How to get the most out of your Dry January

Joanne Bradford | December 2019 | 8 minutes

Joanne has been alcohol-free for over seven years, and shares her sober life with the world via Instagram; read her tips for getting the most out of your time off.

As a woman in my early thirties with 7.5 years of alcohol and drug-free living under my belt, if I had to choose one thing that has most surprised and delighted me about sobriety, it would be the following realisation: there is so much more to not drinking than simply not drinking. On the face of it, sobriety might appear to be about not drinking but I’ve discovered this to be the first and most superficial layer.

You may have heard it said that sobriety is a bit like an onion; there are many layers to it - some get revealed quickly, some more slowly. Also like an onion, it may make you cry at times (but these are good, healing tears) and mainly, it just adds depth and flavour to the recipe that is your life. This piece is an exploration of some of those layers - the opportunities for growth and enjoyment that are patiently waiting to be discovered.

In this blog I’m going to talk about everything I’ve learned over years alcohol-free, but lots of this will be true for your Dry January challenge too. It’s about what you make of it.

Personal responsibility

In sobriety, you will experience a whole plethora of feelings. Not drinking doesn’t make anyone exempt from hard times. Without the quick-fix anaesthesia of booze, it is crucial to find other ways to navigate testing times.

Resentments are one of the main threats to our emotional wellbeing; they leave us feeling heavy and off-balance. An effective way to support yourself in sobriety is to deal with your niggles head on. Why? Because when you work through them, you feel mentally clearer and no longer need to numb out from the things that tick you off.

We have a responsibility to ourselves to make choices that feel good and set boundaries with others, to ensure bitterness and resentment doesn’t set in. This is hard at first (if it were easy, we’d all do it!) It'll likely bring up feelings of discomfort, not only in ourselves but in those around us too. Sobriety is an opportunity to start being true to you and honest with the people in your life; it’s a call towards authenticity. The more you practice doing this, the easier it gets. Life finds its flow and begins to feel much lighter.

My favourite ways to deal with pent up emotion and let go of niggles are moving my body and spending time in nature - ideally combining the two. Emotion wants to move through us in order to be released. Nature has an incredible way of right-sizing woes and putting things into perspective. And if it doesn't manage to do that, at the very least, it pumps some much-needed fresh air into our foggy minds.

Drinking aside, what helps YOU to de-stress? Whatever it is, do it more. And regularly.

Focus on the benefits

It’s easy to have a lack mentality when you’re giving something up. Oprah Winfrey once said that ‘what you focus on expands’. So how about homing in on all that you’re hoping to gain from not drinking?

The benefits of sobriety, in my experience, are plentiful; no hangovers (or remorse at embarrassing out-of-control antics), deeper sleep, less anxiety, improved mental clarity, more authentic connection with others, an ability to really feel things (and the emotional resilience that comes with that), heightened productivity, brighter eyes and skin, more money in the bank account… the list goes on!

What are the benefits you hope an alcohol-free period or lifestyle might bring for you? Write them down - make that your fuel and focus.

Nothing changes if nothing changes

The truth is that drinking doesn’t change our reality, it only alters our perception of it. The real work is sitting with the truth of your situation (whatever it may be) and instead of escaping from it, choosing to work through it.

No matter how little or how much alcohol you consume, the bottom line is that it’s mind-altering. It enables us to feel and behave in ways we don't believe we can - or are not brave enough to explore - when in our right minds. The more we reach for this as a solution, the more we reinforce it as the only solution available. But that’s simply not true.

Subconsciously, most of us have attributed certain ‘super-powers’ to alcohol. Whether we believe it makes us sexier, braver, more interesting or that we simply cannot relax or deal with life’s challenges without it. Once you identify the role that alcohol has been playing in your life, you can begin to challenge and dismantle it. Over time, most people discover that everything they relied on alcohol for is totally accessible to them in sobriety.

Yes, growth takes time. Like training muscles in the gym, initial discomfort might be necessary in order to yield the desired results. But, nothing changes if nothing changes.

Consider the super-powers you have attributed to alcohol - the why behind the wine. Are you willing to reframe your reliance as an opportunity for growth?

Ultimately, a sober stint gifts us with a chance to live more consciously; sustainable inner change is rarely achieved by temporary external methods! Sobriety is a life choice that is by no means a necessity for everyone. But I can’t help but feel that in a culture whose attitude is so often ‘play now, pay later’, it’s important that each of us chooses to show up for ourselves now so that we can grow and fully become who we are capable of being.

Joanne Bradford is co-author of The Inner Fix and founder of Motherheart (www.motherheart.co). For more posts on sobriety, self-care and spirituality, follow her on Instagram (@motherheart).