In 2015, after a stonking blackout to see in the New Year (what better way is there to celebrate?) I decided to do a Dry January.
I was sick of hangovers, sick of not knowing what happened on nights out, sick of not being able to trust myself to go for a simple drink without it turned into a disaster.
I needed to stop drinking. Something had to change.
Secretly, I blamed my then-boyfriend for the horrible night we’d had. He was a terrible drinker. Alcohol didn’t agree with him at all.
The night had started out hopeful and glittering, the way all drunken nights do. We were going to have such fun!
Anxiety broiled underneath, but I was used to that. It ramped up in accordance with how much alcohol he consumed, and made me drink faster.
I remember pleading with him not to drink too much.
“I just don’t want the night to be ruined,” I whined.
He brushed me off, and I felt a little like a moth; something dumb and making small loops, programmed to seek out things that will destroy it.
He was irritated and I could understand why. After a while, I grew tired of my role as alcohol monitor and got stuck into the Red Stripe instead.
I put on a pretty dress, hoping it might inspire him not to be such a pissed up wanker this time. (Fingers crossed!).
We drank at this pub then that pub, and I remember being too drunk to hold my head up. After cheersing a shot, I decided to walk home because I couldn’t see any more. That’s the last thing I remember. It wasn’t even midnight.
My memory of the night is hazy, but within the confines of my blackout the two of us had a huge row that ended with me crying myself to sleep.
Lying in bed the next morning, greeting the new year with the abject despair I’d been afraid of, I decided: enough is enough.
It wasn’t the first time I’d decided to quit drinking, but it was the first time I’d decided to align myself with a national campaign.
Dry January’s existence vindicated and validated my desire to tell alcohol to go fuck itself. It gave structure to my deepest longing.
After the hangover faded and the shock of emo drama wore off, my main feeling was excitement. A month off booze! What a relief. Like going to a spa, but without the expense.
Oh my god, I could actually do this!
All my problems would disappear!
I was living, at the time, in a new houseshare with a pair of total babes who loved to cook and listen and make things.
We watched Frasier and baked and drank tea and laughed a lot.
Without the pub or wine I was more available and I accompanied them to a choir session or played ukele or went to the cinema.
I attended a Quaker meeting and finally made it to the Buddhist Centre to begin their free introductory course.
Not drinking was brilliant and boring in equal measure. I was astounded by the time that emerged in place of drinking and recovering from drinking.
I was horrified by the saminess of my consciousness. I was in awe of the way that evenings went on and on.
My money went further. I lost weight. I was delighted with myself.
My boyfriend was impressed with me too. After a cooling-off period, we were talking again, and he wanted to come visit.
Anxiety started up again. How would I spend time with him without drinking?
I turned to Google, looking up possible things to do that didn’t involve alcohol. I found a barbecue and juice restaurant that we could try.
“I don’t want to go there,” he said. “I want to get a pint. Let’s go to The Bell.”
It was the pub near my house, the one I had recently walked away from, into blackout. My stomach turned over, but I didn’t want to make him do something he didn’t want to do. Besides, just because we were in a pub, it didn’t mean I had to drink.
I ordered a non-alcoholic beer which felt small and expensive and pointless, but I couldn’t sink to a coke. It was too far from what I wanted which was a lovely, frothing, cold pint of beer.
We sat in the garden and smoked and talked, and I successfully managed to order another non-alcoholic beer. By the third one, I was worn out.
“Fuck it, I’ll have an Amstel,” I said, and my boyfriend looked amused.
I ordered another beer that night, but I didn’t get drunk.
The next day I felt disappointed with myself, but I just redoubled my efforts.
I didn’t drink again until January 31st.
In spite of being imperfect, my Dry January was a huge success.
Five years later, I can see that this was the beginning of my sobriety, though it was more than a year later that I quit completely.
Dry January was important because it gave me confidence. It helped me see there was a different way of life and I wasn’t the only one that dreamed of it.
I began to read women’s stories of getting sober: Mary Karr and Sarah Hepola and Caroline Knapp. I started writing my own.
I came to understand that willpower was not the only thing at play when it came to my drinking. I began to understand the importance of controlling my environment in order to keep my sobriety safe.
Soon after, a close friend of mine went into a twelve-step program for a different issue, and I witnessed the change in her after she began to practice abstinence.
I saw how she not only gained freedom from her most destructive habit but got to fill her life with other more rewarding things instead.
I was never able to string together so many days of sobriety as I did in that first Dry January again. I attempted many times, but I couldn’t make it through a week. My attempt at Stoptober lasted three days.
In AA they suggest this is because my addiction progressed. Alcoholism is a progressive disease, they say. Physicians agree that Alcohol Use Disorder exists on a spectrum.
I don’t care too much these days. I quit drinking. Life got better. That’s about it.
Dry January taught me that a life without drinking could be beautiful. It led to my education into addiction, and as I write this, I have been sober for almost four years.
Hangovers, shame — and to a great extent, anxiety and depression — are no longer a part of my life. My friendship circle looks completely different, made up of people who have my best interests at heart, and I’m in a loving relationship with a beautiful, kind man who puts me first.
To get and stay sober I had to let go of a lot of things, and yet somehow I didn’t lose anything of value.
My values and belief system had to change, but this was a positive (if challenging) experience, too.
So, if you are thinking of doing a Dry January, I recommend you do.
My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.
If you’re struggling to quit drinking, you’re not alone.
There is a whole community of people just waiting to help you. Reach out. Something better is waiting for you.
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Chelsey Flood is a novelist, lecturer and truth-seeker. She writes stories about freedom, nature and love.
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