Before this month, I hadn’t gone longer than three or four days without at least one glass of red wine. A lot of people participate in what is now widely known as “Dry January,” but I had never even really considered it until the minute I decided to actually commit. I find myself at a very strange divide in my life with alcohol (with wine, more specifically).
Guilt has so much to do with it; I feel guilty when I drink wine, even just a glass. I think about it a lot, and not because I’m an over-thinker; I’m actually kind of an under-thinker. But I am highly aware of how my family has struggled and the kind of life I want to live.
I didn’t drink alcohol until I was legally allowed to. I didn’t drink in high school, or even in college before turning 21.
I never wanted to get drunk because I came from a family of drunks.
My father is a lifelong alcoholic. Though he was sober for eight solid years, he drinks again now. He tries very hard not to drink, but he does. I can tell he still drinks when he doesn’t text me back, or when he does text me back but his words are gibberish, or when he calls me from the hospital because he nearly died — again. My dad struggles with both alcoholism and bipolar disorder. These diseases are hereditary, and if I have kids one day (or even if I don’t), I want to try to avoid recreating his struggles in my own life. Alcoholism is sad, hard on his kids (me), and hard on the people who love him.
Addiction is hard, and it’s scary, and I don’t want to be addicted to anything.
But I love wine. Is it an addiction to love something? Is it an addiction if you really enjoy having wine when you come home from work, or when you have friends over, or when you are watching a movie, or when you are writing? Is it an addiction if you don’t remember the last time you were drunk, but you just like the taste of it? These are all really hard questions to ask. When you say this stuff out loud, people who don’t drink (or don’t drink often) think you may have a problem. And people who do drink (and maybe drink much more than you) think you are being dramatic.
I have never really been satisfied by answers for the people in-between — those who are aware of the amount they consume and why they choose to consume it. So I decided to do a Dry January.
I did it well, and it was a big deal for me. Here’s some things I learned from it.
Moderation really is achievable.
You’ve heard it a million times: Moderation is the best choice for everything. From watching television, for drinking alcohol, for eating sugar or carbs or meat, for drinking coffee. We’re all supposed to moderate everything, as if there are clear and defined terms for moderation, or excess, or deprivation.
Through my Dry January, I learned that I am actually capable of moderation.
It took me about five days to realize that I was drinking wine nightly out of habit. It’s true — I usually have one or two glasses of wine a day during the work week, and I quickly realized it was habit, not necessity. I swapped my red wine (always red) for cranberry juice and sparkling water or one can of La Croix, and that quickly became normal to me. I eat pretty boring food, so my meals are noticeably less exciting without wine — but other than that, the change was fine. Sparkling water at dinner, a cup of tea afterwards, then bedtime.
When I work wine back into my life (because yes, I will be doing that), I know that I can be fine with drinking just one glass — or no glasses at all.
Weekends are still fun without wine.
I was most stressed about the weekends. Weekdays are easy. I have gone plenty of weekdays without drinking wine. Long before my Dry January, I challenged myself to not drink every day of the week and it became normal. But weekends? I don’t remember the last one I had without meeting a friend for drinks, whether it be mimosas at brunch or wine at night.
One Saturday night in January, my friend Joseph and I went to a pizza place where I drank a cranberry Moscow mule sans the vodka. Dessert was at a cookie shop that had an old school Super Nintendo, so we ate cookies, drank tea, and played video games for hours. That is one of the best Saturday nights I’ve had in recent memory, and the only vices I consumed were s’mores cookie crumbs.
My health isn’t entirely dependent on how much wine I stop drinking.
During the first two weeks in January, I didn’t sleep well, and when I woke up in the morning, I usually had a headache. I also caught a small cold. Those things had nothing to do with my alcohol consumption, but I am almost embarrassed to admit I didn’t realize that before. Previously, if I ever woke up with a headache, I assumed it was a wine side effect and continued with my day. When I am very tired in the morning, I assume wine affected my sleep. If I don’t feel well, I think it’s probably something to do with wine — even if I only had one glass the night before.
I realized that I am dealing with some problems that have nothing to do with wine.
I’m stressed when I try to sleep at night, and now I know those thoughts aren’t alcohol-related. Now I’m working to find the actual root of that stress. I think I may struggle with chronic headaches, which I never before considered because I blamed my discomfort on wine. I upped my vitamin intake and grabbed some echinacea and Emergen-C at the drug store, and stopped assuming all of my problems stemmed from a habitual glass of red.
I feel better because I accomplished a challenging feat — not because removing wine from my life cured all of my problems. It would be cool if it had, but that’s not how life works. I didn’t magically feel better after not drinking for one week — or even four. There isn’t usually only one thing holding us back.
But if you think you need to cut back on your drinking, I encourage you to do so. Explore teas and sparkling water and kombuchas. Drink every other night, and then challenge yourself to not drink for two nights in a row. And keep going from there. If you really think that you have a problem, reach out. There are resources to help you. I definitely love wine, but wine isn’t worth sacrificing life or health.
Cheers to February.