by Kate Walton

I don’t always set New Year’s resolutions, but something about turning the page from all the difficulty of 2020 to the more hopeful 2021 compelled me to set some more health focused intentions this year. I have optimistically plotted my 2021 race schedule. I am aiming at a big increase in my vegetable intake and more days of plant-based eating. And I am rounding the corner on Dry January, which is 31 days without consuming alcohol.

I have born witness to someone I love’s struggle with alcohol addiction and I recognize the difference between my experience and their commitment to sobriety and recovery. It is my intention to write about this sensitively and honestly with that distinction firmly in mind.

I enjoy having a drink. But during this time of COVID isolation, drinking had turned into an unconscious, near daily habit. Just like I began my days with a beloved cup of coffee (or two), I was ending my days with a glass (or two) of wine.

While contemplating the new year I put ‘I need to cut down’ on my list of intentions. When some BAMRs suggested participating in Dry January (a month of abstinence), complete with a casual Facebook group for support, I quickly raised my hand and joined them.

Right away, I found my pressure point: The end of the day, when I transition away from work toward dinner. I purposefully stocked beverages I could reach for during this time of day, including kombucha, this delicious aqua fresca, and La Croix.

The temptation usually only lasted a few minutes before fading into the background, but some days I was more preoccupied by it than others. By the time the dinner dishes were done I was always glad to have made it over the hump without giving in to one small glass of wine.

When the disturbing events at the US Capitol took place on January 6,  I thought about abandoning Dry January—just for the night. Then I logged onto our group and saw a post from a fellow BAMR recounting what sports psychologist Dr. Justin Ross previously shared with her. “If you’re not using alcohol to celebrate, it’s probably sending you down the wrong path…It’s putting gasoline on a fire for those things like depression and anxiety.” Aha.

Using alcohol to manage the anxiety of the day wouldn’t help; it would only hurt. I poured myself a tart cherry kombucha and felt relieved to receive the shared wisdom.

Kate celebrating another trip around the sun with cake + kombucha.

My birthday is in January and my husband, who is an excellent cook, made my favorite pasta. It would have tasted fantastic with a glass of wine, but I moved easily through our lovely family dinner with barely a thought of pouring a drink to celebrate the start of my 49th year.  That day was actually easier than most.

But then there was the random Thursday where my husband made an after-dinner cocktail to enjoy while we watched TV and I couldn’t get over how RUDE that was. Never mind he had offered to join me for Dry January and I told him that wasn’t necessary unless he wanted to. He didn’t. And never mind he had any number of drinks in front of me before then that barely registered. But that night? Rude.

Which goes to show that although abstaining from drinking mostly got easier as the month went along, there were those days it didn’t. And those days weren’t necessarily easy to predict.

With a few days left of Dry January, I can report I’ve lost a few pounds. My sleep, which is typically pretty restless, became marginally less restless. My resting heart rate is down and I’m running faster paces at a lower heart rate. It is easier to run further and more often.

On the mental side, I have become more aware of how alcohol is marketed to women, talked about on social media—and how that’s become part my own relationship to drinking. We are surrounded by messages that drinking is a reward, a form of self-care, an antidote to stress. But those reasons for drinking are not right for me.

I am planning for how I will incorporate the lessons I’ve learned going forward. I am sure I will savor a glass of red wine or enjoy a beer with friend, but I endeavor to set aside habitual use and not respond to stress, boredom and fatigue by pouring myself a drink.  The past month has clearly shown me that tendancy has not had a positive impact on my life.

I am confident I wouldn’t have taken on Dry January—or stuck to it—without the support and accountability of the group. Just like running, these miles are covered by my own two feet, my own intention, effort and commitment. 

Also like running: the miles are a little easier and the load a little lighter with community and support. In other words, we aren’t meant to do this alone.