Contemporary                                         Culture

Is 2021 really the year to try Dry January?

In the perilous conditions that are 2021, we carefully weigh up the pros and cons of not tippling.

words hannah cole

dry january

Guilt and pleasure: two opposing states of being and feeling. Today we only pair these words when referring to a ‘guilty pleasure’ — an overused term to describe those acts of self-care or indulgence that are somewhat embarrassing. But should an act of pleasure be guilty?

January is always a tough time when it comes to the guilt vs. pleasure dichotomy. Resolutions essentially acknowledge a problem with oneself and the subsequent aim to improve, or ‘optimise’, or be ‘better’. It’s the language of our time. We want to lose weight, get fit, upskill, and treat thy body as thy temple. Guilt overrides pleasure in this scheme; it is the driving force.

Dry January is the perfect example of this. After a December of drinking and eating to our hearts’ content, the post-Christmas month is often a recovery period. For some, this is a punishment for too much celebrating. For others, it’s a test of will, stamina and self-control. 

Since 2013 the concept of a Dry January has grown exponentially. Established by Alcohol Change UK, the push entails a month free from alcohol, allowing the body to operate sans the booze effects. January: the perfect time to make a shift. New year, new me, as they say. Tens of millions must agree — it’s estimated that approximately five million citizens take part each year in the UK alone. 

As some articles have stated, joining the crusade is increasingly ‘fashionable’. It’s become a badge of honour; proof of self-worth and status in the ‘wellness’ space. Aside from others’ applauds, a period free of alcohol does have its inarguable benefits: the potential to lose weight, sleep better, experience more energy and hydration, save a few dollars. Ultimately, the goal is to establish a more mindful relationship with alcohol. 

It’s a counter to the binge culture we are all too familiar with. In both Australia and New Zealand, it is reported that one in four consume a risky amount of alcohol each week, or drink ‘hazardously’. In light of the release of new guidelines in Oz — revising the maximum number of drinks per week of 14 down to 10 in December — a few more of us may unknowingly have joined the statistic. 

Of course, the concept of reducing our alcohol intake is well worthwhile and a fresh way to kickstart the year. But what a year we have had. When 2020 kicked off with raging bushfires from the get-go then quickly catapulted with a pandemic, it was one punch after another. Hope was found in the small things, however. Some found peace in painting, yoga, and baking (good for them, I say). As tacky as they soon became, I thrived on the virtual happy hour — an excuse to pour a glass or shake a cocktail at a decent hour. 

In the early months of Covid-19’s reign, CBA reported that household spending on alcohol was up 20 per cent YOY. We started stockpiling (the visuals of bottle shops ransacked — to be met with purchasing limits — proving alcohol as necessary as toilet paper to the Australian society). Some started drinking more (although within particular demographics, there is a story of drinking less), which was cited as being driven by increased stress, more time at home and, simply, boredom. 

While it’s all well and good to say that this further proves our need for a dry month, is it a good idea? I’m not promoting excessive drinking or unhealthy habits here — for those who do feel themselves slipping into alcohol’s abyss, please seek help. But the rest of us — who use alcohol as a social tool, and maybe an innocent balm every now and then — have we not already dealt with enough pressure these last 12 months? 

Personally, I’ve always been a member of the mindset that defies these abstaining stints. If I want a glass of wine that badly, should I deprive myself? Listening to my body has become increasingly important as I age — it determines the nourishment, the exercise, the time out I need.

Coming back to the guilt vs. pleasure conundrum, I feel good — I feel pleasure — when I act on these messages. Sometimes, the body knows best and obeying this is not something to feel guilty about. 

Drinking shouldn’t be self-care; it won’t solve all our problems. It is not a tool to forget the last year, either. But maybe abstinence is out for 2021. Instead, it’s about time we tuned in to what we need, and feel guilt-free for doing so. Wellness gurus may hunt me down, but if it seems right, if it’s not taken excessively, then pay attention. Choose momentary pleasure; there is no denying we all deserve a bit of a break. 

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