to do or not to do dry january: we argue for and against
In the aftermath of the heady days of Christmas, many of us kick start our New Years Resolutions and opt for a ‘Dry January’, 31 days of chosen sobriety to cleanse one’s mind, body and spirit. But faced with dreary weather, returning to work and...
Against Dry January, Charlotte Gush, News Editor:
I hate 'Dry January'. Filing it next to giving up chocolate for Lent and any diet that suggests you cut out a major food group, I think it's an ultimately pointless endeavour that has failure built into its very narrative; but more annoyingly it becomes a spectator sport that you simply have no choice but to participate in.
My ire is not at all aimed at a person's desire to give up booze for four weeks, whatever their reason, but rather how Dry January is mythologised, becoming an international event embedded in the public consciousness, a sport and spectator sport: a contest populated by major league attention seekers.
Like the Ice Bucket Challenge, it seems as if, more than wanting to do it, people want to be seen to do it, and seen as the special kind of person who does it. A massive humblebrag -- 'I partied way too hard over Christmas, LOL!' -- combined with the snooziest health bore -- 'It just makes me feel so clean and alive!' -- Dry January is the ultimate in personal branding, in positioning yourself as both of two opposing icons of the modern era: the rock star party animal and the 'my body is a temple' health freak, with an added dollop of tabloid moralising.
It is perhaps true that there are quiet Dry January subscribers, on a private and personal quest, and that is A-Okay with me. It's all the other bleating bores that should be banned from parties, social media and the office kitchen.
For Dry January, Hattie Collins, Features Director:
I hate people that do Dry January. It's smug, it's irritating and ultimately, it's pointless. The people that do it are like vegans. They can't do it without telling everyone, constantly.
Yet while I know that abstaining from alcohol for four weeks is essentially futile and essentially annoying, it really does make me feel better about myself. Not physically necessarily. People always say 'Oh you must feel incredible' and I have to admit, no, I don't feel that different really. I don't actually drink that much, certainly not as much as I used to, so it's not like my skin suddenly starts glowing and I lose loads of weight. Nor do I spring out of bed at 7am with newfound energy and enthusiasm for the day and all that she may bring; I hate getting up in Dry January as much as I do in 'Fun February' or 'Remorseful March'. But I feel cleaner, leaner, more focused. I'm not one for a mid-week blow-out, but on the rare occasion I do find myself double-dropping Advil and a pint of water in the early hours of a Wednesday morning, work the next day is a write-off. I can barely sit on the sofa and watch an episode of Making A Murderer, let alone write features, sit in meetings or work out whether to get the 242 or the 55 to the office.
Avoiding alcohol definitely creates a more efficient me.
I first joined the smug sobers that everybody hates around five years ago. I'd basically given myself gout from cheese and port over the festive period and felt rank. I just wanted to feel less rank, for a bit. I was also trying to quit smoking (again), and booze is the quickest way to break that resolution.
So I embarked on 31 days of sobriety. The first week was terrible; going cold turkey after a period of doing shots of sherry from 12.05pm was never going to be easy. By week two, the superiority complex had started to kick in. I DID feel better, my skin WAS clearer, oh my, how much energy I had. By week three, I got a bit itchy, especially when there were work parties or someone's birthday and I had to listen over and over again to drunk people's really, really boring chat. The only time drunk chat isn't boring is when you're drunk too. As the fourth week drew to a close though, I realised something weird and totally unexpected. The thought of alcohol was a bit repulsive. I've always been a person who enjoyed drinking because I liked the taste, not because I enjoyed being tipsy. Yet, I couldn't recall the lovely taste of a crisp chardonnay or the warm swill of a pinot noir; I just thought of poison and how it would feel, washing around my super-clean kidneys and fully working liver. I decided to carry on a bit, another few days. At the end of the fifth week, I went for dinner and lauded it up over everyone saying I wasn't sure I was that bothered about drinking to be honest, and maybe I'd do Dry February as well. Then I had a glass of wine, and ohmygoditwasdelicious. What IDIOTS don't drink? What was I thinking? Booze is AMAZING.
Dry January gives me a focus that's necessary for the start of a new year. I know for a fact that all of my well-intentioned resolutions - to be more cultured, to learn to drive, to learn Portuguese, do more yoga blah - will be down the tubes by March (at the very latest). I accept that about myself. But it's such a great feeling to start the New Year fresh, with the desire to want to be better, to do better.
This is what I mean about the failure being built in. You're not stopping drinking for good, you're not cutting down generally, you're just adopting a totally arbitrary prohibition, which you are almost guaranteed to break because you don't really know why you're doing it in the first place… aaand you bored all your mates / colleagues / Facebook randos doing it.
Hey, look, me doing Dry January doesn't hurt you. Apart from the fact I will smugly side-eye you for the next four weeks as you order another prosecco ('are you sure you really need another drink'?), I'm not harming anyone by deciding not to imbibe for four weeks. Yes, I am taking away your ability to get really drunk without anyone passing judgment. I will also be there the next morning to remind you just how horribly embarrassing you were and how many times you repeated the same story. But otherwise, me not drinking shouldn't affect you.
Dry Jan is just my own personal reboot. I know full well that I'll slide into my old habits by March. Ok, February. But not drinking goes hand in hand with eating better and exercising more and therefore my general lifestyle is a much more productive one. If it means for 4 weeks out of 52 I'm the best version of myself, well, why would you begrudge a person that? If you don't want to do Dry January, that's fine, I get it. But allow me to kid myself that for a few weeks at least I am a well balanced person who refuses to give in to want or need. Dry January, I love you. Wine, I love you too.
Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Jeremy Sternberg