Observations from a Dry January

Feb 01, 2023

New insights, new choices

I am a self-labeled lightweight when it comes to drinking alcohol. I like the taste of wine on my palette, but not what happens when it gets into my bloodstream. My alcohol consumption prior to Covid was an occasional glass of wine associated with weekend or holiday dinners with friends or a rare after-dinner liqueur. Both habits are from my Italian upbringing. (I like to pour Amaretto or Kahlua over ice cream, try it if you haven't -- yummy!) During the pandemic, my husband turned his creativity to cooking and has become a "foody." He plays with spices, ingredients, and techniques. I am the lucky benefactor of his explorations. Meals are beautifully plated. A subsequent consequence unfolded: The frequency of weekday meals accompanied by a glass of wine increased. Surprisingly to me, my tolerance also increased. I could even drink two glasses of wine before falling asleep. 

The increase in frequency set off my hyper-sensitive alarm bells. My nature is moderation; it's hard for me to overdo anything. I decided to confront myself with a dry January. Knowing what a lightweight I've always been, my husband chuckled at my concern. Yet, I took Dry January seriously and loved what I learned. 

Insightful observations from not drinking:
- I didn't even notice I wasn't drinking the first week of January. I was in the hospital in Florida with my mom. We spent New Year's Eve in the ER. It wasn't until I got home, during the second and third weeks, that I had the most inclination to have a glass of wine, and then felt the sensation of refraining from doing so. 

- I associate a glass of wine with a nice table setting. I came to expect a glass of wine with a good meal.

- I associate wine with certain foods, especially with the aroma of Italian food. 

- I associate liqueurs with a celebratory and playful dessert.

- I associate alcohol with pain relief. After sleeping for several days in a recliner at the hospital, I needed an adjustment from a chiropractor. On the drive home from the chiropractor, I caught myself internally whining for a glass of wine. 

- I associate a glass of wine with a feeling of deserving. I earned it. This came after a particularly long and successful business day. I tuned into the sensation. felt that I deserved a glass of wine to celebrate and unwind. 

- In Week Four, when a strong emotion related to an earlier unpleasant interaction came up right before a meal, I realized I may have brushed that feeling away with a glass of wine in the past. This time, I noticed the feeling, recognized what generated it, gave myself empathy, and felt relief.

These observations are liberating. They offer me the ability to choose alternate strategies by better understanding the underlying need. 

My association with a lovely table setting allows me to still use a wine glass and fill it with a non-alcoholic drink to keep the aesthetic beauty. 

When I thought about my association with the aromas, I took time to appreciate my upbringing, the lively meals, my grandfather filling our glasses with wine, and my mother switching them to grape juice. I have a memory of my dad saying to my grandfather, "This is America; we don't serve children wine." With the association of a glass of wine for pain relief, I can be mindful of giving myself empathy, using heat and ice, taking an anti-inflammatory if needed, and being more gentle with my yoga. 

I noticed that each time I named the craving, it decreased the strength of future cravings. By Week Four, I haven't had any physical sensations of craving.

Moving forward into 2023, I will more mindfully and joyfully choose when to pour a glass of wine or when to refrain. 

How about you? Have you intentionally refrained from a habit, alcohol or other, to learn what lies beneath the habit? I hope this inspires you to look at your go-to self-soothing strategies and see which ones you want to shift and which ones you want to enjoy with more awareness.