Sparkle, Neely, sparkle. (Photo: John Springer Collection/Corbis via Getty Images)

Welcome to the epilogue to Dryuary, a five-part series where The Takeout’s Gwen Ihnat navigated the month minus alcohol.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was The Last Catholic In America, written by the only adult I knew of who admitting to hating Catholic school as much as I did. (John R. Powers became subsequently famous when Last Catholic’s sequel, Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? turned into a Broadway musical.)

In one of the book’s early chapters, the narrator is in second grade or so and still sucks his thumb at night, so he decides to give it up for Lent. After his thumb-less 40 days, he gleefully wakes up on Easter Sunday to cram his thumb into his mouth once again. To his horror, he now finds the whole prospect disgusting, and his beloved thumb-sucking habit is officially over. The last line of the chapter went something like, “I had won, but I had lost.”

Friends, I am sorry to tell you that I am having a similar reckoning about my former relationship with alcohol after those 31 long days of Dryuary. Me being me, I needed one last idiot gasp to seal the deal, but that’s kind of par for the course, unfortunately.

On Wednesday, January 31, I did not stay up to do a shot at midnight, but instead went to my new favorite yoga class that night and was asleep by 11 p.m. On Thursday, some friends had me over for dinner to toast the end of my sobriety, but I unfortunately wasn’t feeling very well. So I had a little champagne and was surprised at how little it seemed to affect me: I thought my tolerance level would be wholly realigned by my month off.

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It actually was, but unfortunately I found that out the hard way the next night. It was as idiotic as taking one swimming lesson and then heading out to surf the Banzai Pipeline the next day. I drowned.

On Friday, the Onion office was throwing a happy hour farewell party for a beloved senior employee, which was frankly an emotional affair. I also showed up too late for the food, so skipped dinner. I know, right now I sound like this guy:

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I kicked off my renewed drinking in earnest with some wine at the happy hour. I tried to pace it out (even as I crowed to several co-workers my happiness about drinking again), but then some of us moved on to a local arcade bar. I decided to switch to the lower-alcohol level of a delightful grapefruit radler, until the savvy waitress, recognizing a sucker when she saw one, suggested adding a shot of gin to it. Not only was that way too much alcohol for my then-delicate system to handle, it was $17. And I think I even got a second one. Yes, for my first foray back into alcohol, I drank too much at a work event. Which I now have to write about for work.  

After playing some video games really badly and eating all of a colleague’s french fries, I walked slightly serpentine to the train, cursing myself a blue streak the whole time. The next morning I woke up in a state that I hadn’t experienced in a blessed 31 days but seemed painfully familiar: Headache. Nausea. Groggy. Oh, and the shame—dear God, the shame. I’d forgotten. I felt like that guy in Flowers For Algernon, except I went from genius to idiot in only about three hours. There was no life-affirming yoga or aqua aerobics for me that morning.

So there it is, dear reader—the painful, awful truth. I stumbled almost right out of the gate. But I am trying to find the positive in this, and here’s why:

After Dryuary, it’s clear that I can no longer drink the way I used to. But what’s even more crucial: I don’t want to. All my reasons for doing Dryuary in the first place came flooding back to me the second I realized I was in over my head, and with this painful reminder, my resolve is even stronger than it was before against my former pirate lifestyle.

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Saturday, I went to my usual rugby-watching bottomless mimosa brunch. Sunday, a Super Bowl gathering. That’s absolutely the most sports I have ever watched in a 24-hour period—and both games were pretty great, especially Ireland’s last-minute win over France. At both events, I nursed some champagne while alternating with La Croix. I drank with my opposite hand (a tip from our Hangover Helper). I had fun, felt fine, and blessedly, woke up without an ounce of shame the next morning.

Before Dryuary, I used to look forward to drinks-based social events with an impatient giddiness. Now, it’s marked trepidation. Two-drink maximum is a motto I am ready to adhere to for my entire life; the options on either side just don’t seem worth it.

I had wanted to end this column with a triumphant announcement about finishing a sub-zero Chicago half-marathon and losing 30 pounds. But this shift in mindset, for me, might result in even greater life changes. I am grateful to all of you for reading these essays and helping me get there, and look forward to hearing about your own February adventures so far in the comments! See you next week when I give up sugar for Lent, which, after all this, is bound to be sadly anticlimactic.

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