I Participate in Dry January for My Mental and Physical Health

Six years ago I woke up with a bad headache attack. My mouth felt like sandpaper. So did my eyeballs. I was hungover.

My family and I went to a lot of parties that holiday season — I’m not complaining — but around New Year’s Eve I was craving a reset.

So I decided to give up drinking in January.

Back then, I didn’t know Dry January was a thing. No one in my social circle or family had ever mentioned it. Giving up alcohol for the month was just something I wanted to try for myself. The holidays were over, the kids were going back to school and it was time to get back to the grind.

The first five days with zero alcohol were OK. When I instinctively reached for a glass of wine while making dinner, I poured flavored water in the glass. It wasn’t the same, but not that big of a deal. And why wasn’t I always drinking water from a fancy wine glass?

Then Saturday night rolled around. I went to a bar/restaurant to meet some friends. When I politely turned down a drink, the cheerful gathering felt more like an interrogation.

“Are you pregnant?”

“Are you sick?”

“Are you pregnant … and sick?”

I was shocked by the intensity of the reactions. People were legitimately concerned about me. I quickly realized that my reasoning — a reset after the holidays — wasn’t good enough for them.

To everyone else it was simple: If I wasn’t drinking, there was something wrong with me. Did I have a drinking problem? What was really happening? And the funny part was that people were still buying me drinks the entire time — which, again, I politely declined — and took it personally that I wouldn’t drink them.

I left the bar early thinking that this was going to be harder than I thought. Maybe everyone was right. If I don’t have a drinking problem and nothing’s wrong with me, why am I doing this?

Then I remembered: I was doing this for me. I wasn’t doing it for anyone else. I set a goal and wanted to achieve it for myself.

Melissa and her kids

With my goal in focus, week two was easier than the first one. It felt good to wake up with a clear head and more energy. When Saturday rolled around I thought about just staying home and not socializing after all the accusations from the weekend before. Maybe I should avoid everyone for the entire month.

But I had too much fear of missing out (FOMO). I live in Michigan surrounded by family and friends and there’s always something fun going on. So I went out, ordered soda water and started to learn how to socialize when everyone else was drinking.

I still felt awkward at times and people still gave me a hard time. Some comments were more hurtful than others. That I wasn’t fun or no one wanted to be around me if I wasn’t drinking. I reminded them that I’m still the same person. I’m still fun. But what people thought about me being sober for a little bit mattered less and less as the month went on.

If the first weekend was an 8 out of 10 on the difficult scale, the third weekend was a 2. I was proud of myself. And I felt stronger. I exercise most days of the week but I found I’m more ambitious — I get after it more — when I’m not drinking.

At the end of the month I thought I would be excited to go out and have a drink or a glass of wine. But by that time it really didn’t matter to me. I felt good knowing that if I wanted to have a Dry January, I could. And everything would be just fine.

Of course, because drinking’s part of my social life, it can be hard not to drink at all for an entire month. Some years, January feels like six months (thanks Covid!)

But I do it every year because I love the challenge and I love how I feel when I can accomplish a goal I set for myself. And I know it’s good for my mental health and my body to take a break every now and then.

I now like to tell people that I’m not drinking in January (sometimes sober September too) because I think it’s important to take away the stigma.

I think many women go into social settings with friends or during the holidays not drinking and people are genuinely concerned. They’re upset. They’re disappointed that you’re not drinking. Like you’re not the same person. Like, boo, Melissa, you’re no fun. And that hurts.

With more people embracing Dry January these days I hope there continues to be more positivity and more opportunity to talk about it without judgment or jumping to conclusions (still not pregnant guys!).

I know it can be hard not to drink when everyone around you is pressuring you to do it. But if you want to do Dry January or turn down a drink for any reason at any time you can. You’re still fun Melissa. No matter what my friends say.

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Our Real Women, Real Stories are the authentic experiences of real-life women. The views, opinions and experiences shared in these stories are not endorsed by HealthyWomen and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HealthyWomen.

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