Five Important Lessons From a Month With No Booze

I don't know what's sadder: The ugly tile in my kitchen or that this wine glass is empty.
I don’t know what’s sadder: The ugly tile in my kitchen or that this wine glass is empty.

They say if you love something, let it go.

Well, I did that with booze. I’m currently three weeks in to an alcohol-free month. I stupidly chose Jan. 14 through Feb. 13 as the dry month — a one-month chunk that contains a remarkable number of days. I cut out alcohol on a Wednesday, and there are five Wednesdays between Jan. 14 and Feb. 13; even worse, there are five Friday nights.

So here I am, a smidge past the three-week mark of not drinking a drop of alcohol. I’d like to take the moment to publicly declare my undying, unaltered, unfiltered love for red wine. Red red wine, you make me feel so fine. Red wine, I shall never forsake you again with silly experiments. Red wine, I cannot wait to be reunited with you on Feb. 14, on the day this dry month finally comes to a close. (Cocktails, I’m coming for you as well).

I decided to do a dry month (and convinced my husband to play along) because I was curious if there would be any major mind and body changes if I eliminated by booze habit. I was drinking at least a glass of wine or a cocktail daily and figured if I stopped for a while, maybe I’d drop five pounds in all the right places, sleep more deeply, write more prolifically…who knows what miracles I thought would happen. But two-thirds of the way through this experiment, here are some things I’ve discovered:

1. Alcohol satisfies my sweet tooth: I don’t really ever crave sweets. And that’s likely because alcohol provided me my sugar fix. But in the weeks since giving up drinking, I’ve practically tripled my fruit intake, and I already ate a lot of fruit to begin with. Also, our Trader Joe’s dark chocolate supply seems to be dwindling more quickly than usual. I know that’s all fairly “healthy” sugars, but it is still extra calories. So if I thought I was going to lose a few pounds from not drinking, I’d probably have to follow Mr. Dame’s lead of keeping chocolate in places that require standing on a chair to reach.

2. Alcohol Free Beer is Mildly Satisfying: While I’m not a big beer person (I think I’ve made it pretty clear I’m a wine person) they don’t make alcohol-free wine, as far as I know. Well, grape juice, but that ain’t the same. In the United States, I’d be rather embarrassed to order an O’Douls in a bar. But in Spain, the non-alcoholic version of the country’s ubiquitous, if tasteless Mahou, is everywhere (and often icy cold on tap). And people drink it without shame! And I tell you, booze-free beer has really hit the spot on several occasions during this dry month, most notably after a hike, and with a spicy Indian dinner.

3. What I thought was ‘hungover’ was really just tired: In general, I am hungover a few times a month. After having too much wine the previous night, I’ll spend the next day groggy, mentally unfocused, and sluggish and be convinced the only cure is to eat something carby covered in something melty. But here’s the thing: I’ve already had two of those days this month after bad nights of sleep. Both times, I woke up and thought “Ugh, I’m hungover.” But I hadn’t drank a drop. So turns out many of the times I thought I was hungover, I was really just tired. And all this time I was blaming the drink; I feel I owe it an apology.

4. Booze adds a little to good situations. It adds A LOT to bad situations: In the past two weeks, I’ve had one-on-ones with good friends; hosted a book club for some new friends; went on a hike on a gorgeous day; attended the symphony; had a friend over for a healthy post-workout dinner; made brunch for two other couples and chatted afterwards for hours. These situations were all already fun. They would have benefited a little from wine or mimosas but they were totally enjoyable on their own.

I’ve also been on a weekend trip north where Mr. Dame and I walked around in cold evening rain after being in a car for hours, cranky and hungry, but it wasn’t yet time for dinner because in Spain, people don’t eat until freakin’ 10pm. And I’ve gone hungry and cocktail-less on a Friday night at a hip restaurant that had nothing for vegetarians because “a meal can’t be balanced without animal.” I’ve been tired at the end of the day and sniffed the bottle of wine before I poured it into the saucepan and thought “I mean, one sip?” In all these instances, I do believe wine would have made everything all better.

5. Negative Incentives Work: On that same rainy evening in Northern Spain when I wanted red wine so badly, I would have settled for swishing a Ribera del Duero around in my mouth and spitting it onto the cobblestone. I wanted wine so much that I was about to forsake my Facebook-publicized vow and just have a damn glass. It was then I realized I needed more incentive to stick to the dry month. So I vowed that if I had a drink before Feb. 14, I’d donate $100 to an organization whose mission is so deplorable to me, that I basically would be racked with guilt forever if I helped to line their coffers. And you know what, that has totally worked. I still wanted wine after that, but I knew I couldn’t have it.

There’s a little over a week remaining in this dry month. Please raise your glass for me on Feb. 14, because you know I’ll have one in my hand.

To wine,

The Dame in Spain


  1. Completely agree with the hangover thing. And kudos to your crazy experiment (which I did myself, but also swore off sugar, caffeine, and dairy at the same time….I was a hot, healthy mess). Oddly, I found that sniffing wine made me feel better. Hang in there!

  2. Kudos to you! While I haven’t done the whole month thing, I’ve done 2 week spurts here and there and have to say how much more productive I feel…waking up earlier and getting stuff done later. Although sometimes just vegging out on the couch with my glass of vino is all the productivity I need;-)

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