Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

January Without Alcohol: Two Thirsty People Explain

Each new year, many Americans decide to turn over a new leaf. Gym memberships explode; diets are undertaken. The Whole Foods lays out the maple syrup and cayenne pepper, so a "master cleanse" can be undertaken. (Ugh.) Twelve-step programs and yoga centers see a surge in new members. And others embrace Drynuary: a month without alcohol. Here, midway through the month, two people assess what 19 days without booze has meant to them—with 12 more to go.

John Ore: So, Jolie, how's your Drynuary going so far?

Jolie Kerr: Well! By which I mean NOT AT ALL WELL. Sobriety is excruciating. Why are we doing this?

John: THINK OF YOUR LIVER. I don't know about you, but after the Holly-daze, my liver feels like I've used it as a speed bag. Between rich food and constant holiday-party-enabler boozing, I've started to look forward to spending an entire month off of the bottle. Liver limping into the New Year. But then again, this is my 5th year in a row "celebrating" Drynuary. Maybe I'm just a masochist?

Jolie: This is my first Drynuary and before I go on I have to ask: Can we find a better word for it? 'Drynuary' sounds like a vaginal affliction and frankly things are hard enough, you know?

While you're thinking of a new term, I'll babble my reasons at you. My primary impetus was the post-holiday dry out. Because let me tell you—I BLEW IT OUT this year. The holidays started in mid-November for me, because I went to visit a friend in Sydney and basically spent 10 days consuming all the wine in Australia (related: um, sorry Australia? You have lovely wines!), then returned home after Thanksgiving just in time to hit the December party circuit. Oh and! I have three very close friends with December birthdays that require tending to, which assuredly did not help matters. By the time January rolled around I was half-pickled and ready to never see a glass of wine-with-ice again in my life.

That feeling lasted all of a day, mind you.

Talk to me about how you're doing….

John: Oh, come on! I'm hoping to get "Drynuary" into urbandictionary. Like all of the other vaginal afflictions in urbandictionary. But, if you insist, we can try "Bon L'(h)iver". You're so continental.

Honestly—and this may give you hope or despair—this gets easier every year. And by "easier" I mean "more tolerable," and by "more tolerable" I mean, "I'm not spending every hour counting how many days I have left". Because that makes me look like a shuddering alcoholic, which Drynuary is intended to disprove.

BUT! Largely, my wife and I employ a series of well-worn coping mechanisms. Did you know that plain tonic water with a slice of lime in it can approximate the sensation of having a cocktail? It works for the most part. But part of Drynuary is heading squarely into the belly of the beast, and not huddling scared in your apartment for a month. I can unequivocally say that having a 22 oz. bone-in ribeye with lobster mac-and-cheese absolutely SUCKS DRY ASS without a martini to start, several glasses of hearty red wine and a nice port to finish.

Which brings me to: how did you finish off 2010 heading into Drynuary? Were you like me, watching the Winter Classic trying to drink every conceivable favorite—Bloody Marys in the morning, beer in the afternoon, wine in the evening, and that last Manhattan at 2 a.m.—like I was off to start a lengthy prison sentence the next day?

Jolie: Oooooooh Bon L'(h)iver, I do enjoy that! You know me so well.

I should confess something: While this is my first Bon L'(h)iver it's not my first abstemious month. I did a Dry July last summer for a few reasons that had to do with me being mental and also with me being an aged smoker and eww, aged smoker ladies are not cute. Drinking is my trigger for smoking, so I figured if I took it away, etc. etc. It totally worked! And I was so focused on the fact that I wasn't drinking that I pretty much forgot that I wasn't smoking. Which was a neat party trick.

This go is definitely easier having already done it once. But it's still pretty hard. My shoulder angels vacillate between "Why are you denying yourself the pleasure of something so wonderful, such a simple pleasure that makes your life so much better for a totally arbitrary reason?" and "ALHFSLKS JOLIE THIS IS A DUMB THING TO NOT BE ABLE TO DO?"

My shoulder angels, by the way, bear a strong resemblance to the editors of this site.

But to answer your question: The condemned girl drank boxed white wine with ice for breakfast while playing Mexican Dominos on her last day of freedom. It was really something.

John: What's the opposite of "alcoholiday"? "Alcoholocaust"?

Motivation for this sort of self-induced madness is layered, like and onion or a Mind Eraser. You used it to help you quit smoking. My wife and I sort of started it as a dare: We Can Do This! Right? RIGHT?!?!?!? It's what Edmund Hillary would have done. And if we can, then we're not alcoholics. Quod erat demonstrandum. Oh, and we sleep better and eat better and maybe drop a few pounds blah blah blah.

But it's amazing how your patterns change. A few Drynuarys ago, my wife and I went to see a play on a Saturday night. Afterward, we had no idea what to do. Under ordinary circumstances, we would have gone and had a drink at the Russian Vodka Room or something. Instead, we went to a diner and had coffee and pie. "So, this is what squares do on a Saturday night." It was refreshing.

Jolie: My biggest pattern change is that I've taken to climbing up on my cross and giving the stinkeye to a bucket of water. During Dry July I noticed a major change in my mood—I was less weepy and snappish, and felt generally more, um, unflapped by life. I'm not getting the same effect this time, but I think that's mostly because 2011 is turning out to be a teenaged asshole of a year. (Evil drinky shoulder angel just made a face at me and held up his Manhattan enticingly.)

What about other changes? Are you a better parent? Is your sex life randier? Have you taken up crewel work?

John: Better parenting and sex life might not be perfect bedfellows under normal circumstances, much less with the added stress of the absence of a favorite stress reducer. My wife and I did look at each other during Week One of Drynuary, during a crying fit (presumably, the baby's), and remark "Perhaps this wasn't the best time to stop drinking…." How's THAT for better parenting?

Like you, overall, I do feel better. Healthier. Becoming a parent doesn't do any favors for your fitness: people keep bringing over high-calorie food. And rocking the baby to sleep at 3 a.m. doesn't count as cardio.

However, when I am able to sneak out to play hockey, the immediate association is BEER! One of the reasons we picked January—aside from it being the month we limp into from the holidays—was that January is boring: no birthdays for us, no holidays, the Super Bowl is in February, etc. Less temptation to cope with.

Speaking of coping, what are you using to combat the evil thirsty thing on your shoulder?

Jolie: Oh, I've just stuffed a marzipan hot dog in his mouth—that should shut him up for a while.

My coping strategies run more to DISTRACT THINE SELF. During Dry July I made a list (never met a list I didn't love!) of non-drinking activities with which to keep busy. I went to a lot of movies, spent a small fortune at Michael's Crafts, met friends at Sur La Table for a walkabout rather than at a bar for an afternoon drink… you know, distractions. I honestly don't think my willpower is strong enough that I could go to a bar and drink soda water with lemon while everyone else had proper drinks. Maybe next year?

Which leads me to this: How do OTHERS cope with you not drinking?

John: I think the best part is the reactions from other people. The first year we did this, we went to a cheesy sports bar to watch the NFL playoffs (you CAN just sit around and pound club soda with lemon!). Everyone assumed my wife was pregnant. At business functions, I have to assure everyone that I'm not hopelessly square or recovering. Friends welcome the automatic designated driver.

But the most satisfying part of Drynuary is the almost universal reaction from everyone I explain it to: "Oh, man, I could NEVER do that!" Yeah, well, I FUCKING CAN.

So, we're just past the halfway point now, it's all downhill from here, eh?

Jolie: Oh my God, why are you just now telling me about the part where we act superior to our friends?!?! I LOVE BON L'(H)IVER!!!! And gosh, here I was all "THANK GOD I'M HALFWAY DONE" but now maybe I want to always be not drinking and better than everyone else!

Okay no, not really at all. Oh God, I miss wine so much. (I even found myself making eyes at a beer this weekend and I don't generally do beer. Unless it's mixed with vodka and powdered lemonade.)

Since you're an old hand at this, I need some guidance: How does one break the fast in the best possible way? I made the terrible, terrible mistake of ending Dry July with two margaritas on the rocks at lunch and hooooo boy did that tequila ever make me mean! It was not pretty.

John: Ooooh, it's a delicate process stepping back up to the rail. You need a soft approach, lest you burn up on reentry.

I think it was our first Drynuary. We were celebrating my wife's birthday with lunch at Union Square Cafe. We were both stoopid giddy after like a Bloody Mary and glass of white wine each. Like prom-spiked-punchbowl-giddy, heading to the fieldhouse to make out. Embarrassing to the point of apologizing to our server, letting her in on the fact that this was our first tipple since taking all of January off. Her stunned reaction: "Oh, I could NEVER do that." Talk about vindication.

So, yeah. Maybe have a couple of beers after a solid meal. Reintroduce your liver to the wild gently. Or go balls-to-the-wall and do shots on an empty stomach, which may result in the need for an extension of Bon L'(h)iver.

Jolie: That's wonderful advice that I am sure to disregard entirely when I pour myself a glass of breakfast wine on February 1.

And speaking of advice that should be totally disregarded! Here's mine: Try a month off from drinking at some point in your life, if for no other reason than it's good to give the old will power a dry fucking every now and again.

John: I could really go for a Manhattan right now.

Jolie Kerr is thinking about drinks right now. Surprise, so is John Ore!

Photo from Flickr by Andrew_MC_D.

49 Comments / Post A Comment

C_Webb (#855)

I will maybe try this in February, when my weekends are devoted to my daughters' birthday parties, and because I want to get scrawny (haha) for a reunion in March.

garge (#736)

pssst it's not a leap year, c_webb, lets do this!

jolie (#16)

Having a buddy helps! Of course my buddies broke within a week, but still!

C_Webb (#855)

Evil Drinky Shoulder Angel wants to know who I think I am that I could survive two tween birthday parties — including a slumber party in my house — without a box of wine or two.

jolie (#16)

He's really mouthy, isn't he?

C_Webb (#855)

And he looks like Freaks and Geeks-era James Franco, whereas the Dry Angel looks like Mustache James Franco, Ph.D.. BLEAH.

jolie (#16)

Unfortunately I was edited for being "too insidery" (but YM Shabbat isn't? Oooh-kaaay.) but Evil Drinky Shoulder Angel was brought into this world as Shoulder Balk.

C_Webb (#855)

I'm picturing Shoulder Balk as a sock puppet.

jolie (#16)

Shoulder Balk

(Oh dear God that is so creepy)

C_Webb (#855)

Not so scared of angels. Now, if Shoulder Balk was Scary Baby Clown Angel, I'd be hiding under the bed.

Elle (#7,022)

I too am participating in Drynuary, except my friends have all come under the mistaken assumption that I actually am an alcoholic in recovery and my "no, I'm just trying to dial it back for a month" is a pathetic excuse, so I am now in possession of both the Alcoholics Anonymous "Big Book" and their publication "Living Sober" from well-meaning but clueless friends.

Which is maybe their idea of a hint that Drynuary should continue into Febdryary.

Luckier (#857)

You're lucky. My friends are all convinced I'm pregnant, and are going to be a bit disappointed in me when they see me drinking, sans baby, next month.

Dave Giddens (#9,459)

I have been calling it Manuary. A little gender specific, I admit, but the inspiration was Movember, so. January 2011 is a month of me rejecting all my easy comfortable habits. So, no booze. No chips. no coffee. no fried salty delicious things. no handful of salted nuts as soon as I get home. and no shaving. the no shaving thing actually really helps, because it gives me something to do, which is scratch at my face like a madman. And it also helps me look more repellant, which goes nicely with the inner turmoil caused by all this denial. I am craving, in this order, a really good close shave, a bowl of tamari almonds, and a large beer and lemonade. yesss.


A man should know to lotion up his face when growing a beard (switch to conditioner when the beard gets established), this prevents the itchy doom from happening and gives you a delightfully soft beard for all the pro-beard ladies who will suddenly pop out of the woodwork at you.

metoometoo (#230)


liznieve (#7,691)

beards! beards!

Ophiolite (#9,331)

I did this last year (three quarters of the way through "Drunktober") when I woke up in my bed with no memory of how I got there, but a fairly vivid memory of yelling at my girlfriend over the phone while on my way (she forgave me, eventually). I lasted 34 days through some fairly tempting situations (Parties! Restaurants with amazing beer lists! A Guided By Voices show!) and thought about maybe stretching my one month into two, but then it was Dollar Draft night at the Viking, soooooooo…it was easier that I expected, though.

cherrispryte (#444)

Ugh. I quit drinking for most of October and November. It was thesis-related. And not fun. Also, am I the only one who gets hangovers so bad sometimes that it makes drinking not really worth it?

Currently I am on a "only drink one night a week" plan, which is working well-ish so far. I am actually on all sorts of plans for all sorts of consumption (I have not had soda or coffee at all this year and for me caffeine is way harder to give up than booze) but I will not bore you with that.

jolie (#16)

As an olden person, I get terrible hangovers totally. Quitting smoking helped TREMENDOUSLY (I should state before one of you does so for me that I'll still smoke on special occasions which is why I was cranking butts at the Awl Bawl.) (Um I just wrote 'the Awl Balk'?) but yeah.

A friend of mine does the Work Week Wagon – he only drinks Friday, Saturday and Sunday and it does the trick for him. Sharing that in the name of being service-y!

Bittersweet (#765)

My hangover severity to number of drinks ratio has now gotten so high that I often wonder why I don't just give up drinking for good and stop bothering with the pinot noir and the Maker's Mark.

(With that remark, my Shoulder Balk just keeled over in shock.)

outfar (#5,839)

If you don't mind me asking, but what constitutes 'an older person'? My friends (we all drink like barbarians) said mid-30s something switches and massive hangovers set in. I'm right on the cusp, and frankly I want them to start, my drinking is riotous…

C_Webb (#855)

The hangovers definitely get worse. I can't even fathom the regularity with which I used to go through an average day hungover as hell. (I am currently planning weekend getaway travel based on days/times I am likely to be hungover and thus unable to drive without massive nausea/panic attacks.)

cherrispryte (#444)

My hangovers aren't due to age BECAUSE I AM STILL TECHNICALLY A YOUNG THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH but rather to the fact that I can't take painkillers. That whole "pop a few Asprin and you're on your way" business? Not an option.

Flaneur (#998)

Yes, the hangovers get worse. I am 40, and a plain old ordinary evening of two or three predinner scotches and countless with-dinner glasses of wine and that one extraordinarily ill-advised scotch after dinner can have me laid up all the next day. With a full understanding of how the terminal make peace with death (at least the throbbing would stop!). This despite my friends and I now shouting "water course!" every half-hour in tones of increasing merriment. Sigh.

My wife and I did a full three-week cleanse a couple of years ago. No alcohol, sugar, caffeine, gluten or animal products. Social engagements were annoying indeed. But I lost 10 pounds and have kept off 5 to 7 of them, even having returned to all five categories with the fullest of force.

carpetblogger (#306)

This is where you're doing it wrong, olds. Don't cut back because of the hangovers. It's a self-perpetuating cycle –less drinking=fewer hangovers=worse hangovers. You need to train harder. Don't be a pussy.

atipofthehat (#797)

I have a useful alternative!

1. Develop a taste for very expensive alcohol (rare old armagnacs, wonderful single-malt scotches, almost-unobtainable bourbons)

2. Do not have lots of money

3. Drink small amounts in slow, happy sips, as often as you can afford to!

John Ore (#7,170)

I've tried this. It DOES NOT WORK. I fail around step #3.

Luckier (#857)

For those thinking of trying Bon L(h)iver, or any other month of sobriety, this is all about the booze. Pot cookies and pharmaceuticals don't count.

jolie (#16)

Damn straight, (pot)cookie.

whitneyarner (#9,460)

When I did this, I called it Straightedguary. And I kept it going from January until my birthday in May, so it was followed buy Sober-uary, Parch (best one!), and Teetapril.

jolie (#16)

"Parch" alskflkahsdgfklshdgklhsdfgklhslkslkdgh

John Ore (#7,170)

Not even going to get into the month-naming system we came up with when we were trying to get pregnant.

Hint: it included "Schtuptember".

Bittersweet (#765)


John Ore (#7,170)

"Cocktober", duh!

apb (#9,461)

I didn't drink for five years of my twenties. After awhile you get used to everything being uninteresting and horrible, and you go to a lot of movies. Later, when you turn 30 and start drinking again, you remember how awesome life can be.

Bookish Lookish (#9,462)

This is a Christian thing, right? My new year is in September and I would never consider celebrating the beginning of a new year by giving up alcohol. Alcohol is our friend. The liver is self-cleaning and self-repairing.

I'm not buying this, but I'm buying: Drinks on me, toots.

Sakurambobomb (#1,722)

My friends who do this call it "Januwagon" which I think is pretty kicky.

My birthday is in January, so, Januwagon pisses me off to no end when my friends won't join in a black-out pub crawl. Grrrrrr.


I just want to say that "drynuary" is a really horrible, awkward neologism. To cope with the unhappiness it has caused me, I'm going to start up Janudrunky.

Also, around here several people I know participate in "No Fun February", which is just a dry February. Drybruary, if you will.

Bittersweet (#765)

My birthday is in February and this year it's a biggie, so no Drybruary for me. In fact, I may need another super-size bottle of bourbon to make it through the month.

hockeymom (#143)

I've done this a bunch of times without thinking. You get busy, you get pregnant, you move to a dry town, you go to jail, whatever. All of a sudden, a month goes by and it's like "Shoot, I haven't had a drink in 30 days. Weird."

Now, if you made me do with caffeine (De-Caffeinary?) I would cut a bitch.

BadUncle (#153)

A good friend does this until his birthday (St. Patrick's Day). He calls it "Lent."

My birthday is at the end of January, which is terrific. As is the girl that I'm dating. Also terrific. Not so terrific (on the abstenteeism front) is the fact that millions of the people I know (and the people I know, going by that statement, obviously extends into the [i]multi[/i]millions) have their birthday spotted around that point.

I also live above a bar on a street with many bars on, and am friends with many of the people that work in these bars, so really the only possible way to spend a month without The Drink is rehab and/or jail, and neither entice right now.

I'll be back in a bit, I'm just nipping out for a J&B.

Craig Brownson (#4,257)

The part where I get to act superior to my friends is the only thing getting me through this dry month. I'm not doing the sober thing ever again.

egad (#1,355)

Everybody knows you do this in February. It's the shortest month!

Plus, if you live in Australia (you are welcome Jolie, it is good wine) everybody knows that January is the summer party month that comes after that other summer party month but with less family expectation and no commitments or events to attend (ie the good summer party month).

jolie (#16)

I'm cool with the argument for Drybruary, but if I'm being really honest the idea of facing Valentine's Day single and sober is more than my willpower can handle.

The only thing worse would be facing Valentine's Day coupled and sober, but that's an issue for my therapist to sort through.

d-con (#9,473)

Sobriety + January = Sobranuary (obviously). A friend of mine has been doing this for years already, though she allocates the entire first 40 days of the new year. She simply refers to it as "4O Days," which sounds much jauntier and more impressive. I've joined her in it for the first time this year. Once you get past the first week, it's not so indomitable, but with the first week of 40 days coinciding with the first week back at work after the Holiday, you spend a lot of it wanting to punch someone in the face–especially by the time you reach Friday evening and could *really* use a drink.

Mackenzie Kelly (#8,235)

J've been drunk and I;ve been dry. Believe me dry is better – in moderation. Exercise your will power, it's good for the soul (what ever that is) and since the liver regenerates if you don't abuse it, stay sober (REASONABLY SOBER, remember will power) for a year. If you need twelve steps, go on the wagon and stay there, you are a menace.

FrankRalphBob (#226,960)

Actually, I'm 41 and I find the hangovers easier to deal with. I think it has something to do with the fact that (1)I stop drinking an hour before I go to sleep and down as much water as possible and (2)Right when I get up, I go for a workout. After the workout, I'm usual set to go….

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