The Challenges of Dry January & lifestyle change

Part of winter 2022 was a time of excess for me. Socialising, drinking, late nights, it all adds up. Come the end of December, I wanted to shed a few pounds, improve my skin and increase my motivation. I don’t do things by halves so decided to do this alongside a healthy eating plan. I don’t do diets. I find anything which is too restrictive increases cravings & doesn’t lead to long-lasting changes. I don’t weigh foods, or use tape measures, I simply replace a lot of carbs with fresh vegetables and cut out the junk. 

When I’m eating more veg, I find I feel full so don’t need to reach for a bag of crisps or eat more than I intended. In fact, the only thing I struggle with is the weigh-ins. At our first weigh-in the scales pointed to 8,1. After an alcohol-free week, no crisps, junk, low carb and eating celery and crisps instead of higher calorie snacks, I had high expectations for our 2nd weigh-in. Crawling out of bed at 7:30 in the dark, I stumbled around like a zombie searching for the scales. I eventually located them after bumping into several sharp pointy edges, emitting all manner of curses such as “where is my bastard torch!” 

We currently have no light in the bathroom due to a leak and waiting for the plumber, so after rubbing my misty eyes a few times, I relocated to my Mum’s room with the scales. After various false starts with the scales coming up with an error message, much to my increasing annoyance (I’m not good with mornings) the scales eventually said I was 8’5. I near on had a virtual meltdown at this point and texted the group in a rather dramatic fashion saying weekly weigh-ins were counter-productive and that I was out! 

Various reasons were given for why my weight could be fluctuating on the scales, despite my clothes feeling looser and we eventually agreed on a healthier plan of a bi-monthly weigh-in, rather than weekly. 

Having gone through issues in the past surrounding diets, I think weighing too regularly can cause you to fixate too much on a number and take rash measures, instead of focussing on being healthy. 

I mentioned some of my faddy diets and body issues in my autobiography and was certainly not embarking on that route again! The only way to sustain a healthy body weight is to exercise, focus and concentrate on quality over quantity. There is no space in my life for cabbage soup diets, processed shakes, or anything that is so restrictive that you miss out on vital vitamins and minerals. Being anaemic, I must be careful with this. 

It turned out that the other group members also found the scales could trigger feelings of obsession and fixation in them, which lead to feelings of shame and ‘not being good enough.’

Whilst I felt like a bit of a tyrant at the time, it seems my morning meltdown worked out for the best overall, as we now have a healthier approach to body weight.

Dry January has certainly been interesting. I will almost certainly have a couple of drinks at some point in January, but…just not yet! I’m not even going to go into the reinforcing cycles of alcohol use, just my personal journey. If would like to know more about the science of alcohol use and it’s effects, you can speak to a Doctor or Google it.

Some people can go out and sip a small glass of wine all evening. For me, it’s so easy to socialise and get caught up in the excitement and say yes to repeated top-ups. That’s why for me, Dry January is a reset to retrain my mind and break the habit of saying, “just one more.”

I haven’t suggested to anyone around me that they try Dry January, only told them of my plans, so I was very surprised at the passive-aggressive hostility I encountered from a lot of people. If you don’t want to have a drink, many people seem to believe you are judging them and their right to drink. It’s certainly not the case. Anyone else is welcome to drink until they’re swinging their handbags and loudly squalling, ‘High Ho The Silver Lining’ for all I care. I just need a break from it myself.

In just a week of Dry January, I’ve been offered drinks several times, which I’ve had to gently refuse, even having to exaggerate my relationship with alcohol a little to make them understand that I really don’t want a drink. When this happens, it’s generally multiple times as people often think you don’t really mean the first couple of ‘No thank you’s!’ 

I’ve been given a list of reasons as to why Dry January is a bad idea or why they aren’t doing it, (I never suggested you should!) 

I’ve even been told alcohol is good for me, and as a super fan of white spirits, even I know that’s not true one bit! What they mean is, they feel the mental release from alcohol is good for you, but there are other ways to achieve that, rather than drowning your worries at the end of the bottle!

I am by no means preaching. Everyone is on their own journey, and you should do what works for you. I just want to wake up each day feeling positive, without last night’s make-up on and lying in the scratchy crumbs of Quavers crisps from the night before or clutching a block of cheese for no apparent reason, other than I bizarrely decided to take it to bed and promptly passed out! I’m also clumsy enough at the best of times when racing around in a hurry, but after a bottle of wine, I can even walk into a door at half a mile an hour and wake up with U.I.B. – unidentified bruises! 

On the whole (and we all have our moments) but I’ve been told I’m generally a lovable drunk when I’ve had a drink. I’m sure I can be obnoxious at times and make outrageous comments, thinking they are hilarious, (when they are simply twattish) but on the whole, I’m told I am good company.

When sober, I can be very distracted at times, dip in and out of conversations and even zone out. It’s not that I’m not interested, but I’ve always had attention deficit issues (hyperactivity disorder). After a couple of drinks, I suddenly become more attentive and will listen and chat for hours. My humour becomes a little more outrageous so I can become the life and soul of the party and lead the entertainment. It turns out a lot of people want to be around fun Kaz! They want to see fun Kaz drink the bottle, make outrageous statements, talk BS with them and do crazy things. Of course, on occasion, this can be fun, but it should be the exception to the rule for me, rather than a habit. If they saw me the next day stuck to a cheese-flavoured pillowcase, shivering and groaning, “water’ like a Zombie craves brains, I doubt they would find anything fun in it at all! 

What goes up must come down.

It might have been the best night ever. I may have laughed and danced and sung for hours, but if that turns into every week or twice a week, it’s an issue, for me personally, anyway, what you do is your own personal choice. Waking up with that creeping anxiety, not knowing why you feel like you want to crawl down a big hollow in the earth, ignore your phone and hibernate, when the only thing that can soothe you is a Netflix binge and a duvet. 

I’ve even turned down invitationsin favour of work and writing as I feel as if I’m on a roll and once I’m a couple of weeks in, I’ll feel as if I’ve reset the cycle of drinking out of habit & will be able to socialise without feeling tempted to overdo it.

If you are a moderate to heavy drinker, please go a bit easier on us Dry January lot. We aren’t doing it to be uptight pious A-holes, appear superior or question your lifestyle choices, we are doing it out of a deep, personal need to improve health or make positive changes in our lives. 

Some of the worst things you can say to someone who is abstaining is:

“Oh go on! One won’t hurt!” 

Yes, it will because my brain hasn’t had time to fully adjust and one glass could lead to one bottle and the crisp gate will back to haunt my bedding!

“A drink is good for you.” 

There’s no scientific proof that getting smashed and feeling hungover all day is good for me.

“Oh don’t be boring.” 

You think I’m boring sober. Why are we friends then?

“Fancy a glass of wine/beer/spirits? Go on just a sip!” 

It’s never a sip. 

“Ha bet that will last 5 minutes!” 

Being supportive could lead me to respect you more and solidify my willpower, unlike you doubting my self-discipline.

“The world is a crap place right now without alcohol.” 

Yes, but drinking will only change that for me for a few hours. It won’t help me lift the people around me if I’m hungover and feeling like I’ve been chewed up and regurgitated by a Komodo dragon! 

What are some supportive things you can say to someone doing Dry January?

“Good for you. You got this!”

“I know you can do it.”

“Would you like a fizzy water or a soft drink?” 

So, it turns out, the challenge for me currently is not my willpower, it’s embracing the power of saying no to others who think I should drink, but it’s ok, I got this. Sometimes you need to be your own mentor.

Alcohol is a prevalent force in our society and is heavily normalised. Watch any Hollywood blockbuster and you’ll see the gorgeous, but troubled protagonist downing wine or knocking back various tumblers of scotch. In every soap, alcohol is flowing, magazines and billboards shout about how fun it is to let your hair down, party and show images of smiling happy people all with a glass or flute in their hand. It’s less common they are shown face down on the bathroom floor, with half a bottle of wine in one hand and a bag of Doritos in the other.

Aside from the media, societal pressures are immense. When you say you are not drinking that night, it’s common for people to look at you as if you’ve just said you prefer drinking the blood of sacrificed endangered animals. Many people can’t or don’t want to understand why you would abstain, even for just one night, let alone any period of time. It’s not their job to understand, just the same as it’s not their job to have an opinion on it. 

If someone insisted that we have “just a few” crack pipes a week, we’d think they were utterly mad, and a junkie. Alcohol is still a drug, however, it is regarded, and should not be forced on those who are abstaining. 

In the past, I wouldn’t have judged anyone for doing Dry January, but I wouldn’t have seen the point in doing it myself. Most people I encounter love to applaud the merits of alcohol and I found myself in the group that felt alcohol was a great occasional release. It wasn’t until occasional turned into more often, I realised that alcohol could be a slippery slope for someone like me if I didn’t nip it in the bud and reset and readdress everything that I felt and thought I knew about alcohol.

So, this is why I am doing Dry January and if you read this, I hope you can treat your abstaining friends with care and not try to convince them into joining you at Wine o clock.

If you are doing Dry January, good luck and I hope it’s a great success for you, stay strong, and if you’re not, I hope your month is equally as successful for you. 

Love and Light

-Kaz B 

Kaz B

Writer, podcaster, creator

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