Welcome to Dryuary, a five-part series where The Takeout’s Gwen Ihnat navigates the month minus alcohol.
The day after last week’s karaoke party, I was invited to another party. For many of the gorgeous moms in my neighborhood that I’ve mentioned, a perfect Sunday might involve running a half-marathon, followed by a mimosa brunch. “Running a marathon” has always ranked near “mountain climbing” and “winning the lottery” on the list of activities I might actually accomplish; I might run if I happened to be on fire, but that’s about it. But I envy their active lifestyles and their ability to still look like twentysomethings years after the fact.
So the 40th birthday party for one of these moms on that Saturday night was going to start out with a “workout party” at a local dance studio, before following up with drinks and snacks and hitting a local bar. It sounded fun and novel, the first theme party I’d been invited to in forever that didn’t involve singing really loudly. In any other January, I would have still been recovering from the karaoke, and likely to blow off the workout. But in Dryuary, I was ready to give it a try.
My husband was dubious, especially since my last workout was a far-off distant memory, along with my last pedicure and last massage. “What kind of party has ‘work’ right in the title?” It’s true that I had gained at least five pounds since coming to work at The A.V. Club full time (that I could ill-afford to gain), where my job primarily involves me to be one with my laptop at all times, and my too-few turns at my standing desk didn’t seem to help my primarily sedentary lifestyle. After years of focusing on flattering Facebook pictures and ignoring the rest, I found the videos we do at work sometimes to be a shocking reveal of what I actually resembled; to me, I often looked like a giant version of myself had eaten myself. So he was somewhat understandably concerned about my lack of physicality: “Do they know how long it’s been since you’ve worked out?” He was totally serious. “Is anyone there some sort of medical professional?”
Still, I soldiered onward. The workout party included a series of relay races and dance-offs, and likely my pushups and sit-ups were the least regulation of the bunch, as the most out-of-shape person in the room. Nevertheless, I survived, withstood the ensuing onslaught of popped champagne corks (one of my favorite sounds in the world), and even avoided the drinks at the followup bar (but not the after-workout pizza).
Inspired by this minor success, the next day I went to the gym in earnest. Luckily, my gym has a variety of classes—and a pool, so I suspected that a water aerobics class would do the least damage to my out-of-shape body (still working up to kickboxing). If I was the least-fit person in the room the night before, I felt like a rock star in the 9 a.m. “aqua blast” class, surrounded as I was by mostly neighborhood octogenarians. Even more painfully, I looked around and noticed that those octogenarians were in fact kicking my ass, as I panted my way through jumping around in the pool and fighting with buoy dumbbells. The best part was allowing myself five minutes in the hot tub after. It was a reminder that my gym is really lovely and accommodating, so why don’t I ever go? I mean, besides the fact that I was sore for about three days afterward? From water aerobics?
Dryuary has had this surprising domino effect for me. My body feels better and more energetic, leading me back to my gym for the first time in years. I’m losing weight, so the gym is an effort to augment that as well. And honestly, I’m not really doing much else, without my usual social life, so why not the gym? I also haven’t seen the inside of my terrifyingly wobbly office elevator in about a week, instead taking the stairs up and down to the seventh floor. If any of my colleagues happen to see me stuck for a few moments on floor four, it’s really because I’m in the middle of an emergency Words With Friends match, and not because I am frantically gasping for air, okay?
Still, I am deeply nostalgic for my former social life. On Friday, a coworker asked me if I was doing anything fun this weekend, and I replied, “It’s Dryuary, so, no.” Yes, this is the exact wrong attitude to take, but I was childishly and churlishly petulant because we had people coming over for dinner—friends where we usually all average a bottle of wine per person at various dinner parties. I sulked almost audibly as red after red was opened. It’s not them, it’s me: I feel excruciatingly boring without the benefit of alcohol. I’m like this-close to asking people if they have any hobbies. (And I can’t even reciprocate, as my husband points out that my only hobby is Gilmore Girls.) Up side is, I find that I’m a much better listener, as it’s easier (and honestly, much more interesting) to focus on others than it is to start planning my next zingy one-liner or hopefully amusing anecdote.
I fared better at the next night’s dinner party at a neighbor’s, where the glasses of wine were followed by post-dinner drinks like liqueurs and apéritifs, while I drank some deliciously thick coffee and cream at 9 p.m. Maybe it was just an example of me getting finally used to being sober at social events, but I had a fine time, and again didn’t miss my usual self-flogging over what I might have said while under the influence of alcohol to people I didn’t happen to know all that well. I was crashed out by 11, though, even despite the late-night caffeine, as my recovering body is apparently just really exhausted.
But all in all, now that the initial novel blush of Dryuary is behind me, it frankly appears to be a long haul. I’m barely at the midway point, and people are already planning my Thursday night return to drinking on February 1. I worry that I will dive into my first drink like Paul Giamatti downing that wine bucket in Sideways.
Call it fate or divine intervention, but on that first trip back to the gym, I heard a single three-minute NPR interview in the car. I turned on the radio and there was a doctor talking about dry January, I swear to god, about how much giving up drinking for one month can really improve your health. Turns out: a lot. The interview with this doctor was like literal music to my ears, as he talked about a study in which 80 people stopped drinking for a month:
The skin condition and the appearance improved. They almost all lost weight… They reported better sleep. Their blood glucose was lower, better concentration and better sexual function. But what was incredible—and this is really important; we don’t quite understand why. The individuals that stopped drinking for a month—they reported significantly lower drinking during the following six months.
Turns out, these people felt so good from quitting drinking for a month that they didn’t have the desire to return to their excessive drinking habits. I pray I have that same result as well. And it’s true, I may be kind of bored, but as I said, physically I feel so much better. One friend told me I look great; another asked me what I was doing to my skin because it looked so good. I’m taking any positive reinforcement like that as enough to keep me going through this second half of Dryuary, even as it stretches out ahead of me like a long, interminable road. It’s like when I walk up those stairs to the seventh floor. At floor three, it starts to seem like the worst idea I’ve ever had. But giving up and slinking onto the wobbly elevator at that point seems even more ridiculous. So there’s nothing else to do but keep climbing.
Weight: Lost 2 pounds. Considerably less than last week, but I’ll still take it! Read about how I’m only eating during certain hours of the day here. If you’re wondering whether or not I’m crazy, keep in mind that I’m really just desperate. I’m a size 12 trying to keep from sliding into 14 who longs to be a 6. Would settle for 8. Okay, 10.
The jeans barometer: Wore the tourniquet jeans to work and survived.
Most regretful non-drink: If not for Dryuary, I honestly would have done a shot after the 30-minute Hawaiian missile crisis, my hands were shaking so badly. And I don’t even live in Hawaii.
Non-alcoholic drink of the week: Still chugging along on that LaCroix train. Anyone have any suggestions for this week? Thinking of trying non-alcoholic kombucha.