Five Ways to Stay on Track After Dry July
Congratulations, you’re nearing the end of a month without alcohol! Maybe you found it easier than anticipated, maybe it brought up some uncomfortable moments for you, maybe you slipped up a few times and indulged in ‘just a few sips’ … or more. It can be hard to make the adjustment back to ‘normal’ once the monthly restriction has lifted and there’s no longer the public declaration of ‘I’m not drinking’ and the socially acceptable excuse of Dry July sobriety to hide behind. But don’t panic! Here at Hello Sunday Morning, we’ve prepared five tips to help you stay on track to assess or change your relationship with alcohol after your little hiatus.
Well done, you did it! You stuck to a goal and proved to yourself that you can do whatever you put your mind to. You got to reap the many health benefits to your liver, mental state, waistline and vital organs, from having a break from alcohol. Now it might be tempting to think about ‘rewarding yourself’ … so go ahead we say! But keep in mind that reward doesn’t need to be an alcohol-based one. Buy some new clothes, plan a holiday with your mates, take the kids on a spontaneous day-trip or splurge on a giant box of the finest imported Belgian chocolate truffles money can buy (ok, maybe just me?).
Make a note of how it felt:
- To wake up without a hangover
- To remember everything you did the night before
- To have that extra cash in your wallet not spent on late night Ubers, expensive rounds at the bar and greasy hangover food
- To lose a kilo or two
- To have more time up your sleeve
- To go to the social event sober … and survive
- To come home from work and not reach for that glass or bottle of plonk
If you can do it for a month, can you do it for longer?
Assess your relationship with alcohol
Think about the what, why, when and how of your drinking. How much do you normally drink in a week? Three glasses a day is 21 a week, or more than a thousand a year. And the glasses you pour yourself are probably bigger than the ‘standard drinks’ used to measure health effects and long-term harms. Do you drink because it’s fun and enjoyable? Or because of habit and routine? Or because ‘everyone else around you is’? If you’re drinking to manage stress, anxiety or a bad day, some of the tried and tested tips we recommend at HSM include changing your routine, getting out into nature, taking up meditation or yoga, committing to an exercise routine, and finding other ways to process your thoughts – like journaling or therapy.
Make some new goals
Now you know you can stick to a goal, set another one! These don’t have to be as strict as giving up alcohol. You might want to find a new hobby, do that thing you’ve been putting off for a year, learn a language or get your Marie Kondo on and clear the clutter. You’ve already proven to yourself that you can follow through on a goal, so run with the momentum and set a new one to challenge yourself.
Find your community
Was it easier to give up the booze for a month knowing there were thousands of people around the world simultaneously sharing your journey? Being part of a community of people all on the same path is a really effective way to find support and understanding, and makes it more likely you’ll stick to your goal. If your new goal is to join a gym and get fit – find a gym buddy! If it’s to drink less or moderate your drinking, join our Daybreak community right here. Daybreak is a community of people all supporting each other to change their relationship with alcohol, and all from the convenience of the phone that you’re probably holding right now.
How did you find Dry July? What got you through the tough moments? Do you have any tips for others to stay on track? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
When it’s socially acceptable to not drink: Embracing Feb Fast and Dry July
This February I participated in my second unofficial Feb Fast. When I completed the first Feb Fast the year before, I did it as part of a group. I finished it and went right back to the way things were. This year, instead of just a month without drinking, the Fast became a re-evaluation of my relationship with alcohol.
Over the last few years I have made decisions reducing processed foods in my diet and reducing the amount of plastic waste I add to landfills. Alcohol consumption had largely escaped my scrutiny. The messages, which I had clearly internalised, were that alcohol is part of celebrations and relaxation. A shiraz after golf, a drink after a hard day at the office and of course drinks with friends, and bubbles to celebrate life’s big moments. But does it have to be that way?
Feb Fast provided me with the opportunity to say no to alcohol in settings where there was an expectation that I would drink, based on my previous behaviour and on social norms. The program gave me a legitimate reason not to drink, which almost everyone respected.
Feb Fast allowed me to make choices about when and what I would drink. After a day out I now have a sparkling water with a shot of lime and loads of ice as my first drink. A long day at the office may end with a shiraz but I may choose to go for a long walk first. Thinking about drinking in general and my drinking in particular, allowed me to examine the messages I had internalised and whether they were actually appropriate to my lifestyle.
I will also participate in ‘dry July’ this year, for two reasons – one is to continue to strengthen my ability to choose my path and the other is to be a positive role model to my children. My lifestyle is all about making healthy choices and choosing to moderate alcohol consumption is part of that.
What Comes After Dry July?
Recent years have seen an increase in the number of people who are taking part in initiatives like Dry July, Ocsober, FebFast and others. You might say that an increased focus on public health by high profile organisations and sponsored by high profile public figures, is a universally positive thing.
This is because we are rethinking our patterns of consumption. These initiatives also give us the opportunity to break patterns of behaviour that we know to be harmful and occasionally destructive. In addition to this, we are given the opportunity to raise money at the same time – to support just those causes.
Opening up a conversation
Approaches like this are a world away from twenty years ago, when the thought of going for a month without alcohol was derided and mocked. The normalisation and visibility of these campaigns has opened up the conversation about why someone might choose to take a break from alcohol and made it possible for people to openly say that they are choosing to abstain.
There is only one potential issue with approaches like this. From a behavioural perspective, addressing an issue like alcohol consumption by going ‘cold turkey’ might not actually result in lasting changes. When we are considering our relationship with alcohol, we are acknowledging that it is a part of our lives, day-to-day. Stopping for a month may be a good way to get into shape and have a break, but we are not necessarily working on the way that we use alcohol itself.
For some people who do Dry July, their experience of having a month off alcohol will be so positive and profound that they may never drink again. For the majority of people, however, they will return to drinking and likely slip back into old habits and patterns of alcohol use. As a psychologist, I often have clients describing a positive experience doing Dry July. Things like improved mood, weight loss, more energy and money saved, are then undermined by what happens when alcohol is reintroduced.
From a behavioural perspective, it is nearly impossible to change the relationship with something when it is out of your life. You actually need to be coming into contact with it in order to understand how to best manage it!
Many of my clients express frustration about how well they did in Dry July and then the issues they have had with starting to drink again and feeling that nothing has really changed. The big challenge is finding a way to still have alcohol in their lives, while not necessarily using it every day, and in large quantities.
Consider you were going into relationship counselling with your partner. Yes, you would likely benefit from individual sessions. From these sessions you might get some insight into relational patterns and how you are being affected by the relationship problems. However, the real work would be done in the sessions with your partner. This is when your triggers are activated, when you have to struggle and experience in real life some of the issues that have led you to make changes.
It is the same with alcohol. Changing our relationship with alcohol is, essentially, a learning experience. We must re-learn how to use alcohol and how to manage its effect on us. Taking a break and then hoping we have ‘reset’ may not be enough. It is beneficial but is not really a longer term option, particularly if we intend on reintroducing alcohol into our lives again at some point.
So, if you are nearing the end of Dry July, what kinds of things might be helpful to keep up the momentum and observe some lasting changes? Here are some ideas:
– Consider what you might like your relationship with alcohol to look like. What kinds of things did you enjoy about Dry July? Was it the increased energy, better health or financial savings? How might you need to moderate your intake of alcohol to still see these benefits?
– If you are wanting to re-introduce alcohol into your week, consider what kinds of goals you might have. Whether it is four alcohol free days a week, or setting a limit on the amount you drink each day, think about what might be realistic for you.
– Reflect on how much you are currently drinking in a week (eg. 3 standard drinks each day, equalling 21 standard drinks per week), and see if you can set a new goal for yourself. Most of the risks that are associated with alcohol come from drinking daily and in high quantities, so reducing one of those variables is likely to be beneficial.
– Consider what is happening behind the scenes of your alcohol use. Is it being used to manage stress, deal with negative emotions, or temporarily lift your mood? Developing other strategies that can meet these needs may mean that alcohol feels less necessary. For example, having a shower and getting into comfortable clothes at the end of the day might be helpful in ‘closing a chapter’ on the day.
– Be curious about patterns and themes with your alcohol use. Perhaps there are some friends that you are likely to drink to excess around, or certain situations (after work, when alone, when nervous) that alcohol is being over-used. Similarly, perhaps there are some situations where you don’t feel like drinking at all, or at the very least do not struggle with the urge to have another drink.
– Set expectations with those around you. if you are wanting to make some longer-term changes with your alcohol usage, let those who are close to you know what your goals are, and what you might like from them. Even asking a partner not to buy wine on the way home, or organising coffee with friends rather than drinks, can be a useful way to set up situations that will support you to change. This way you’re not in a situation where drinking is expected.
So if you are nearing the end of Dry July – well done! It is a great first step in making a big change in your relationship with alcohol. At this stage you will likely be conscious of a lot of things that might trigger an urge to drink, as well as the strategies that are effective in doing things other than having a drink. Now is a great time to consider what you might like the rest of your year to look like and how you might be able to create lasting change.
How to conquer Dry July
This week, Australians from all walks of life will embark on a month without alcohol in support of Dry July, an initiative to raise money for cancer alongside remarkably similar campaigns such as FebFast and Ocsober.
But it’s not all beer and skittles: there is an active debate about the long-term effectiveness of these programs. A number of limitations from a public health perspective include a lack of long term support for the behaviour change process, and confusing people with an “all or nothing” message about alcohol. The option of buying a “golden ticket,” for example, allows the purchaser to take a night off from the challenge and is considered by critics to encourage binge drinking. In terms of cultural change, seeing a brief period of abstinence as an inherently monstrous task probably serves to reinforce the importance of alcohol in our lives and proves ultimately ineffective, if not destructive.
But don’t get us wrong: it’s great to hear the volume increasing when we talk about alcohol consumption. We’re here to help you use movements like Dry July as steps towards a more conscious drinking culture, and change your own relationship with alcohol.
How to use Dry July to change your relationship with alcohol
Feel good about it
Some of us feel fine about our relationship with alcohol. However, it is only when we take a break and realise how our bodies and minds feel without it that we begin to second guess ourselves. This realisation can be the first stepping stone to delve a little deeper and become a more conscious drinker.
Find support during the challenge
Let’s not kid ourselves: entirely avoiding alcohol for a month is an arduous task, and support goes a long way. Whether you have some mates doing the challenge with you, or turn to the Hello Sunday Morning community, knowing that others are with you can make all the difference. Many members of the Hello Sunday Morning community have done similar challenges and felt empowered by their achievement.
When members of the Hello Sunday Morning community have taken a break from alcohol in the past, their understanding of how we use alcohol in our social lives has evolved. According to our app data, attending a wedding sober and celebrating without alcohol, are most likely to lead to a change in your relationship with alcohol. Dry July similarly encourages participants to realise that alcohol is not a necessary component of socialising. No doubt over the month, those partaking in the challenge will be attending social events, entirely alcohol-free. For some people this may well be a first.
Most importantly, you should approach a challenge like Dry July mindfully. What does not drinking for a month mean for you? For your identity, for how you understand your relationship with alcohol? This also means allowing yourself to feel empowered rather than restricted during the challenge. By consciously reflecting on the process, you can reframe any ‘missteps’ as part of your journey, rather than as failures.
Dry July is a great opportunity to start changing your relationship with alcohol and say “Hello” to more Sunday mornings. We’re here to help.