Sober January / Dry January (as they call it in England) has been catching on in various U.S. cities in recent years as one way to balance out the decadent, functionally alcoholic lives that many of us lead. I decided to go for it this year for a variety of reasons that include a) Fall 2014 was especially boozy, b) my friends and I do quite a lot of drinking year-round and if my liver could talk it would say 'I hate you' on the regular, c) Sober November was a bit of a failure that only lasted ten days, and d) my birthday is in February and it's all downhill from there. This is not the first time I've taken multiple weeks off of the sauce, but there's something about the weirdness of January and the self-reflection that winter brings that's got me observing things a little more acutely this time around. So as I pass the mid-point of this most trying month, I thought I'd share.
Yes, I do feel more clear-headed, and mornings are nicer. That's great and all, but it's not like I spend the rest of the year hungover or anything, and it's not like I have a lot less trouble getting out of bed. The rewards, besides some potential weight loss, are mostly internal and therefore nothing to brag about, or get that excited about. People who gush about how terrific they feel on cleanses and such are mostly just convincing themselves it's worth it.
Not drinking is just... sort of boring. Though my friends in recovery have certainly found new ways to entertain themselves, it's a hard thing to navigate for those of us who don't especially enjoy early morning hikes or early morning runs or early morning anything. Or smoking pot, for that matter. I've always been a night person, and nights are for booze.
Friends will not be helpful. A couple examples of things said to me last night: "You're not fun like this," "I feel so bad for you right now," and "When is this charade going to stop?" Of course, having somebody sober around makes everyone who's drunk a little uncomfortable, so even if they're not shoving drinks in my hand they have their ways of making that discomfort known.
Bars, and the people in them, are much less fun. I feel absurdly awake and aware, standing around with my ginger beer, listening as everyone's voices get louder and their phrasing gets clumsier. It would be way more enjoyable if things were a bit more muted and confused, I was three bourbons in, and I was a part of the clumsy mass, shout-telling some story that has John Travolta as the punchline. But instead I stand apart, in silent judgment, like an asshole.
I do get more stuff done. Yes, some important home improvement projects are happening pictures framed that have been waiting two years to be framed, floors mopped. I've even made some homemade bitters for the time when I will be able to drink again. Luckily they take over two weeks to steep. All of this has made me feel one third accomplished and two thirds a dork.
My moods are more steady, but also more dull. I consider myself a mostly emotionally stable person, but alcohol does have a way of bringing on the sads sometimes, and in the sober light of day I usually look back and think, 'Huh. That was just the booze bringing me down.' Without it, I can wipe away depressing thoughts a little more quickly, but also, I'm a lot less jovial and friendly in social situations. So, again: At what cost sobriety?!
It makes one spend a good deal of time rationalizing one's alcohol intake. This British guy articulated it pretty well in his recent piece in the UK Telegraph, "On the one hand, [my friends and I] are probably not alcoholics. Then again, we’re definitely not teetotalers either. We belong to an uncertain intermediate category. Alcohol is our drug, our way of dulling the pain of daily existence." Let's not all get maudlin about this pain he's speaking a bit for literary effect. But come on now... admit it: many aspects of daily life are tedious, monotonous, and joyless. And the addition of a few drinks at the end of a workday, or a raucous, slightly unhinged weekend night out with friends adds some necessary humor and spice. In other news, I am not a homebody, and drinking is one of the obvious goals of being out on the town.
I crave dessert a whole lot more. Minus all that sugar and alcohol, my body keeps telling me it requires cookies. I've unfortunately obliged it.
I will, maybe, train myself to savor my drinks more. If there's nothing else that I learned from the boozy fall and this consequent break, it's that I've become such a professional drinker that I don't get drunk very fast, and I don't always pay attention to the wonder of the beverage in my hand. Given the deliciousness that awaits me, come February, I'm pledging not to mindlessly move hand to mouth the way some people mindlessly snack in front of the television, but I will give a little more care to what I'm tasting. Because drinking is good, and I've always been a happy drunk, and times of fasting and sacrifice like this have a way of making one appreciate the virtues of what one has given up. So, cheers to that with my Vitamin Water-bitter lemon mocktail! I'll see you back at the bar next month.