"Dry Jan", Week 2: Report From The Front Lines Of Dry January

Our "Dry January" diarist charts how the first 10 days sober have left her feeling, and asks when kicking off the year booze-free became so popular.

Last week: "Dry Jan" Week 1: Breaking Up With Booze

Here I am: 10 days into my no-alcohol Faustian nightmare, and I wouldn’t say I’m a whole new person yet, but I do feel that I am now a domestic goddess, a much more attentive listener and approximately one million pounds richer than the old me. The old, crude version of my now highly cultivated new self. Okay, not quite. But this week I did cook two extremely complicated dinners, displayed an emergency-services level of calm when my friends had January freak-outs (one by one, like dominoes) and saved at least 50 quid that I would have spent guzzling wine down the pub.

Surprisingly, I haven’t even been particularly tempted to have a drink, despite risking alcohol-heavy settings and feeling stressed about work. I politely declined an invitation on one night out, to be safe rather than sorry, and the rest of the time I found distraction in good food, cigarettes and a lot of soft drinks. The physical craving for alcohol hasn’t been too strong, either. Except when an actual glass of wine has been in my eye line. And so I have refrained; not a drop of booze has entered my body. That ought to be accomplishment, I think, for someone who usually puts away 20 to 30 units a week – but it doesn’t really feel like one.

The problem is, everywhere I go, someone else is doing "Dry Jan", or, as you might otherwise put it: stealing my thunder. Easily the most sobering thing I’ve learnt so far in "Dry January" is that it’s not only an extremely popular lifestyle choice but, for a lot of people, it’s also very easy to do. On day two, for example, I was in the pub cross-questioning the bar staff about what non-alcoholic beer they had to offer, when my friend slid up next to me and ordered a soda water. Until then, she hadn’t even mentioned that she wasn’t drinking for the month. Not even when, back at our table, I’d been showing off for 15 minutes about how I wasn’t.

In the past, I’ve watched the news that someone’s doing "Dry Jan" be met with noses wrinkled in distaste, or aggressive peer-pressure offensives. When I’ve told people I’m doing it this year, I’ve been met with a unanimous nonchalance. So many people are doing "Dry January", “Veganuary” or some other clichéd approximation of a detox that it’s begun to seem almost normal. I wonder if that’s down to the organisations promoting causes like "Dry Jan", such as Alcohol Concern and Cancer Research, or whether it’s just that I’m getting older and the people around me in their late 20s are clutching at ways to seem more adult when – houseless, penniless, and single – we so patently are not.

As another week of sobriety loomed large, a "fuck it" moment didn't seem out of the question. Then my guardian angel appeared...

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Of course, there’s a flip side to the number of people I know doing "Dry Jan", and it’s that misery loves company. I’m enjoying having others to indulge me in boring conversations about productivity, my complexion and the exact calorie composition of Beck's Blue. When I went to a party on Saturday night (day seven), about 10 of the 20 guests weren’t drinking, and the focus shifted from screeching and dancing to conversation about the books we’re reading and our goals for the year ahead. Everyone seemed content to be there, not looking for the next party, someone to go home with, or a secret supply of drugs. I for one felt distinctly “present”.

The only truly challenging moment of this first 10 days of sobriety came at said party around 11pm. Conversational fatigue began to kick in while the people who were drinking were getting a bit merry. As Sunday and another week of sobriety loomed large, a “fuck it” moment of abandon didn’t seem out of the question. I began to eye up a bottle of wine. Luckily, just as I was doing so, a guardian angel appeared by my side. It was the one-year sober friend whom I mentioned in Week One’s diary – the one who inspired this whole charade when she told me that, if I felt like I couldn’t stop drinking, I probably needed to give it a shot.

I filled her in on my progress and joked that it was hard to feel chuffed with myself when half the party and half the universe seemed to be doing "Dry January" too. She looked at me like I was a bit stupid and told me that, while it might not feel like a big achievement in the wider sense, if staying sober was a challenge to me, I ought to feel proud and not measure my own success against anyone else’s. Good advice for life, I suppose. Later that evening, another friend took me down a peg by telling me that I shouldn’t get too ahead of myself anyway, because “you haven’t mastered sobriety ‘til you can dance sober in a club.” I got my coat and left for my bed, with both women’s mantras firm in my mind.

At the end of the first 10 days, then, I can report from the front lines of "Dry January" that things are a little easier and more peaceful than I had previously thought they might be. While my moods are stable – I don’t feel needy or particularly anxious – I’m yet to become the superhuman I had expected; I still sleep in ‘til 10.30 on work days, hangover or no hangover, I still feel headachey and distracted, and I still waste money on rubbish. I do feel more clarity, though. I will say that. I remember every conversation I have had, and I know exactly what I intend the next one I have to be. It’s all a bit more... directional.

Since I’m not flailing, and haven’t yet felt too challenged by the temptation to drink, my next task will be to go outside my comfort zone. Next week, dispatches from a night out with no booze...

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