Journalist Hilary Sheinbaum discusses the advantages of sobriety and what she learns through participating in the Dry Challenge. For Sheinbaum the lessons she learned through participating in the challenge have become a part of a greater philosophy and her annual practice. She has now written the book The Dry Challenge, which goes on sale December 29, on abstaining from alcohol for thirty days. The Knockturnal spoke with Sheinbaum about the new book, the benefits of sobriety, and her career as a journalist.
The Knockturnal: What inspired you to do the Dry Challenge?
Hilary Sheinbaum: My first dry challenge was decided on a whim and part of a silly bet! In December 2016, during the holiday season, I had dinner with one of my guy friends, Alejandro, and we briefly talked about Dry January — the act of giving up all wine, beer, and spirits for 31 days — but, I almost immediately forgot about the topic. Soon after, on Dec. 31, I tipsy texted him from a New Year’s Eve Party and challenged him to a bet. This was out of character for me because #1) I don’t usually make new year’s resolutions and, #2) as a journalist, I was writing a lot about celebrities as well as food & beverage — so part of my job was to report about drinks! The premise of our bet was to see who could last the entire month without drinking. The winner would win dinner, provided by the person who did not complete the dry challenge. In short: he lost, I won — and I won a lot more than dinner. My skin and sleep improved — and eventually, I wrote a book about how to successfully complete a dry month!
The Knockturnal: What was the biggest challenge with giving up alcohol for a month?
Hilary: One of the challenges I encountered that first year was not planning or thinking through what I was about to do. I’m usually a big planner, but I made a bet just before the ball dropped on New Years Eve, and my challenge promptly began at 12 a.m. on January 1, 2017. I didn’t clear out my liquor cabinet or have a script in my head about how the month was going to play out, or how I was going to communicate my challenge to friends or dates — because I was single at the time! I just went for it. I didn’t know this then, but making that spontaneous bet impacted my month as a whole and definitely the months and years that followed.
The Knockturnal: Do you suggest doing this challenge completely substance-free (i.e. no cigarettes, vape pens, and other substances)?
Hilary: To reap the benefits of a dry month, I would suggest going completely substance free — no vaping, no cigarettes — to see how you feel. Understandably, if someone is trying to quit smoking cigarettes, that can be a challenge in itself, and it’s not my personal area of expertise, so my best advice is to eliminate alcohol for the month and not use other substances as a replacement for drinking.
The Knockturnal: What are some popular misconceptions about dry January or Sober October?
Hilary: One misconception I hear about dry months is that they’re boring or it makes you anti-social. There are so many adventures, activities and things to do that don’t involve alcohol, whether it’s dinners with friends, working out, traveling — the possibilities are endless. In fact, you may find new, cool things to do with your time that you would otherwise have never found, rather than spending hours under the influence or hungover!
The Knockturnal: Since you have been doing this challenge since 2017 have you noticed something different each year you complete the challenge?
Hilary: The first year, in January 2017, I went into the challenge without a plan. Every January since then, or whenever I take on a dry month, I’m more aware of what my calendar entails. The most important thing is setting yourself up for success, so I try to figure out what’s coming up in my life. For example, if you’re getting married and want to enjoy Champagne on your wedding day, it might not be the best time for a dry month. But, if you want to be dry on your wedding — go for it! More power to you.
The Knockturnal: With your career as a journalist which requires you to be alert and able to multi-task. How do you feel the dry challenge impacted our work life?
Hilary: One of the best parts about not drinking is no hangovers, ever. As a journalist — or for anyone who has a job with tight deadlines, demanding turnarounds or the need to think quickly on your feet — being clear-minded and alert is so important. I find that when I participate in a dry month, I’m more motivated, well rested, and I can work more quickly and succinctly!
The Knockturnal: Similarly drinking for many is a social activity how do you feel like sobriety benefited your social life?
Hilary: I think my social life has improved from dry month participation. Instead of “going for a drink” over and over, it’s challenged me to find other fun activities with friends like hiking, workout classes and creative outlets that don’t involve alcohol.
Dry January even improved my dating life. In 2015, I met a guy at a party. We hit it off and went on dates over the course of a month. Four of those five dates involved alcohol — which isn’t a big deal. That’s how dating in New York is. At the time, I couldn’t gauge if we really fit together, so we went our separate ways. In 2018, this person came back into my life as a friend. In 2019, he participated in a Dry January with me and we got to know each other without the influence of alcohol. Almost two years later, we’re still dating, and we now live together. So, I think dry months have more than a few perks!