A Star Tribune reporter's dry January led to a dry 2021

When she gave up alcohol, she gained so much more.
Editor's note: This story first appeared in January 2022. We resurfaced it to support people participating in Dry January in 2023. If that's you, consider joining our Facebook community here.
Most mornings, when I walk my dog Emmylou, I feel grateful for Dry January.
Not just my alcohol-free January of 2021, which led to a dry February, which led to a dry 2021, but for my attempts at dry months in the decade before that.
Failed attempts, mostly. I would start strong but then crack a beer on a cabin weekend or decide that dinner with friends counted as a special occasion or give in on my birthday — because who celebrates a birthday without cocktails?
I no longer see those weeks as failures but as practice sessions. I was trying to imagine a life that had before seemed impossible. A life without alcohol.
The Instagram posts helped me envision it. A celebrity or a friend or a friend-of-a-friend would post about their decision to quit drinking. Rarely was that decision inspired by a "rock bottom" moment, but instead came from someplace more subtle. Their lives always improved. Their skin always glowed.
I'd bookmark the posts and find myself returning to them after half a bottle of wine. I catalogued them, memorized them, envied them.
By the time I was ready to quit, I was already drinking less. Moderating, even. But I still thought about drinking every night. Tonight or tomorrow? One glass or two?
Adopting a six-month-old puppy put my mornings in sharper focus. I loved the routine of our walks at sunrise and would watch, fascinated, as she explored the world, her eyes always darting, her nose always twitching.
A week or two into Dry January, a bit of success under my belt, I told my therapist I was doing it. He asked why, and I shared the word that had been pulsing through my brain for years by then: awake. I wanted to be awake. Drinking clouded things in the loveliest way. Softened hard edges, hushed loud noises, tempered my brain.
But I knew that I was muffling the good stuff, too.
A month turned into two, five, 12. The pandemic slowed the frequency of social situations, which helped. I would taste my boyfriend's beer on occasion and have a sip of Champagne at a friend's wedding. But mostly, I didn't drink and — even better — didn't think about drinking.
I celebrated my birthday without alcohol, gathered for book club sans wine, took a two-week trip to Turkey fueled only by tea. I stressed and sobbed, all without rosé.
My anxiety improved. My skin glowed.
I had removed alcohol from my life, but the change felt additive, somehow. Like how a dusting of snow, on an early walk with Emmylou, revealed what she'd been sniffing all these mornings. The yellow pee of other dogs, mostly. But also: tiny rabbit tracks across the sidewalk. Not drinking has given me the ability to see what troubles me, what motivates me, what gives me joy.