This year, I tried and failed Dry January (again) – only this time around it felt much more successful on the whole. The simple fact that I am two years older (and wiser?) may have something to do with it; I felt a stronger confidence in my drinking habits and choices.
For the past year, my social life could be fairly assessed as ‘pretty tame’. I’ve been in a long-term relationship that, for better or for worse, results in many more nights in watching Netflix documentaries on high-profile serial killers than it does nights out at bars in Wrigleyville. When you are in your mid-to-late twenties, two additional years of maturity can make quite a stark difference in your nightlife (though, admittedly, I was never really one to go out to bars in Wrigleyville).
During this year’s 31-day experiment, I decided to focus on situations where I felt pressured to drink, how I felt and how I coped. Here are my top takeaways.
Situation: Rock concerts
How I felt: My boyfriend and I signed up to go to three (yes, three!) concerts in January before really thinking through how it would feel to go sober. The first concert felt a little awkward – but not for the reasons I expected it to – for example, I couldn’t remember the last time I went to a concert without holding a beverage in my hand.
By the time the second concert came around, I felt much more at-ease about the whole experience because I knew what it felt like (hint: it feels a lot like it felt when you went to concerts as a well-behaved teenager). I didn’t feel judged by anyone else at the concert, because honestly, who is really paying attention to anyone else in the crowd?
How to deal: To help cope with the “what do I do with my hands?” paranoia, I went to the bar and asked for a Diet Coke. The bartenders were never judgy (if anything, they were often encouraging, even proud) and it was much cheaper than paying for a round of beers. We also paid close attention to where we stood in the venues – any time there were obnoxious drunks, we moved a few feet away. Ain’t nobody got patience for that.
Situation: Meeting with friends after work
How I felt: Is it just me, or do drinks with friends happen a lot more during Chicago winters? Maybe that’s just our way of coping with the cold. For the most part, I didn’t feel much pressure in these situations, but that’s mainly a shout-out to having good friends.
How to deal: Most (if not all) friends will understand that you are not drinking if you just say so. Ask if they are available to meet for something else that would cost a similar amount of money and time, like grabbing a few appetizers or signing up for a workout together. As a budget-conscious person, I’d avoid swapping out too many drink dates with dinner dates, but dinner can also be a good option.
Situation: Post-rec league sports game
(Our team always goes out for pizza and beer afterwards – it’s the main reason we play the sport in the first place).
How I felt: This was the situation where I felt the most peer pressure. These friends have been my post-game drinking buddies from January through May for the past five years, so breaking that normal flow felt awkward for everyone.
How to deal: The buddy system. Shout out to fellow aSweatLife writer, Kevin, for helping me stick to plan. Whenever someone made a comment about us not drinking at our post-game spot, we were able to stand up for each other, or at least laugh it off together. Apparently everything, including sobriety, is better with friends.
Situation: Work dinners
How I felt: As an associate, I’m often the youngest person at a work dinner. As an associate in a male-dominated industry, I’m also often one of the only females. It’s easy to depend on a glass of wine or two to help me ease into these situations. Admittedly, these types of dinners can be some of the most awkward for me.
How to deal: Usually fancier restaurants (read: where a lot of work dinners are held) have decent non-alcoholic cocktail options. When I don’t feel like drinking at work dinners, I often opt for these to avoid questions (once again, I am often one of the only, if not the only young female present). I also cope by asking a lot of questions – this helps me ease into discussion better than a glass of wine ever could. By asking open-ended questions, it’s easy to keep a dialogue going and the pressure to impress is off.
Honestly, most people are easily impressed by others who ask thoughtful questions and have listening skills – perhaps it’s a lost art these days.
Situation: You just really want [a glass of wine, a beer with friends, insert beverage and situation of choice here]
How it feels: Really think about why you feel like you want a drink. Is it because of peer pressure? Is it because of the situation itself? Or is it simply because you want to try a new kind of beer or celebrate a promotion with a glass of champagne?
How to deal: If you give yourself a few minutes to really feel and question why you want a drink, and afterwards you consciously make the decision to drink – go for it. Whenever I abstain from drinking for a while, it shocks me how often I drink unintentionally. There is a very clear line between intentional and unintentional drinking. January 10, I intentionally had a glass of wine after finally submitting my MBA school applications. I enjoyed it thoroughly, felt no regret, and continued with the challenge the next day – I didn’t get upset, feel the need to start over, or give up.
While there are always lessons to be learned from “failing” Dry January – maybe next year will be the year. If my failure can save you from a hangover, or awkward interactions at work dinners, it was a success.