus on my physical health and cognitive capabilities, the effects were beyond anything I could have possibly imagined.
Your motivations are your own business. There is more than enough literature out there extolling the virtues of eliminating booze from your life, so I won’t rehash what’s already been said a million times. What I will say is that the reasons that prevented me from giving up alcohol permanently were surprising:
Perceived Social Anxiety
I am (mostly) an extrovert and get my energy from being around crowds, but like many people I felt that I needed a little “liquid courage” in social situations. I’ve since found the opposite to be true - the alcohol was merely a crutch, and in fact amplified any feelings of anxiety.
I get more energy, have more fun, and engage in better conversations now with a club soda (with lime), N.A. beer, or mocktail in hand than I ever did running up a bar tab.
Man, we are creatures of habit, aren’t we? Bad day at work? Open a bottle of wine. Sporting event? Grab a beer. Sunday? Funday!
Once I understood the fact that the drink in my hand was usually there due to some cue / reward pairing that I was previously blissfully unaware of, replacing the “habit” with a more positive behavior wasn’t really that difficult.
This was the kicker for me and the final barrier to moving on from a complicated relationship with alcohol…I was the guy who never missed a happy hour (I still don’t, only now I attend as a teetotaler), I was the guy who was always expected to start / bring life to the party, and once I started…I never slowed down until I hit a wall.
It took losing my best friend (and drinking buddy) to pancreatic cancer to realize how engrained alcohol was in my own life. The night I said my goodbyes to him was the night I gave up alcohol forever, because sprinkled in with the overwhelming grief of losing him was a grief that came with the realization that I was also losing part of myself.
I had never made the connection that a significant part of myself was the self-identity of being a drinker. And when the key connection to that identity died, that part of my identity died along with it. I have never once thought about drinking alcohol since that moment. Not for a second.
So as you embark on Dry January or New Year’s Resolutions or any other plan to address giving up alcohol, it’s important to understand the “why” behind it.
There are many physical, mental and emotional benefits, but without a system in place with feedback loops, the surface level intrinsic motivators may not be enough to reach your goals or sustain the changes over the long term.
But by addressing the reasons why you haven’t quit before - even when you were convinced that “this will be the year” however many times in the past - you might find that you’re making excuses that are rooted in fear and anxiety, habit, or even a part of your core identity.
And to think…if you were to give up the sauce, imagine how much better you will feel New Years Day 2025 without that godforsaken hangover! ;)