Welcome to Dryuary, a five-part series where The Takeout’s Gwen Ihnat navigates the month minus alcohol.
On December 31, I drank about a gallon of champagne over the course of 12 hours, in preparation for this month-long departure from alcohol. Hopping around in the sub-zero temps from house party to house party—including one that celebrated the New Year at 6 p.m. for Ireland, which was fun—the champagne flowed like actual water. I hoped to start the New Year off with a hangover, to make my first day so awful that the pain of it would easily keep me away from alcohol for the rest of the month. At midnight, I kissed my husband, and as my son watched suspiciously, downed what was left in my champagne glass, and was done.
But that superhuman tolerance I mentioned last week was still in full effect, so I actually felt fine on January 1. Stopping at midnight certainly helped. A friend of mine stopped drinking over a year ago and has lost at least 30 pounds; she invited us over for a New Year’s Day dinner and was so excited about my January project that she nicely stocked her kitchen with LaCroixes and Izzes, ready to make me a fancy mocktail if I was so inclined. I chugged some lime LaCroix cans and was fine, even with the little furtive glances I kept shooting toward my husband’s red wine glass. Was I a bit less patient and more testy during the after-dinner board game sessions than I would have been otherwise? Probably?
In these early days of Dryuary, I realize this process is more about retraining my brain than anything else. Here is the hilarious scenario that keeps happening. In normal times, my brain might say, “Oh, a glass of wine with dinner would be nice,” or “I think I’ll have a beer while we watch the movie.” Then I would get the drink and be done with it, until drink two did or didn’t happen. Now, since I’m not drinking, and my brain’s request is not filled, it pops up again every 10 minutes. “Hey man, what about that beer? Oh, right.” It’s just reflex, but it’ll happen about 20 times. I want to say it’s Pavlovian, but it’s more like this annoying drink-obsessed groove that my brain is stuck in.
So mentally, a bit of a struggle. In fact, the A.V. Club karaoke party (which I mentioned last week) is exactly the kind of event that would cause me to cave in any other year I tried Dryuary. This year, the fact that I have told everyone I know, as well of thousands of other people, makes it impossible for me to cheat, which is very helpful. Thank you for reading!
Physically, on the other hand: I am astoundingly superhuman. Without needing to expel energy in the morning to recover my damaged body from the night before, I possess a bizarre, frenetic energy. I organized my daughter’s bookshelves. I took down the Christmas tree and all holiday decorations by myself in about an hour. I mopped the kitchen floor every night. I tried to take a nap yesterday and failed. After the A.V. Club karaoke party, I cleaned everything up the same night after everyone left, a feat I have never accomplished in years of throwing parties.
A note about the karaoke: I am a karaoke maniac. Pretty much every time before I karaoke, I caution myself, “You, don’t get crazy.” And yet, to no avail. I usually karaoke on my birthday, where every song usually winds up as a duet with me, whether people like it or not. But one of the many great things about The A.V. Club is that many of my coworkers are also karaoke fiends. TV editor Erik Adams usually will be the Bowie to my Freddie in “Under Pressure.” Film editor A.A. Dowd has a truly astonishing falsetto, so at the party, with Erik out of town, I was Bowie for once and Dowd became Freddie, and he was typically amazing. Assistant editor Alex McLevy ripped Springsteen’s “Born To Run” apart. News editor Katie Rife led a giant Greek chorus of “Total Eclipse Of The Heart.”
Before the party, my husband and I were setting up in the basement and tried out a few songs to test out the equipment. I went to one of my usual standards, “Angel Of The Morning.” In the near-empty room, it sounded like two feral kittens were having a fight in a pillowcase. Maybe it was just me actually paying attention to what I sounded like for once, but it was straight-up horrible. I’m not sure if my voice always sounds like that or if my vocal chords were just less flexible without alcohol lubrication (hopefully the latter). So when the karaoke started in earnest that night, I stuck to lower register songs, leading me to do “Creep” for the first time. I still hogged the mic for at least five songs, though, so apparently that doesn’t change without alcohol.
The more challenging part about not drinking is the social aspect. Everyone at the party knew about this project, obviously, but I must have talked about it like I was running a goddamn marathon or about to climb Machu Picchu. Giving up alcohol for a whole month? Whatta hero. Usually when we throw parties, I spend the first hour or two trying to make sure I say hi to everybody; then the drinks kick in and the next four hours kind of roll into each other in a fun, frenzied blur. This one, for me, just stretched along, happily: I filled the snacks. I tossed empty beer cans. I talked to everyone. But now if someone walks away from me at a party, instead of immediately thinking, “Oh god, am I too drunk?”, my other options are, “Oh god, what did I say?” or “Oh god, is it my breath or something?” When in fact it’s probably just that they wanted to get a drink, or go to the bathroom, or talk to somebody else. Same social insecurities sans alcohol steadfastly intact: fun!
But shouldn’t the actual fun part of parties be the people, or the karaoke, or good food, if you’re lucky, and not just circled around this one particular aspect? We bought fancy LaCroix for the party, and a lot of my friends were just drinking it anyway, without making ginormous public proclamations about it like some people we could mention. They seemed to be having a fine time. In fact, I might have even had a better time, without my usual torturous next-day worry about if my alcohol-lubricated brain had said something dumb. (Although my regular brain is fully capable of also bringing the dumb occasionally.)
My daughter asked me a very reasonable question, when I first told the kids about this Dryuary project: “But Mom, why do you like wine so much?” Why is it so hard to explain? My answer, “Because it’s delicious, and it relaxes me,” seemed woefully inefficient. She thought about it, and replied, “So you could have tea!” She patted my arm. “Try tea, Mom.” I’ve thought about this so much: What if I decided never to drink milk again? Or Diet Coke? It wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Why does this one beverage type seem to have such a pronounced aspect on my life?
We will continue to explore this question as we journey onward through January. I have to say, your supportive comments last week meant the world to me, and those of you who are joining me in this effort, I am dying to hear how it’s going for you!
Weight: Lost 5 pounds. Jesus Christ. Clearly a testament to how many alcohol calories I was consuming, but considering the week included Jet’s Pizza and a slice of red velvet cake, I’ll take it. I’m now “only” eight pounds over what my Weight Watchers tracker thinks I am (the last time I recorded my weight, which was in 2015). Truth be told, I’m also trying intermittent fasting, so maybe that helped?
The jeans barometer: I mentioned last week how bloated I felt after a few months of increased alcohol usage; I knew things were getting bad when I failed to fit into the majority of my winter pants. So in addition to the scale, I’ll be using my skinny (well, skinniest) jeans as a watermark. Last week: No way in hell I could button them. This week: Able to button, possibly to wear to work if I used my standing desk all day. It felt like being in a kind of pleasant tourniquet, as opposed to last week, which was like an unpleasant tourniquet.
Most regretful non-drink: The champagne that editor-at-large Kyle Ryan brought to karaoke. I dearly love champagne, especially the karaoke/champagne combo.
This week’s non-alcoholic beverage: One of the many perks of The Onion office is the LaCroix mini-fridge in the kitchen, which by my calculations adds at least a few hundred dollars to my salary. I know there are other sparkling drinks out there, but… there’s just something so magical (and addictive) about an ice-cold LaCroix can. And I’m not alone; my coworkers and I will get extraordinarily happy on pamplemousse day, for example. (I will never get those folks who prefer the basic plain blue flavor, though.) For Dryuary, I’m kicking it up a notch, focusing on the fancy LaCroix Curate flavors, like cherry-lime and blackberry-cucumber. Honestly, they practically taste like cocktails anyway.
Next week: I hit the gym. I finally found my gym bag: It contained sunscreen, bug spray, two pairs of kids’ goggles, and an ancient Us Weekly about Anna Faris and Chris Pratt’s divorce. It seems the last time I used it was on our family vacation to Michigan in August (to go to the beach, not the gym). Can my out-of-shape but recovering body can survive kickboxing class? Find out next week!