On Wednesday, I was in one of those elevators with a news and advertising screen when I was faced yet again with the results of the month of sobriety observed by 10 members of the New Scientist staff. Liver fat dropped! Blood glucose plummeted! An average of 3.3 pounds melted away from each temporary teetotaler! Okay, okay, I get it, I thought. I'm a horrible person who doesn't care about my liver and glucose, or how I'll fit in the bikinis the entire internet will soon be trying to sell me. Inspired by the bacchanalian New Year's weekend my friends and I spent in a cabin in Tahoe and the glowing review by Refinery29's own food editor Elettra Wiedemann of her many Dry Januarys, I began the month with the intention of abstinence...and for the first week, thought about alcohol every, damn, day. And more specifically, that I couldn't have it — until I broke my streak with two Friday-night beers.
I am not an alcoholic (and for that, I'm grateful — alcoholism is serious and complicated and lifelong, and those who have it summon immense bravery to manage it). I do like to drink, red wine especially. And I have never done well at cutting out, well, anything from my life altogether. Past experience, though, hasn't stopped me from trying to swear off gluten, sugar, or, for an ill-advised day or two at a time, solid food. I'm starting to catch on that this never works for me — I hate anyone telling me what to do, and that includes myself — and so this year, I decided that my resolution was to make no resolutions. Over the past few weeks, I've been surprised again and again when I've taken a bite of bread or eaten a square of chocolate, because this is the first January in recent memory that I haven't attempted some overhaul of my diet.
And it feels so good. I have aways been seduced by the idea of the fresh start, the starting line that would separate the old-weak-unhealthy-lazy-unscrupulous me from New Me, a shimmering paragon of organization, powered by fresh vegetables and deep breathing. It's taken many efforts to flip the switch that activates New Me for me to realize that this switch doesn't exist.
Alcohol, though, seemed like the last frontier — the one thing I should and could give up for a while. As the women in our video above testify (I'm the one at the beginning who exclaims that "judgment around women and drinking is so intense"), it's tangled up not only in ideas about health, but also about propriety, morality, and safety, especially when women are the ones consuming it. Often, drinking presents a catch-22 for us: If we don't drink "enough" as defined by some third party, we're "no fun," but if we drink "too much," we're deemed unladylike or careless, not just during the incident in question but as people. Sure, ma'am, would you like a side of character judgment with that Manhattan?
Dry January comes with its own generous helping of moral overtones. Some vocal subscribers to it seem to be touting their "goodness" more than sharing a personal choice, leading my friend to suggest we rename it "Netflix & Superiority." First We Feast went even further and proclaimed that "Dry January, and all the hashtag and Equinox class packages and lame-ass mocktail specials that come along with it is nothing more than a month-long version of the lie that yuppy lushes sell each other every time they toggle between benders and juice cleanse throughout the year."
Some detractors, though, appear motivated more by insecurity about their own drinking habits than aversion to the "cleanse mentality" that some — but not all — January non-drinkers have. My editor is doing Dry January and is exasperated by the judgment: "I feel like [people] assume so much about folks' reasoning for trying this — I literally just want to see if I can, and what it's like," she told me. "I have no concerns about my drinking habits and obviously don't believe in 'cleanses.'"
Neither do I — and yet I struggled with guilt over those Friday-night beers, until it struck me that guilt is more problematic than yeast-fermented malt. I enjoyed those beers. I noticed and appreciated them more than I usually do after their absence from my life — and then I kept my count at two. Since then, I've had drinks here and there, while noticing more awareness in my drinking. What I have going right now is working pretty well. If I want a chocolate bar, I'm eating one, and if I want a glass of wine, I'm having that too — but I'm also focusing on making choices based on what will make me feel good (and that includes the next day) rather than simply out of habit. As one woman in our video puts it, "I don’t see it as a pass-fail thing, drinking or not drinking. I see it as decisions you make for yourself to help live a better life."
That glass of wine I enjoy at night when I get home is not the enemy, and neither am I for having it. If there is an enemy, it's excess. And if Dry January works for you, have at it. On February 1, I'll be here for you with a bottle of wine (to share).