“I struggled with my drinking last year and rarely went more than a few days without caving in. But after Christmas, my husband and I decided we’d have a dry January … and to my surprise, I’ve stuck at it.
I’m really proud of myself and I’m feeling a lot better, but I’m struggling with what to do next. My husband will probably celebrate the end of January with a drink and part of me really wants to join him.
There’s also this little voice in my head that says, ‘You quit for a month. That proves you’re in control again.’ Does it? I’m not sure what to do next, but right now I can’t imagine quitting forever.”
If you’ve got any ideas or advice to share with Laura, please post a message in the comments section below. Here are my thoughts:
First of all, huge congratulations on stopping for a month. That’s fantastic news and you’re right to feel proud; after a long period of stopping and starting, it feels good to get a bit of momentum, doesn’t it?
Before I answer your question, let me start by giving you my take on dry January.
If you’re in the UK like I am, you’ll know that it’s become a bit of a thing in recent years; lots of people sign up for a Dryathlon (with Cancer Research UK) or a Dry January (run by Alcohol Concern). On the whole, I think these campaigns are a good idea.
Anything that encourages and normalises alcohol-free living is to be welcomed – even if it’s only for a month. And as you’ve found out, it’s nice to do this kind of thing with the support of other people.
Dry January is great for moderate, social drinkers who overdid it at Christmas, or slipped into the habit of having a bit too much to drink.
It’s a good opportunity to take a break and reset. Studies have shown that some people who have a sober January continue to drink less throughout the rest of the year.
If you’re someone who has regularly drunk a lot in the past – and it made you miserable – then one month off booze is unlikely to be enough.
I know that when you’re struggling to string together a couple of days, one month feels like forever. One of the downsides to those dry January campaigns is that they reinforce the idea that sober living is really hard; something to be endured for one miserable month of the year.
People who survive it are declared ‘dryathletes’ and ‘sober heroes’… which is kind of weird, because if alcohol-free living really was that hard, no one would do it.
It’s easy to white-knuckle your way through a month off booze without doing any of the work you need to do to change your relationship with alcohol.
Have you got clear on why you drank? Have you found some alternative coping mechanisms? Built some new, sober routines? Researched alcohol and addiction, and how the brain works?
That kind of stuff is really important. I’d also recommend journaling a lot – writing things down on paper gets it out of your head and helps you to reflect on what you’re really feeling.
So… what is a good period of time to aim for?
When it comes to changing a habit, some studies have suggested 66 days is the magic number. Personally, I think 90 days is better. And 100 days has a really nice ring to it. That will put a decent chunk of time between you and your last drink. Then you can decide what to do next with a clear head.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I don’t believe in moderation.
Why should we be able to control our intake of a mind-altering, willpower-sapping drug? We wouldn’t expect other drug users or smokers to be able to do the same. I’ve written before about why some people can appear to control their alcohol intake and others can’t.
Even if you’ve got your heart set on drinking again, I’d still recommend a 90 day break.
A good book for you to read would be Almost Alcoholic, by Robert Doyle and Joseph Nowinski. They argue that controlled drinking is possible for some people – but only after a 90 day period of complete abstinence.
I’ll end this with a quick word about… bananas.
I was struck by what you said about being ‘in control’ of alcohol. It reminded me of something Jason Vale says in his book, Kick The Drink. He says:
“If I kept saying to you that I was in ‘control’ of my banana intake, that I only have them a few times a week and that I can even go two complete days without bananas … wouldn’t you immediately know I had a problem with bananas?”
Sometimes you need a silly comparison like that in order to see something for what it really is.
The next time that voice in your head tries to justify your drinking, you can bring it back to reality by thinking about bananas.
Laura, what you do next is your decision. But I think that if you keep going with sobriety a bit longer, you’ll be really pleased you did.
Good things are coming – just you wait and see.