Dry July – Reflections from the Frontline

The week before this year’s Dry July started, we blogged about how to get the most out of the experience, through the CORK model (Commit, Observe, Reflect and Keep). Our head of marketing, Roger, decided to put the CORK model to the test and filed this report…

This year’s Dry July was the third dry stretch I’ve undertaken in the two years since I joined Hello Sunday Morning. I did a three-monther when I first started, then a two-monther at the beginning of this year, so I felt I pretty much knew what to expect when I put my hand up for this shorter stint. However, it turned out to be quite a different experience, and I’m still not sure why.

I’m 60 years old and I’ve been drinking regularly for 40 years – as in, on a majority of those days, and usually more on each occasion than would please the National Health and Medical Research Council which formulates the Australian drinking guidelines. Since joining HSM and reading up on the subject I’ve reduced my consumption significantly during the working week but still like to cut loose a bit on the weekend. My wife has a similar pattern.

I decided to stick to the CORK model that we’d cooked up at HSM as a way of getting more from the experience, and I managed to persuade my wife to join me for a completely dry month. The C in CORK stands for Commitment, and we sealed that by promising our perpetually broke youngest son $100 if we wavered. He watched us like a hawk for each of the 31 days but entered August none the richer.

The O stands for Observe and is where the interesting bit starts. The idea is that you run a regular mental checklist of changes you notice in yourself, physically, mentally and emotionally. You also keep alert to the influences and expectations that you pick up from other people, the media and society in general. You do this at intervals because some of these changes show themselves at different points during the month.

My big ‘noticeable’ was that the magnitude of the differences was greater than those from my previous efforts. Maybe it was something to do with the time of the year (this one was in winter, while my earlier stints were in summer), or possibly because I coincidentally recovered from a toe injury and was able to resume my regular morning run after a two-month hiatus. Either way, the positives seemed more noticeable, particularly an optimistic outlook despite the prevailing doom and gloom of the COVID crisis – and I’m normally an Olympic-class worrier.

I felt physically vibrant. And I’m not just talking about an absence of morning bleuugh – it’s more of a positive vitality in the background during the daytime. Sleep is awesome to the point where I actively look forward to it. No sustained waking periods in the night with a jumble of thoughts; I wake up feeling fresh and alert.

I was able to follow plotlines in Netflix thrillers, which has never been my strong suit, but at the same time I became more discriminating about the stuff I can tolerate on TV. Instead, I’ve been catching up on a lot of reading (and, by the way, I can strongly recommend Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld, and The Phoney Victory by Peter Hitchens.)

Most of the day is better, except for the two hours between 5:00-7:00PM. Thinking on this, I wonder if that’s because there are so many triggers for me around that time. Work is finished and I’m entering the most relaxed part of the waking day:  I’m having the regular post-work chat with my wife and slagging off my colleagues at work. I’m cooking dinner, and I’m sitting down to eat it – all things which normally go hand in hand with a glass of wine. So there was a feeling that something was missing, or that I’d forgotten to do something during that two-hour window. 

At other times of the day, and quite out of the blue, I’d have strange projections of regret over future events without alcohol. For example, I was thinking about my son’s forthcoming birthday celebrations at a restaurant, and was momentarily saddened at the thought that I’d be doing it without a glass of wine – in the event, we all had a great time at a Teppanyaki grill, and the absence of the plonk had no impact. Similarly, I had an invitation to attend an old school reunion, and thought, briefly, that it would be awkward to be the only non-drinker there. Most of these were just temporary flashes, but I still haven’t fully embraced the idea of taking my wife out to dinner with wine only for her. 

Likewise, a mid-July barbecue was worse in the anticipation than the reality. The conversation got a bit circular as the afternoon wore on, but there was another guest who wasn’t drinking. I’d met him a few times before and hadn’t really warmed to him, regarding him as a bit of a jerk. But as the meal progressed into the evening he and I were the only ones not stewed and we got talking. Turns out he was still a jerk, but at least he was a coherent jerk, and the occasion ended well.

Weekends were fuller, particularly the mornings. I was saying ‘Yes’ to more things than usual. Yes – let’s go and check out that auction; Yes – let’s dig that patch of the garden that’s become overgrown; Yes – let’s take the dogs for another walk. I lost most of my COVID weight gain, but that was likely also due to starting my morning running again.

Work was much more productive, and I believe my thinking was clearer and deeper – not dramatically, but definitely noticeable. Strangely enough, these more rigorous thought processes also seemed to spark an improvement in overall creativity, and I had some pretty good ideas this month. I felt more in control of life in general and I edged into a more proactive mindset. I was more curious about things and revived some abandoned ambitions. 

The R stands for Reflect: where are all these observations pointing you to? For me, it’s pretty clear that my body, mood and mind operate better on a low- or no-booze regimen. But I must admit that I do like wine and would miss being able to have the occasional glass. In order to do that, I need to find a way of navigating the 5:00-7:00 pm window and finding alternative focal points for the evening wind-down, and I need to adapt more willingly to being a non-drinker at social occasions. 

None of this looks too onerous, so I come to the K – what will I Keep from this experience?

Well, I’m writing this on Sunday 2 August. Last night was the first night after Dry July officially ended, and my wife and I pulled a bottle of champagne from the fridge to celebrate. I popped the cork, filled two glasses, … and paused. 

And I said, ‘Actually, I’m going to push this out for another month and see where that takes me.’

21 Comments

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  • Loved this read. This is similar to my own experience of just feeling all round better when not drinking. Kinda shows how insane we can really be when we get all that good stuff but still say…..nah, I’m gonna drink anyway🤔🤔
    Great reflection thanks for sharing and enjoy August, you’ll be feeling amazing at the months end 😀

    By Lynda
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    August 6, 2020
  • Good for you! I too love the extra energy and the feeling of waking up refreshed, when off the booze. Here’s to better health, mentally and physically!

    By Rebecca
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    August 6, 2020
  • Brilliant story i really identified. Now i am post Dry july i am sliding back to where i was nightly drinking but this article of yours in making me reconsider. The week nights 5-7 are the stumbling point and … i will work on some new alternatives for myself. Sincerely Thank you. Beck .

    By beck
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    August 6, 2020
    • Definitely 5-7 are the worst for me too. This time Of day is still a work in progress.

      By Annie
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      August 7, 2020
  • Your idea to push it out for another month seams like a good one. Having previously done 3mths you should know what the experience will bring.

    Like you I am in my early 60’s and have been experimenting with increasingly long periods of abstinence.

    I have also done a lot of reading; Alcohol Explained by William Porter and This Naked Mind by Annie Grace to name a couple.

    From what I have learned and almost experienced now at 5months we need at least 6 months AF to start to fully appreciate the possibilities that lie on the other side of the alcohol habit (if not addiction).

    Thanks for sharing your story

    Regards

    Rob

    By Rob Campbell
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    August 6, 2020
  • Great reading! We can do it.
    9.5 years for me…

    By mems bruce
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    August 6, 2020
  • Hello, Roger. Thank you for sharing! I laughed at your graph about the twat at the party (and read it to my husband, who also chuckled). I had a similar experience with this time being different than times in the past when I had abstained, as well as with the physical vibrancy, better focus and proactivity, saying yes to more weekend activities and waking up fresh. As well as in deciding to continue on after Dry July. I’m going for a total of 100. Onward!

    By Melanie
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    August 6, 2020
  • Thank you for sharing this I can relate to every single sentence. I am floundering at the barrier like a horse that doesn’t want to start the race. There’s always an excuse why I delay my sobriety and what scares me the most is that during covid wine appears to have become my confident. To the outside world I’m a beautiful successful woman who has the world at her feet. When I’m alone I’m fearful and feel like a failure every time I pour a drink. I aim to start cork on Monday. Wish me luck! Jennifer

    By Jennifer
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    August 6, 2020
  • This sounds very similar to my husband and I. We get to 6pm and say “wine?” And the bottle shop attendant around the corner is always happy to see us!

    By Jan Carolane
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    August 6, 2020
  • Good to see you are running! It’s a great stress buster and overall health booster.
    Your article was interesting. Our love affair with alcohol is complex and no two peoples experience are the same. I went alcohol free three and a bit year’s ago – not to experience the benefits of going dry for a month but because I had to stop as I was drinking alcohol at dangerous levels and had been for a few years. I fell into that category of women over 55 who seem to be increasing their alcohol consumption at an alarming rate.
    I am now almost 61 and completed a half marathon last weekend and have done the 360 literally. After being alcohol free for 2 year’s I started having the odd glass of red. I did a lot of work on myself and smashed the idea we can’t ever drink again if we’ve had a problem with alcohol.
    My ‘need’ for a drink has gone but I do enjoy the taste of red every now and again. Alcohol is very pervasive and completely normalized in our society. Hopefully the trend towards redefining our relationship with alcohol will save the next generation from becoming victim’s of this insidious household beverage and put it back where it belongs – on the bottom of our to do list.
    It’s a great global movement that’s happening and it’s gathering momentum thanks to organisations such as HSM.

    By Mslil
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    August 6, 2020
  • My dream in the early hours of this morning was about running out of fuel while flying in some large plane over paddocks which came so close that I could see a frog hopping in the sand. We were going to land quite safely!
    I too hanker for a glass of fine Coonawarra with my favourite Tilsit cheese and plan to celebrate with a picnic lunch in the bush every now and then. Thank you for your support Hello Morning.

    By Rosie Logie
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    August 6, 2020
  • Congrats on committing the extra month!
    I’ve had 70 sober days out of the last 74, with only a few days of indulgence at the end of June. Dry July has been achieved and I resisted the urge to pop the cork last weekend.
    I may have a drink this weekend, but I may not. One of the keys is being able to think like that – i.e. I can take it or leave it.

    By Jez
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    August 6, 2020
  • I stopped drinking October last year. And the cutover from work to home was also my trigger. For the first couple of months it was important to me to have alcohol free drinks such as AF gin and tonic or a AF beer. The ritual was important while my body got used to no booze. But after 2 to 3 months, that ritual fell away on its own. Now 10 months later, i rarely think about having an AF drink in that window. No longer important. I actually grab water or a cuppa. And i rarely think about alcohol at all now. I too used to be a bit wistful and anxious thinking ahead to events. But as each occured i realised it was all in my head. You then just attend everything and don’t even think about the booze. It was a monkey on my back. Right down to how to get to and from without driving and planning slow starts the following morning. Now i love driving everywhere, leave when i want and am up early on less sleep feeling good. It takes time for this stuff to come to the fore and embrace it over past habits. Good on you for trying month 2. It certainly only has an upside the more you do it.

    By OTHELLO
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    August 6, 2020
  • I read this post with interest given I am pretty much in the same position as Roger- same age, drinking history, and weakness for a few glasses of nice wine most days. I had come to the conclusion that (obviously) I was drinking too much and cutting down just resulted in cognitive angst – as many will be familiar with – so I did the Dry July. I didn’t touch a drop, which was actually easier than I thought once the decision was made.
    The thing is that so many people report how good they feel when going AF, typically that they sleep better and are more mentally alert. I must say I really didn’t feel any different at all during this dry month , still the same amount of brain fog vs alertness in the day and about the same amount of sleeping issues – some nights good, some not so good, some terrible.
    Did anyone else have the same experience of no change? I sort of wonder if there is some sort of psychological effect here in that people might be subject to confirmation bias in their observations after giving up drinking.
    Mind you, I am a lot more aware of the negative health effects of alcohol so it is much better not to drink. Also the size of the effect probably depends on how much you were drinking too.

    By Yazoo
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    August 6, 2020
  • Loved reading this. Some definate laugh out loud moments. Definately reasonate with all the positve effects. Sleep it so good alcohol free. I cant believe I put up with the crappy sleep I was having for so long.

    By Belinda
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    August 6, 2020
  • I can so relate to your story, particularly the looking forward to bed each night. I’ve never slept so well since giving up alcohol for Dry July.

    After drinking daily for over 10 years, I managed to go 40 days dry (started in June). I had a couple of glasses of wine on Saturday to celebrate the end of Dry July but really didn’t enjoy them – WTF??? I haven’t had a drink since & really haven’t missed it.

    Not sure how long I will remain AF but I enjoyed the challenge & the benefits associated with it – better sleep, waking up not feeling blah, being more present and being a participant rather than an observer & the best bonus – loosing 5kg’s.

    By LaneyLaney
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    August 6, 2020
  • Great read and inspiring – have you tried kombucha or a lemon lime and bitters to have in that 5-7 window or even a cup of tea? I find going out on the night outs and experimenting with these non alcoholic drinks keeps it exciting and topics to talk about what drinks I am trying!

    By Aaron
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    August 6, 2020
  • Nice one and a great reflection. I know what you mean about the twat! But better a sober than a drunk twat.

    By Cris
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    August 6, 2020
  • Great read – I’ve just been inspired now!

    By Matt Yuen
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    August 6, 2020
  • Great read. Like you, I’ve continued Dry July into August and feel so much better because of it. I have regular calls from one of those wine companies that deliver and told them in July I wouldn’t need anything. They rang yesterday and, rather than ignore the call, I told them I was continuing Dry July so wouldn’t need anything. The lady said “good for you”. It made me feel good to “commit”, as you say. What an inspiring workplace you must have at HSM. Making such a difference to so many people.

    By TM
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    August 6, 2020
  • This really resonated with me. I read your blog most weeks and have great admiration for the helpful, sometimes jocular tone disseminating serious material. Our journeys with alcohol are all individual and graduated. The observations above though, phew! SO true. There’s no rosy, magical glasses that restore our sight to better than 20/20 when dry and sober, in my opinion. It’s almost as if our observations begin to be imbued with an authenticity and considered reflection that brings with it a freedom from self doubt. That person you thought was a twat (great description!) is proven a twat sober, but, and here’s the kicker, you *know* this now and are somewhat strangely more OK with that observation of another’s behaviour. There’s no gnawing doubt and no absolutist statement without reflection. It brings me calm. Being sober full time I find unburdened me from stressing about whether I would or wouldn’t drink at the party/dinner out/footy at the pub. Free from remorse about ‘imbibing too much’ or breaking my agreement with myself. Being in those places also makes judgements, about people or issues, memorable, truthful and important. Thanks for sharing, Roger. May you and all here find a nice groove and loving relationship with alcohol, with yourself and with others.

    By Milo
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    August 7, 2020
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