The First Rule of Drynuary Should Be Don’t Talk About Drynuary
And other answers to unsolicited questions
“I am thinking of trying that Drynuary. Any tips?” — Drunk Dave
It’s not a bad idea, Dave. I stopped drinking for almost ten years. I thought it would solve some of the problems I was having with over-imbibing in my thirties. It was a very interesting experiment and I don’t regret it, even though I drink now. And I do have some tips.
I’m not entirely sold on Drynuary as a concept. Not drinking can be good for almost any reason, but a hashtag-ready social media reason? I guess so. How did your month-long adventure in novel-writing go? If you’re like me, it was interrupted by a the election of a Pumpkin Spice Moron to be President of the United States. That shut all that shit down. I spent the rest of the month belly-aching. This Drynuary may be the hardest one yet for Drynuaryers. The Inauguration is coming the 20th. Not picking up a drink the last few weeks of January may be a tough row to hoe. But at least you tried.
By stopping drinking, even for a little while, you realize what lies just underneath everything in your life. A cloud of anger. What causes this anger? Life, and how hard and ridiculous everything always is. Basically the reasons you drink in the first place. This is the hardest part of not drinking to deal with. There is no cute way to deal with this anger. It’s like a tangled line of Christmas lights. You just have to quietly unknot them in a determined way. You may want to get a therapist. That was very helpful to me in early sobriety. I also attended AA meetings. This is a good idea for you, too, even if you are just sort of trying on not drinking like a hat at the store.
AA meetings are raw, emotional and intense. You can find a local meeting to attend here. Manhattan meetings can sometimes be filled with celebrities, so that may be a little distracting for you. But attend one. Listen to the stories. Some people’s lives have been completely controlled and ravaged by drugs and alcohol. What happens in those rooms can save lives. They can also complicate and confuse the fuck out of you. But you should definitely experience it, even if you’re only going to not drink for a while.
You may need AA meetings because you may need new friends. If you are like me, you may come to realize that you hang out with all your friends over drinks. And when you stop drinking, even for a little while, it makes them think “Whoa, if Dave stops drinking does that mean I’m an alcoholic, too?” Everyone is probably an alcoholic. It’s like a spectrum. If you’re not an alcoholic now, wait until after January 20th.
So will your friends like the fact that you’re taking January off from drinking? Maybe. Try to get them on board. They may get annoyed if you bomb their timelines with your moment-to-moment not drinking updates. Maybe some of your friends will go to meetings with you. It’s better to go through something like this with a support system. I kind of white-knuckled it, hid from friends and blew off parties. I stopped going to AA meetings when I moved to New York. I kind of hid out from the good times and what I perceived as the bad times that might start if I had even one sip. That’s not the way to go. I also wouldn’t hashtag your way through it. Tell your friends, but don’t make a big deal about it.
Some people imagine that if they just stop drinking it will be an easy fix. I remember having this conversation with Donna Tartt at a book signing years ago. She had written about the fatal flaw outside of literature. And I thought maybe that was simplistic. As the signing line had faded away I asked her if she really believed that. She said “Well, don’t you ever think ‘If only this friend could stop drinking?’” I was skeptical, and told her so. But I was also just being contrarian and flirting a little. The Secret History is still a pretty cool book.
You can get all kinds of fancy sodas, juices, waters. Bring these to parties to hang out with friends. You can go for non-alcoholic beers, too. Those can help you, if you were a beer drinker like me, enjoy the experience of cracking a cold one with your friends without getting wasted. Sometimes it’s the habit of a thing that you get hung up on. Cigarettes give us something to play with. And light on fire. Beers give us something to drink. And peel the label off of.
Just take things a little at a time. That is the pearl of wisdom inside all this AA self-help stuff. By staying in the moment, you can handle pretty much anything. It’s when you try to live your life in a few hours that everything gets “Downton Abbey.” I’ve never seen that show, but I mean “dramatic.”
So, yeah, try not to drink. It’s good to try to change your life. It’s good to try to improve yourself. But if you don’t make it all the way through January, for whatever reason, do not panic. I think this is one of the lamest things about AA, this counting of days. And the idea that one drink will send most people spiralling into a Nic Cage drinking-to-death netherworld. That’s not how it works for most people. If you want to go without drinking in January, I’ll still be your friend. And I’ll grab a coffee with you. But be prepared to not have all your problems solved. Stopping drinking introduced me to a whole new set of problems I was pretty much unaware of. Cheers to that!
Jim Behrle lives in Jersey City, NJ and works at a bookstore.