Just over a year ago, I was at the airport, returning home from a business trip to London and feeling like crap from the night before. It hit me that l’d been drinking more than I had ever intended.
I realized I desperately needed to reevaluate my relationship with alcohol. In London, I had heard of a new tradition, a government-sponsored initiative called “Dry January.” In short, you pledge to take the month off booze while also raising money for charity. Although I would be spending January in the States, I decided to give it a try. I hoped it would help me transform my overall drinking habits.
I quickly realized that approaching the challenge as if it were an “alcohol diet” would be torture. Instead, I need to change my mentality — focusing not on giving up alcohol but on what’s so great about not drinking.
Not only did I succeed in not drinking that January, but I haven’t had a drink (or even wanted one) ever since.
My mentality has changed from “I don’t get to drink” to the empowering realization that “I don’t have to drink.” Years of drinking convinced me that it was a vital, necessary part of life. The truth is I never actually needed alcohol to enjoy myself, or relieve stress. I only thought I did.
More than 2 million people around the world, including celebrities like Anne Hathaway, made it their resolution to ditch the booze in January and it’s easy to see why. Here are just a few of the ways a Dry January could also transform your life:
1. You’ll lose weight.
Alcohol is notoriously full of empty calories. Some drinks, like a Long Island iced tea, have close to 800 calories — almost the same as a fast-food meal. Starting the new year with the goal of losing weight but not abstaining from alcohol is self-sabotage.
Studies have shown that the average participant in Dry January loses about a pound a week and also experiences improvements in other health measures, like blood pressure and cholesterol. Personally, I was pleased to find that I lost 7 pounds in January and a total of 10 pounds in my first six weeks of not drinking.
2. You’ll look younger.
We all know that alcohol dehydrates you — and that can be seriously damaging to your skin, making you appear older than you really are. Plus,studies show that alcohol leads to disruptions in REM sleep, the most restorative phase of the night. And we all know what we look like sleep-deprived!
I’ve always struggled with skin issues, but after I stopped drinking I noticed my complexion cleared up. My guess is that staying hydrated helped flush toxins out of my body and revitalized my skin. I’ve also noticed that my teeth stay whiter (I used to drink red wine) and my eyes are clearer. These days, people often tell me, “Wow, you look healthy” — something I never used to hear.
3. Your relationships will improve.
Alcohol can put a strain on even the best of relationships. We’ve all heard that loose lips sink ships, and alcohol can definitely make you say things you never intended to. It can also make you aggressive and encourage pointless arguments.
Not drinking can help you become a better partner, friend, and family member — you’ll be more engaged, empathetic, and compassionate.
Personally, not only is my marriage at a more peaceful place after I stopped drinking, but our sex life is actually better too!
4. You’ll be a better employee.
Some research shows that drinking can dull your brain as much as 20 percent, harming your concentration and memory. Just think about how hard it is to be productive the morning after a night of drinking.
Those few glasses of wine at a business dinner could be what’s holding you back from your next promotion — especially if your co-worker is stone sober.
I believed, for many years, that alcohol was an important part of my corporate success. I thought it made me better at networking and I even gave drinking credit for some of my better work-related ideas.
And yet in the past year of no drinking, I’ve balanced a full-time executive role and written a book in my spare time. Plus, my work-life balance has improved — it was shocking to realize how much time drinking sucked up. I’ve found more personal and professional success in the past year than ever before.
5. You’ll save money.
By cutting out pricey drinks in January, you’ll likely find yourself with a significant amount of extra cash in your account by the end of the month. You can use the money to pay down debt, boost savings after your holiday spending, treat yourself to something special, or donate to charity.
These days, I don’t feel guilty at all about splurging on a massage or treating myself to a movie. All I have to do is compare it to how much money I was spending drinking on a daily basis in order to realize that my checking account is much healthier sans booze.
6. You’ll feel better.
Alcohol is a depressant. Not only can it mentally depress you, but it also has a physical impact by messing with your blood sugar levels. But when you aren’t drinking, your body is able to stabilize your hormones and your inner systems so you’re at your prime physically.
In the last year, I’ve had more energy than ever before and weaned myself off the two antidepressant medications I’d been taking, which had been a personal goal for a long time. Further, I now find myself exercising in the mornings instead of nursing a hangover — which means I feel better all day long.
If you’re looking for a little help in changing your mentality from “I don’t get to drink” to “I don’t have to drink” consider my book, This Naked Mind.