At Hello Sunday Morning, we’re often asked how to achieve a better relationship with alcohol, and one solid first step is to try a totally dry month. But to make it a fully beneficial experience there are a few things to consider before embarking, so If you’re thinking about doing Dry July this year, we’ve got a few tips to get the most out of the experience.
Dry July is an excellent way to find out about the fully sober you. It’s now an accepted ‘thing’, with 160,000 Australians signing up last year, and it gives the perfect social cover for experimenting with a booze-free life without attracting unwanted attention from friends and colleagues.
With a bit of preparation, you can change your dry month from being a slightly tedious test of endurance to a rich learning experience, following the CORK model: Commit, Observe, Reflect and Keep.
Sounds odd but committing to go completely dry for a month is often easier than merely committing to cutting down. ‘Cutting down’ is an ambiguous concept and can lead to daily negotiations with yourself on whether you’ll have a drink that day or not, and, if so, how much you’ll drink. You can spend a lot of time thinking about drinking and thinking about not drinking, and that can bring its own stresses. But if you commit to going totally dry, there’s no point of negotiation – the decision has been made. This is especially useful for those suffering FOMA (fear of missing alcohol), where the self-negotiations can go into overdrive as a significant occasion looms closer – can you get an exemption for a lunch with old drinking buddies, for instance, or a family wedding, or a significant birthday?
You can add a layer of assurance to your commitment if you make it public. Tell your circle of friends and work colleagues that you’re doing Dry July before you start (and have your reasons ready to trot out, because you’ll almost certainly be asked for them). Once you’ve committed publicly, it makes a climb-down embarrassing, so less likely, and that can be an extra safeguard when you’re facing the dreaded Day Seventeen Temptations.
Keep that commitment through the whole month, and if you need a little support, download the Daybreak app and use the customised goal-setting feature to help you stay the course. It’s true that the Dry July website gives you a Gold Ticket option – a sort of 24-hour papal dispensation if you kick in a little extra to the charity. Our tip? Don’t do it. Steam all the way through without a drink, because that way you will be able to fully appreciate the many pressures on you to drink … which brings us to the second element of the CORK model:
The big payback from your dry month, the thing that will make it a truly worthwhile exercise, will come if you consciously take the effort to observe things, very carefully and honestly.
- What physical changes do you notice in yourself? (appearance of eyes and skin, energy levels, digestion, libido, weight, etc.)
- What changes do you notice in your own emotional state (anxiety levels, emotional stability, ability to handle stresses and the challenges of daily life)
- Any changes in sleep patterns? (depth and duration of sleep, waking in the night, night-time anxiety, quality of dreams)
- Any changes in mental acuity (feeling more or less on the ball, ability to concentrate and ignore distraction, inventiveness of ideas, etc.)?
- Any change in how well you perform your job, or your role within the family? (productivity – differences in the amount or the quality of your work, motivation levels, proactive engagement with family, etc.)
- Do you engage as easily with other people? (Are you more, or less, socially confident? What’s different?)
- Do people make you feel uncomfortable because you aren’t drinking with them? If so, why do you think that is? (Are you making them uncomfortable?)
- Do you notice alcohol advertising, product placements, and social expectations around drinking, more?
You’ll see some of the changes after the very first few days, while others may be transient or take a couple of weeks to become evident, so revisit these questions regularly over your dry month.
Dry months involve changing our habits, and that’s never entirely easy to do, but you can get a great deal of benefit from the temporary discomfort if you use it as a learning experience. If you keep alert to these observations during the month, you’ll come into the last week of July with a trove of insights into your own relationship with alcohol, and alcohol’s place in our society, so the job now is to reflect honestly on these precious nuggets.
Some of these insights may be uncomfortable. If you noticed significant improvements in a number of the parameters, then that’s a signal that your present relationship with alcohol isn’t working best for you. If you observed no real change, then maybe you’ve got it about right already – well done, you! If you noticed that your friends treated you negatively during your month off, then that might tell you something about the nature of those friendships.
Reflect on those times during the month when you found it to be most rewarding, and when it was difficult to be alcohol free. Divide the day into bands of hours. Were there bands where you felt better than you normally do? Was there a ‘danger zone’ band of time during the day when you felt the urge to have a drink? Did it seem to fall into a predictable pattern, and when did the urge usually pass?
Was there a social situation, or a particular person, that was strongly associated with the urge to have a drink, or with a feeling that you were expected to have a drink? Was it awkward when you declined on those occasions, and if so, why?
If you’ve reflected deeply and honestly on the insights you’ve gained during your dry month, you’ll inevitably arrive at a few conclusions on how you might change your relationship with alcohol for the better. It may involve a radical overhaul, or it may just be a few tweaks here and there. It could even be the decision to continue on with a second dry month and see where that takes you.
Whatever your conclusions, it’s important that the valuable insights you gained and the conclusions you arrived at aren’t discarded at the end of the dry month. It’s easy to see Dry July as a bit of a slog and just grin and bear it until blessed August arrives, but it would be a waste of good effort if we slipped straight back into the same old patterns we had in June. So think about what you want to keep from the experience, and what you will take forward and revisit over the following months. Pick a few of the changes that you now know will benefit you, and keep at them.
P.S. It’s worth remembering that Dry July is fundamentally a fund-raising event for deserving cancer charities, so if you sign up for it, don’t forget to tip something into the kitty when you’ve completed the month. (And if you don’t, watch out for the Karma Police!)