Wetting My Whistle During Dry January

We are now in the final full week of January 2023, which means that another Dry January has nearly come to a close without me taking part. In my defense, I don’t think I even knew there was such a beast as Dry January until a few weeks ago – even though it’s apparently been going on a decade, if we are to believe what we read on the internet.

As I type this I am drinking a Carlsberg beer. This would have spelled the end of my Dry January, if not for the Carlsberg beers I drank around Jan. 3 or 4, and those that followed a week later, and those that followed a week after that, and those that followed….

Once you have fallen under the spell of the delicious and refreshing pilsners from Copenhagen in the green can, your defenses are futile, my friends.

Dry January, in case you didn’t know, is the very 21st century trend of foregoing alcoholic beverages during the first month of the year to promote better health and cleaner living. It officially got its start in 2013 in the UK, of all places, where pubs are like a second home to a large percentage of the population.

According to the AlcoholChangeUK site, here is the humble origin of Dry January:

“In 2011 Emily Robinson signs up for her first half marathon. It’s due to take place in February. She doesn’t like running much so to make the training easier, she decides to give up booze in January. She loses weight, sleeps better and feels like she has more energy to do the run.”

Well, badda bing, badda boom – word spreads about this amazing non-booze experience, and Dry January kicks off a couple years later with around 4,000 participants in Jolly Old England. Last year, that number had fattened to about 130,000 in the UK, while in the U.S. nearly one in five drinking adults said they would take part. I couldn’t easily find data on the global participation rate, and since it wasn’t easy, I immediately quit trying.

Alas, I skipped Dry January for what might be the 47th year in a row. I expect that streak to continue well into the future. More on that later….

For now, let me just say this: Dry January is a positive movement. Of course it is. Anything that keeps people from doing something that can harm their mind and body has no discernable downside, other than the possibility that some people will turn it into the kind of lifestyle litmus test that seems to pop up every five minutes anymore.

The dangers of excessive alcohol use have been well documented. It can destroy lives, families, careers. People who drink excessively and then drive are playing a game of Russian roulette with everyone else on or near the road – which is why rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are a godsend (and self-driving cars could prove the same, when they finally work the way they’re supposed to).

I’ve been around enough obnoxious drunks in my lifetime to know that a certain percentage of the drinking population should skip Dry January and aim straight for a Dry Rest of Their Lives. I tended bar for several years in the 1980s, which gave me a ringside seat to the dumbass shit that dumbass drunks do.

So, Dry January is perfectly alright by me.

I’ll mark it at a nearby pub, beer in hand, watching from the sidelines.

*****

For most people I know, alcohol holds no special significance in their lives. Some don’t drink at all. For others, it’s just another enjoyable diversion they allow themselves from time to time, like ordering an extra slice of cake, or a double-cheese pizza.

It has never occurred to me to forego beer or wine for a month, because it simply doesn’t register that high on my radar. Among the things I worry about, drinking doesn’t land in the Top 100. When I’m not drinking I never think about drinking, and when I am drinking I never consider not drinking.

Here’s the thing about alcohol, or any other kind of stimulant, whether it’s coffee, cannabis, or cocaine: It is a very personal experience that impacts different people in vastly different ways.

For some people, a single drink can kick-start a whole series of destructive behaviors that eventually leave them passed out in an alleyway 300 miles from home. For others, a night of drinking has no more impact than if they’d spent the night doing a jigsaw puzzle while sipping whole milk.

I’ve known people who could have one drink and completely lose the ability to think rationally, walk straight, act civilly, or remember what day it is.

I also knew someone, a former colleague of mine, who would go home after work every day and drink a 12-pack of beer. A 12-pack every night, no kidding. He would prepare dinner for his family while drinking beer, then drink beer during dinner, then drink after dinner. The next morning, he would wake up early and jog a few miles, get breakfast ready for his family, then head to the office and put us all to shame with his production, cranking out news copy like a madman.

I’m not saying it was healthy for this gentleman to drink a 12-pack of beer after work every day. It wasn’t. But I don’t judge it, either. It fit into his lifestyle, and for whatever reason, it’s what he decided he wanted to do. He enjoyed it. Maybe he relied on it, I don’t know. He was not a glum, angry or bitter person. He was pretty normal, a committed family man with a good sense of humor and a generally positive outlook on life. He just liked going home and drinking beer.

Different strokes, different folks.

When I was a bachelor, I would drink a few beers five or six days a week. I would do it while preparing dinner and listening to music, usually after work and a long bike ride. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience: drinking beer, cooking food, listening to music, with a muted ball game on the TV. The truth is, I loved it then, and love it still.

I’m sure there are many good reasons that alcohol has been tsk-tsk-tsked over the years, decades, centuries, millennia – ever since the first alcoholic beverage was made via a fermented drink of rice, honey, and hawthorn fruit and/or grape sometime around 7000 to 6600 BC. I’m guessing that within the next week or so, some prehistoric busybody was nagging the inventor of this beverage to cease and desist before the human race falls into ruin.

The relative merits and detriments of alcohol have been debated for centuries, and that will not change, ever.

For those who lean toward the detriment side, here’s some cheery news: It seems that the Gen Z generation is less enamored of spirits than their elders. For many younger folks, drinking is considered unfashionable, uncool, unhealthy. That’s fine. Let them smoke a joint, or get high on the rich nutrients to be found in a heaping helping of locally sourced, microfarmed, organic kale. More power to ‘em, say I.

It’s not just Gen Z who no longer find drinking fashionable, either. I’m a big fan of classic crime noir novels from the mid-20th century – all those hard-boiled detective books featuring hard-drinking men and women, never without a scotch and a cigarette at the ready. God, how I love these books.

Today? Many of these characters don’t drink anymore. Over the past few decades a number of fictional private eyes and cops have given up demon alcohol (Dave Robicheaux, Harry Bosch, Matthew Scudder, et.al.). The authors have been congratulated for this bold move into make-believe rehab and abstinence, but it grates on my nerves.

You get the feeling the authors are trying to prove how attuned they are to societal shifts – all while writing books that resort to the cheapest kind of gratuitous violence you can imagine, filled with page upon page of graphic descriptions of characters being tortured and dismembered.

But: No booze or cigarettes! Yaaaay!

Anyway: Dry January.

Will I ever take part? Oh, probably not. I drink several beers once a week, unless it’s a week when my wife and I have a date night, then it’s twice a week. Sometimes I slip in a gin and tonic, or dry gin martini (shaken, very cold, plenty of olives and olive juice). I enjoy these experiences, and see no reason to deprive myself of them.

Any focus I put on depriving myself of something usually involves the quantities of food I shouldn’t eat. I don’t think I eat that much, but man, a single pack of almonds can shift the scale by a dozen pounds in the wrong direction. It’s unfair and unjust, and I am incensed about it!

What I really should do is start a tradition of Snack-Free January.

Maybe next year…

Note: The photo is one my wife took, during a stroll near our home in the Rotherhithe section of London. It was taken in March 2021, when the city was either in or just out of COVID lockdown. The photo was near a pub, that was either open or closed.

2 Comments

  1. I had a co-worker who always stopped drinking for Lent, feeling it would be good to give up something they enjoyed regularly. I never really understood why, because he more than made up for it once Lent was over lol. Articles about younger generations taking in alcohol are always of interest to me, as I am curious as to what they are “finding” in our current times. I drank regularly throughout college and my 20’s, but was always tempered by my experience with alcohol within our family. I knew while growing up I would always keep myself from having any kind of problem with alcohol – I saw how out-of-control it can make folks. Turning 30, I then decided to concentrate on staying healthy (i.e. losing weight) and imbibing was reduced to only special occasions….and now I hardly drink at all. You know, it never occurred to me to pay attention to characters on shows and in books as to how prominent drinking is…which I certainly did when smoking got “canceled.” I never smoked, but grew up in a smoking family and the dangers of it were regular discussions at family functions. So, when the “don’t show smoking” campaign began I certainly was aware of that. Maybe I’ll give up kale for Lent, Vance. Oh wait. I already gave up on that!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Bruce. I guess I’ve always enjoyed having a beer, it was just part of the culture I came up in (along with various other stimulants). I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with it, though I have been close to those who have. I imbibe much less now than in the past, but still enjoy it. Everything in moderation.

      I have no problem at all with people foregoing things to improve their health, mindset, etc. I encourage it. Life is a balancing act between doing what you enjoy but also keeping an eye on your health.

      I just think Dry January and similar movements are an interesting exercise in the pack mentality of people. Presumably anyone could have come up with this idea on their own, independent of anyone else, a long time ago. If you feel like you need to cleanse your system for a month, give up drinking or red meat or fatty snacks for a month. But it took an organized movement called Dry January for it to spread to the greater masses. That’s what I find intriguing, and really what inspired the blog.

      In terms of fictional characters, I just happened to notice how many private eyes, cops, etc. stopped drinking. and smoking — all while the depictions of violence in these books got cranked up by a factor of 40 or so. An interesting development, no doubt.

      Thanks again, Bruce. Always good to hear your feedback!

      Liked by 1 person

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