'I Failed Dry January, The Results Were Still Amazing' 

It started with a shot of bourbon on day ten. Just before I hopped in the car for my husband to drive me to the airport, my gut gurgled, a sign from my irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) that I'd better have a drink if I wanted to avoid a mid-air disaster. I have a cabinet full of meds and supplements, a pantry full of intestine-friendly food, and various doctors readily available—but for me, the only thing that quickly shuts down certain IBS symptoms is alcohol.

It may sound counterintuitive, but I find drinking alleviates my painful bloating and calms my body's often false signals to run to the bathroom. I'm not sure why it has this effect on me. So, before I left the house, I poured two fingers of relief. At the airport, I had a glass of chardonnay. On the plane to Chicago, I had another.

I usually drink only on weekends; typically a couple of glasses of wine or cocktails per evening. But between Christmas and New Year, I imbibed every day because, well, it was the holidays.

Karen DeBonis is an author based in New York State. She told Newsweek about the lessons she learned from "damp January." Karen is pictured on the right enjoying a glass of wine with her husband on their porch during the COVID-19 lockdown.

I hadn't planned to go dry for January, but when I came across an article reiterating the association between alcohol and cancer, and another extolling the extended health benefits of a month of sobriety, I thought that perhaps the universe was giving me a sign to be kind to my liver.

So, on January first, I posted to Facebook: "Here's one way I'm kicking off the new year—Dry January. My first time. Anyone else?"

Knowing that mid-month, I'd be helping my sister halfway across the country manage her debilitating health problems, I had planned to give myself an out—a damp week. But the supportive and enthusiastic comments flooding my feed convinced me to try to stay dry for the full 31 days.

Breaking Dry January

By day eight, I felt like crap. I didn't sleep better without alcohol, like many of my friends do. I didn't immediately function better, either. My IBS was flaring, and no treatment gave me relief. Still, I didn't drink. Until the day of my flight.

I hated posting my transgression on Facebook. I felt like I'd let others down. But I didn't want to be a false role model for perfection. As a memoirist, I've learned the power of sharing my truth, the importance of being authentic. With trepidation, I admitted publicly that I drank alcohol.

A cork popped. Friends messaged, texted, and emailed me to share their struggles when it came to forging or maintaining a healthy relationship with alcohol. Followers commented that they, too, had slipped. Others stayed the course, giving me only support with no judgment.

While in Chicago, I posted again, about how much caretaking drained me—that I had no privacy, no space to decompress. Publicly, I gave myself permission to drink daily that week. Again, I was flooded with support. Back home, my husband and I enjoyed one welcome back martini, then I stayed dry through the end of the month. Again, I didn't sleep well or feel better.

Lessons learned from my alcohol break

Typically, Karen drank a couple of glasses of wine, or a cocktail or two on the weekends. However over the Christmas period, she drank alcohol daily. She attempted to stay sober for a month while visiting her sister, pictured left with Karen, in Chicago.

What did I learn from my dampened January? It's okay to stray from a goal and possible to recover from a setback. I wanted a drink and often felt I needed one with surprising intensity, but I learned that I can manage more stress and physical discomfort without alcohol than I thought.

Throughout this process, I have come to realize that social media can drain my introverted energy more quickly than I'd thought. Though flattered and pleased with the engagement of my posts, I nonetheless felt overwhelmed keeping up with the comments and replying thoughtfully. I decided to be mindful of this going forward.

My focus on keeping my liver healthy gave me a wakeup call to my overall wellness. In recent years I have become increasingly sedentary due to painful arthritis in my knees. After I returned from my sister's, where I felt so depleted, I realized I wasn't getting any cardio exercise. So I searched YouTube and found a chair workout I enjoy. It reminded me how much even a small amount of exercise makes me feel healthier, which motivates me to take better care of myself.

I have realized that in my caretaker role, I lose my boundaries and forget how to take care of myself. This is familiar territory–caring for my sister triggered old feelings of parenting my son through his long journey with a childhood brain tumor. I don't know yet how to find balance, but I have six weeks to figure it out before I fly to Chicago again.

Dry January is a campaign encouraging people to stay sober for the month of January. Stock image. Getty Images

I have learned that shared vulnerability connects us. Admitting my Dry January setback gave others permission to admit their struggles. I believe that admission is the first, necessary step in finding a solution.

Overall, my most important lesson this January has been how important it is to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Doing this can teach us about limits and which risks we're willing to take. It teaches us what we can endure, which is often more than we had believed. Sometimes our experiments in personal growth expose our limits and frailties. That pushes us to search for balance, to ask for help, and to accept help.

The last month has given me a reason to plan periods of sobriety, to be sure I stay in control of alcohol and not vice versa. To me, chocolate, ice cream and chardonnay are some of life's gustatory pleasures. I'll enjoy them in moderation, so I never have to give them up completely. I look forward to returning to my weekend-only drinking, and if holidays or celebrations tempt me to imbibe more frequently, I'll follow them with a dry weekend or two.

What started with a shot of bourbon ended with a jigger of gratitude—for the lessons learned, the shared humanity, the year ahead and the growth I'll achieve. Damp or dry, it's not a bad way to start the year.

Karen DeBonis is an author based in New York State. Her memoir, Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived, is available for pre-order now where books are sold. You can visit her website here.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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