Dry January is tough - take it from somebody who knows, says writer Catherine Gray
‘I attempted Dry January once. I made it to the 5th,’ says Catherine Gray, author of groundbreaking new book The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober (Aster, £8.99), which is part-memoir – of Catherine’s own battle with alcoholism – and part expert insight and tips on cutting down or quitting altogether.
‘Ironically, I’m now well over four years sober and happy as a clam. For me, taking drinking off the table entirely was the answer. I’ve since amassed a huge toolbox of ways to stay alcohol-free. I even wrote a book about it. A 2015 study showed that half of all people who attempt Dry January have bounced off the wagon by mid-Jan. So, if you’ve taken a tumble, or feel precarious and find yourself gripping onto dear life, here’s how to weld yourself back on.’ And remember, the benefits of giving up alcohol are seriously worth it.
1. Try the ‘Dory method’
There must have been a good reason to commit to dry January, right? Remind yourself of that, constantly, by writing it down. Drinky December’s hangxiety, maybe? I call this the ‘Dory method’ because it’s so dang easy to forget why you’re not drinking.
Exercise your way through dry January
2. Lace up your trainers
Aerobic exercise not only helps your brain recover from heavy drinking, just ten minutes can kibosh a wine craving.
3. Have a good sob
Day from the seventh circle of hell? Having a todder-style bawl will release chemicals that produce cortisol, the stress hormone. Literally lowering stress.
4. Listen to podcasts
To steel your determination to stay teetotal. I love HOME, hosted by two hilarious, soulful sober women.
5. Read a book
I love Unwasted by Sacha Z. Scoblic or This Naked Mind by Annie Grace. Or, there’s mine, obviously 😉
6. Big up your brain
How long have you been drinking habitually for; two decades? Three? Being teetotal is hard at first, of course it is; it’s like trying to write with your other hand, or learn to drive. Neuroscientists that I interviewed for the book said that you need to forge a brand new ‘sober socialising’ neural pathway, which is tough and takes time.
Find some Dry January Insta-heroes
7. Find some Insta-inspo
Instagram is awash with women crushing an alcohol-free life and handing out tips; I recommend @off.the.rocks @laurievmcallister @hipsobriety @motherheart @thesoberglow @sasha_tozzi and @sillylara. And I’m on @unexpectedjoyof
8. Change your non-drinking lexicon
‘I can’t drink’ or ‘I have to do Dry Jan’ simply compound your missing-out meh. A study shows that people who say ‘I don’t’ are much more successful, so try switching for ‘I don’t drink in January’ or ‘I’m doing Dry Jan.’
9. Take vitamin B
After a Drinky December, many of us have depleted levels of vitamin B, which affects our mood, appetite and energy. Dry January may feel harder due to a simple vitamin imbalance.
10. Check out teetotal celebrities
There are dozens of online listicles of teetotal celebrities with inspiring quotes. Recent additions to the sober tribe include Florence Welch, Lily Allen and Brad Pitt.
11. Tell everyone you’re not drinking until February
Feeling like you’re being observed increases your chances of success; because of the Hawthorne Effect.
12. Roll with the sugar craving
Booze is full of sugar, so you’ll find that you now look at the dessert menu first, or find yourself buying family packs of Haribo. It’s normal. Cravings for alcohol are sometimes hankerings for sugar, in disguise.
13. Eat regularly
Speaking of which, hunger exacerbates the ‘incomplete’ feeling that leads to us reaching for a drink. Never go to the pub hungry.
14. Don’t keep your favourite tipple in the house
A sucker for Sauvignon Blanc? Give away your stash. You’ll increase your chances by about 1,000 per cent, I promise.
15. Find a tribe
Social support is crucial, my experts said. Hello Sunday Morning, Club Soda or Soberistas are all great places to find it.
16. Wash your hair
It’s weird, but it works. You’ve cleared your favourite drink out of the house, so if you wash your hair and put on your PJs as soon as you get home, you’re in for the night. No going to the off-licence.
17. Clean things
I don’t know why, but a clean house makes you less likely to want to drink.
Enjoy your dry January ‘wins’
18. Count your newfound money
I love the app, I’m Done Drinking, which counts up (in real time, which is so satisfying) all the drinks you haven’t had, money you’ve saved and calories you haven’t drank. Watch those figures tick up.
19. Spend some of that money
One of the reasons Dry Jan feels so dull, is because we don’t replace booze with other teetotal treats. See all that money you’ve saved? Spend at least a quarter of it on something indulgent.
20. Talk to someone
We know that a third of regular drinkers are worried about their drinking, yet half of them have told no-one. Not their GP, best friend, or even partner. Talking helps.
21. Dip into other women’s alcohol-free diaries
This series of not-drinking diaries is fantastic.
22. Practice some mindfulness
I used to follow the thought ‘I want a drink’ to the fridge and enact its demands. Until I realised thoughts are not fait accomplis. I gained a sense of mastery and detachment over my naughty thoughts by using mindfulness apps and reading books about it.
23. Name your addictive voice
I call mine Voldemort. Pretty much sums it up. It helps enormously, to see your ‘I want all the wine’ voice as separate from your ‘I want to do Dry Jan’ core self. I alit upon this notion through a blog called Tired of Thinking about Drinking.
24. Take note of all the unexpected bonuses
Now that I don’t drink, I no longer wake up with unexplained bruises, I check out of hotels early, I don’t feel terrified if someone says ‘I have a bone to pick with you’ and my birthday cards are no longer all alcohol-related. Is nice.
I know it’s freezing. But getting outside literally lowers stress. You own three jumpers, right? Put ’em all on.
26. Love your new skin
You’ll find that your skin clears up dramatically, because drinking is one of the worst things you can do to your face.
27. Look at your body
A bottle of wine is the calorific equivalent of two chocolate bars. Really. Does your body look tighter? Yep.
28. Sleeping better?
Around two weeks in, you should find that you fall into a luxurious slumber and wake up feeling properly refreshed. It’s because booze prevents us from deep-diving into REM sleep.
29. Give yourself a break
If you do bounce off the wagon, be nice to yourself, give yourself a hug, and climb back on. Alcohol is a highly addictive drug. It’s really difficult to stop. It’s not you; it’s the booze’s hypnotic sway.
30. Consider a 90-day spell
My takeaway is this. If you find that in ‘Wet February’ your drinking shoots right back up to what it was before, it’s because of the magic 66 days effect. Experts say that it takes 66 days for a new habit to bed in. Consider taking a 90-day break instead, to write a new ‘sober socialising’ neural pathway in your brain.
And try to see that spell as alcohol-freedom rather than alcohol-deprivation. That subtle shift makes all the difference.
The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober is out now (Aster, £8.99) offering Catherine’s story, insights from top experts, and tips on how to socialise sober in order to cut down, or quit altogether. You can follow Catherine on Instagram @unexpectedjoyof or Twitter @cathgraywrites