What I Learned While Utterly Failing To Complete ‘Dry January’

For one, New York City bars charge an absurd amount for a Diet Coke.

In our monthly series, GIVING UP, newsroom staffers deprive themselves of a beloved habit and track how it went. In January, Senior Editor Maxwell Strachan, 29, gave up alcohol.

I didn't successfully complete Dry January, but I certainly drank a lot less, and that's not nothing.
Maxwell Strachan
I didn't successfully complete Dry January, but I certainly drank a lot less, and that's not nothing.

What are you giving up? I tried to give up alcohol for the month of January as part of that whole “Dry January” phenomenon. I failed.

What made you decide to give it up? As 2016 was winding down, I figured I could use an extended period of sobriety. November and December had left me feeling tired and financially irresponsible ― something I attributed in part to an uptick in alcohol consumption related to the holiday season and general, chaotic state of the world.

In prior years I have been able to fight through the post-holiday hangover, but as I get older, the hangovers are just worse. So I decided to start off the year without drinking to try and re-energize myself and maybe lose a couple pounds, too.

How did your friends and family react? People were mostly either intrigued or supportive. One of my friends said, “I’m so sorry,” which I still don’t know how to interpret. Others joked that perhaps it wasn’t the best time to stop drinking, considering the political environment we find ourselves in.

My best friend was probably the most upset by it. He literally scoffed after I told him I was serious about the whole thing. But that makes sense, given that it threw a small wrench in his social life.

I will say, I don’t think I could have done it had my girlfriend not been so onboard with the idea. In New York, where I live, meeting up at bars is a primary way of seeing friends, and having her around made it much easier to fight off that urge and opt for exercising, cooking food and watching movies.

Did you do any research before you started? I read some blog posts about how you can lose some weight not drinking. Which, duh. And of course, I know alcohol is a depressant and that everyone who doesn’t drink feels amazing. Look, we all know alcohol is bad, right? That’s not exactly a revelation.

Did you slip up? Yes, I did. The weekends are just tough in New York, which has a heavy drinking culture. I survived the first weekend, but it required purchasing $17 worth of Diet Coke at bars on the Lower East Side on Friday, and then inviting over friends on Saturday for dinner at my apartment, where I proceeded to drink two liters of Diet Coke and lay wide-eyed in bed until around 4 a.m. Since then, I have sworn off Diet Coke, which should be illegal.

The next weekend, one of my good friends was having an engagement party complete with an open bar. He also was attempting “Dry January” and together we decided we would break it for “just one night:” Friday, Jan. 13. Then, giant pile of crap that I am, I decided to break it the next night, too. After that, I basically decided that I would continue to not drink Sunday to Thursday, but still drink on Friday and Saturday, which is not nothing, right? Right? Yes, I feel bad.

Proof drinking is bad for you.
Maxwell Strachan
Proof drinking is bad for you.

When did you first feel deprived? I normally enjoy having a couple beers at home after work during the week, but I found that habit was relatively easy to break if I just focused on making a nice meal and drinking tea. For a couple days, I had a strong desire for red wine, which is odd mostly because I don’t really drink red wine. But mostly, I found not drinking during the week to be great. I exercised more often, ate better and got more sleep.

But certainly, it’s hard not to drink around your friends on the weekends in New York. I felt out of sorts then, and I don’t really know if there is a fix to that. Also, and I cannot state this strongly enough: The price New York bars charge for Diet Coke is a crime.

Any awkward social encounters? Not really. But I spent much more time at home than I usually do, so over time I felt I had a lack of social encounters. I have only seen my friends during the weekends, really, which kind of sucks.

Notice any changes to your mood? Yes, my mood noticeably improved when I went a prolonged period without drinking. I felt more calm and even-keeled. However, it’s possible that change in mood was not simply a result of abstaining from alcohol, but part of a larger domino effect: To avoid drinking, I exercised more, which in turn made me tired, which in turn meant I went to bed earlier.

I also cooked at home more often and opted against fried foods for the most part, and I’m sure that contributed some, too. I think not drinking was the first domino to fall, which helped everything else fall in place.

For better or worse, it also made me realize the extent to which drinking made me feel lazy after I imbibed on the weekends. I had trouble doing much the day after going out with friends besides making breakfast and watching television, and I think I’ll have a hard time forgetting all that come February.

Changes to your body? Yes, I lost about eight pounds, although I will emphasize once again, that’s not due entirely to less drinking. I also exercised for an hour about three times a week and noticeably improved my diet to get the most bang for my sober buck.

Also, for the first couple days, I had a harder time going to sleep even though I was more tired. The sleep I did get was noticeably deeper-seeming. But over time, going to sleep became less of a challenge.

Changes to your productivity? This was probably the biggest revelation I had: After you have your first drink of the day, whether it’s at 6 p.m. or 9 p.m., it’s pretty hard to get anything else productive done before bed. Not drinking in the evenings gave me much more time to exercise, read, cook and catch up on extra work.

Changes to your relationships? I can’t say it really improved my relationships. Luckily, I’m not mean when I drink. If anything, I’m pretty sure my friends are actually tired of hearing me talking about “Dry-ish January.”

I did see people less during the week, and I think that’s actually a net negative of the whole thing.

Also, I guess it’s possible I started to become a bit more boring. My conversations of choice shifted toward telling friends about other small changes I had made to my life to improve my happiness, like drinking more half-caf and decaf coffee. They didn’t always appreciate that:

A typical conversation in the middle of the month.
Maxwell Strachan
A typical conversation in the middle of the month.

So, yeah.

Would you do it again? Yes, and to be honest, I think I’m going to change my behavior going forward a bit. I’d like to avoid drinking at home for the most part during the week, and I’d like to try only going out to bars to see people I really want to see, rather than just because I want to let off some steam. While not drinking, I saved some money and was able to order nice meat at the store more often. And who doesn’t like nice meat?

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