I love drinking.
I love IPAs, stouts, High Life, PBR, bars, pubs, dives, barstools, bartenders, bottles, pints, tumblers, tap handles, neon, bathroom graffiti, bouncers, hipsters, frat guys, regulars, rowdies, rednecks, close friends, new friends, strangers, getting tipsy, getting drunk, drinking on the town, and drinking at home.
I don't love the day after drinking.
The money I spent, the cigarettes I smoked, the shameover (Jesus. Did I really argue with that guy about Jimmy Buffett!?), the hangover, and all the unhealthy stuff I'll eat — the chips, tacos, Cokes, cookies, and the anything-else-that-I-find-that's-not-on-the-floor-or-in-a-dumpster.
My friends got me hammered on my 21st birthday. I haven't looked back much since. That said, I've never been a problem drinker, just a social drinker (a very social drinker, perhaps).
My unhealthy drink-and-hangover cycle ran full tilt during the holidays, enough so that I grew a bit tired of it all. A friend of mine said he was, again, doing Dry January. No drinking for the entire month, he said. Sounds terrible, I said. Later, I thought about my full-tilt drinking cycle and wondered what would happen if I just stepped off the hamster wheel.
I could kill four birds with one stone: lose weight, quit smoking, save money, and cut back on drinking. But I also just wanted to see if I could do it, to shut down one of the biggest social avenues of my life and find a new path.
I did some research, weighed the benefits and the downsides, and pulled the trigger — no drinking at all for the first 31 days of 2016.
The first days were weird, just getting used to the idea and thinking of all the dry days before me. But as the days progressed, I got into the groove. Not drinking was a bit like a school uniform. It was a little bland, but I never had to guess what I was doing on a particular evening.
And it was great. My head was as clear. I had full nights of black, dreamless sleep. I enjoyed uninterrupted family time. I wrote. I worked out. I ate right. I read books, one in particular. (Pro tip: don't read The Shining during Dry January. I followed along as alcoholic Jack Torrance slowly lost his grip on reality while attempting a white-knuckle sobriety trip inside a cabin-fever nightmare.)
The parallels got weird, even though I wasn't a drunk like Jack. But it all started to set in — the cabin fever, (redrum), the bleak winter, (redrum) the cold, the sameness of the days (redrum), the virtues of being on "the wagon," the monotony (REDRUM!).
But I never felt the strong pull to drink. Also, I didn't envy the people I'd see through the windows of Sweet Grass Next Door or on the patio of Celtic Crossing, my local pubs. I honestly thought I would have a really hard time with Dry January. That I didn't was a surprising and utter relief.
As the month drew to a close, I grew anxious about picking up my drinking life. But I wasted no time getting back to it. I met friends at Celtic Crossing on Monday, February 1st.
I had just read the scene in The Shining where Jack talks with Lloyd, the phantom bartender. I walked into Celtic and there was Lloyd, my Lloyd, the Celtic's manager, standing behind the bar. (REDRUM!)
But I stayed, of course, and had a big night and a mighty hangover, but, still, it was fine.
My relationship with alcohol has changed. Dry January was like spending time in a new city. It changes your perspective, and you may act differently when you go home.
I still love drinking, but I watch myself now. I can have a few beers and back off the throttle. I've found that a weight workout at the Kroc Center can cure a hangover better than endless gallons of Mountain Dew and sausage grease.
I did kill those four birds, by the way. No drinking. No smoking. I lost nine pounds. And the Dry January app told me I saved more than $200.