By Nadine Araksi, Toronto-based Story Coach

As we move into a new year when you might set intentions, goals or New Year’s Resolutions, declaring a Dry January has gained traction as a popular self-improvement trend. The idea is that one does not have a single alcoholic drink for the entire month of January to offset the debauchery and overindulgence that might have occurred during holiday season merriment. 

I have tried to institute a Dry January in the past, and maybe you have too, often failing at it before I found the path to success. I used to be a heavy drinker for my small, 5’1 frame, except I didn’t acknowledge it. As a Gen-X woman in her 20s, I labelled myself a “party girl.” I celebrated growing up in the era of Sex and the City, constructing my identity around Cosmos and being a “girl about town” like Carrie Bradshaw. Drinking felt like a feminist act.

As I built a family and my new identity as a working mom, I bought into “Mommy needs wine” culture, feeling entitled to a drink after a hard day to “survive” the challenges of coming home to parenting post 9-to-5. Reaching for a drink was my right, I thought. I’d earned it! What I failed to see at the time was how subconsciously reflexive it had become to uncork a bottle or order a Negroni.

Why I decided to try a Dry January

After the end of my 17-year marriage, I began to observe how often I was reaching for a drink to calm my nerves after a hard day. I soothed myself on nights without my kids by indulging in cocktails and shenanigans, but I soon noticed that it was getting harder and harder to bounce back the next day. So why was I doing something that no longer felt good?

The magazines I worked for began to publish articles about the under-studied health impacts of casual drinking and binge drinking on women. Suddenly, my 2-3 drinks here and there (who was counting, really?) started to feel like a toxic habit. In our online group coaching program, we teach you to approach perceived problems with a curious mind. As I used our coaching tools to question the kinds of thoughts that made me reach for a drink, I gained a new awareness of how I often used alcohol to numb my uncomfortable feelings. I also realized how frequently I chose a drink without thinking of long-term impacts, as if on autopilot.

Why Dry January failed in the past

Why do so many people fail to complete their Dry January mission? Because for most of us it takes time and repetition to undo an old habit and build a new one. We are typically better served by flexible routines than rigid rules.

Like many of you, I’d make lofty promises to myself on December 31st to try a Dry January. Surely I could last a less-eventful, slow, cold month without alcohol. Maybe I could even tie Dry January to my weight loss goals to offset the holiday cookies and turkey dinners. 

Much like onboarding any new habit in January, human beings often start strong. You might “fail” on January 1st and tell yourself you’ll begin again (and be perfect) on January 2nd. As the darkest month in the northern hemisphere may deteriorate one’s mood, some of us slip even further from the original objective. We rationalize that dry “weeknights only” will suffice. 

When you permit yourself to bend the rules here and there, it’s often a slippery slope. At Kickstartology, we call this the Trying To Try Loop. It’s not that falling off the wagon means your Dry January is beyond saving; it’s that the 30-day-straight parameter of Dry January creates a bit of a Perfectionist Fantasy. When your subconscious is measuring success as “be perfect or else you’re a failure,” it’s that much harder to begin again. This is why most rigid habit changes don’t stick and end up making you feel stuck.

How to make Dry January stick

At Kickstartology Coaching, we say, “Collect data, not judgements.” When you see an effort like Dry January as a pass/fail or a binary-outcome scenario, you are more likely to let yourself down and give up. Your brain will often use this “failure” to validate other negative thoughts about yourself. “Of course, I couldn’t do it; I never succeed at anything!”

But what if you approached the decision to try a Dry January with a curious mind? What if you set it up as a hypothesis you are trying to validate or collect data from?

“What happens/what will be different if I don’t have a drink for 30 days?”

“Who am I when I don’t have a drink?”

“What uncomfortable feelings come up when I resist a drink?”

When you focus more on what you want from your alcohol abstinence, than what you don’t want, you’re more likely to succeed. So your brain processes, “I want to feel lighter and more alert,” better than, “I don’t want to feel bloated and hungover.”

Once you’re clear on the results you’re seeking from your Dry January, check in on your commitment. Are you taking 100% responsibility for your results? Are you evaluating what worked and what didn’t when you falter? Are you being kind and forgiving to yourself? (Kickstartology Law of Alignment #11 is “Stop being an a$$hole to yourself!”)

Going beyond Dry January for the sober curious

At the end of 2019, tired of my moderate but unquestioning dependence on wine and spirits, I started to wonder, “Can I go 100 days without drinking? What would that be like?” Beginning in November and going through the entire holiday season without a single drop of liquor, I was old hat by the time January rolled around.

Friends at (pre-pandemic) holiday dinners would cajole, “Oh, just take this one night off, will you?” I knew in my heart that one “yes” to a drink would be saying “no” to myself. The longer I stuck with it, the more I could build trust with myself, and the thought of breaking that trust became too much to bear. I needed to prove to myself that I was stronger than my thoughts. The big question began to evolve into, “What else can I do for 100 days that will change my life?”

I learned to reach for fizzy water and mocktails, and felt deep gratitude for the beauty and privilege of an unlimited clean water supply. I saved money, my heart and my gut. It began to feel like kindness that I bestowed upon myself. And our Kickstartology Community supported me throughout, helping me to get real results. Sadly weight loss didn’t come with my sobriety, but I could not get over how much clearer and lighter I felt.

As my 100 days came to a close, I decided to keep going. I now trusted myself enough to know that I would choose alcohol mindfully when it felt right, not on autopilot. I lasted 120 or so days before I mindfully chose a wine toast with good friends. After two years in and out of lockdown, I’m proud to say that I have a completely different, highly flexible relationship with booze.

Trying a Dry January? Sober curious? Got something else you’d like to experiment with? If you’re ready to get results and want to feel supported throughout, get in touch!

P.S. Getting started and getting results can happen fast once you decide to commit to yourself.
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