Dry January – The Ongoing Saga

For some time now, Ireland – and probably the rest of the world – has been flirting with the desire to start afresh following the Holiday Season splurge and the dawning of the new year. Resolutions abound as Irish people the length and breadth of the country make short or reaching lists of things they hope to achieve come the new year. Learning a new language, visiting a new country and losing weight are mixed in with desires to save money or the quintessential ‘be happy’ notion. Among these ideals is the desire for a ‘Dry January’ or the abstinence from alcohol for the 31 days of the gloomiest month in the Gregorian calendar. As a concept in and of itself, it strikes pride in those who wish to seek it and I’m sure medical professionals up and down the country must welcome the idea in some of their patients. However, falling off the bandwagon of late has become more of a crowning glory than actually forestalling peer pressure and pushing through to the other side. If we excuse the late-night merriment of celebrating the New Year into the wee small hours of the 1st of January, the commitment doesn’t seem too big – see if you can get to February 1st without consuming alcohol.

The reality is, while most want to do this, the majority will capitulate at some point. January is a depressing month – for that we have to at least be honest and admit. In Ireland, January is traditionally cold, damp and sometimes mild in weather. It’s been a long time since snow was a January delight as climate change pushes our seasons out of the farming calendar sequence – winter in Ireland now is more likely to start in late February and end in late April before skipping a month of spring to see summer start sometime in mid-June. Late autumn therefore is a more accurate seasonal description here of the first month of a year. And because of that, and the fact that most monthly-salaried employees see January as the longest month before pay-day, so-called ‘January-blues’ kick in relatively quickly as we come down from the prolonged sugar-high of an indulgent Christmas with family and friends. It’s therefore easy to see why people in Ireland ‘reward’ themselves with a drink or two come the first real opportunity in the new year.

Drinks corporations too seem to notice though that ‘Dry January’ is seeing somewhat of a resurgence. If we take the latest reaction to changing demographics – non-alcoholic beer becoming mainstream – it must strike fear into their corporate hearts when January approaches and they’ll see falling revenue as unit-sales of their popular lines drop off somewhat. While I haven’t seen fit to read too much into this in terms of statistics, the very fact that one Dutch-based brewer is now postering Dublin for the past few weeks with taglines such as ‘who says January has to be dry’ and a quasi-Irish brewer noting on their billboards ‘the beer for when you’re off the beers’, one has to wonder is this clever advertising or just a plea to drink (or both)?

While I admit that in the first week of January I had one such non-alcoholic beer – a feat not to be reattempted as it was sickly sweet – and if I excuse the late-night indulgences at an over-priced hotel in the Northwest on the first morning of the new year, I have since – stubbornly – stuck to my guns on Dry January. Why, you ask? For me, the desire to complete the challenge was multi-faceted; on the one hand, I wanted to save money on what can now only be described as the extortionate cost of a pint in Dublin, and on the other, I wanted – perhaps naively – to help me lose some weight. The result is a powerful combination in the assistance of me saying ‘can I have a sparkling water?’ to the errand bar staff when they finally recognise your ostrich-like craning to get their attention to order a beverage.

So, how has it been – up to and including today, the 20th of January? It’s been up and down to be honest. Temptation is everywhere in Ireland when it comes to ‘drink’ – what we term an alcoholic beverage. Drink is part of the social fabric of our society, in fact so-much-so that in reality, it’s most likely to be the blanket we put down under ourselves to comfort our bums from the hard ground before sitting down. Rarely a collegiate event happens in Ireland for anyone north of 30 without an alcoholic drink being sold/bought or consumed. Such is the pervasive nature of alcohol in Ireland today, that it’s starting to turn off younger generations who favour ‘experiences’ rather than a visit to the pub of an evening after a long hard day using our brains to make sense of what we call ‘work’ in the 21st century. But it is everywhere and in order to be deemed in any-way ‘sociable’ here, you almost certainly will end up opposite a bartender at some point in your day. In that environment, seceding from the pack and opting for water in favour of a ‘real drink’ can be daunting and for the first week or fortnight, it was. But over the last almost 3 weeks, I’ve found myself more comfortable opting for the bottle of Ballygowan sparkling water than the obviously more-delicious pint of hoppy lager. Slowly, as the month progressed, I realised I could actually drive to or from a pub without fear of being ‘bagged’ or breathalysed by Gárdaí. I also realised however, that being the lone alcohol-free person in a social group is isolating. On a birthday evening for a friend and her colleagues, I found myself aggravated by the overly loud wittering of a ‘man-with-a-guitar’ in the corner hooked up to over-amped speakers. I left as a consequence and thought about having my hearing checked, such was what I felt the sensitivity to noise was. I’ve also left the pub earlier than I normally would following my now-new limit of 2 sparkling waters as I don’t feel myself enjoying the company without the mild buzz of a pint or two. I have noticed a change of weight and I’m confident that money won’t be as disastrous at the end of this month whenever I have the courage to open my banking app and see my new balance post pay-day.

What has really taken me back though, is how much more ‘addled’ I am throughout the month. While I wrestle with confusing and perplexing mental challenges such as dealing with grief and loss and trying to make sense of recent events, alongside struggling with motivations to throw myself back into my work with a positive disposition amid mounting disdain at times, I have found that this new sobriety isn’t really helping with the clearness of thought I’d come to hope for. In contrast, I find myself more confused about my situation than ever before, battling what I want with what I *should* do instead of throwing caution to the wind and being more open about my wishes and desires. The reality is that I’ve also tried to usher in that desire to be physically more ‘acceptable’ to myself by also engaging in a new diet/lifestyle change alongside this Dry January challenge. And yes, I see it as a challenge. My therapist described my doing these two things alongside one another so soon after a difficult December as being akin to a punishment and she’s right, that is what I see it as – some form of flagellation to rid myself of the impurities of thought and chaos that was a month I often want to forget. I also believe that this punishment will result in an improvement in some fashion though as the month draws to a close, I fear that in-and-of-itself may be setting me up for some spectacular failure.

In summary though, my stubborn headstrongness I believe will bring me to February without consuming alcohol and at that point I hope to reflect and write about my perspective then. But for anyone struggling with mental dilemmas or any kind of confusion, I’m not entirely certain that Dry January is entirely helpful. Being rooted in your inhibitions when all around you is crumbling is very daunting and at least for me, not at all motivating to taking risks or following my heart’s desires. For now, I simply hope that when February does come, the change I sought will have had some impact but I am looking forward to being more ‘sociable’ and less, frankly, depressed and lonely in groups.


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