I participated in Dry January this past month. It’s actually the first time I’ve done any type of goal or challenge for myself regarding alcohol since I started drinking regularly. But the reasoning for it is simple – I found myself drinking too much.
But let me give you some context here:
Before I left for college, I had a couple sips of alcohol here and there. It still tasted nasty.
In college but before the age of 21, I drank probably less than twenty times and most of that took place during my year abroad. I was too scared to lose my wits in public most of the time so I just didn’t drink at all.
After the age of 21, I drank less than a dozen times while still in college. Additionally, I dated a guy that really made me not like alcohol.
Then my so called ‘adult life’ started. My philosophy around drinking was still pretty minimal. I would have a drink maybe three times a month on average and I would get drunk maybe once or twice a year. On vacations, I was more lenient, often having an average of one or two drinks per day during a trip. That pattern continued all the way up until seven months ago when I moved to Chicago.
Chicago’s scene is much more focused around drinking than my previous environments. There’s a much bigger sports culture = drinking. Limited activities other than restaurants and bars = drinking. Plus, I joined a very social company which accompanies every single event they throw (and there are a lot) with free alcohol.
My point is – I have had more alcohol in the past seven months of living here than I have probably in my ENTIRE adult life before moving. You heard me. More alcohol in seven months than in seven years.
I realized there were so many instances where I had just automatically picked up a drink or ordered a drink or gone out just for drinks. It was everywhere. And I don’t like alcohol enough for the calories or the dollars to be worth it to me. I wanted to break myself out of the automated alcohol grab so that if I do want to drink, I could be a little more intentional about it.
It wasn’t hard per say but I did learn some things.
- Cities are alcoholic. Maybe I never noticed but every restaurant is constantly shoving the special drink menu in your face. Promotions focus on cheap alcohol. Large firms and events entice attendees with alcohol passes and tickets. There seems to always be a reason to drink with every activity.
- Especially if you’re in a pair or small group – many times the other people want you to drink so they feel more comfortable drinking.
- However, if you tell people upfront you’re doing dry January they laugh and say oh good for you, let’s go out in February! There is notable relief when you offer this explanation.
- Buying alcohol at restaurants is like getting robbed. The markups are insane. The bill almost doubles when alcohol is involved.
Ultimately, the social thing was way weirder than the alcohol thing. I barely missed alcohol itself. There were a couple dinners where I really wanted a nice glass of red, but other than that, I didn’t actually crave it the substance itself.
For me, it was a social crutch. It’s comforting to have something in my hand in a networking or party setting and on top of that, once I’ve had two or three, I’m definitely feeling more talkative, thus making the experience less stressful.
I made a lot of people feel uncomfortable or guilty when I said I wasn’t drinking this month and the relief on their faces when I said it was only for one month was evident. I had never really noticed the peer pressure before, but alcohol weirdly enough is the only drug where people expect an explanation if you’re not partaking. Simply declining isn’t good enough – there has to be a cleanse or event or (god forbid) alcoholism to justify your lack of consumption.
There’s a learned reliance people have on alcohol in certain situations, something I was developing as well – but I don’t want to be that person that NEEDS alcohol to participate in events.
Something that makes me nervous now that the month is over, is the all or nothing mentality surrounding drinking. If you tell someone you don’t drink – they might ask for an explanation but that’s about it. Otherwise, the expectation is that you will drink and keep on drinking. It seems much harder to say you only want one than to say you don’t want any at all.
But for me, after going thirty days without it, this moderate to low point of consumption is where I am sure my sweet spot is. I like a glass of wine or a cocktail every now and then and I see little point in me consuming more than one or two drinks but it’s the stopping and declining when you’ve already started that seems more difficult socially.
But we’ll see. So far I actually haven’t had more than one glass of wine in February so maybe my mentality will hold. In any case, the exercise served its purpose – I am painfully aware of every drop of alcohol in my space and whether or not I actually want to consume it and that’s all I need right now.