For you, who needs more than a Dry January
Come close, let's talk.
I never attempted a Dry January because it didn’t exist when I was drinking. The first one was announced in 2013, the same year I got a DUI, the year I left my four-year-old daughter in a hotel room overnight in a blackout. It was also the year I went to my first 12-step meeting.
I’m a fan of anyone taking a break from drinking for whatever reason. Dry January, Sober October, the day before your colonoscopy, the two weeks you’re on antibiotics, or the week you’re at a silent retreat: all great, all good! It’s smart to give the body and mind a break from an addictive drug, even if you’re not physically addicted to it, and socially sanctioned breaks like Dry January make it easier. I like anything that lowers the bar for people to talk about not drinking or experiment with not drinking without having to come up with an excuse to do so.
But I didn’t stop drinking because I needed a break, or because I joined my friends in a month-long challenge, or to get better sleep, or to lose a little weight, or because it was trendy, or because I thought it was dimming my light. (All valid reasons to stop, btw!) I stopped drinking because I had to. Alcohol was killing me.
And for this reason, I kind of hate Dry January.
I hate it for the people who need to stop to save their lives because it turns stopping into a gimmick.
I hate it because it’s another thing for influencers who capitalize on making sobriety look 1-2-3 easy, simple, and fun to sell.1
I hate it because it would have been another way for someone like me to look around and convince myself I was fine. If I made it through the month, what’s the problem? And if I didn’t, what’s the problem? Chances are, none of my friends wouldn’t have made it either, but not because we were the same.
Mostly, I hate it for you, who needs more than a Dry January.
For you, who needs more than a Dry January,
It’s not the circumstances of your life, it’s the drinking.
It’s not the holidays or breakup or the job stress or the seasonal depression or the weight gain or the menopause or the loss of your loved one or your mom’s dementia or your kid’s challenges at school or the finances or your social anxiety or the fertility issues or your relationship status or your narcissist boss or the grief or the short, dark days of winter.
It’s not your diet or too much gluten or not enough exercise or the breakup or a rough patch or a busy season at work or the city or town you live in (they’re all “big drinking cities” and “boozy towns”) or the new job or the bad marriage.
It’s not that you need more therapy or less screen time or more sleep or a different prescription or better boundaries or more time for self-care.
All these things matter, of course. They matter, but they’re not it. They’re not the thing, and they’re not going to fix the thing.
The thing is alcohol. The thing is your drinking.
When you address that, you’ll be able to face the rest. But if you don’t address it, nothing will change, not really; you’ll wake up one year from now, and your life will still be your life, only worse, and drinking will still be your thing, only more so.
Alcohol may never actually kill you. You may stay alive and even appear to thrive, but it’s possible to be alive and not really living—to be alive but merely getting by, one day to the next, skating across the top of the deep sea of your life and never touching down, never submerging yourself into the real. When we do this—when we only ever skate across the top—we pass on patterns of pain and dysfunction, settle for relationships and work that aren’t good enough and sometimes very bad, and never quite feel as though we own our lives. These outcomes don’t happen because we are bad, rotten people; they happen because addictions annex us from our power. They keep us from the alchemical pain of facing hard truths. This is a different kind of death. Perhaps a worse one.
If friends or family have expressed concern about your drinking, listen to them. They’re not imagining it or exaggerating.
If your children have expressed concern about your drinking, for the love of everything, PLEASE LISTEN TO THEM.
If no one’s ever said a thing about your drinking—would be shocked to know it worries you—but it does worry you, listen. It’s not a false alarm. People who don’t have a problem with drinking don’t worry about having a problem with drinking.
If you find yourself comparing your drinking to other people’s and taking solace in the idea that you’re “not that bad,” that’s a sign. “Not that bad” is a moving target.
Dry January may be helpful to take the social pressure off. It may give you a little bit of a runway and allow you to see how you feel without drinking for a month, but a break won’t do the trick. A break won’t change the thing.
More control, more rules, and more discipline won’t work. You’re not weak or weak-willed. In fact, I know for sure you’re incredibly strong. It takes so much work to hold this up.
I know you can’t imagine a life without alcohol. There is one, though, and it’s better than the best thing you can imagine.
I’m here for anyone who wants to get free, but I’m especially here for the ones who share this thing, the ones who drink differently and know it, the ones who need to stop to save their lives (even if they go on living). I’m here for you, who needs more than a Dry January. And so are a sea of other beautiful souls who’ve held their breath, closed their eyes, and plunged into the deep.
You are reading Love Story, a weekly newsletter about relationships, recovery, and writing from Laura McKowen. Laura is the founder of The Luckiest Club, an international sobriety support community, and the bestselling author of two books, We Are The Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life and Push Off from Here: 9 Essential Truths to Get You Through Sobriety (and Everything Else).
There’s a difference between not drinking and sobriety. For many, not drinking—even if the social pressure or lifestyle adjustment is difficult at first—is easy. Sobriety, which implies recovery from addiction, is complex and incredibly challenging. If you’re selling sobriety as a 1-2-3, fun, simple, or easy process, you’re selling a lie.