Alcohol is sort of like a social utility. We use it to make friends, to ease awkward situations, or to diffuse arguments, say. It’s ever present at family gatherings, if only to make them more bearable. It can make you happy, sad, angry and anxious, among other things.
Ernest Hemingway said he drank to make people more interesting. I get that.
Some people might have an innocent glass of wine or a beer at the end of a rough day. Or maybe you’re a normal person like me and drank your way through 2020 to help deal with this ongoing virus hell.
Luckily, we have Dry January and other alcohol-free months to keep track of ourselves. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about and filmed the first two weeks of my experience. Check it out.
Giving up alcohol for a month has become somewhat of a trend in recent years. Last year, for example, 37% of 21 to 36-year-olds told YPulse, a Gen Z and Millennial-focused research website, that they planned to participate in Dry January. That was up from 24% who planned to take part in 2018. And there’s no shortage of opportunities to take a break. There’s Dry January and Dry July. Then there’s Feb Fast and Sober October.
But it does seem like some of us need a break.
Alcohol consumption in 2020 has taken off like a SpaceX rocket, according to an October study. American adults drank 14% more alcohol in 2020 than they did the previous year. Heavy drinking among women spiked 41%.
And also like a SpaceX rocket, you might be wondering how you’re going to bring your alcohol-laden self back down to earth — without the fiery explosion.
The first thing you must be aware of when you stop drinking is time will feel like it has almost completely stopped, and the people around you will become intolerable. The temptation to uncork a Yellow Tail shiraz and listen to Coldplay songs from the mid-2000s will be strong.
Your needy emotions will only last a week. So stay strong until you’re over that hump.
But be warned: when you do try to fill the alcohol void with something, it’s probably going to have icing on it. Funnily enough, Hemingway also said that any man who eats dessert is not drinking enough.
This probably wasn’t in reference to a period of sobriety on his part, but it does get at an important point. When you do give up alcohol, your body may go in search of an alternative sugar source. But that also depends on how much you’ve been drinking previous to stopping.
Personally, I don’t see myself as someone who drinks to excess, but considering I ate a whole Sara Lee strawberry cheesecake in one evening suggests that I may have had a particularly wild December. And honestly, most of the pandemic months before that, too.
And that wasn’t the only cheesecake, I’m afraid to say.
Does that mean I have a problem with alcohol? It’s always been hard for me to know or even acknowledge. For the longest time I thought alcoholics were people who chugged vodka or wine for breakfast. Then, as I got older, I realized that peoples’ issues with alcohol or other substances look very different from person to person. For example, I’ve never craved alcohol in the way I’ve heard some alcoholics describe, but I do like to have fun. The point is, your issues may be veiled by something else that seems more innocent.
What also helped a lot was that most of my friends were also taking part in Dry January. That meant that I wasn’t missing out on the fun.
And because I wasn’t going out, I didn’t find myself measuring my alcohol consumption by squinting cautiously at my crumbled up receipts the next morning. And I’ve saved money as well. An alarming amount.
One of my hopes over the month was that I might lose a little weight. Since moving to Mobile, Ala., more than four years ago, I’ve gained between 20 and 30 pounds. I didn’t think that was a big deal until I bought a 20-pound weighted blanket. I was shocked at how heavy it was.
But no, I didn’t lose any weight. I actually gained a few pounds.
I should have known this would happen when in the first week of January I found a box of year-old Little Debbie Birthday Cake treats on top of my kitchen cabinets. I had tried them before, declaring them to be disgusting and a societal evil. And yet, I happily scarfed the remaining seven. Why did I keep them, you ask? No idea. Maybe my subconscious is a better planner than me and knew this day would come.
Then there were the very old Trefoils Girl Scout cookies that I found hiding away. I dipped those in tea and ate them all. I swiftly moved on to a tub of peanut butter that was so old the expiration date had worn off. My lowest point was eating a box of blue cheese and walnut shortbread, which is as awful as it sounds.
In the midst of my sugar mania, I temporarily forgot that my cat, Meejp, has diabetes and I let him try everything I was eating. But you know what they say, couples who eat together stay together. And while I knew I wasn’t being healthy, the temptation lasted the whole month.
I eventually weighed myself naked, hoping the lack of clothes might make the numbers on the scale more respectable. They weren’t. I’m nearly at 210 pounds now, the heaviest I think I’ve ever been. I did, however, get a glimpse of my naked self in the bathroom mirror, which reminded me of why the British only have sex in the dark.
It’s hard to say just yet what my long-term future with booze will be. I envisage a time when I no longer drink alcohol and I love the thought of having more money and no hangovers. Losing some weight and feeling fresher would be a huge bonus as well.
I’m certainly on that path, but my immediate future is very clear for now. I’m doing Sara Lee cheesecake free February.