A new Year dawned recently and for the ninth year in a row I woke up New Year’s morning without a hangover. The only other time that happened when I was pregnant with my daughter.
I don’t even think about it anymore since I wake up every day relatively fresh and without the soul-wrenching embarrassment and grinding headaches of a night of partying the evening before weighing me down. But I have to say I have had some fun New Year’s Eve’s during my drinking days, and I will always cherish those memories.
That’s just not who I am now.
And that’s not who thousands of people will be this month, as many embark on “Dry January,” a chance to cleanse their systems from the excesses of the holiday season drinking and ease into a healthier lifestyle for 2024. Kudos to them. There are some folks, too, mainly millennials and Gen-Zers, who are using Dry January as a gentle entry into the Sober Curious movement, a chance to experiment with sobriety as a lifestyle.
I didn’t have the luxury of “Dry January” a decade or two ago when I was “sober curious.” I would have failed miserably. But that’s because I am a card-carrying alcoholic.
For those who want to get healthier, Dry January is a great place to start. But it comes with a set of small problems. First of all, why do it at all if you don’t have a problem with drinking? Secondly, many people don’t make it through the month, creating a sense of disappointment or criticism with themselves that isn’t healthy. No one is perfect. A “damp” January might be more feasible for those who don’t have a problem with alcoholism but do have a problem with being too hard on themselves.
Finally, as one Gen-Z-er told me, many of his friends treat Dry January like a kid on Easter morning who gave up sweets for Lent. In February they dive back into their drinking habits like a Giant chocolate bunny, sometimes going overboard and drinking even more. “I deserve it” they tell themselves, and often the benefits of a Dry January for health reasons are quickly erased.
But for those who can do a successful “Dry January” and not go overboard come Feb. 1, congratulations. I never could.
What is more concerning for me is the “Sober Curious” movement, something that is growing in popularity among people of all ages. It’s geared toward those who feel they may drink too much, so they join groups to help them cut down. To those who don’t have a drinking problem, it’s a smart way to take alcohol out of the center of social activities. To those with a drinking problem, it just delays the inevitable. There are groups in-person and online that help with methods to cut down on drinking in a setting, quoted by a very misguided New York Times reporter, “That doesn’t involve drinking lukewarm coffee from paper cups in church basements,” or some such nonsense.
If you think you have a drinking problem, try this tried-and-true experiment. Go to bar and order a glass or beer, wine or whatever your drink of choice happens to be. Drink it and leave and go about your day. Can you drink just one without ordering another? Can you forget about that one drink after you leave the bar, or do you crave another? “Normies” can. Those who have an alcohol problem, or who are on their way to one, can’t. And that’s postponing a problem that can get out of hand quickly. Arresting your drinking (without getting arrested yourself) is the only way to stop your problem.
I want to note here that the “church basement” comment refers to Alcoholics Anonymous, and it couldn’t be more off-base. However, the official AA stance is that there are many ways to get sober, AA being just one. But it is the most successful.
A recent Stanford study concluded that “it is the most effective path to abstinence,“ after studying 35 different models. It beats out psychotherapy and greatly lowers healthcare costs. It is available worldwide, online and in-person. The researchers found that it is the social interaction and emotional support of other drunks that works, coupled with practical tips on staying sober. Said one researcher, If you want to change your behavior, find some people who are trying to make the same change.
I like the war stories I hear in my program. Some other recovery programs find that hearing people speak of their drinking can be triggering, and that may be true. But for me, I can be listening to a grizzled old ex-con biker talk about his drinking days, and for this alcoholic, who never received a DUI( even though I should have), never lost a job or a marriage (I probably should have), or never woke up naked in someone’s yard, I can find the similarities in our stories. I chugged my Rombauer chardonnay with the same gusto he chugged his whiskey. And I can call him a friend.
Of course, that can be true of Dry January and even the “Sober Curious” movement. There is nothing like the support of friends to help you through a hard time.
And for too many people, that means giving up drinking. But abstinence isn’t the purgatory society make it out to be. It can be the healthiest, most freeing decision you’ll ever make.