Dry January: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Beck’s Blue
We decided to do Dry January on December 31, during our flight back home. Dry January, if you missed the flood of thinkpieces each January for the past few years, is a simple concept: a month of sobriety for the entirety of January. A “new year, new me” cleanse of sorts. I’d heard of the exercise before and dismissed it as not particularly interesting. I generally feel like January is grim enough without the extra pressure of maintaining sobriety, but this year felt different. We spent the holidays in both Scotland and the US state of Georgia, eating our fill of excellent fried foods over the course of two and a half weeks. I also turned 30 in that time period, which involved multiple boozy celebrations as well as a gift of a case of champagne from my parents (which obviously needed to be drunk before we left). It was a wonderful trip, but left us feeling bloated and exhausted on the way back.
I’d categorize us as regular drinkers, in the sense of drinking a couple units a night a couple evenings per week. Not a particularly healthy habit, but not getting Drunk Drunk all the time either. Over the fall and winter of 2018, I had gotten into the habit of drinking the same cheap red wine and Brent would have a couple beers, with us both having occasional vodka or whiskey cocktails. The longest stretch of sobriety I’ve had in my adult life was a period of 2 months following a surgery. Brent figured his longest sober period was about a week.
As a person in the world today, I have tried a few diets. The main thing I’ve learned is that if there is a forbidden element to the rules, I will absolutely obsess over that thing (I’ve come to terms with the fact that my body is mostly composed of bread & cheese at any given time). Therefore, I was a little concerned about my personal discipline and would the urge for a drink develop into an obsession (spoiler alert: yes, briefly, in the middle of January). However, Brent has been successful in these kinds of restrictive diets and promised that we would support each other through it. I agreed, mainly because the airplane seatbelt felt so snug. Team Sober!
Week One of no drinking felt fine, to be honest. Like many New Years Resolution endeavors, we set out strong, eating a thousand vegetables and marveling at how refreshing soda water is. We discovered that if you pour Club Mate into a pint glass, it gives the illusion of drinking a lager. Brent also came down with tonsillitis and was knocked out for about a week, so he really didn’t miss alcohol at all.
Week Two continued much like Week One. More vegetables, more water. I decided to bring back this blog. Even though I am among the technologically inept, I still managed to resurrect the site, write a few posts, and illustrate them, all without a solid urge for a relaxing drink.
During Week Three, I realized there were actually five weeks in January, which felt like a cruel cosmic trick. I wrote an initial title for this post, called “Dry January: A Supposedly Healthy Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” I started getting very BoReD with rEsTrIcTiOnS. An old bottle of chocolate Bailey’s in the fridge taunted me, so I hid it in the back behind carrots and soda water. I deep cleaned the apartment, did some anxiety baking (a craving for both carrot cake AND banana bread resulted in a combination of the two, which was excellent), and found out I did not get a job I’d hoped for. This evening was the only time in the month I truly felt a strong urge to get a drink, but it was just for Nonspecific Comfort Alcohol rather than anything particular (not a healthy motivation! I acknowledge this). Brent talked me down and we ate pizza, which was soothing.
On the 20th (start of Week Four), it had been a few days of craving hot pizza and a cold beer (the pizza night of Week Three created a monster). As I’ve discovered with all cravings, it’s far better to just give in than to continue obsessing; for me, the craving then goes away and I can think straight again. Brent and I were on a walk and Brewdog was nearby so we went in, since they essentially only do pizza & beer. I’d heard that their beer ‘Nanny State’ was well-reviewed as a non-alcoholic beer and conveniently, it was on tap. Also conveniently, it was not as bad as I feared! I found it a little watery, but Brent was cheerful enough with the hoppiness.
DRY JANUARY: GAME CHANGED. I honestly have never given much thought to non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic drinks. Week Four led to the discovery of the variety of non-alcoholic products (yeah, it’s mostly beer, this is Germany) available, which I’ve never really paid attention to. It felt like we were back to a positive mindset, trying new things, and figuring out which drinks are palatable & which are garbage water.
Winners: Beck’s Blue, Nittenauer ‘Le Chauffeur’, Clausthaler ‘Extra Herb: Das Alkoholfrei’, Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier Alkoholfrei
Honorable Mentions: BRLO ‘Naked’, Brewdog ‘Raspberry Blitz’, Rotkäppchen Alkoholfrei
“If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All” Award: Warsteiner Alkoholfrei, Jever ‘Fun’, Lubzer Grapefruit & Lemon varieties, Light Live Hugo
Week Five, the end is in sight. This was probably the easiest week tbh. No strong urges for a drink. We planned to go out on Friday (February 1st) for dumplings & beer at Wok Show, then changed the plan to Korean chicken & beer at Kokio. The weather ended up being so terrible that we opted instead for beers from the spati (Augustiner Helles & Budweiser Budvar) and delivery fried chicken burgers at home. I was ~Very Hungover~ on February 2nd!!
DryJan Results: we both learned that our main motivations in drinking lately have been boredom, rather than experimenting with flavors or trying something new (my past motivations). We’ve learned that the urges for us to drink are sometimes through stress or anxiety; recognizing this and coping differently (going for a walk, baking, talking the problem through) feels better than having a couple glasses of wine. We saved a lot of money. I’m proud that I managed to stick to not drinking for a full month, especially when I got bored with it halfway through. The calendar page full of green check marks is very satisfying.
Physically, I lost the 5 pounds I gained over the holidays (nice), while Brent has lost about 12 pounds (incredible). Our faces are less puffy and I feel like my skin looks fresher (though that could also be from the metric ton of Nivea I’ve been slathering on so my face doesn’t shatter in the winter wind). We have also been eating healthier (i.e. homemade, more veg & fiber) meals than we did for all of December; reducing calories went hand-in-hand with limiting alcohol intake. Weirdly, despite all the internet promises to the contrary, our sleep patterns stayed the same and neither of us feel particularly more rested. We continue to not be morning people.
For the future, I’m looking forward to being creative with cocktails again. I also read several articles about the latest wave of no/low ABV drinks & alternative high spirits, most of which sound like marketing blah-blah but some are potentially interesting. We are also both going to incorporate more non-alcoholic beers into our diets (shout-out to Beck’s Blue, how do I become a brand ambassador? I volunteer as tribute), reserving alcohol for special occasions. Success!