A Star Tribune reporter's dry January led to a dry 2021
When she gave up alcohol, she gained so much more.
Most mornings, when I walk my dog Emmylou, I feel grateful for Dry January.
Not just my alcohol-free January of 2021, which led to a dry February, which led to a dry 2021, but for my attempts at dry months in the decade before that.
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Failed attempts, mostly. I would start strong but then crack a beer on a cabin weekend or decide that dinner with friends counted as a special occasion or give in on my birthday — because who celebrates a birthday without cocktails?
I no longer see those weeks as failures but as practice sessions. I was trying to imagine a life that had before seemed impossible. A life without alcohol.
The Instagram posts helped me envision it. A celebrity or a friend or a friend-of-a-friend would post about their decision to quit drinking. Rarely was that decision inspired by a "rock bottom" moment, but instead came from someplace more subtle. Their lives always improved. Their skin always glowed.
I'd bookmark the posts and find myself returning to them after half a bottle of wine. I catalogued them, memorized them, envied them.
By the time I was ready to quit, I was already drinking less. Moderating, even. But I still thought about drinking every night. Tonight or tomorrow? One glass or two?
Adopting a six-month-old puppy put my mornings in sharper focus. I loved the routine of our walks at sunrise and would watch, fascinated, as she explored the world, her eyes always darting, her nose always twitching.
A week or two into Dry January, a bit of success under my belt, I told my therapist I was doing it. He asked why, and I shared the word that had been pulsing through my brain for years by then: awake. I wanted to be awake. Drinking clouded things in the loveliest way. Softened hard edges, hushed loud noises, tempered my brain.
But I knew that I was muffling the good stuff, too.
A month turned into two, five, 12. The pandemic slowed the frequency of social situations, which helped. I would taste my boyfriend's beer on occasion and have a sip of Champagne at a friend's wedding. But mostly, I didn't drink and — even better — didn't think about drinking.
I celebrated my birthday without alcohol, gathered for book club sans wine, took a two-week trip to Turkey fueled only by tea. I stressed and sobbed, all without rosé.
My anxiety improved. My skin glowed.
I had removed alcohol from my life, but the change felt additive, somehow. Like how a dusting of snow, on an early walk with Emmylou, revealed what she'd been sniffing all these mornings. The yellow pee of other dogs, mostly. But also: tiny rabbit tracks across the sidewalk. Not drinking has given me the ability to see what troubles me, what motivates me, what gives me joy.