Photo: YelenaYemchuk/Getty Images

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

It was Saturday night, January 20, and after almost three full weeks of Dryuary, I was fed up. My husband and I had a sitter and were heading to the neighborhood to grab something to eat before meeting some friends at another karaoke outing (I swear, we sometimes do other things, it’s just been a very karaoke-heavy month). I was determined to invade some pricey restaurant in our neighborhood and demand the fanciest mocktail possible, preferably with an egg white and a little umbrella.

Should have taken the picture before sipping this, but it was great. (Photo: Gwen Ihnat)

Unfortunately, everyone else in Chicago was so excited that the latest vindictive cold snap had finally broken that they were all out in full force. Our regular go-to-restaurants had two-hour wait times. Eventually, we slid onto the bar at the local sushi place.

We ordered scallops and maki, and I tried to explain my plight to our very patient server. She returned with a thing of beauty, especially considering it wasn’t even on the menu: a mix of red grapefruit and pomegranate juice and I’m not sure what else in a martini glass, complete with a salt and pepper rim. I loved it. I felt totally satiated. Apparently, all I needed was anything in a martini glass.

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Picture first, drink second. (Photo: Gwen Ihnat)

Undaunted, we continued onward to the Lakeview karaoke bar, which was a bit more crowded and festive than the places I usually hang out: The house specialty was one of those huge drinks in a single bowl-like glass with four straws, and I saw more than a few people walking around drinking it all for themselves. I told the bartender that he was obviously a genius, so I needed him to make something that would make me forget that it didn’t have alcohol in it. He made me a fruity coconut concoction (right) that I nursed through my first few karaoke rounds.

As my Dryuary days dwindle down to single digits, I can’t believe I’ve made it this far. Some days are harder than others; weekends are a bitch (see above). But it’s not like I’ve been in agony every single day. In fact, since my social life abhors a vacuum, I’ve found other activities to fill my calendar that was once full of “drinks after work.” Instead, I’m pushing coffee dates and breakfasts. I brushed the dust bunnies off my yoga mat (not an exaggeration) and met some friends for evening classes; Saturday morning was spent at a weights class at my gym. Sure, I still can’t lift my arms up over my head, but how often does that really came in handy?

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Best of all, a friend suggested a trip to King Spa & Sauna—a palatial Korean bathhouse about 20 minutes from my house—which I can’t even believe I’ve never been to before.

If I can’t chill out and relax by drinking alcohol, apparently I can easily do so by sitting in heated pools and breathing steam sauna air or just curling up on a cot in the oxygen room. It was fantastic, and so was the bibimbap. If not for Dryuary, I probably would have just suggested a glass of chardonnay otherwise.

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While the number of my activities has increased, so has the number of my sleep hours. My sleep is off the hook, and the importance of this really can’t be overstated. My sleep schedule has been really whack in the past, and I can’t blame that all on midnight feedings, as those were over a decade ago. I guess I can point to some of my A.V. Club TV reviews without screeners, trying to create poetry while fighting eyelid droop around midnight. Because of several evenings like that, I have had certain nights where I would just wake up at 3 .m., wide awake. Idiotically, I pounced on this insomnia as “me time,” scrolling through twitter feeds or watching Grey’s Anatomy reruns as if peering at a blue screen in the wee small hours of the morning was living my best life. So a good night’s sleep for me has been the anomaly for a while, not the rule.

Until Dryuary. Now I drop off well before midnight and sometimes wake up with my husband at 5, giving me a chance to tidy the house before leaving for school a few hours later instead of giving our resident mouse this winter a gourmet buffet on the kitchen floor. And I haven’t been this caught up on laundry in years. I pointed to my increased energy level last week, but I think we can trace that back to this sleep thing. It’s impressive.

My list of positives so overwhelms my list of negatives that you have to wonder, why would anyone (like me) drink again? What’s actually in it for me? That doctor I talked about last week called alcohol a “necessary poison” and I kind of like that description. But I no longer want to use it as my primary stress reducer or fun enhancer.

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After all, everything is exactly the same without the alcohol: The kids are still going to drive me crazy, the laundry’s going to pile up, a band at a club is either going to suck or be great, singing “Surrender” at the top of my lungs is always going to be a blast. Alcohol only affects how I deal (or don’t deal) with the tough times, and may even be blowing my fun times by blurring reality too greatly. With nine days to go, Dryuary has already offered me that reset I was hoping for—raising my regular-life bar so that I no longer have to rely on alcohol to do it for me.


Weight: Gained 1 pound. Trying not to freak out about it, as I’m still six pounds down overall. And I expect my body would have to resettle itself a bit. Fingers crossed for the final tally next week.

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The jeans barometer: Size 10 stretchy gray jeans, you’re up next on the tourniquet meter.

Most regretful non-drink: I really wanted a drink when my husband and I got into a snipe fight over the fact that we still have this mouse, even though we bought a bunch of traps weeks ago, so why are they not up yet? Yes, I should have just put them up myself, if I was not worried about losing a finger. Then he went to the store, so no one was home, and I was extremely close to grabbing the bottle of white that got opened when a friend stopped by the other night. Stress-ate pita chips instead. It was not the same. But yeah, after the chardonnay, the mouse would have still been there anyway.

Non-alcoholic drink of the week: I highly recommend trying this mocktail option, even if there isn’t one on the menu. Lots of “mixologists” appreciate a challenge like that just to make something special without the easy benefit of alcohol. Now that my tolerance is (hopefully) at a more normal level, will be searching out more non-toxic options even when Dryuary is over.

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I really love hearing about how you all are doing in the comments, please let me know. Also open to any mocktail suggestions!