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My Dry January

I was taken aback when I read this paragraph on Pete Brown’s blog:

I drink too much. I counsel that we should feel free to drink more than we are told. I rubbish the distortion of data that suggests we’re all drinking ourselves to death. But even by my own more relaxed standards, I drink more than is good for me. I am two stone overweight and am on medication for high blood pressure, and this is related to the amount of alcohol I drink. It’s an occupational hazard, and it’s also more than that. Going dry for January is my way of proving to myself that I still control my relationship with booze. When I do it, I lose weight. I sleep better, and have more energy. When I start drinking again, my tolerance is lower and I drink slower and less frequently. And gradually, through the year it creeps up again, until over Christmas my alcohol consumption is excessive by any standards, and January provides a reset.

It was startling enough that I mentioned it to my Special Lady Friend as a bold, laudable move. The type of thing I try to do here, but rarely (if ever) succeed at. To boldly cross the line from beer aficionado and advocate into the realm of the public health researcher that I am that recognizes that alcohol has very real societal and much more real personal effects—mostly bad ones, without entirely stumbling into actual Prohibitionism.

A few days later, I noticed that I was not alone in my admiration. Alan McLeod, another stellar beer writer quoted the same graf on his blog. McLeod pushes Brown’s comments further, admitting, if I read him correctly, to slowly moving toward teetotalling.

The first thing I would like to say about this, is I had never heard of “Dry January.” A quick web search (your results may vary) seems to indicate that this is a British thing. I have been doing it the last few years, although I called it “Sober January” an extension on “Sober September” which I had done the year before my first Dry January. My reasons for it were threefold: the first is the one Brown mentions, to confirm to myself that I was in control of my relationship with booze. I never had any doubts that I was. My drinking is not, except from a purely Puritanical perspective, extreme.  It sometimes gets a little high when I do brewery tours on vacation, but those times are rare. Still, metacognition is a strange beast, and it’s good to follow Reagan’s advice on the US’s position vis-à-vis Evil Empire went it comes to addiction: “Trust, but verify.”

So January has always been a good time to verify. The other two reasons were health- and finance-related. I’ve always been slightly overweight and alcohol is chock full of what nutritionist sometimes call “empty calories.” Cut out beer and I suddenly start to lose weight, no exercise added. And, of course, booze costs money that can be saved or spent elsewhere. After gift-buying/party-going/travel season is over, it’s good to rein in expenses.

But what I have found out this year, halfway through Dry January, is I don’t feel better. I haven’t lost weight. (I have saved money, though.) Some of this, I think is related to the fact that as I’ve gotten older my drinking has naturally decreased from the “More than my friends but less than the truly problematic” level toward a level I think no one at all would raise eyebrows at. There have been less “binge drinking” session, less all-nighters in the bars. There have even been less “1 Beer At Dinner” situations.  This downward trend took a nosedive with my recent move to Denver. There’s no easy way to say this, but hangovers at 5000 feet are the worst. Some people would like to say that it’s my age getting in the way not the altitude. Well, I have a recent trip to the Midwestern lowlands that would beg to dispute their claim. That trip confirmed that I don’t get hungover…at least I don’t get hungover at human altitudes. Up here with the mountain goats, however, I do…I really, really do.

So I didn’t have much better to feel. I work out anyway, I eat healthy anyway. I’m a reasonably healthy person. So not drinking hasn’t made any noticeable dent in the way I feel.

As far as the weight loss, or lack thereof, I can’t account for it. In addition to not drinking, I’ve been a little more careful this month at watching what I eat. I weigh myself everyday—a habit I’ve fallen in and out of ever since doing the Hacker Diet in 2005 (dropping from ~245 lbs to 190 over the course of about six months). Since then I’ve fluctuated between 190 and 220, spending most of my time right around 210. That’s where I was on January 2. I’m at 208 today.

I’m hoping that next year won’t be as financially tight as this year. I suppose my downward trend in drinking will continue. I presume that, barring some significant alteration in my physical activity my weight is essentially set at 210 +/-5. So will there be any reason to do Dry January 2015? I think so.

Because another thing that happens when I’m not drinking beer is I have time to pursue other activities. I get to read about beer with new eyes. I get to reevaluate my relationship with beer not from an “Am I in control” modality, but from one of experiencing what I miss about drinking. I don’t long for “a beer” right now. I want specific things in specific ways. Not drinking is easy. But I miss the engagement with beer. I miss being able to engage with other people about beer. It’s easy to get immersed in the drinking life and forget why or how I got here to begin with. Ernest Hemingway talked about not having the perspective he needed to write his Nick Adams stories set in the American Midwest until he’d emigrated to Europe. I feel the same way about drinking. Distance provides perspective and that’s almost always a good thing.

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Posted in The Drinking Class.