Six years ago I woke up with a severe headache. My mouth felt like sandpaper. My eyes too. I was hungover.
My family and I went to a lot of parties during the holiday season (I’m not complaining), but on New Year’s Eve I was longing for a reset.
So I decided to stop drinking in January.
Back then, I didn’t know dry January existed. No one in my social or family circle had ever mentioned it. Giving up alcohol for a month was something I wanted to try for myself. The holidays were over, the children were going back to school and it was time to get back to the routine.
The first five days without alcohol were fine. When I instinctively reached for a glass of wine while preparing dinner, I poured flavored water into the glass. It wasn’t the same, but it wasn’t a big deal. And why didn’t he always drink water from a fancy wine glass?
Then came Saturday night. I went to a bar/restaurant to meet some friends. When I politely declined a drink, the cheerful gathering felt more like an interrogation.
“You are pregnant?”
“Are you sick?”
“Are you pregnant…and sick?”
I was surprised by the intensity of the reactions. People were legitimately worried about me. I quickly realized that my reasoning (a reboot after the holidays) wasn’t good enough for them.
For everyone else it was simple: if I didn’t drink, something was wrong with me. Did I have a drinking problem? what it was In fact happening? And the funny thing was that people kept buying me drinks all the time (which, again, I politely declined) and took it personally that I wouldn’t drink them.
I left the bar early thinking this was going to be harder than I thought. Maybe everyone was right. If I don’t have a drinking problem and there’s nothing wrong with me, why am I doing this?
Then I remembered: I was doing this for me. I wasn’t doing it for anyone else. I set a goal and wanted to achieve it by myself.
Melissa and her children
With my goal focused, the second week was easier than the first. It felt good to wake up with a clear head and more energy. When Saturday came around I thought about staying home and not socializing after all the accusations from the previous weekend. Maybe I should avoid everyone for the entire month.
But I was too afraid of missing out (FOMO). I live in Michigan surrounded by family and friends and something fun always happens. So I went out, ordered sparkling water, and started learning how to socialize when everyone else was drinking.
Sometimes I still felt uncomfortable and people still gave me a hard time. Some comments were more hurtful than others. That it wasn’t fun or that no one wanted to be around me if I didn’t drink. I reminded them that I am still the same person. I’m still fun. But what people thought about me being sober for a while mattered less and less as the month went on.
If the first weekend was an 8 out of 10 on the difficult scale, the third weekend was a 2. I was proud of myself. And I felt stronger. I exercise most days of the week, but I’ve found that I’m more ambitious (I chase it more) when I don’t drink.
At the end of the month I thought I would love to go out for a drink or a glass of wine. But at that moment I didn’t really care. I felt good knowing that if I wanted to have a dry January, I could do it. And everything would be fine.
Of course, since drinking is part of my social life, it can be difficult not to drink anything for an entire month. Some years, January feels like six months (thanks Covid!)
But I do it every year because I love the challenge and I love how I feel when I can achieve a goal I set for myself. And I know it’s good for my mental health and my body to take a break from time to time.
Now I like to tell people that I won’t drink in January (sometimes also in September when I’m sober) because I think it’s important to remove the stigma.
I think a lot of women go into social settings with friends or on vacation without drinking and people are really worried. They are upset. They’re disappointed that you’re not drinking. As if you were not the same person. Like, boo, Melissa, you’re not funny. And that hurts.
With more people embracing Dry January these days, I hope there continues to be more positivity and more opportunities to talk about it without judgment or jumping to conclusions (not yet, pregnant kids!).
I know it can be hard not to drink when everyone around you is pressuring you to do so. But if you want to do dry January or refuse a drink for any reason at any time, you can do it. You’re still fun Melissa. It doesn’t matter what my friends say.
Do you have any real women, real stories of your own that you want to share? let us know.
Our Real Women, Real Stories are authentic experiences of real-life women. The views, opinions and experiences shared in these stories are not endorsed by HealthyWomen and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HealthyWomen.
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