If only we all had Steve McQueen to stop us from drinking, like in this scene from 1963's Soldier In The Rain
Photo: Allied Artists (Getty Images)

About a year ago, bloated and stuffed and overserved after weeks of bacchanalian holiday celebrating, I pondered Dryuary, in which drinkers give up the stuff for the month of January. None of my pants fit, my Advil bottle was empty, and my whole body just felt pickled and sour. Taking an organized break from drinking sounded like a relief, even though the last time I stopped drinking for any noteworthy interval of time was pregnancy. The results of that pregnancy are now in middle school.

I also had just started working for this particular food website, and me being me, I pitched a month-long series covering my Dryuary travails. The effort was both for the site and my self: Knowing my weak-willed constitution, I figured that I would need to go public—not just on Facebook and Twitter, but to also the many Takeout readers—to keep myself on the straight-and-narrow path and prevent cheating. So at midnight on January 1, 2018, I finished my last glass of champagne, kissed my family, and headed out into the Dryuary jungle.

This week, a lot of people on Twitter have been posting about the best things they did all year. Dryuary would be at the top of my list. If you’re considering it at all, here’s my pitch this year: Just do Dryuary. It can change your life in remarkable ways. (I even did a spoken-word piece about it.)

Granted, I went about it all wrong last time. If you read those five columns, there’s a lot of sulking and complaining and counting of days until the month is over, instead of diving deep into the experience for what it is: a blessedly alcohol-free existence. Even beyond all the gnashing of teeth, though, I still managed to find advantages like heading back to the gym after an extremely long hiatus, finding a favorite yoga class, visiting King Spa for the first time. Sure, a lot of those efforts were to ward off the sneakily increasing boredom, which was my only downside about Dryuary. I felt boring, which led me to thinking that events I would normally be enjoying, like a cocktail party, were boring. Later, I realized that discomfort was much more about me than it was about the drink.

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And occasional boredom was a small price to pay for the Dryuary advantages, which were considerable:

Losing weight

I lost eight pounds in a month during Dryuary, merely from the zero calorie count of LaCroix compared to calorie-laden chardonnay. For the most part, I’ve kept it off, and I still get to wear all my pants. The gym visits helped also, and I’ve continued those as well. Even my skin looked better, and I received many more compliments than I’d had in awhile.

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Saving money

During times when I’m not drinking, my husband likes to call me a “cheap date,” as we marvel over family dinner bills that don’t even reach $100. I have become quite a mocktail connoisseur, and my favorite place in my Chicago neighborhood offers a basil-lemon mix that only costs $4. There’s a similar (heavenly) ginger beverage at a nearby gastropub that runs for $7, but even that is less than an $11 glass of wine.

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Saving time

As my wise-beyond-her-years daughter pointed out last January: “You just seem to have more time for all of your stuff.” Instead of losing Sunday mornings to headaches, I had more time to write, or cook, or even pick up the house. Time seemed elastic, instead of constantly closing in on me. I also felt more like I was living in the moment, rather than escaping that moment via alcohol.

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Better sleep

Before Dryuary, I would frequently wake up at 3 a.m., remember a deadline, write for a while, then oversleep in the morning. My sleep schedule was all over the place, and I had no idea how much alcohol was affecting it. Once I stopped drinking, waking up in the middle of the night blessedly stopped also.

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Happiness > boredom

My alcohol habit was so engrained—I’ve written about how it became an indelible part of my social life, even more so after having kids and living in a fun, frequently partying neighborhood—I hadn’t even realized how much it had become a part of my life until it was gone. And a lot of times, I didn’t even miss it, able to designatedly drive my husband home from a party, hanging out until the wee hours without having to crash early. I definitely did not miss the mornings when I would wake up and wonder, “Did I drink too much at that party? Should I have not told that embarrassing story?” (Probably.) I mean, I still have my social second-guessing moments, but they’re somehow less painful when they’re not alcohol-related. And removing that sort of shame was like lifting a 200-pound furry blue monster from my shoulders. And as a result, with my healthier Dryuary lifestyle (eventually: honestly, column number three about my weak re-entry into physical fitness is one of my favorite things I’ve ever written), I felt lighter on a number of levels, and clearer. And bored occasionally.

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So after Dryuary, I re-entered the drinking world, and I’m not going to tell you I didn’t have any hangovers in 2018 (curse you, Dead Celebrity Halloween Party). But I had far fewer ones. And the rare Sunday I did wake up with a headache, I found myself actually looking back fondly on Dryuary. It was like an oasis I knew I could return to if needed. Frankly, before my public proclamation, I had my doubts, especially since I was easily swayed by events like a girls’ brunch with bottomless mimosas, say (mimosas are my Kryptonite). That would have knocked me off my path, until the next event, and then I would have tried Dryuary again in February, until a neighborhood Superbowl party, etc.

Now, I make sure we always have at least a few cases of La Croix on hand. If a restaurant doesn’t have a mocktail on the menu (a rarity, as they’re becoming much more common), I ask the server to throw something together and just use me as a tester (my only request is that the drink is not too sweet, because lots of times mocktails try to replace alcohol with sugar. I’ve found that bitters are a better option, and taste more drinklike). I still make it to the gym and yoga at least once a week, although I’m trying for more. My pants still fit. Best of all, the month convinced me of one very important truth: Alcohol isn’t the vital balm I thought it was. In fact, a lot of things are better without it.

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So if you’re thinking about trying Dryuary this year, I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. You may be amazed at what you discover, like I was. I will not be writing about it every week this time, but please feel free to tweet at me or tag me as you Instagram your mocktail choices. Or even comment down below, I promise I’ll check in. At midnight again this New Year’s Eve, I will top off that last champagne and hug my kids and say goodbye to alcohol again—lacking the feeling of dread from last year, with an anticipatory sense of adventure.