Ryan Shepard
About Author
January 6, 2023

Here Is The Real Reason I'm Giving Up Alcohol For Dry January

When I announced that I was participating in Dry January in an Instagram story I posted, my cousin shot me a quick DM. "Hmm, are we hinting at something?" The insinuation was, of course, that I was going sober for a month because secretly I was pregnant. "Nope," I wrote back, "I'm just trying to change my incredibly problematic relationship with alcohol."

For the past few years, my mornings have more or less begun the same way--with a promise. Once the sunlight filtered through the curtains and eased across my face, I'd take stock of the night before. My mouth always a little dry with a sickly sweet taste that clung to the sides of my cheeks like a sugar glaze and my head usually pounded slightly with a hint of a headache. “Okay, Ryan, no drinking today,” I'd promise myself and I'd mean it.

And then, 5 p.m. rolled around along with that all-too-familiar craving. I'd think, “well, what’s one glass of wine really? After all, haven’t you earned it?” And so I'd pour one, which always turned into another and then another or maybe even a cocktail. By the time I slipped into the shower and bed that night, it's wasn't unusual for me to have consumed a little over a half a bottle of wine by myself or 2-3 stiff cocktails.

I'd turn off the lights, close my eyes and continue the cycle the next day.

But, I don't want to live this way anymore.

I should tell you that honest to God, I don't think I'm an alcoholic. When I was pregnant with Nola, during different bouts of illness (I'm talking colds and that time I had Covid) or fasts I've participated in, giving up alcohol wasn't a massive sacrifice. I've never put my child or my husband or any member of my family in danger because of alcohol. My bills are paid on time, I meet my work obligations without issue. I'm a reliable friend, wife, daughter and mother.

But the truth is, for far too long, I've used alcohol to numb myself to stress or other uncomfortable feelings. As much as I genuinely enjoy imbibing for celebrations or just to try something new, alcohol is also an escape for me. That glass of wine at the end of the day feels like the perfect period at the end of a well written sentence or a deep yoga exhale at the end of a particularly strenuous class.

I love the way alcohol makes me feel, until I don't.

I used to joke that I was a two drink minimum, three drink maximum kind of girl which really just meant I had a hard time stopping at just one beverage and more often than not, just two as well. The first time I realized that I used alcohol as a crutch was during my pregnancy when my anxiety came flooding back and I couldn't numb myself to it with a quick Old Fashioned or a chilled glass of Chardonnay. I've suffered from anxiety and depression off and on for well over a decade and I'd gotten very good at self-medicating. But during my pregnancy, for the first time ever, I had to sit with my fears and feelings and face them head on. That really sucked. It was like suddenly being naked without shelter or armor.

While giving up alcohol for the health of my baby was a sacrifice I was mostly happy to make, I have to admit that the morning after giving birth to her, I cracked open a bottle of champagne to celebrate in our hospital room. It took less that 12 hours for me to drink again after delivery and I haven't really stopped since.

There is a lot about motherhood that would lead even the sanest among us to drink, and I was already a pretty heavy drinker before even joining the mama club. Add almost solo care of a baby on top of societal expectations of what kind of parent you "should" be and I completely get why things like mommy juice are a thing. This world feels like a dumpster fire most days and we could all use a little escape, but mine was getting a little out of control. I was drinking every day with no breaks, no pauses and it started to feel like a compulsion instead of a choice.

The truth is, in my case at least, you can't pick and choose what you numb yourself to. So while I'd reach for that bottle of wine after Shep got home to celebrate finally having a moment to myself to calm down, I was also numbing myself to being able to experience other beautiful moments with my family. So, I've made the choice to be sober right now. I need time to reevaluate my relationship with alcohol and set some real boundaries around what responsible drinking looks like for me.

I have no desire to be 100% sober.

I enjoy the ritual of drinking and I love a good wine pairing with dinner, but for now, I'm backing away. For the past few weeks I've been using an app called Sunnyside (not sponsored just sharing what tools I'm using) which promotes what they call "mindful drinking." So far it's working for me. I used it before deciding to go dry for the month and it's really helped me to cut back on daily drinking habits and set limits for myself that I don't have a problem sticking to. I've also implemented a meditation practice into my life and as whew whew as it sounds, it's helping a lot.

Over the past few weeks, I've discovered some  decent non-alcoholic options on the market thanks to a store in Atlanta called Zero Proof. I'm really digging the new drinks I've sampled lately which are big on flavor but leave me feeling good about my drinking choices the next day. I won't lie and say this journey has been the easiest thing ever. Going out to dinner is still pretty hard for me. I'm used to ordering a cool new cocktail or a glass (or three) of wine so I've mostly stayed home or dined out during lunch when my cravings aren't as intense. But, I like myself more these days. I'm sleeping better. I feel more clear headed, determined and energetic.

The best part is that every morning when I wake up, I feel proud of myself instead of ashamed or disappointed and that feeling? Worth all the cocktails in all the bars in all the world.

See you in February :)

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