It’s Dry(ish) January! Are you participating? “Dry what?” you ask? Dry January is shorthand for going substance-free during the month of January. It’s a chance to better understand your relationship with alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs, and how they might affect your daily life. By participating, you might get a better understanding of who you are and discover new ways of relating to others as well!
Download a Dry(ish) January Guidebook or Order a Care Package!
Download our Dry(ish) January Guidebook as a resource as you go substance-free during the month of January, or whenever you want to better understand your relationship with alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs, and how they might affect your daily life.
Or, submit your request for a Dry(ish) January Care Package, which includes a copy of the Guidebook and other goodies. Care packages are available while supplies last to current Western students.
First off, we are all imperfect humans, and we can only try our best. This challenge is certainly not about perfection, because changing or breaking habits can be especially difficult. If you started late or skipped a few days somewhere in the middle, your participation is not negated in any way. You can always start again the next day. And if for whatever reason January is too stressful to try this out, you can always use our Dry(ish) January guidebook to be dry(ish) another month.
We recognize that classes don’t resume until early in January, which means some students might not know about this campaign before returning to class. Even if you drank alcohol or used cannabis or other drugs before knowing about Dry(ish), YOU CAN STILL PARTICIPATE!
If you’re doing the challenge but you make a mistake and have a drink or two during the month, THAT’S OKAY! Slip ups happen to the best of us. We in no way want to discourage or discredit anyone who is putting in a serious effort to take this month off from substances.
Lastly, we recognize that there could be a special occasion where you might want to drink or use cannabis or other drugs. Having a planned night or two during the month is also not the end of the world.
Dry(ish) January is about removing substances for a brief period to examine the parts of your life (social, health, financial, etc.) it may be affecting and to make changes if you choose. You can still reap all the benefits of participating, even if there is a change of plans one night. Hence, the (ish).
Write down your reasons for participating in the challenge and what YOU want to accomplish—nobody else should tell you why abstaining from substances for a month is important. What’s motivating you? What will keep you on track?
Are there other resolutions/changes you want to make (that aren’t substance related), that might be indirectly impacted by your drinking or using? Reflect on all areas of your life that are either impacted or not impacted by your drinking or substance use habits—social, recreational, financial, etc.
Decide how you will communicate your participation to friends and family. Are there folks who might be resistant? It never hurts to practice saying no once or twice before heading out for the evening. How can you show your dedication to the challenge? Find your allies. Do you have a friend or companion who might be interested in joining you? Write this down. Consider downloading a “Dry January” app tracker or follow BeWellWWU and DryJanuary on social media for support. Here are a few noteworthy accounts: Sober_otter, bipolarandsober, and mindfultimes_sobriety.
Here are a few questions to reflect on that can represent a safety plan of sorts for refraining from using substances:
- What are some warning signs that you’re starting to feel stressed? How does your body feel? What thoughts do you notice?
- Who can you call for distraction? What places can you go to distract yourself?
- What are some coping skills besides substance use that you can use to help yourself calm down?
- Who can you call to talk about your stress and/or urges to drink or use?
- When you’re starting to feel stressed and you might want to drink or use, what changes can you make to your environment to help you avoid using? (Examples: Leave the apartment, not keep liquor in the house, put on some music, have a friend hold any marijuana)
If your best friend told you they were trying to make a change in their life, what would you say to encourage them? How would you be present to assist them? We often give great advice to others and don’t take it ourselves. Use the encouragement you wrote down for your friend for yourself!
We often talk about consent in terms of sexual activity, knowing that consent is freely given, not coerced, and it can be revoked at any time. Reflect on college drinking culture (either at WWU specifically or more broadly). How might alcohol or other substances not always be consumed with consent? Think about folks pressuring each other to consume, pouring a drink for someone who is already intoxicated, etc. What are the larger impacts that this might have on student’s substance use behavior?
Everyone deserves to have healthy, positive sexual experiences that make them (and their partners) feel good. If alcohol or other substance use is involved in your sexual activities, it may be helpful to ask yourself these questions:
- Why am I having sex when I’m intoxicated or with partners who are intoxicated?
- How is alcohol/drug use impacting the quality of my sexual experiences?
- Does being intoxicated contribute to doing things sexually that I later regret? How do I think about that now?
- What would it be like to have my sexual experiences be more clear-minded?
When we drink, we feel the effects as our blood alcohol content rises. We encourage a safe, predictable, and pleasurable BAC of up to 0.06. At this level you should feel euphoria, a slight warmth, and elevated mood. Beyond 0.06 the effects can become unpleasant: dizziness, nausea, lack of coordination, impaired judgment, etc. Blackouts typically begin with a BAC around 0.15; anything beyond 0.20 can result in an alcohol-related emergency. Use a BAC calculator to see how your BAC changes with the number of drinks and hours spent drinking. Then, reflect on what risky drinking looks like for you. Keep in mind that BAC calculators should only be used as a guide, as many variables affect alcohol absorption rates. Also, the available BAC calculators use a gender binary, which is not inclusive to everyone. For people who do not identify on the gender binary, it can be helpful to look at the sex-linked factors the BAC calculator takes into consideration, such as weight, percentage of water in the body, hormone levels like estrogen or testosterone, and the presence of alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase (enzymes that metabolize alcohol).
Think about your identity—your age, gender, race, class, physical ability levels, etc. In what ways has drinking or other substance use been determined by one or more of these factors? Has your identity impacted how other people interact with you when alcohol or drugs are involved?
Take this time to reflect on any noticeable changes so far. Sleep, study habits, relationships, etc., can all be impacted by frequent or heavy substance use, and taking a break is a great way to hit the reset button. Write down and reflect on what you’ve noticed so far into this Dry(ish) challenge. What’s working and what isn’t?
For today, practice radical self-love and self-acceptance. It’s perfectly okay if the changes you’ve made has been difficult. Remember that a smooth sea never made a skillful sailor. Write down a list of positive qualities/affirmations about yourself. If this list starts small, that’s okay. Keep it and add to it when you can.
Today is a great day to practice mindfulness. Studies show that when we take a break from regular substance use, we can become more focused and clearer headed. As you go through your day today, be extra aware of yourself, your overall well-being, and your surroundings. Try the Body Scan mindfulness exercise. Lie on your back or rest in a comfortable chair, remaining still. Close your eyes and bring your whole attention to your breath, and work to bring it to a regular tempo. Slowly move your attention to the way your clothing feels, how individual body parts feel, etc. Start from the core and work your way out, and then in reverse. Don’t leave any body parts out!
Reflect on this: I am proud of myself for _________________. Here’s a great mindfulness exercise you can use at any point throughout the next few weeks: 5-4-3-2-1 Mindfulness Exercise. This exercise helps ground you by focusing fully on one sense at a time.
Start by taking deep, cleansing breaths. In through your nose and out through your mouth. Clear your mind.
Once you are ready to start, look around and choose (one by one) five objects to SEE. Really look at each object. Notice it’s shape, color, size. Take time to fully appreciate each object.
Next, close your eyes and find four things you can HEAR. Focus on each sound one at a time, and really HEAR them.
With your eyes still closed, notice three things that you can FEEL. It may be where your body meets with the ground or chair you are sitting on. It may be a breeze blowing by. Take the time to fully observe each sensation.
With your eyes still closed, notice two things that you can SMELL (or, think of two of your favorite scents). Take the time to fully observe each scent.
Finally, open your eyes and name (out loud or to yourself) one thing that you love about yourself.
Congratulations on two weeks in! For today, find a verse, quote, song, etc., that’s reflective of your current state. Write it down—why you chose it, and why it’s symbolic.
Monique Tula is the director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, an agency focused on advocating for the health and dignity of substance users through a nonjudgmental lens. In an interview with author Adrienne Maree Brown (in her book Pleasure Activism), Tula says, “In practice, harm reduction is comprised of a continuum of strategies that range from working with people to maintain abstinence from substances if that’s what they choose, to reducing risks around controlled or even chaotic use. Regardless of where a person is on that continuum, they deserve to be treated respectfully and seen as an equal.” What ends of this spectrum have you fallen on before? Where do you desire to be? Write that down and which risk reduction practices you can use to keep you where you want to be.
Here’s another quote from Adrienne Marie Brown in her book Pleasure Activism to ponder: “I smoke, vape, and/or eat edibles to help me relax, but try to be careful about numbing myself—using weed to put a fog over life. Not feeling the hard stuff means sacrificing the lessons that come with pain and heartache. And the good stuff can be numbed alongside the hard stuff.” What stuff—good and bad—have you potentially missed out on fully because of the fog that substances can put over our lives?
If you’ve been following along since January 1st, then Happy Martin Luther King, Jr., Day! Be proud of your progress and efforts today, large or small, and enjoy your Monday off from classes. But also, what can you do today to better your community? What are you passionate about and how can you use that passion to bring positive change to yourself and others around you? We can’t all be a historically epic leader and changemaker, but we all DO have a circle of influence and can be the light in that way. “Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”—Martin Luther King, Jr., from speech before a group of students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, October 26, 1967.
Be patient with yourself today. Rewriting habits can be especially hard, because the use of any psychoactive substance (YES, this includes alcohol) hijacks the brain’s reward/pleasure pathways, so our brains have a hard time telling us not to drink or use when it has learned that drinking or using is a pleasurable means for survival. In honor of our pleasure pathways, what can you do today that will truly bring you pleasure? Write down the little things, the big things and the mega things that bring you joy.
January can be tough for many, since we lack sunshine and have consistent grey skies here in the PNW. What can you do to bring more color, brightness and warmth in your day today? Write those down and seek them out!
Write down a gratitude list—what are you most thankful for in this moment? What are you most thankful for in your life? If you live to be 100 years old (or whatever, just play along), what do you think you’ll be most grateful for then?
It’s Day 21 of Dry(ish) January! They say it takes 21 days to make a habit. How are you feeling today? Are you noticing a difference in how you view alcohol/cannabis/etc.? Remember that this challenge is not an excuse to detox our bodies and binge for the rest of the year. It’s an opportunity to take a break from a habit, evaluate what works and what doesn’t, and make the changes necessary to be the healthiest and happiest versions of ourselves. Write down your thoughts today and take pride in the journey so far.
How about another mindfulness exercise? Bundle up and go outside. Hopefully the sun is shining. Find a place where you can sit or stand comfortably. Clear your mind of outside thoughts. Focus on every little thing you can see, every little thing you can smell or hear, or maybe even taste or touch. Be absolutely present—even if it’s just for a moment. One of the most popular AA/NA (12-step recovery program) sayings is “one day at a time,” but sometimes a day seems quite large. Take it hour by hour, or moment by moment.
It’s not uncommon to hear people say that their friend or family member isn’t quite “themselves” when they are under the influence of substances. This is because being intoxicated can alter our judgment, our body language, etc. How would someone close to you describe what you’re like when you’re under the influence of substances? What about a random person you might meet at a party? Do either of these descriptions contain aspects you might want to change? Reflect on this.
In Sonya Renee Taylor’s book, The Body is Not an Apology, she walks us through the pages with interactive prompts called “Unapologetic Inquiries.” Here is Unapologetic Inquiry #30: “As children, we loved the unconstrained power of imagination we encountered in fairy tales. We could be an opulent princess, a cunning wizard, a talking dog. There were no boundaries around our possibility. What story have you been telling yourself that is binding your possibility? What would be possible if that story were different?”
In The Body is Not an Apology, Taylor also prompts readers with “Radical Reflections.” Here’s one from page 104: “Humans aren’t laundry! Stop trying to compartmentalize and sort yourself out. Messy does not always mean dirty. Sometimes it just means complicated, and complicated can be beautiful! Ask yourself, how might I approach life differently if I had compassion for my beautiful mess?”
Okay here’s one more “Radical Reflection” from page 64 of Taylor’s book, The Body is Not an Apology: “Notice the next time your actions are not in alignment with your thoughts. The discomfort you feel is trying to tell you something. It is pushing you beyond just thinking or doing, toward radical self-love being.” What does this reflection mean to you? When do you experience a discrepancy between what you think/believe and how you feel or act?
What’s the best thing that’s happened so far this week? This month? Reflect back on your gratitude list and see if there’s anything you want to add.
Studies show that refraining from regular alcohol use can strengthen our immune system and taking a break from smoking any substance is a great boost to your lung health. How has your overall health been affected by Dry(ish) January? Do you ever feel that when you’re regularly drinking or using, you’re more likely to catch whatever bug is going around?
Who has been your biggest ally for Dry(ish) January? Reach out to that person today to say thank you. If this has been a bit of a solo month, reflect on your efforts with gratitude, and thank yourself for being patient, determined, and courageous. What has been your favorite memory of this month?
It’s almost your last night of Dry(ish) January! Write a letter to yourself from before you started this Dry(ish) challenge. It could be at any point in your life that you think your earlier self could have learned from the you that you are today.
It’s the last day of Dry(ish) January—WAY TO GO! Reflect on your accomplishment today. What have you learned or gained from this experience? How do you think your relationship with alcohol or other substances might be different from here on out? Finishing the challenge presents the opportunity to continue the healthy habits you’ve established, rather than heavy drinking in response to being done. Moderation is always the safest bet. Be proud of yourself. You set a goal and you accomplished it!