Dry January

There’s nothing quite like the start of another calendar year to set off a reflective streak, where you sit down and assess your life and your habits, and then ruthlessly list the ones you want gone. In previous years my resolutions have been far-reaching and ill-fated in equal measure. Cutting out all junk food, only to wobble and order a pizza only hours later. 'Write something (that's not email) every day', only to find that it’s March and the only thing I have to show for it is a meticulously tended-to inbox (okay that one’s bad, let’s never do that one again). Or, my favourite, 'become yoga instructor', when I hadn’t even set foot in a class in months. Still, the new year will always be an excellent time to review and reassess the current state of one’s life, and this year has been no different.

The only thing that’s different this year is that my resolutions have been kinder (to me), and they have a slightly more solid footing on which to anchor themselves. I eat better than I used to, I move my body frequently, I even meditate for fucks sake. I’m about as close to yoga instructor status as I’ve ever been, basically. Which also meant that all the standard resolutions didn’t qualify for this lot of intention setting.

Don’t get it twisted; I like booze.

I mean, I really do like it quite a lot. It is a social lubricant like no other, and more to the point, it tastes nice. I’m extra partial to a well-made margarita, or a lovely gin cocktail, but I like a glass of bubbly (pink or white, I’m your girl for either) or a crisp white wine, and if the description includes the words “lemongrass” or “kaffir lime,” or if the drink in question is mezcal, well then I’ll have two. Alcohol has been part of my life for as long as I can remember (it is also a part of this site, and will likely always be, particularly when I find a cocktail recipe I really like). Red wine runs like blood through my mother’s veins, and it isn’t a family gathering until everyone has a glass in their hands. Most of my relationships, whether romantic or platonic, were cemented after nights (and days) of imbibing… everything (anything); good wine, terrible wine, cheap vodka, and even an unnamed vodka brand at the now-defunct (thank heavens) Supper Factory in Delhi that had me flailing in misery in bed for a whole 24 hours after. It’s been the fuel for some of the most wonderful conversations I’ve ever had (and some uncomfortable truths I definitely wouldn’t have told), the fodder for some of the most ridiculous, and lubrication for all manner of revelry, unleashing a different version of me, usually better, funnier, more relaxed, just…more.

At some point though booze started to become a crutch – the thing I hoped would make a dinner I’d been dreading bearable, or the thing that’d make an awkward conversation less stop-and-start. Perhaps it did, or perhaps it just took the edge off to the point that I didn’t care so much that the situation remained just as ‘ugh’, the only thing that’d changed was my ability to intuit it. It also made me sort of aggressive, which really is never a good look. Having a drink went from a fun thing to a thing I did to escape that awkwardness, and while it is still something I enjoy when the drink is right (HELL-O classic margarita at La Bodega), I’m sort of skirting around using it as a blinder, which has also, I’ve found, helped make those same dreaded social interactions more fluid and meaningful.

In moderation alcohol is intended to gently lift the spirit and relax the imbiber, and in moderation, that is what it does. When we drink to excess however (and I cannot speak for all of us, but I can speak for myself) it is usually to drown out something that is uncomfortable to see, or feel, or confront, and we drink to work past this icky sense of overwhelm. When I can’t seem to reach that easy place myself, I drink to emulate that sense of openness and expansion. I struggle to articulate what it is about not getting legless that has changed me, but I read something that Elena Brower said that articulates it neatly:

“According to Buddhism, the root of all suffering is desire: The desire to numb, rather than to feel. To utilize all possible external sources in a desperate attempt to fill the void left by internal deficiencies. We all do it sometimes. We try to numb ourselves, to dumb ourselves down, to not deal. With whatever it is inside of us that is crushing us with fear and self-castigation. Clinging to old ideas, beliefs, people, places, and things that are causing us harm, even though we try to convince ourselves that they'll make us feel better.”

For me those extra-high highs and those horribly-low lows are a thing of the past, and for that I am grateful.

The physical stuff

Long-term, heavy drinking causes bad stuff, we all know this. There’s no sanctimony here, none at all, but regular drinking causes inflammation, issues with the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, hormone disruption, weight gain, anxiety, depression… there’s more, but it is so boring to list when Google exists. Giving up alcohol (or your crutch of choice) for a month goes beyond just breaking a habit. Our bodies also form chemical addictions which create a physiological response of withdrawal, and that’s the real pain. It’s like the social smoker who is powerless to resist a smoke when out with friends. It’s not just a physical dependency, it’s the behavioural loop that’s hard to break.  We tend not to consider the ill-effects of booze until something actually goes wrong, but while cutting out booze for a bit helps your waistline, sure, it also helps you reset a little, bring your body’s blood sugar back down to baseline, helps your mood stabilize, and increases your energy. It will likely also give you a greater sense of optimism and motivation (it did me, anyway). Once you’re there, re-introduce what you like. You might find, like me, that while you still enjoy a drink, you choose to enjoy a little less of it. I still won’t say no to a margarita, this we’ve established, but I will say no to a third and that’s something.

Things you can do to support yourself

Like any habit, breaking this one takes will power, kindness, and a host of supportive new habits. The answer to binge drinking is not binge sobriety, so a month of swearing off the sauce doesn’t give you carte blanche to go harder the remaining 11 months of the year (just fyi). The beginning of the year is a great time to fill your system with nourishing foods, and if you’re eating more plant-based meals and drinking lots of water, you’ll probably feel better in your own skin anyway. Prolonged drinking causes an imbalance of bacteria in the digestive tract, so help your beleaguered microbiome reset with a wide variety of dark leafy greens, lots of healthy fats (nuts, seeds, ghee, avocado), and as probiotic-rich food as you can manage (check in regularly with the Book of Cultures column on this site for ways to get fermenting at home).

The best thing you can do is get busy doing other things. Do things you enjoy, and that don’t revolve around drinking. Working out or doing group classes is a good idea, meetings friends at a bar is probably not. Get a massage. Plan a holiday with all the money you’ll save.

Don’t make this another exercise in self-flagellation. Shaming yourself is a waste of time (and a bore). One of the unexpected benefits is sleeping much, much better. Alcohol decreases your melatonin levels, which is why you usually seep fitfully when drinking. This cold weather is the perfect time to stay in, hibernate, and restore. You’ll wake up clear-headed and energized, and, if you’re lucky, before our alarm goes off.

…and when you’re done

Go slow! You might find, as I did, that your tolerance dips, which means you are now a much cheaper date than before, and that what was previously just a warm-up will now leave you pretty damn drunk. Choose a nicer drink, and a finer wine to celebrate.