My Dry January Journey
The New Year brings the opportunity for turning a new leaf! Many of us make resolutions and set new goals for everything from exercising more, to healthier eating, to reading more, to flossing. Thousands of folks take on Dry January as an opportunity to take a break from drinking too much or too often. If you don’t know what Dry January is, it is a public health initiative launched in 2013 by Alcohol Change UK to encourage people to reduce the amount of alcohol they consume.1 It’s an opening for a fresh start on a healthier New Year.
I took on Dry January this year after recognizing how the challenges of 2022 had me consuming more alcohol than I was comfortable with, and I did not like (frankly, I was scared of) the negative toll it was taking on my mind and body. Excessive alcohol use poses a greater health risk for women compared to men according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).1 It takes longer for women to absorb alcohol and to break it down. Women are also at a higher risk for brain and heart damage.1 Unfortunately, Big Alcohol has targeted their marketing more to women in the past few years and women are drinking more now than ever before.2 I’m writing this on day 31 of my Dry January and wanted to share my experience of why and how I did it. Plus, the benefits have been too good not to share!
Last year was a big transition year for me and my family. My husband lost his job, my teenage daughter began exploring her identity, I was in my second year of building my business, and I was suffering with all new menopause symptoms that developed after a debilitating case of shingles that left me bedridden for seven weeks the previous year. Between the lack of exercise and not being in control of my food, my metabolism completely changed. I no longer recognized my body. My body composition changed, I went up a size in my clothes, and my digestion slowed to a point that it felt like everything I ate was stuck in my gut. For the first time since being pregnant, my stomach was sticking out farther than my breasts!
As a personal trainer, this hit me hard, to say the least. Was I depressed? Probably. Nearly 10 years post menopause, I thought I’d escaped these common body changes. Even as I got back to exercising regularly and eating healthier, I couldn’t beat these new drops in my hormones and changes in my body. Add on the new stresses in our family, and alcohol was no longer just a social activity for me. It was an escape; a coping mechanism. But, the more I drank the more anxiety I had, the more fatigued I became, and I started having panic attacks.
I was stopped in fear and afraid to get out of my comfort zones. I focused on supporting others, my husband, my daughter, and my clients. I was surviving in a juggling act. But, I knew I was not living my best life. I had lost my way and I was no longer in alignment with my purpose to help women over 50 get fit. How could I be? I wasn’t living my healthiest life anymore. So, although I wasn’t blacking out or spending the night with my head next to the toilet, everything in my life seemed hard. I was at one of the lowest points in my life. This was my rock bottom. I decided I didn’t want to just survive every day.
It was time to look inward and take care of me, mentally and physically on a whole new level. Last fall, after losing four clients in September, I was ready to start a new path. I knew I needed help. In October, I hired a coach to help me with my business. This was where I needed to start to get back on track first. I had been doing research on menopause for a while and started taking the adaptogen, Ashwagandha, to help with my symptoms.5 Within weeks, I started to feel like I was getting my body back and getting my business in order. I was getting comfortable with putting myself out there in the world again.
I got back on social media and joined an in person networking group with other wellness professionals. My panic attacks stopped and anxiety had lessened, but I hadn’t given up alcohol yet. I knew that needed to be the next change as the year was coming to a close, and Dry January was the perfect time for my fresh start. I knew that I needed to set myself up for success in getting real with my relationship to alcohol and how it had evolved into a negative relationship holding me back from truly connecting with myself and the world.
Setting myself up to be successful was essential to my success. My approach had four components to it: Mindfulness practices, detoxifying my body, gaining knowledge, and having support.
I have been a huge proponent of incorporating mindfulness into my daily life since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2020. It has taken many forms over that time. It started with a lot of journaling. My journaling evolved from barfing out my fears to more focused gratitude journaling over that year and into the beginning of 2021. I was also dabbling in meditation. I had a difficult time meditating for more than 10 - 15 minutes, but I benefited from just sitting quietly with myself back then. My coach had given me a focused meditation to practice last fall and that changed everything. It was still hard at first, but the more I kept at it everyday, I could finally connect my body to the Universe’s vibrations. Connecting my mind was much more difficult, which I didn’t realize until I gave up the alcohol. This became clear to me the second week of Dry January when I recognized the vibrations of the Universe pretty much stopped at my neck.
In the second week, I did my 5 Day Detox Cleanse. My body was already starting to feel better and my sleep patterns were starting to improve. The cleanse helped my liver and kidneys process better as was evidenced by my amended digestion, excellent bowel movements, and my stomach was shrinking! At this point, I was surprised by my brain fog. I hadn’t realized how much of a haze I was living in. I thought I was just bad at meditating for the last couple months. Nope. My brain was contaminated with toxins! Fortunately, I had been connected with an amazing body work professional in December.
I had started getting Bowenwork therapy, a specialty of massage that unwinds the tissues in your body. My practitioner 3 also specializes in lymphatic drainage. When you’re drinking a lot of alcohol, your lymph system gets clogged up with toxins. When I told her about my brain fog, she said, “let me try squeezing your brain”. Which sounded hilarious to me and we laughed about the term, but she described research showing the brain as part of our lymphatic system. I was game. I was in it to win it with Dry January and I needed to reconnect with my mind to make it happen! Mid-week of my cleanse she “squeezed my brain” and holy shit, immediately, I could feel the fog lifting!! It was an incredible sensation and clarity that I’d never experienced before. This was a huge turning point for me in just the second week of Dry January. I could finally connect into my mind during my meditations, and I was excited to be detoxifying both my body and my mind. I was now meditating at a whole new level and craving more of it instead of alcohol. Win!! I believe this made it easier for me to navigate social situations without the desire to drink.
Trying on a new identity of nondrinker sounded better and better to me. During this month, my energy increased and I exercised more. I also tried acupuncture, which cleared up chronic chest and sinus congestion I had been experiencing. Focusing on physical self care was essential to my success.
There were two other components that kept me going: learning more about alcohol itself, and having support in this adventure of taking a break from alcohol. I have had a book in my “Saved for Later” section of my Amazon account since January 2022 called, “Quit Like a Woman”, by Holly Whitaker2. I saw someone post a recommendation for it on Facebook. I can’t remember who, but I’m eternally grateful! I’m so glad I purchased it. This book really resonated with me in a “HELL YAY!” sort of way. My story is not the same as hers, but her perspective on how society relegates alcohol to outrageous levels and how it permeates in every aspect of our lives hit home for me. How women have been targeted by Big Alcohol and how we’ve bought in hook, line, and sinker to their marketing. You really start to notice how every gathering involves alcohol. Things like happy hour networking, wine and vision boards, wine down Wednesdays, and family gatherings, dinners out and on and on and on. I liked the hard edge in your face approach of this book that focused on the alcohol itself and our society's single minded approach to fixing those who can’t “handle” their drinking. I consumed it in the first two weeks, which is a fast read for me.
Having someone take the Dry January challenge with you really helps too! When I told a friend what I was up to and why, she joined me. She had taken a break from alcohol for three months a while back and was ready to do it again. The daily check-ins with each other, the support when challenges and cravings came up was a huge help in staying on track. I shared the book I was reading with her and she gave me a book that she’d read in the past that helped her. I started reading the book “Euphoric”, by Karolina Rzadkowolska4 that she gave me.
This was another great read for women ready to take a break from alcohol! Some of the principles incorporating mindset and societal norms overlapped the other book but in a bit gentler and more supportive way. This book also has an 8 week plan to help with mindset practices for gratitude journaling. This has helped me to get back to my practice of journaling. Being able to recognize your cues to the desire to drink, knowing a craving only lasts 20 minutes, and having alternatives ready to take on any situation is another bit of knowledge that helped me through this month.
The benefits of taking a break from alcohol are well documented. Everything from weight loss, better sleep, improved mood, elevated energy levels, and increased exercise can happen. Improved nutrition from reducing the consumption of empty calories can lead to better food choices. This is an important piece of the puzzle for me going forward. I plan to optimize my nutrition over the next month without alcohol. I look forward to sharing how this is going for me as I prepare for Poindexter Coaching’s next Consistency Challenge on improving nutrition in March, when I’ll also be offering my 5 Day Detox Cleanse. Besides doing the cleanse this month, I didn’t focus on my other areas of nutrition. Changing one thing, especially this big, was another key to my success.
Not drinking the toxic chemical ethanol (that’s what alcohol is!) has huge health benefits, including reduced liver fat and blood sugar, plus decreased disease factors related to cancer and insulin resistance1. For me personally, eliminating alcohol for Dry January had fantastic benefits! No more terrible night sweats and my quality of sleep overall improved tremendously. I haven’t slept this well in years! No more waking up a hot sweaty mess, tossing and turning with my mind racing in anxiety, shame, and guilt. The dark circles under my eyes have diminished and my skin is smoother. I’m not puffy and bloated. I’m more present with my daughter and better equipped to help her navigate the world. I wake up looking forward to living in alignment with my purpose everyday. I’m enjoying living my life more fully and I feel unstoppable.
Moving forward, I still feel my mind and body need a break from alcohol and I’m going to continue trying on the identity of a nondrinker to live my best life. It takes 3 - 6 months for the body to completely detox from alcohol.4 I know what my life looks like as a drinker, so why not explore a life without alcohol and see what I can make of it? If any of the benefits I described sound attractive to you, I encourage you to take a break from alcohol and see what can change in your life.
In balance with fitness,
“Dry January: Giving up alcohol can mean better sleep, weight loss, and more energy”, by Claudia Coons. Https://www.health.ucdavis.edu - Internal Medicine, January 4, 2023
“Quit Like a Woman”, by Holly Whitaker
Back to Self Bodywork, Caran Johnson, LMT Https://www.backtoselfbodywork.com
“Euphoric”, by Karolina Rzadkowolska
“Next Level”, by Dr. Stacy Sims