Epic Fail for Dry January? Daytime Drinking in Lockdown? Too Much Toking Going On? No Worries (Part Two)

Michelle Dawson is an Artist, Illustrator and Tutor who lives in Worthing. She enjoys drawing the beaches and countryside of Worthing and the surrounding area and mainly works in Indian ink. Her work is available as greetings cards and limited edition prints from michelledawsonartist.Etsy.com

I was having an AF drinking afternoon with a neighbour* and we were talking about our shifts in drinking behaviours.

Alcohol was making me sick. Had to cut it.

I’m curious about how she feels about the Dry January movement.

I’m curious about how I feel about it, for that matter.

As an anthropologist, I can relate it to an eternal and widespread (so widespread that it becomes banal) human practice of living by cyclic rhythms which counterpoint periods of feasting with periods of fasting; but an academic and personal aversion to modernity’s binaries and dualisms deplores anything which sets itself up as a stark either/or choice. Binge-drink and/or cultivate a dependency for 11 months punctuated by going cold turkey for January: are my only choices to be drunk-dependent or totally abstinent? Fuck that as a choice. I want more nuance. (Though I recognise and respect that some folks feel that they absolutely do have to structure their drinking as an ‘on or off’ switch).

And, much as the fasting-feasting cycle can be damaging, I can also appreciate the aesthetics of a total fast – of a temporary abstinence from anything.

Anyone who’s done Ramadan or Lent will tell you that getting engaged with it shifts your mindset, your embodied habituation, and your very sense of who you are – by playing with your relationship to habits, cravings, control, desire, dependence, solitude, pride, and some more very big stuff. You start off the month (or whatever) full of optimism and can-do; slide into a moment of obsessive craving and a terror that, actually, you cannot-do. But then the absent or denied substance or practice gradually slips away into a less and less obsessive desire, to the point that, by the end of the fast, your relationships to the denied thing and to yourself have shifted. That process of touching the heart of your desire and attachment gifts you some handy life-skills in self-control for sure, but – more importantly – some spiritual wisdom (what do you really need, rather than habitually desire? what (dys)function does your habit play for you?) Right now, lockdown is doing similar work for a lot of people.

Back to the Worthing kitchen, where the Livener is perking up our conversation. Nobody’s leaning on the counter-top now. We pace, gesture, speak energetically.

I used to think that Dry January was the most ridiculous thing: you come into the most miserable month and … But with age, comes wisdom. I think people should try dry weeks, dry days, dry hours. And I personally can now do a dry month, but in my 30s, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Maybe people might not put themselves under that pressure – to do a whole dry month – but think instead about not drinking so much during the rest of the year.

Mmm, but talking about ‘dry days’ – the whole ‘dry’ concept – feels so negative. I’d rather talk about being ‘conscious’ and getting into it – as opposed to being ‘out of it’.

We sip, pause, consider the difference that language can make. I scribble in my notebook, catching up and changing tack.

Listen! I don’t want to frame up another bloody either/or opposition, but what do you feel about the AA-style sobriety (or even ‘hip sobriety‘) angle as compared to the ‘mindful drinking‘ approach?

I feel sorry for people who are counting, like – ‘I’ve done 20 years, 5 weeks and 3 days’ – and then if they have one drink, they feel like they’re going back to zero.

I feel like it would be better if we were taught mindful drinking, from a young age, like – let’s have one glass of wine with dinner tonight, then let’s put the cork back, and let’s not think about it for the next couple of days.

Yeah, like, there’s a lack of nuance – in everything, right? And the sobriety approach can feel so binary.

Totally – and that’s like an epidemic, it’s cultural, that kind of ‘all or nothing’ thinking. It’s so black & white. Some people of my type of background can do well in AA, but most of us, I think, will do better with a moderation approach. It’s like – I’ll never climb a mountain, but I’ll get up Cissbury Ring alright.

Totally. And what do you think about low ABV and AF?

I’ve never tried the low ABV stuff, but on a girls’ night in, I was trying to slow down so I moved from wine to cider, thinking – lower ABV. But the old habits kicked in and I just kept pouring. I suppose it could be good to have low ABV, so that when you pour, at least it’s less alcohol going in? I never really think about low ABV wine – I remember it by accident.

That’s might be just as well. Everything I’ve been told about it (from people who know about wine-making processes and stuff), is that it is, and is likely doomed for a while to be, shit wine. So yeah, an alternative drink is probably better.

But apart from low ABV, I’ll tell you something I do love – a bar that shuts at 9.30, 10pm.

Oh yes – kind of ‘low DH’ – drink hours! I love being able to go to the Brooksteed for 7.30 and know I’ll stop drinking by 9.30. It works out at exactly three drinks. Home and in bed by 10.30, asleep by 11, up bright and clear headed next day. Fantastic.

Yeah. We do the Fox & Finch. We love it. I think it’s great how the new micropubs work. And it’s all quality stuff, too.

Quality matters. We’re a product of what we eat and drink, and we can too easily lose sight of that and not care. What we’re drinking is just as important as what we’re eating. Like, with the vegan movement, organic and that – people now are paying attention to quality. Vegan culture is coming in strong. So there’s a market for good stuff that’s plant-based. And yeah, this Three Spirit is expensive, but we’re not binge-drinking, so the bottle lasts for ages.

Image from Three Spirit homepage

Not if you come round here for a natter, it won’t. We’ve done two in an hour and I’m feeling fantastic. Could easily do another one, if we didn’t both have to get dinner started. As my neighbour had just pointed out, the old habits kick in without you even noticing.

Last thoughts, then, on all this stuff?

The hidden sugar in alcohol! Silent diabetes and all that. You often overlook the liquids you’re putting into your body when you think about your diet. And then, with alcohol, the ‘oh, fuck it’, attitude creeps in. When I gave up drinking, I thought I was healthy, cos I didn’t eat sugar. But I was using lemonade, coke and stuff. It would be fantastic to go into a bar and be able to get a sugar-free decent drink.

Wouldn’t it? I’m lucky that I love beer – but there’s many people who don’t and who want AF or low ABV alternative to wine or spirits.

We drain our glasses, smack our lips thoughtfully and grin. Survivors of the 80s, 90s, and all that. Older, and hopefully a little bit less fucked up than we once were. Feeling ok. Good times ahead, plenty of them. Not weird (even if still the odd one out in many of our own social circles) but riding a growing trend.

And one last thing – but it’s an important one.

With mindfulness, mental health is now being spoken about. I think for the future, it will be much less common to be using drugs and drink as self-medication, in the way that our post-war boomer generation do. My hope for our children is that the binge culture is fading away. Alcohol-related problems makes a lot of mess and cost for the government: the NHS impact; the social costs – social impacts of bad choices made because of alchohol.

She grins. I really hope to guide my children not to do as I did – but isn’t that all parenting?!

Quite possibly. We laugh.

Let’s go talk to some young folks. We know that younger people are embracing mocktails, sober socials, conscious clubbing, and lower alcohol, but at the same time, alcohol does continue to have a grip – and so too does weed. Big time. Dry January has its counterpart in No-Gan Jan. Let’s go hear about how that works.

(Part Three, which will talk about No-Gan Jan and also hear from a drink-drugs specialist, and Part Four, which will hear from two specialists, will wrap this topic up for now. This weekend, you can dip your lockdown home-manicured toes into part of the sober scene here).

*Back in Jan – BC. The post is getting written after Lent and during Ramadan – also AC.

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