I woke up to a head pounding so hard it felt like an anxious heartbeat, contacts shriveled up inside of sore eyes, a mouth so dry I felt as if cotton balls had been shoved inside of it, and the crushing weight of regret and shame manspreading across the entirety of my body, pressing so hard against my organs it felt almost impossible to breathe.
My girlfriend was curled up into a tiny ball next to me, black mascara smeared down her pretty cheeks, a stressed-out expression fixed onto her lovely face. She was wearing black skinny jeans and a lace bra. I looked down at my own body.
I was naked.
Not sexy naked. Vulnerable naked. The kind of naked that doesn’t come from you provocatively peeling your clothes off of your freshly exfoliated limbs, but instead is born out of animalistic drunkenness. The kind of naked that happens when your partner has lovingly helped you out of your too-tight dress before you slept in it.
I gently poked my girlfriend in her warm back. “Ba-a-be,” I stammered.
My girlfriend groaned. “Yes?”
“Did I, uh, make a fool out of myself last night?”
I felt a cold shiver down my spine. I was sick of this shit. I had been binge drinking since Thanksgiving and felt like garbage, both mentally and physically. I wasn’t sure I wanted (or needed) to give up booze for eternity, but I knew in the deepest pit of my gut that I needed a break. A reset. A clear, sober mind. I took a deep breath.
It was time for me to do something I had never, ever considered doing (in fact, it was something I tended to mock): Dry January.
I limped into the bathroom and stared at my puffy reflection. I looked down at my swollen fingers. I don’t want to be inflamed and ugly anymore! I thought to myself. I want to be toned and fit and baby-faced like a vibrant booze virgin!
When I’d quit smoking six years prior, I’d done so out of sheer vanity. I detested the gray pallor of my skin and the fine lines beginning to creep across the corners of my mouth. I didn’t want my mouth to look like a “cat’s bum,” as my British friend used to refer to it. (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
So I stopped. Not because of the fear of cancer — but in order to preserve the elasticity in my young skin. What can I say? The power of vanity is strong.
But then, something strange happened. So many shocking, amazing benefits (besides looking prettier) revealed themselves once I released myself from shackles of nicotine slavery.
The same thing happened with Dry January. Yeah, I (lightly) hoped that I would have less hangover shame and more energy when taking a break from drinking, but my real motivation was simply to look better. To be less bloated. And just like my surprising experience with quitting smoking, I gained so much more than a mere glow to my skin when doing Dry January.
Here are some vanity-related and non-vanity related benefits of doing Dry January.
1. Better sleep than you could ever dream of.
I had no idea how much even a few casual glasses of wine in the evening were interrupting my sleep. In fact, I thought the opposite.
“I need at least two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc to fall asleep,” I used to gab to anyone who would listen. “My anxiety is so utterly dire, I can’t fall asleep without a wine buzz!”
And it was true, in a way, I suppose. A chilled glass of that gorgeously-golden liquid definitely helped me to wind down. Sometimes it even knocked me out.
But I always seemed to wake up a few hours later with a horse-race-level heartbeat and thoughts moving at the speed of a car flying down the Autobahn. Eventually, I would fall back asleep, but it was always a restless, sweaty, tossing and turning, nightmare-laden kind of sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, alcohol not only disrupts your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock), it also actually blocks your REM sleep, the restorative sleep that stops you from feeling like a grog monster in the morning. Drinking before bed is also “linked with more slow-wave sleep patterns called delta activity. That’s the kind of deep sleep that allows for memory formation and learning.”
When I stopped drinking, I found that as long as I worked out in the day, I fell into a blissful, real, sleep that was far more transformative than chemical-induced sleep.
And sleep is the very foundation of our physical and mental health! When you get the right amount of REM sleep, you wake up feeling less depressed and authentically excited to embark on the day. It feels so different to wake up rested — holy shit, babe.
2. An unbelievable lift in mood.
When I’m hitting the booze bottle too hard, as I’m prone to do over the holidays, I get so… sad.
I mean, alcohol is a depressant, and for those of us naturally cursed with the Sad Girl gene, booze definitely exacerbates the darkness. Even if I don’t feel physically hungover after a night of slugging back cocktails, I’m always mentally hungover the following morning. There is always this cloak of shame around me, even if I didn’t do anything particularly embarrassing. It’s a chemical melancholy that can only be quelled by more alcohol. Which gets you into the dark and dangerous pattern of drinking to snuff out the sadness.
Not only that, but I take antidepressants, and drinking definitely inhibits the good ole’ happy pills from doing their due diligence. I actually found myself getting the full benefits of my antidepressants during Dry January and it made me question whether drinking so much is… like… ever worth it?
Isn’t the point of life to feel good? If something is blocking you from feeling good, why continue to do that thing (in excess)?
3. The ability to stick to your own word.
I’ve always had super-high expectations of what I want out of this life. I want to be in peak physical condition. I want to write books, books that inspire and entertain people. I want to perform my words in theaters. I want to create. I want to make money.
I know I have the potential to attain everything that I desire. But in order to achieve that kind of well-rounded, high-level of success, you need incredible discipline. It’s one thing to set goals — it’s another thing to have the focus and drive to consistently put in the work it takes to achieve those goals.
When I do Dry January, I stick to my goals in a whole new way. For example: I like to get up at 5 a.m. If I get up at 5 a.m., I’m happier and I can work at a more elevated frequency. Without hangovers and all the hangover-related bullshit (feeling like shit, having to excessively hydrate, not wanting to get out of bed, brain fog), I was able to keep the promises I made to myself. Which in turn, made me so much more wildly confident.
I once heard someone say that confidence is about sticking to your own word. If you vow to wake up at 5 a.m. and know that you will do it, you’re confident. If you tell yourself you’re going to write a book in six months and know in your gut that you’ll do it because you’ve built up credibility within yourself, you’re going to move through the world a confident human. If you tell yourself you’re not going to drink for a month, and you actually come through on that promise, you’re going to emerge into the world with… confidence.
We often don’t realize how much drinking interferes with our goals. Unless you’re one of the few unicorns who can drink all night and get up and sweat it out in the gym every morning, being hungover is going to disrupt the routine you need to maintain to achieve success. Most people simply cannot work as hard as they want to work while hungover. Even if you’re only hungover one or two days a week — that’s two whole days of not meeting your personal expectations for yourself!
And every time you blow off your commitments to yourself, you lose a tiny sliver of confidence.
4. The extreme clarity.
One of the most insane parts of Dry January is the crystal clear clarity that comes along with sobriety. For me, it doesn’t happen until I’m about 10 days deep.
But when that clarity kicks in, it feels like I’ve been wearing these smudged, scratched glasses and suddenly someone has replaced the lenses and I’m looking at the world in high-def. I begin to notice things, things I couldn’t really see in the fog of the booze. Like how pretty the trees are on the Upper East Side. Or how truly beautiful (or truly toxic) my partner is. How much I deeply love my career or how f*cking out of alignment I am at work.
Even if you’re not a wild binge-drinker, I promise quitting drinking for an extended period of time will provide you with profound clarity. And that clarity can be amazing. You might be able to see clearly what your next career move will be. Or truly see what your purpose in life is.
But clarity can also be terrifying. There is no Instagram filter to soften the harsh lines of reality. You’re looking at your life raw and naked and sometimes the truth is, well, ugly. Like maybe you’ll see that you have nothing in common with your best friend and the only thing that bonded you together is the falsified connection that is cultivated through drugs and alcohol. (That’s a tough pill to swallow.) Or maybe you’ll see that you’re on the wrong path and heading in a direction that doesn’t serve you, and babe. Redirecting your life is overwhelming. I get it. I’ve been there.
But you know what’s more overwhelming? Never being able to see the truth. Living half-awake and not taking the reigns on your life, but rather letting life toss you in whatever direction it wants.
I challenge you to embrace the clarity of Dry January. Only in clarity can we make the changes that will truly fulfill us in the long run.
5. The vanity. (Because that shit is real.)
Alright, enough of this “woo woo” bullshit, okay? As a vain bitch, let me tell you, you will undoubtedly look hotter after a month of not drinking. Even if you don’t workout or change your eating habits.
Drinking dehydrates you, and the *worst* thing you can do for your skin is to dehydrate the poor thing. Drinking also inflames you, and looking like a salt-laden puff-monster isn’t cute.
After a week of Dry January, your skin will look nice and dewy and shiny, and your rings will no longer be uncomfortable and tight on your fingers. Your eyes will be whiter. Your dark circles will soften. And you’ll look like a hotter, sexier, healthier version of yourself.
I personally like to take advantage of the bump in beauty that sobriety provides me with, and indulge in some beautifying self-care. After all, when you sleep better, you’re more likely to get up and work out, right? When you don’t go to bed buzzed, you’re more likely to wash your face and exfoliate and all that other beauty blogger shit, right? And with all that money you’re saving from not buying $17 cocktails in Manhattan, you might as well treat yourself to a f*cking facial right?
So use all the sheet masks they sell in all those K-Beauty stores, adorn your sober face in every serum you own, and channel your energy into shredding at the gym, you hot little sober bitch, okay?
6. Re-establishing your relationship with alcohol.
When you do Dry January, you learn how much you’ve come to rely on booze as a social crutch. Whether you have a genetic problem with alcohol dependence or not, we’ve all been reared in a culture that revolves around the art of drinking. We drink to celebrate. We drink to connect with our friends. We drink to take the edge off of a shitty day.
So when we make the commitment to stop using booze, it’s beyond terrifying. “HOW AM I GOING TO HANG OUT WITH MY FRIENDS?” “HOW WILL I SURVIVE A BAD DAY?” “HOW WILL I CELEBRATE THAT PROMOTION?”
The utter fear of facing life without alcohol is enough to make you want to chug champagne. But you know what? You’ll see that life is totally survivable without booze. While socializing sober might feel awkward at first, you’ll get over it and realize you might even have a better time without the baggage and next-day regret of drinking! You’ll realize that the anxiety of a bad day eventually fades, because all feelings do, and the feelings you’re so afraid of aren’t that bad after all. You’ll realize that the gorgeous meal you treat yourself to after getting a raise tastes just as delicious without the wine (and costs half as much!).
Once you know something, you can’t un-know it. So if or when you go back to drinking, chances are you’ll look at booze differently. You’ll realize that life is just as good, if not better, without it. You won’t rely on alcohol as much after you know you can survive without it. You’ll learn to rely on yourself and your own tools, instead of that bottle of wine.
Because wine is great and all, but you are so much more than wine.