So here we are again in the endless, dismal nightmare of January. We’re all fat, stony broke, and barely on speaking terms with our partners, without even a glimmer of tinsel to keep us cheerful. It’s without doubt the bleakest 31 days of the year, made bleaker still by the smug chorus that invariably greets any offer to get a much-needed round in: “Make mine a lime and soda, yeah?”. To which the only suitable response is withering look and a swift brace of shots.
I write this shortly after emerging from a rather jolly lunchtime spent in the pub, which came at the end of a particularly merry December. In fact, now I come to think about it, the last time I went for more than two days without a proper drink was when I had the flu. In this, I'd wager I'm not all that different from any other adult human, and like most people I fully intend to give my liver a rest at some point in the coming year. But if there’s one thing guaranteed to have me reaching for the nearest bottle of tequila, it’s the self-satisfaction of signed-up “Dry January” participants, waving their sponsorship forms, comparing recipes for kale smoothies, braying about their newly glowing skin, and the ease of their ten mile morning jogs. Because the only thing more boring than not drinking is talking about not drinking.
It’s hard to knock anything which raises such a significant amount of money for charity - last year’s Dryathlon saw £4 million donated to Cancer Research UK – but the idea of paying someone simply not to get pissed for four weeks seems utterly absurd. Frankly, if it’s so hard that you deserve cash for your efforts, you may find you have a bit of a problem, pal.
Lots of things aren’t great for us in excessive quantities – sugar, cheese, potatoes – but swearing off them all together for a limited period only leads to a toxic form of binge sobriety. Are we really so infantile and unable to manage our own health that we have to be peer pressured into quitting for a month to raise money for charity? Can we do something simply because we quietly decide it might be a good idea for a bit, without having to turn it into yet another narcissistic public declaration of how virtuous we are?
The short-term sober even have a name for themselves: DryAthletes, a label so twee it makes me want to puke, as if swearing off booze for a month is some kind of strenuous physical challenge that deserves our wide-eyed approbation. You aren't the Mo Farah of mineral water, and if not drinking really is making you feel quite as wonderful as your Instagram feed suggests, do you really need a round of applause as well?
Here are some good things about giving up alcohol: you will save a shed load of cash, you will probably lose a few pounds, and you won’t accidentally declare undying love to a colleague. But here is a bad thing: you may well become such a dreadful judgemental bore that no one will want to spend any time with you. Because, like it or not, booze is the social lubricant that makes our lives go round. In moderation, it eases first dates and facilitates first shags; it commiserates lost jobs and toasts new friends.
Alcohol isn’t the real enemy here – it’s our relationship with it that’s the problem, and it’s a relationship that is only more confused when we start swearing off it for a limited time, especially when this is accompanied with great fanfare and public ceremony. Once pint sized slip-up is the end of the world; you’ve failed in your task, fallen off the wagon, and probably need to start attending AA meetings, full of shame and self-loathing. And if you do make it to February (well done you!), it’s likely to be the wettest on record as you remember just why a double G&T feels so excellent come 6pm.
Just like diets make us fatter, "detoxing" only leads to a monumental "retox". We should be encouraging a more healthy, year-round approach to drinking, not perpetuating a cycle of denial and binge.
“Can you have a dry January?” we’re asked. Well, yes, but why the hell would you want to?
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