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Dry January – the rationale

Here's the scene that greeted me on the first day of Dry January

Here’s the scene that greeted me on the first day of Dry January

I’ve never really trusted the concept of Dry January. Year after year, the health squad trundles out the same advice – that the liver naturally ‘detoxifies’ itself anyway, and 31 days off the sauce is unlikely to do much good.

According to the British Liver Trust, “A one-hit, one-month attempt to achieve long-term liver health is not the way to approach it.”

They recommend that, rather than embarking on a month-long cleanse – followed by eleven months of absinthe-swilling abandon – you should do all the sensible stuff we already know, like ‘have a few days off alcohol a week’, ‘drink within safe limits’ and ‘don’t hoard whisky miniatures up your coat sleeve to neck in the lift at work’.

In Januarys past, I’ve taken this advice on board, propping up near-empty bars with Falstaffian good cheer. After all, for anyone who’s spent December flattened against a quiz machine, with crowds of bellowing office-workers splashing eggnog in their face, January offers a golden opportunity to acquire an actual seat. I love pubs, but I love them more when pie-eyed dudes in Santa hats aren’t standing ten deep against the bar.

January, then, is the time for it. What better way to spend the bleakest month of the year than in a fog of mild intoxication, fending against the cold and dark with a nice glass of red? You not only get to feel mellow, you get to feel a bit rebellious. Not for you the seasonally arbitrated hive mind: you’ll drink in January if you feel like it, and if you also want to serve divorce papers on Valentine’s Day or massacre bunnies on Easter Sunday – well, that’s up to you.

This year, however, I’ve dispensed with my usual contrarianism and have pledged an entire month off the booze. I’m currently six days in, which means there are 25 (TWENTY FIVE?!?) more to go.

Now obviously, I don’t think this is going to magically erase my festive overindulgence, or give me a free pass to Pissheadville for the rest of 2015. But quite simply, I need a break. The last few months have comprised one long, ever-renewing hangover: a conveyor belt of hen parties and weddings and birthday parties and Christmas parties and somehow work parties (I’m self-employed), and drinking-a-bottle-of-wine-apiece-with-my-housemates-on-a-Tuesday parties just because we’d had a shitty day. While this was a lot of fun for the most part, I am definitely flagging.

Dry January, I’ve heard said, works best for people like me – people who aren’t dependent, but who have made a bad habit out of booze. With a different vice, we’d come home from work and bust out the cream cakes. Those cream cakes are probably not the sign of deeply rooted psychological issues, and they’re not going to instantly kill you. But you’d probably be better off switching to mini-macarons.

I’d like to think it’s as simple as that anyway. In truth, cutting the booze is probably harder. After all, nobody relies on cream cakes to smooth the edges of an awkward encounter. Nobody relies on cream cakes for Dutch courage; nobody relies on cream cakes for group bonding; and nobody relies on cream cakes to cure their chronic Britishness. And nobody relies on cream cakes to make them funnier, unless they’re throwing said cream cakes at a clown.

A lot of people, when attempting Dry January, just spend the whole month staying in. This is cheating. If you’re going to do it properly, you have to do things as you would otherwise have done them – which may include going to the pub, going to parties, mingling with strangers, going on dates, going through breakups, unwinding after a tough day, celebrating after a great day and eating a plate of spag bol which would just taste better with red wine. Some of this stuff is tough, especially if your social circle regards moaning abstainers as little better than weeping abscesses.

I don’t plan on giving up in the long-run, but I think a dry month will help reset my relationship with booze. Recently, this relationship has been one of weirdly codependent frenemies. There are thrills, there are spills, there is piercing angst and repeated forswearing of the friendship. I’d rather alcohol were more like that always-busy housemate you only see at weekends, or maybe the funny-but-bitchy acquaintance you like in small doses, but avoid the rest of the time in case he punches you in the head.

It will be an interesting experiment at any rate, and I’ll report back on what I’ve learnt. So far the major lesson is this: alcohol-free ‘wine’ tastes like grape juice gone wrong, but I’m totally down with Becks Blue.

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Categories: Mind & Body

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Abi Millar

Freelance writer and expat

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