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.