I Quit Drinking For A Month — & These 12 Things Happened

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
This article was originally published on December 17, 2015.

A couple of years ago, I decided to do a Dry January. That means no booze at all, for any reason (yes, even at a birthday party / wedding / after a bad day / whatever) for the entire month. To some people, that might not sound like a big deal, but to me it sounded like a major commitment. Before I gave this a try, I wasn’t even a huge drinker or partier — I would do wine on weeknights, and maybe some cocktails on the weekends with friends. So, my Dry January was not about “detoxing” or turning around a serious bad habit. Mostly, I wanted to see if having a sober month was something I could do. I also wanted to see how it would make me feel (better? more focused? totally the same?).

Going in, I figured I would probably miss having a drink with my friends on the weekends, but as it turned out, the effects were way more far-reaching than that. My first-ever Dry January not only totally changed my relationship with alcohol; it changed some of my friendships, and I’d even argue it changed my life. In fact, January 2016 will be my seventh Dry January.

Intrigued? If you are planning to try a Dry January, there are some important things you need to know before you embark on this challenging, enlightening, and ultimately rewarding booze-free journey. Here we go.

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You might want to try not to get totally wasted on NYE
I get the temptation to party hard on New Year’s Eve, to get in one last hurrah before your month of sobriety, but having a massive hangover is just going to weaken your resolve starting from Day 1 (after all, it’s hard to resist the hair of the dog). Of course, I'm not saying "don’t drink at all on NYE," but I highly recommend resisting the urge — and the peer pressure — to get smashed. Trust me, you’ll need all your resolve and discipline, because…
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The first two weeks will be really hard.
Yep, the first 14 or so days of your Dry January are probably going to be really hard. I’m sorry to be the bearer of not-so-amazing news, but if you know that you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle, I think you’ll have a better chance of success. As I mentioned previously, I was not even a huge drinker when I tried this for the first time (other than two “too much” years in my 20s, and even then, I only blacked out once — and rugby-tackled my dad’s best friend to the ground. Zero recollection). But even so, that first half of the month took a lot of resolve, focus, and almost constant re-commitment for me. Even just one or two glasses of wine, or a couple of beers in the evenings, were sorely missed, because…
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You’ll realize that almost all social life is centered around food and drink.
Being sober will make you recognize this. It’s actually kind of astounding, and not something you fully notice while you are participating in it. (Tip: Going to the gym really helped, mostly because it gave me something else to do and was another form of sociability.) It became hard for me to even have dinner with friends, though, because…
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A lot of people, including your close friends, will be SUPER annoying and unsupportive about your decision.
This was the strangest thing of all about going dry for a month: other people. Almost everyone, including my own friends, was likely to get weird and even kind of pissy about it. People called me “boring," rolled their eyes when I said I wasn’t drinking for the month, and put a lot of pressure on me to “just have one drink.” Some people even stopped calling me or inviting me out to gatherings or parties.

The first time I faced this, I felt totally unequipped for how to deal with it. But ultimately, I realized it was about them and not about me. That said, it still totally sucked, and made me feel embarrassed (Oh God, am I boring?) and sad. Once I had some time to reflect, I realized that being sober can make some other people uncomfortable because they don’t know how to be social/interact without a drink. In my personal experience, I got the most flak from friends whom I always suspected had less-than-healthy relationships with alcohol. If you find yourself in a situation that just feels too peer-pressure-y, here are two tactics that worked for me to deflect.
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Tell people you’re on some SERIOUS antibiotics or, in very extreme cases, tip your bartender for club soda.
In my experience, if you tell people you’re getting over strep/flu/some horrible illness, that you’re still not feeling 100%, and you’re on antibiotics, so you can’t drink, people will back off. If, after that, people are still being dickheads (and yes, that happened to me), go to the bar, give the bartender a fiver, and tell him/her that every time you order a vodka and soda, all you want is soda and lime. It’s sad to have to resort to that, but it did happen to me, which leads me to this doozy…
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You might decide you don’t like your friends anymore.
This sounds horrible, but it needs to be said: Being dry for the month might make you realize that some of your friends kind of suck, or at the very least that you don’t have much in common with them apart from drinking. What happened for me was this: I realized that some of the people I was hanging out with would all get drunk together and tell the SAME STORY AND JOKES OVER AND OVER AGAIN AD INFINITUM. It was shocking. And it shocked me mostly because it made me reflect on myself: After all, just a couple weeks before, I was probably that guy. I was the one telling the same stories and jokes over and over again. Which led me to realize that…
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Maybe “just a drink or two a night” is much more than that.
I am not trying to come across as a total geezer here, but this was a big "aha" moment for me. I had NO idea how much my light booze habit of one to two drinks per night, plus drinks on the weekends, was affecting me, my choices, and my life. Everything from the people I was choosing to hang out with to how I was choosing to spend my time to a kind of blasé laziness / "I’ll do that tomorrow" attitude was all tied to just a couple of seemingly innocent drinks. But take out a calculator, and you’ll soon realize that “just a couple of drinks per night” plus weekend drinking will amount to over 900 drinks per year (yep, really; just do the math). That ain’t nothing, friends!

At the time of my first dry month, I was kind of “stuck” in a lot of areas (mostly deciding about the trajectory of my school and work life), and that mental fog, or "stuckness," cleared up within a couple of weeks of no booze. Yikes. On the positive side, while I started to distance myself from one group of friends, there were all these other great people I started getting closer to. Which leads me to this nugget…
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Your Dry January will likely lead you to new friendships, relationships, and other cool people your slightly inebriated brain didn’t really notice before.
When I take a look at my close friends right now, I realize that many of them came into my life around the time that I did my first Dry January. A lot of them had been casual friends or acquaintances, but I had just never really connected with them before, beyond surface conversations. I remember I ran into one of these people in the street around week three of my first Dry January, and she asked me to go get a drink. When I said, “Oh I can’t, I am not drinking this entire month," she immediately answered, “Oh, that’s so cool! Well, let’s go get a coffee or see a movie then?” WHOA. After the weirdness I had endured from others, that response felt so refreshing and awesome, and I really appreciated it. So fret not if you find yourself wanting to branch out to new friends; you’ll find them (you might even already know them). And, what’s maybe even better than that is…
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By the end of week two, you’ll feel like a new person.
Holy shit, guys, I have to tell you that you will feel SO FRESH AND SO CLEAN by the end of week two. I was sleeping so much better, my brain was firing on all cylinders, I was getting all my to-do lists done, my mood was sky-high, my PMS that month was so minor I almost didn’t notice it, my outlook on life was consistently positive, my energy levels were constant, I felt so clear-headed, and my skin was glowing. Which is why…
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You might be tempted to extend your Dry January to a Dry February.
And, in fact, I did. I felt so great at the end of January that I decided to extend it another month. And after those two months without any booze at all…
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The first drink you have after the dry period will be like whoa. And hangovers? Well, they might never be the same.
After about 60 days of no drinking, I had a glass of wine (which I had missed, despite all the upsides) and OMG did I feel it right away. I felt like a cartoon character with those little stars and birds flying around my head. Of course, I had another glass or two that night, which led to an insane hangover the next day. Seriously, the ratio of booze-to-hangover was just totally unjustified. And that, sadly, never went away. To this day, even when I don’t drink a lot, I feel the effects of those drinks. Honestly, I'm not sure if that’s a result of my sober months or a product of getting older, or both, but either way…
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This whole experience may change how and how much you drink forever.
Listen, I still like to go out and have a drink with friends, and when I have a hard, frustrating, difficult day, I’ll come home and pour myself a glass of vino. But I have never gone back to the same drinking habits I had before, I never will, and I am so glad. In fact, in my mind, my first Dry January marks the moment I went from grown-up-in-training to real grown-up.

Now that you’re equipped with all the tips, go forth into your Dry January with confidence: You CAN do this, you WILL do this, and you’ll be so glad that you did.
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