On January 16th, 1919 Nebraska became the 36th of the 48 states that composed these United States of America at the time to ratify the 18th Amendment thus beginning the “noble experiment” that was Prohibition. While Congress didn’t ratify the Amendment until January 29th, and the sale of alcohol wasn’t made fully illegal until January 20th, 1920, it was this date and this vote that set us inexorably down the dry path. And every “Dry January” I’m reminded why I so fundamentally disagree with that decision.
This year over 4 million Americans, including myself, are participating in Dry January, a self inflicted month long Prohibition. After the often booze soaked holiday parties, family visits, and New Year’s parties it makes sense that many people would be feeling the hangover and want to start the New Year with a clean slate. Advocates of Dry January point to increased energy and better sleep, as well as claims that a month long absence of drinking can help reverse some of the damage done by long term drinking. Yet despite these benefits I find myself nearly every day saying “Dry January is dumb.”
I grew up Catholic. Once a year, during Lent, everyone I knew would give up one “vice.” It was usually something absurdly innocuous like candy or soda, but there were a fair amount of people in my community that would go sober for the season. However what I noticed about myself and the people around me, was that this was less of a sacrifice or abstinence but more of an obligation. We weren’t giving up these habits because we were looking for change but rather the illusion of self gratification.
It is self reflection, rather than self prohibition that I would argue for.
As the days ticked down the forbidden substance became more alluring until finally on Easter there was an explosion of indulgence. Children who had been starved of sugar for a month were given literal baskets of candy, those on diets were treated with a feast at Easter Brunch, bottles of wine were cracked, beers were popped, and the spirits did flow.
Now don’t misunderstand, I fully support the idea of self improvement and of examining one’s own personal relationship with their vices and habits, especially when it comes to alcohol, but the self reflection needed for true understanding and growth always seemed lacking from these yearly rituals. People were controlled by the absence of their vices nearly as much as they were beholden to those vices.
I’ve noticed this in my own experimentation with Dry January, which if I’m being honest is really just more of a “Drier” January. This isn’t from lack of will power either, it simply because life is complex, which has always been: a much needed long weekend in Palm Springs with the girlfriend called for a few martinis over a steak dinner, a celebratory dinner at a cocktail competition deserves a communal toast, a complimentary upgrade to first class on a flight cross country nearly demands a glass of wine, and that’s just the first two weeks of the year.
I’ve found myself in these situations actively denying myself from participating in moments of community because of a hardline rule about that is ostensibly about improving my life. And I have learned from my time sober. Particularly, I enjoy realizing how much casual drinking I participate in, and noticing how much even a single drink effects my body. It’s also thrown into focus those times where a drink feels warranted and I’ve deliberately made decision to partake in those communal experiences without feeling like I’m betraying the ideals of my time sober. Yet I have remained dry on more days than I’ve been wet, and it’s a choice I want to make every day.
It is this self reflection, rather than self prohibition that I would argue for.
Instead of “Dry January” might I suggest the “Deliberate Year”
The proponents of Prohibition argued that it would reduce violence, organized crime, promote public health, and generally improve the morals of the country. History proved them pretty drastically wrong primarily I believe because people had no choice. People were not choosing to reduce their consumption to increase their “overall moral character” but were being forced into it, in the same way my family and friends felt obligated during Lent, and over 4 million American’s feel locked into a New Year’s resolution.
I’ve always argued that going dry is untenable because there’s this dinner coming up, or this trip happening, or a myriad of other excuses but that paints a picture to starkly in black and white. It’s what happens in the grey spaces between where change can happen, because there is nothing wrong with raising a glass for a thoughtful reason. So, instead of “Dry January” might I suggest the “Deliberate Year” where we take the time to examine why we want something, why we derive pleasure from it, and adjust our relationship with ourselves rather than our vices.
Sounds exhausting doesn’t it? I think I need a drink…