As a marathon runner (and mom of three), Dorothy Beal isn’t one to balk at a challenge—so when she decided to try a Dry January in 2017, it’s no surprise she went all. in. What *was* surprising, she came to learn, was just how much alcohol had been dimming her spark.
In late 2016 after one particularly boozy night, I decided I’d had enough. I was scheduled to go for a run that day, but it was clear that nothing outside of taking care of my children was going to get me to leave my bed. A pounding headache unfazed by Advil, a dry mouth that wouldn’t be sated by copious amounts of water, the desire to eat anything and everything that would coat my stomach, and the sinking question of “What am I doing with my life?!” pushed me over the proverbial edge.
I wasn’t a big drinker at the time, or a big drinker in general (in my eyes), but I was drinking enough that each hangover felt like death. The morning after a night out, I’d try to count how many drinks I’d knocked back, and more often than not, I really had no clue. I’d do my best to make it through the next day and then spend the next few days “getting back on track” (read: not eating an entire bag of Cheetos and waking up with orange fingers). As soon as I started to feel good again, though, I’d forget what made me feel crappy in the first place and get excited to drink again.
I needed a break.
Being the competitive type, I decided that instead of thinking of it as “giving something up,” I’d turn not drinking into a challenge.
The new year was approaching and I wanted the first day to not be spent hungover in bed. I wanted to make 2017 the best year of my life, and on the right foot felt like the only way to begin. I signed up for a local 5K the morning of the 1st to give myself an excuse to turn down any NYE invitations that might come my way.
Being the competitive type, I decided that instead of thinking of it as “giving something up,” I’d turn not drinking into a challenge. I’d read article after article of people claiming that giving up alcohol for a period of time or having participated in Dry January was life altering. So many articles, in fact, that I started to have FOMO. Was I missing out? I had to find out for myself—so I set the goal of giving up alcohol ’til the end of January.
Let’s just say that giving up alcohol cold turkey wasn’t easy. And learning to sit with my emotions and deal with whatever was going on sans wine—that was hard. And that’s exactly why I felt like needed to keep going.
I became somewhat obsessed with counting my daily number. Every time I added another day in my planner of #noalcohol I felt like a literal badass who could accomplish anything I put my mind to. I wanted to watch the number of days without alcohol keep climbing.
As the days went on, I found myself dreaming about all the things I had wanted to accomplish over the years but hadn’t. Instead of just dreaming, though, I started to make plans for achieving my goals. This is when I started to feel some of the life-changing magic I had read about. I felt a love for myself, a love I hadn’t felt before. My brain was overflowing with creative ideas and I was filling page after page in my journals and business notebooks. I had more energy and wasn’t skipping runs. (Not to mention, I was sleeping better and my skin wasn’t patchy and red all the time. I had no dull morning headaches and no wasted weekends—literally.)
My break lasted for 88 days. During those days I learned how to successfully avoid alcohol at parties and still have fun (a major win). I learned that it’s really satisfying to offer to be the sober driver and actually stay sober. I learned that I have a sense of humor and don’t need alcohol to crack jokes and make people laugh.
I learned that I have a sense of humor and don’t need alcohol to crack jokes and make people laugh.
I learned who my real friends were, the ones who loved hanging out with me when I was drinking sparkling water instead of bubbly wine. I learned that a lot of people don’t take breaks from drinking because they think it’s impossible to avoid in social situations—it isn’t. I learned that one good decision often leads to other good decisions.
I also discovered that I have a ton of sober friends who I didn’t even know were sober. Which leads me to my next point: When not drinking, I paid attention more. I hadn’t even noticed those friends weren’t drinking in large group settings because I was more worried about myself and what I was drinking. Without a glass in my hand, I became the type of friend I would want as a friend, the one who actually listens and pays attention. A friend who wasn’t self-centered.
Without a glass in my hand, I became the type of friend I would want as a friend, the one who actually listens and pays attention.
Prior to this little experiment, I’d get annoyed when people would say “all things in moderation” because, for some, moderation is damn near impossible. As someone who has run 34 marathons, moderation isn’t typically my style. What I discovered is that it is entirely possible for me to only have a couple of drinks and actually want to stop there, not because it’s some sort of forced moderation but because it’s enough.
In December of 2017, after a boozy weekend in Chicago watching my baby sister get married, I decided it was time to repeat my no-drinking challenge again. This time around, though, it wasn’t because I was feeling low; it was because I loved myself enough to want to feel good. As it turns out, 2017 was indeed the best year of my life, so naturally I wanted to start out 2018 in the same way I started out 2017. Sober.
Committing to a Dry January doesn’t mean you have to give up delicious drinks: Here are 5 mouth-watering mocktails you can order at the bar. And if you’re having trouble making it the final stretch, maybe try meditating (science says!).