Were you among the millions of people who made the virtuous decision to abstain from alcohol this month? There's a good chance you were, because Dry January has gone from strength to strength in recent years. It's no longer a joyless public health campaign, but a positive lifestyle choice that denotes #wellness (and regrettably, in many cases, self-righteousness).
Regardless of whether or not you kept it up – or even what you think about the initiative – there's no denying that the premise is sound. Many of us could do with rethinking our attitude towards alcohol, and it sure helps to stir up a national conversation about the stuff. Why do we actually drink it, how does it affect us, and how can we develop a healthier relationship with it?
These are questions we should be asking all year round – not just in January. Writer Annie Grace, from Colorado in the US, is a leading voice in the self-help sphere when it comes to alcohol. Having become a vice president in a multinational corporation at 26 years of age, she developed an excessive drinking habit and came close to losing everything before recognising her problem and tackling it in her own way.
Her latest book, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, explores the role of alcohol in our society, looking at psychological, neurological, cultural, social and industry factors. It provides comfort and actionable tips for those who have decided to shun alcohol entirely. For those who want to maintain #balance and alter their behaviour around drinking, it has some useful takeaways.
One of the most eye-opening pieces of insight is how our unconscious minds have been shaped over the years to recognise the benefits of alcohol. Grace believes the answer to developing a beneficial relationship with drink lies in rewiring your unconscious mind – the part that's responsible for your personality, desires, hopes, dreams and most importantly, your habits.
Does alcohol really relieve your stress?
"You need to break the associations your mind has made with alcohol and really examine them," she told Refinery29. "Does alcohol really relieve your stress? Do you actually enjoy the taste of alcohol? Are you more fun with alcohol? Does it help you sleep? You must stop trying to fix things with alcohol and see it as the source of the issues instead. Once you do you will have found freedom. It won’t be that you can never drink again or don’t ever get to drink again. Instead, you never have to drink again because you have no desire to."
As you'd expect, cutting back or quitting drinking entirely can result in a huge amount of anxiety, Grace admits. Will you be able to relax or have a good time without it? How will you get through the awkwardness of a first date? But once you make a change in your drinking through the techniques she advocates (below), she says the fear turns into joy. "Finding freedom from alcohol and your beliefs will allow you to release those fears and actually enjoy being alcohol free."
Here are three things to keep in mind after January 31st...
Focus on what you’re gaining, not what you're giving up
Grace often hears from readers who never realised what they were missing out on by drinking, she told Refinery29. "They now have cognisant memories of time spent with family and friends. They remember conversations and movies they watched. They are more productive at work, saving money and improving relationships. They sleep better, they look better and they feel better. The list is endless. Rarely does one say I wish I had kept drinking. Because the reality is that they didn’t really lose anything other than heartache from stopping drinking."
Ditch your all-or-nothing mindset
"Don't set yourself up for failure," she insists. "This isn’t a pass or fail test. It’s an experiment. If you have a drink you haven’t failed. You’ve just added to your experience bank and can examine how that drink made you feel and if it was worth it to you."
Don’t be afraid to try
It's perfectly normal to find cutting down on alcohol challenging, Grace consoles. "It might reveal that alcohol holds more importance in your life than you ever imagined. That’s okay. No one is here to judge you. If I hadn’t gone through the same experience, This Naked Mind wouldn’t exist. Learning about yourself empowers you to change and become the person you’d like to be. Go for it."
If you are worried about your relationship with alcohol, contact Alcohol Concern for support and information. Call Drinkline on 0300 123 1110 for a free, confidential conversation (weekdays 9am – 8pm, weekends 11am – 4pm).
Read These Next