Over the past couple of decades Dry January has become a sort of tradition. Basically the concept is you don’t drink alcohol for the month, with promised benefits to your health, weight, alertness etc. After that it’s up to you. Do you go right back to being the souse you used to be, or carry on with alcohol abstinence? It’s like “OK we’ll get you up to the alcohol-free space station; it’s your job to decide if/when/how you return to Earth.”
More recently the so-called ‘sober-curious’ movement has gained considerable traction. Dry January has spawned Sober October. Morning Brew reports that “drinking 0% ABV IPAs has turned into a year-round phenomenon for health-conscious customers. Retail sales of nonalcoholic beverages grew more than 20% last year, and 120% over three years, per Nielsen.”
Of course anti-alcohol, neo-prohibitionist movements are nothing new in the U.S. What seems different today is the thoughtfulness of the discussion surrounding the various sobriety movements. It’s less about banning alcohol legally; it’s more about an individual choice to stop drinking. As the Guardian wrote in a recent lifestyle piece:
“Whereas problematic drinking used to be hushed or relegated to the edges of polite conversation, confined to anonymous meetings often held in church basements, abstaining from alcohol is increasingly destigmatized. But it still requires a willingness to go against the grain.”
I did my own Dry January a decade ago. My goals were simple – lose weight, improve diet, take a short break. I had no grand designs on giving up wine then, nor do I have any such notions now. That said, as the years pile on I have become much more careful about what and when and how much alcohol I consume. I rarely have hard liqueur cocktails. I no longer indulge in an after-dinner Amaro. I do not attend vast trade tastings, nor do I attempt to review dozens of wines at a time. And I spit wine religiously. But is that enough? It’s an important question, and one that I believe every drinker should consider at least once a year.
I came across a most thoughtful essay from Annie Shull, who owns Raptor Ridge with her husband Scott. I believe she has captured the gestalt of the moment perfectly. Though speaking strictly for herself, she has clearly set out the thinking process and ultimate logic behind her decision to stop drinking. With her permission I am posting her thoughts here, edited slightly for length.
Annie Shull: “Nine months. Might not seem like much. The last four times I have tried this in the past decade, six months has been my record. When working in an industry surrounded by alcohol, any amount of time spent abstaining is actually a lot. At six months, somebody said ‘you should win an award for that’. Not sure about that, but I took the compliment.
“I am bound & determined to see if I can make it another three months. For those who wonder, yes I do occasionally taste and spit, or have a sip of wine or bubbles, maybe even as much as half a glass. But anything beyond that does not feel good anymore. Sobriety comes in different degrees for different people.
“For those of you asking ‘why you of all people, surrounded by all this amazing wine’…? [Because] my skin looks better, my eyes are clear and sparkly again, I sleep better, I think more clearly and less selfishly. My meditation is deeper and more connected, and my memory and recall are sharp. My anger dissipates faster, and flares less frequently (but when it does you know it’s warranted). I enjoy food more. And most importantly, I actually want to get out of bed in the morning.
“My reasons for [publicly] posting this? I want to celebrate my success, and publicly commit to continuing. I hope others feel welcome to join this path if it’s a healthier one for them too. I am not here to lecture anyone. As a wise friend said to me once ‘hey if alcohol works for you, that’s great’.
“I do still love a good party, and I am not anti-alcohol, it just does not work for my body. One very important learning for me in this process is that there are many ways to foster belonging. Learning firsthand how nice it feels to be offered something interesting to drink, maybe even in a pretty glass, has been a game-changer! For the non-alcohol consumer at the dinner table, in the tasting room, or at any gathering, it is a lot more fun to be included in the conversation. For a couple of years now, we’ve had a lovely NA tasting menu at Raptor Ridge in case you or members of your party are on a similar journey. Next time you’re in the area, join me for a sparkling Honey Bee Lemonade drink or glass of wine. Happy 2023, cheers to you, no matter what’s in that glass of yours.”
Thank you Annie Shull for your willingness to share these thoughts. I hope you have inspired others to consider their own approach to alcohol. As you say, and I totally agree, sobriety comes in different degrees for different people.
For me, I have always had a natural balance when it comes to getting high. Have I gone too far on occasion? You bet I have. And I remember the worst excesses to this day, even if they happened decades ago. I do not ever want to wake up hungover. I do not ever want my consumption of alcohol to inspire anger or recklessness or rude behavior. If that should ever occur I have promised myself that is the day I will quit.
So at this reflective time, when the new year is full of hope and promise and each one of us has the opportunity to set goals and make adjustments (not, God forbid, ephemeral resolutions that quickly vanish), I think about my own relationship to alcohol and the ways in which it impacts my life. On balance, for me, it has always been and remains a positive. Should that ever not be true, I pray I will have the intelligence and fortitude to do something about it.