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I Tried Dry January—and It Saved My Life

But unlike other social media challengesMovember, for examplegetting sober for 31 days can actually change (or maybe even save) your life.This is exactly what happened whenTraci Shoblom, 53, a wellness coach in Los Angeles, California, decided to doDry Januaryin 2019.

Why try Dry January?

I hate the word alcoholic, its not a helpful label, Shoblom says. After growing up in a family of alcoholicsher mother died from complications of the disease in 2017Shoblom was sure of two things: First, that she could recognize an alcoholic when she saw one and second, that she wasnt one. For years everyone told me I wasnt an alcoholic and because I wasnt like my mom and my life was going well, I assumed I didnt have a drinking problem, she explains. And since I wasnt an alcoholic there was no reason to ever give up drinking. (Find out how totreat an alcohol addiction holistically.)And why would she even want to give it up? Drinking alcohol, particularly good wine, was a favourite pastime she shared with her boyfriend, Larry, and the couple often bonded over long weekends of hunting down the perfect bottle to share over dinner.But somewhere along the way, Id slipped into the habit of drinking too much, she says. Instead of going to a restaurant we liked and choosing a nice bottle of wine, we would leave multiple restaurants in a row because they didnt have any wine we liked, she says. We were going to restaurants only for the alcohol.

How to tell when your drinking has become a problem

What started out as a fun hobby eventually felt like a compulsion and by December 2018 she found herself drinking nearly a bottle of wine a day, on her own.I told myself that I wasnt drinking because I was addicted, but because it was relaxinga reward for getting through another stressful day, a way to smooth over awkward social situations, and a way to have fun, she says. One of the first signs that her drinking had moved past fun was when she found herself having a hard time going more than a day or two without drinking.

Her turning point

I remember wondering if thats how it was for my mom. I realized that there had to have been a point for her when one day she could have quit drinking but then the next she couldnt. I wondered when she had reached the point where she couldnt stopand then I wondered if thats where I was, Shoblom says.

You have to have a plan

The thought scared her enough that she started looking up resources on the internet, eventually finding the 30-day planThe Alcohol Experiment, by Annie Grace, a proponent of living alcohol-free. With the new year just days away, Shoblom decided that she was going to commit to doing Dry January 2019 and she would use Graces method as her guideline.This is a great strategy for improving your relationship with alcohol, saysKeith Heinzerling, MD, MPH, internist and addiction medicine specialist at Providence Saint Johns Health Center and themedical directorof the UCLA Center for Behavioral and Addiction Medicine. Doing a trial quit for a short period of time is easier for many people than going straight to total abstinence, he says. Taking time away from drinking, even just for a few weeks, gives you a fresh perspective and the opportunity to break bad habits you may have with alcohol.

I didnt know I wasnt soberuntil I was

This was Shobloms whole goal: To be able to step back and really look at the different ways she used drinking in her life. At first I didnt tell anyone I was doing it, not even Larry, because I wasnt sure how I was really going to do it and how long Id stick with it, she says. But after just a few days without alcohol, she realized how much her body had become dependent on it and it scared her. I didnt know I wasnt sober until I was, she says.

How to deal with withdrawal

Shobloms surprise at her withdrawal symptoms is actually a pretty common reaction to Dry January, Dr. Heinzerling says. People dont understand that you dont have to be an alcoholic for it to cause issues in your life and health, he explains.She confessed her feelings to Larry and he immediately decided to join her in doing Dry Januarya moment she cites as a real turning point for her. I honestly dont know if I could have done it if he didnt do it with me,” she says. “Having his support was so important.”For the first three weeks, she suffered through withdrawal, having daily headaches, mood swings, sugar cravings, and extreme exhaustion. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are no joke and need to be taken very seriously, Dr. Heinzerling says. While Shoblom was able to manage the detox process on her own, not all people will be able to do the same, he cautions.

Not everyone should attempt Dry January

Abruptly stopping alcohol if you are a heavy drinker can be potentially dangerous, so talk to your doctor if you may be at risk foralcohol withdrawal. If a person has been drinking a lot of alcohol for a long period of time they can become physically dependent on it. Going cold turkey in these cases can be very dangerous, causing seizures, delirium, and in some cases, death, he explains. Talk to your doctor before you start Dry January, and dont be afraid to ask for medical help if it ends up being harder than you thought.

Is Dry January right for you?

If youre not sure if youll be able to handle a month of not drinking on your own, Dr. Heinzerling says a key sign is how you feel when you wake up, first thing in the morning. People who wake up with withdrawal symptoms, like irritability, sweating, tremors, and a strong need for a drink should not do Dry January or any detox program without medical supervision, he says. Its so important tonever lie to your doctor abouthow much alcohol you really drink.Getting through the withdrawal period was incredibly difficult but doing the daily exercises in Graces book helpedShoblomget through detox and stay focused on her goal. It really helped me understand all the reasons I drank and to challenge all the assumptions I had about alcohol and the role it played in my life, she says.

Every single thing in my life got better

Then, after day 21, it was like a switch flipped. I woke up and felt amazing, better than Id ever felt, it was this perfect morning, she says. Everyone told me it would happen and I didnt believe them until I experienced it, it was incredible. By the end of week four she decided that she liked this new feeling so much that she wasnt going to start drinking again after Dry January ended.

The health benefits of quitting alcohol

Shoblom says she became more emotionally stable, her skin became bright and smooth, her eyes were clear, her energy was through the roof, and she dropped 25 pounds without really changing her diet. (Larry lost 50 pounds!) Alcohol is full of empty calories, anddrinking makes you hungrier, so ditching the booze may help you lose weight, Dr. Heinzerling says.One of the great things about this challenge is how quickly you can start to see positive health changes, Dr. Heinzerling says. Within just a few days of not drinking youll have lowerblood pressureand heart rate,improved blood sugar regulation, better sleep, and lessanxietyanddepression. Another bonus is that quitting alcohol often makes other good habitslike exercise and healthy eatingeasier to start and maintain, which in turn leads to even more health benefits, he says.Shoblom noticed that not only was her mood better overall without alcohol but she was no longer worried about things she may have done or said under the influence, which reduced her stress levels overall.

Falling back in love

In addition, she says herrelationship with her boyfriend was transformed. Before Dry January she says their relationship was often contentious and centered around unhealthy habits. Now that they were both sober, however, they found new, healthier ways to communicate. That feeling of rage was just gone, she says. We could decide to walk away and talk about things when we were calmersomething we hadnt been able to do before. The romance returned to their relationship as they bonded over the experience.

Life lessons learned

Its now been almost a whole year sinceShoblomgave up drinking and she says that while there have been some incredibly tough moments, she couldnt be happier about the journey. Ive learned so much from this, she says. I learned that I actually do have a lot of self-discipline and I can do really hard things when I want to. But perhaps even more importantly shes learned that she doesnt have to repeat the mistakes of her parents and that her life is her own to live.

Its all about your mindset

The trick to having a positive experience with Dry January is to not see it as a month of gritting your teeth and getting through it until you can drink again but rather the start of a better relationship with alcohol and a healthier lifestyle overall, Dr. Heinzerling says.I would encourage anyone to try Dry January, she says. At the very least youll learn something about yourself. Everyone thinks they can stop drinking any time they want and this way youll see if thats really true. At best, it will change your life, like it did mine.Now that you know quitting alcohol can be a positive experience, next find out what experts have to say about drinking while pregnant.

The post I Tried Dry January—and It Saved My Life appeared first on Best Health Magazine Canada.

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