Club Soda member Helen did three different dry months, and is now alcohol-free and living life in glorious technicolour. You can do your own dry month at any time, whether it’s this March or even going booze-free for the 40 days of Lent. For help, expert advice and tips, check out our online Sober Sprint programme.
There is a lot of press both good and bad surrounding dry months off booze. Are they really worth doing? Can they make any difference to your health? Do they help you moderate your drinking in the long run? Can they really help you quit for good or do they make things worse? I’ve had three very different experiences.
I did my first dry month as a bit of a dare with a friend. It was a last minute decision on the first day of the month and I thought it would be a good way to prove to myself that I did not have a problem with alcohol and could do a dry month without too much trouble. I did no preparation at all, white-knuckled my way through it and cheated in the middle by literally inhaling a bottle of chardonnay for which I felt terribly guilty and then felt like a fraud. I counted the hours down until the end of the month and then went on an almighty bender to ‘celebrate’. So what did I learn from that uncomfortable experience? I got a massive wake-up call as I realised that my relationship with alcohol was not quite as relaxed and friendly as I told myself it was, I really did not like being without it and was antsy, bad-tempered and had uncomfortable cravings. I began to consider that the scary little nagging voice of doubt whispering that I was dependent might actually be telling the truth and I might have to consider doing something about it. I’d like to be able to report that at this point I did just that, but unfortunately I chose to ignore that voice and pretend it was not happening at all. I carried on drinking because no-one ever stops unless they absolutely have to do they? Life without booze would be very boring and I’d be miserable, it would spoil everything. I was a lone parent holding down a full time responsible job and had a great social life, so I couldn’t possibly have a real problem could I? Besides lots of people drank just the same as me and they were fine too, it’s what everyone does to relieve stress…isn’t it?
Roll on another year and I chose to do the same dry month again (October) only this time things were not the same. During the year the voice of reason had become louder forcing me into an increasing awareness of the amounts I was drinking, the reasons why I drank and the unhealthy relationship I had with alcohol. I planned to complete the month successfully this time which was going to kick-start controlled, moderate drinking following onwards. The month did not go well and despite my best laid plans I drank every few days, binging in between and it was a very soggy month. It sent me into a bit of a tailspin downwards as I realised I was unable to control my drinking and was unsure of the best way forward. I felt like a complete failure and was scared and depressed, work became increasingly difficult and I drank more to blot out my worries and got myself into a vicious circle. Luckily I began to seriously read around the problem, find out what help was available and re-connected with Club Soda as part of this process. I knew I had to change and finally admitted to myself that I had a serious problem but could not see a way forwards whilst I was drunk every night, I decided to try one more dry month.
Dry January, a month to step back and properly reassess my situation and plan the way forward with a clear head. This time I was more organised and planned it properly. I read lots of books, blogs and resources, joined the closed facebook group, cleared my house out of alcohol and empties, rearranged my kitchen, bought in lots of alcohol free drinks in to try and some nice food and snacks. I began writing a diary that included all my goals, the things I hated about drinking and wanted to change and my hopes and fears. It felt different right from the start this time, I found myself looking forward to the month instead of dreading it and by 10th January I’d decided I wanted to carry on beyond the end of the month. I had discovered something amazing – new possibilities. I realised that life did not have to carry on the way it had for years and that I was using alcohol as an excuse not to get on with my life and deal with stuff. I checked into the facebook group every day and saw people who were living without alcohol that were anything but miserable and depressed, they enjoyed life and seemed truly free from it’s clutches. These weren’t authors of self-help books, psychologists or doctors, these were normal people like me. I did not even know that was possible and I desperately wanted to feel like they did, to stop just existing and start to truly live my life again. If they could do it, then maybe I could too?
That was back in January 2016 and today I remain alcohol free, I really am living life for real in all it’s glorious technicolour. Of course there are ups and downs, highs and lows but I feel them all now and am truly present. I numb nothing away, I am forced to face life head on, I am true to myself and am a better parent, daughter, friend, colleague and person. I know that the dry months I attempted were an important part of my journey, even though on the face of it I failed the first two. If you are feeling like you have let yourself and others down and that you did not achieve what you planned, I would like you to consider that failing is an essential part of the learning process. So if your dry month has not gone to plan, what have you learnt?