Why I Failed Dry January

Long before it was a thing, I gave Dry January my best shot. Almost every New Year, I resolved to quit drinking. Maybe not for an entire month, but almost a month. Or a couple of weeks. I fell short, failing over and over again.

Maybe that’s why I’m fascinated by Dry January, and the millions of Americans who participate in the one-month sobriety challenge. I have friends who reported feeling better and healthier after an alcohol-free January. Some have taken it further, choosing alcohol-free lives.

I, however, was long baffled by the concept of sobriety and couldn’t comprehend a month without alcohol, let alone a lifetime. I desperately wanted to go a few weeks without it. To prove I could. To prove I wasn’t an alcoholic (or, to use the clinical term, someone with a Substance Use, or Alcohol Use, Disorder).

I came close in 1998, after overindulging on New Year’s Eve (again). While drinking mimosas on New Year’s Day, I swore I wouldn’t drink anything for three weeks. “Starting tomorrow.”

Within a short time, I felt better, recording my progress in my journals. “One day without alcohol. I feel great and determined.” “I finished Day 4 without a drink. Get me to Thursday. That’ll be a week.” And on January 10: “I feel like I’m accomplishing something. I just finished my 9th day without alcohol.”

Then, “Cats.”

I joke that the traveling Broadway production drove me to drink. During intermission, my husband, David, and I went to the lounge. Without a second thought, I ordered a glass of wine. I’d gone nearly 10 days without a drink. I’d proven that I could do it. That I didn’t have a problem. Right?

On January 11, that glass of wine unraveled my resolve and reignited my chronic and progressive disease. My 10-day run was over and I was back at it, as if I had never stopped.

I started drinking as a college freshman and drank differently from the beginning. When alcohol hit my bloodstream, something snapped. The thirst was insatiable; the craving, indescribable. I loved it. I hated it. The temporary relief… from everything… was amazing, but the subsequent hangovers were atrocious. I wanted to stop. I couldn’t stop.

Willpower is great. But when you suffer from a substance use disorder (SUD), rarely will any amount of discipline keep you sober. Not for long, anyway.

With a trail of broken promises behind me, and piles of shame and regret within me, I knew, deep down, that I was afflicted. The child of an alcoholic, I recognized the insanity of this disease, yet clung to denial, insisting that my drinking was merely a habit to alter. A problem to fix. But no matter how hard I tried, how much I prayed, or how badly I hurt, I couldn’t achieve another stretch of sobriety.

By 2002, I was so sick and my husband, David, was at his wit’s end. That January, I considered treatment, for a minute, writing on January 13, “I was about to check myself into the Betty Ford Clinic, wherever that is. But think I can handle this thing on my own. I just need my husband’s support. And a new job.”

Turns out, there was no way I could handle “this thing” on my own. Not with David’s support. Not with a new job. Not with any external circumstance. Because the problem ran deeper. Abstaining, or trying to abstain, for a month or any amount of time, won’t treat the disease of alcoholism. And while incurable, addiction, or SUD, is treatable. Recovery is possible. I started mine June 21, 2002.

It was tough, and sometimes seemed impossible. I was angry, sad, and resentful, giving up the crutch that helped me wobble through life. But I clung to glimmers of hope, a power greater than myself (God), and a supportive circle of friends who’d been there.

Life hasn’t been perfect, and I’m far from it, but everything is way better than it was when I was battling that baffling compulsion to drink on a daily basis. I am grateful that I am no longer trying—and failing—to get through Dry Anything.

All I have to do now is live one day at a time—no matter what month it is.

About minndixiemom

I'm a Minnesota native with an Alabama heart, reflecting on the past while looking toward the future. My husband, David, and I landed in Huntsville in the late 90s through my former career in TV news. We have two amazing girls, Serina and Sophia, whom we are raising with God's guidance and grace. Besides faith and family, my passions include writing, walking, mental health, and recovery. By day, I'm the Director of Development for WellStone (another passion), North Alabama's largest and most comprehensive mental healthcare provider.
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2 Responses to Why I Failed Dry January

  1. AJ says:

    Great post Karen! Thank you!

  2. MJ says:

    Awesome Post

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