I have gone from not blogging in years to writing 4 blogs a day. I have to wait to publish them all because to do it at once would be obscene. I’ve finished 2 books that have been sitting on my nightstand for months. I’ve lost 2 pounds, my skin is clearer, and I vacuumed my whole apartment immediately after waking up today.
Why? It’s winter break. I’m a teacher, and I feel like I can remember who I am again as a person.
The second reason for this obscene amount of productivity? Dry February.
The last time I had a drink was January 31. I looked back on the previous month and realized I had nothing to show for it. Like so many other people, I had started Dry January with great intentions. But between the global pandemic, the insurrection, and the persistent threat of domestic terrorism, Dry January was a total wash. On January 6th, 6 days sober, I clocked out of work and sat in front of my computer for hours watching the violence unfold in Washington D.C. I finally left and walked to the liquor store in my leggings and my Zoom shirt to buy a 6-pack.
I realized I wasn’t the only one breaking my sober streak. The New York Times wrote an article soothing us for our failures, essentially saying, “January is a shit time to give up any habit.”
It’s true. Except I should have tried harder. Once I ended Dry January, I stopped exercising, dancing, writing, and reading. My daily walks came to a total halt. I’d watch as the sun rose and fell outside my window.
For a few weeks, I would finish work then sip on a beer and scroll on my phone till I fell asleep. When I found myself crawling into bed at 4:00, I started to realize something was wrong.
Weeks had passed. There had been no moments of joy or inspiration. During that time, I never once felt strong or accomplished. I didn’t even feel sadness. I was in bed more than ever but never felt rested. It was 3 weeks of gray, of nothingness.
And now let’s get into the drinking.
I was back to having two IPAs a night. This means I felt tipsy every night. I would wake up every morning and feel lethargic. It would take me a few hours to feel clear-headed again, and even so, throughout the day my heart would beat erratically, I had trouble concentrating, and the simplest things could engulf me in anxiety. I was also consuming the equivalent of a fourth meal every day. I felt heavy and unhealthy. I hated the way my body looked.
And on the last weekend of January, I met my old roommate for rooftop drinks. I worried my jeans wouldn’t fit, but I squeezed into them. I spent over $125 just on alcohol for myself. My credit card went over the limit. The next day, I woke up late after tossing and turning all night, because I never sleep well when I’m drunk. I laid in bed all day as my heart raced, feeling sad and wallowing in post-drunk guilt, running through everything I said and did. When my friend took a few hours to answer me, I wondered, Is she mad at me? Was I obnoxious? Does she not want to hang out anymore? I never want to feel that way again.
I know many people who can have a drink at the end of the day and still lead full, productive lives. I know many people who can keep a bottle of wine in their fridge for days on end and not touch it. I know many people who can set limits on their drinking, such as no drinks on weeknights. I know many people for whom drinking isn’t a source of anxiety.
I’m not one of them.
Last year, I picked up a book written by Holly Whitaker called Quit Like A Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol. She said one thing that really resonated with me: “Is alcohol getting in the way of my happiness, my life, my self-esteem? Is it getting in the way of my dreams, or maybe just not working for me? Does it cost more than it gives, does it shrink more than it expands, does it cut pieces out of me I can’t reclaim? Does it make me hate myself, even just a little bit?”
I know when I open a drink at the end of the day, my night is over. I won’t read, I won’t exercise, I won’t write. I immediately feel tired. But I don’t sleep. I lie awake for hours doing something mindless, like scrolling on my phone or half watching a movie. I spend hours wasting my time.
There are other reasons that I won’t get into here, but I started Dry February to reclaim my life again, to feel creative, to know what my body is thinking or feeling without wondering if it’s just a mild hangover.
I didn’t expect it to be lonely.
I hesitate to visit my family because of their fully stocked wine fridge. I hesitate to date because it scares the crap out of me to meet someone without a cocktail to soften the awkwardness.
My friends are wonderful and don’t care if I’m drinking or not drinking when we spend time together. But no one else is doing Dry February. The only sober person I know is my aunt, and I’m not ready to talk about this with my family yet.
Some of my acquaintances have just been dicks about it. “Wow, I thought you had it all together,” one guy told me.
So I’ve stopped telling people I don’t know well. And I feel like there’s no one to talk to about this.
Like how I don’t want to ever want to drink again, but the idea of navigating life and its milestones sober seems impossible: dates, birthdays, weddings, vacations. How it’s so fucking embarrassing to say, “I’m not drinking.” And that some people need a reason why, and if it’s serious they’ll look at you weird but if it’s not serious they’ll push you to drink or say they can’t wait till you can drink again. How hard the first week was, and how even now I have to shut down the constant bargaining in my head: it’s winter break, you should have some fun. You can manage it if you just put down some limits. Two drinks a night isn’t a problem.
Occasionally a friend will bargain with me as well, “Just meet him–it’s not a big deal to have one drink while you’re there.”
Except for me, deciding to have one drink is never about that ONE drink. It’s about picking up a habit again. One drink usually turns into two. This experience makes me crave alcohol again–something I usually forget about the longer I go without–and makes it more likely that I’ll start keeping beer in the house. If it’s in my home, it’s impossible for me to turn down, and I’ll go back to drinking every night. Even if I’m pretty good at keeping it to two drinks when I’m alone, I’ll get drunk with my friends. If there’s a bottle of wine, sometimes I’ll finish it to myself and laugh about it to everyone so I don’t feel as crushingly guilty.
And then I’m back where I’ve started.
So I’ll keep pushing through Dry February and hopefully beyond, even if it’s a heavier experience than I expected.
Have you tried quitting alcohol for a month? What was your experience like?