I tried Dry February While Getting Back into the Dating Scene and Here’s What Happened

This is my third year embarking on a “dry” month — thirty consecutive days with no alcohol. The first time I tried it I only made it until Valentines day, which should have been a telling sign about the relationship I was in at the time, or my relationship to wine at the time, or maybe both.

The second time was years later when I was in one of those “should we or shouldn’t we?” phases near the end of a relationship. My boyfriend at the time had some questionable drinking habits, AKA Alcoholism, and after a particularly bad night, we decided to embark on Dry March together. We broke up seven days later, this time for good.

My sobriety helped me process the breakup and avoid resorting to booze to numb out. It also led me to really evaluate my own relationship with alcohol, and the relationship between booze and my romantic relationships.

This year, in my Dry February experiment, I had a week long smoking relapse, craved (and ate) a lot of sugar, had to process a broken heart cold turkey, and date sober.

Trading Addictions

It’s funny, even if you’re not an alcoholic, or “addicted” to booze, your brain still wants to find habits it can replace with your drinking habit, which wakes you up to the sheer fact that your drinking habit, is, in fact, a habit.

This happens when former alcoholics become distance runners, or workaholics. The addict’s brain is a little different, even if you’re not a full- fledged junkie.

This happened to me when on January 31st, I found out the man I still loved had been seeing someone new. I’m not proud of what I did next, but with plans for a dry February beginning the next day, I drank four Skinny Girl margaritas, cried, and broke down and bought a pack of cigarettes. I smoked for seven years, with plenty of slip ups through my non-smoking days. I am a self proclaimed health-conscious, non-smoker, however.

I’ve had moments of weakness in the past where I’ve bought cigarettes, and my protocol thus far was to wake up in the morning, realize what I’d done, and place the whole pack under running water and then toss them.

This time, since I was quitting booze, and I was heartbroken, I rationalized that I could smoke just this pack, just this once. And I did, secretly, with my coffee, before work, and after work. It’s amazing how quickly we can pick up our bad habits when we rationalize them.

Don’t worry, I quit a week into Dry February with exercise, meditation, and about 100 deep belly breaths a day where I told myself, “I am not a smoker.” Plus, it’s exhausting to be a closet smoker, especially in a small town.

Sober Life and Love

When you consciously choose not to drink, those moments where you previously said, “man, I could use a drink,” become something else. And that begs the question, if alcohol is optional, what is it we really need or are looking for when we reach for a drink? To make life (or our date) more interesting? To relax and escape reality? To deal with difficult emotions? Maybe we’re just looking to take the edge off?

I thought long and hard about saying “eh, two weeks is good enough!” around Valentines day, yet again, when that same someone from my past who I was still hung up on reached out wanting to make things work between us, even though something was budding between me and someone new.

But alas, Dry February is not Dry-First-Two-Weeks-of-February, and I got through the old fashioned way: expressing my feelings, long talks with my sister and best friend, dealing with my emotions, reading, hot showers, writing, and sleep.

I noticed I was able to express my feelings more readily in my stone cold sobriety, both the uncomfortable and confrontational ones, as well as the loving and vulnerable ones.

I told someone at work to stop “accidentally” touching my butt. I told someone I’d been harboring secret feelings for about my secret feelings. I told someone who hurt me that they hurt me. I told a couple of others that I thought they were great, but that my gut knew we weren’t a match.

I can’t say it felt good to say these things, but after the initial discomfort had passed, I felt lighter. I also felt like I did the right thing, because looking back I can say, “at least I did what I could.”

I think part of the reason I was able to have difficult conversations is because I knew I couldn’t go home and quiet my emotions with a glass of wine or two. This meant that booze was acting as a sort of band-aid for my emotions and even my relationships.

Dating Sober

Alcohol has long accompanied dating to calm our nerves and lower our inhibitions, but sober dating cracks us open to actually facing our feelings, and not just adding extra luster to our rose colored glasses before we forge ahead to steamy make out sessions.

Going on first, second and third dates without booze is interesting, and surprisingly fun. You get a much more accurate read on your feelings about someone, and connections that do blossom feel authentic and at times, electric.

You also can’t skip past red flags as easily when you’re sober, either, which can feel like a bummer when you’re into someone, but ultimately, will save you a lot of time and heart ache in the long run.

Dating sober made me realize how often the connection and intimacy we feel with romantic interests is actually a false sense of intimacy created by booze, much like the pseudo intimacy we experience with coworkers at a holiday party, awkwardly saying our reserved good mornings the following Monday, knowing full well our booze-induced state got us too close, too soon, and most definitely crossed professional boundaries.

Not to mention the fact that booze accelerates the speed at which you become physically, emotionally, or exclusively intimate with someone else. Sometimes booze has us speeding through yellow lights in relationships when we should actually slow down, or zooming past red flags and wondering, “was that pink, or…?”

Having sex too soon can create a false sense of intimacy and bonds us to others before the emotional intimacy is there. And while that is a whole other article in itself, booze is often the culprit that gets us in that predicament.

It took me 29 years to experience my first kiss with someone sober. Not that I’ve never kissed sober, but I realized the first time I’ve ever kissed someone new, from the young age of fourteen on, booze has been in my system and theirs.

It’s been a real wake up call.

Booze can muffle your intuition, and that intuitive voice is so important, especially when it comes to romance. You want to be able to hear what your gut is saying clearly. Let it speak.

But Dating is Hard Enough

There’s always an excuse not to quit- whether that’s drinking, smoking, or eating like crap. My heart is broken and I need a crutch. It’s a stressful week at work and I’ll be a bitch if I don’t have a drink. I’m going on a first date I’m excited about and I need to calm my nerves. The human brain is never short on excuses.

Life is going to happen, and your brain is going to conjure up all kinds of excuses about why you shouldn’t quit, no matter what it is you’re quitting.

It’s amazing how quick we reach for a glass of wine, cigarette, weed gummy, a pill, or some retail therapy when we feel discomfort. When we make it a habit to soothe ourselves with these external substances, we’re not really getting to the root of the issue.

We’re not really processing and listening to our internal guidance system, we’re just distracting ourselves. We’re procrastinating, and creating more problems for ourselves long term — hangovers debilitate us from accomplishing our hearts desires, as does being too high, cigarettes create health problems, and all of them create slow leaks in our bank accounts.

There’s nothing wrong with having a drink or two, or enjoying the relaxing feelings that accompany it, whether you’re dating or not, but maybe there is a happy balance.

Dry dates should be a part of our regular routine, because let’s face it, if you don’t like them sober, you don’t like them.

It’s crucial to date sober early on, because physical intimacy, even snuggling and kissing, can bond us to others and flood us with chemicals that blind us to incompatibility. These same chemicals also have a tendency of Photoshopping red flags a different color.

Raise a Glass to Sobriety

Who’s to say that a healthy, mindful life can’t be filled with a few vices for those of us who believe in moderation, even in moderation? Maybe that is the conclusion to this Dry February experiment. It’s good to step away from your habits, to re-evaluate why you do the things you do, especially things that are expensive and can potentially cause massive harm or massive embarrassment, like alcohol.

Processing our emotions happens sober. We make wiser decisions sober. We should definitely date and kiss sober to face the truth of our feelings, and savor slow-moving intimacy. We should have difficult conversations sober.

Booze is fun. Booze feels good. A little booze can be a part of a healthy and fabulous life. I have better quality of life when I can enjoy a nice glass of wine or bubbly once in a while, but here’s what I’ve learned:

Date sober. Process your emotions. Find other ways to relax. Save money. Don’t fall for pseudo intimacy created by alcohol. Don’t drive drunk. Take a month off drinking. Also, February is the shortest month, even on leap year.

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