Dryanuary – Lessons Learned

Guys, I survived Dryanuary. Well, mostly. 

But for a minor break late in the month so I could attend the Capital Brewers Meetup here in Dublin, I was alcohol-free. David didn’t drink anything above a few sips of AF beer, and a negligible sample of the IPA I bottled on Sunday. And I’ll profess that I mostly cajoled him into those sips…

I wanted to reflect a little about what I learned by being teetotal for a month. 

  • I lost about 3 kg in weight, though I suspect this is more to do with resuming my fitness regimen after the holidays.
  • I drank way more water — on average between 64 – 80 fl oz a day, which was great for my skin!
  • I woke up with fewer headaches, but getting to sleep was much harder. 
  • I cooked at home a lot more. Some of this was due to the fact that January weather blows, but I’m sure a non-trivial part had to do with losing alcohol as a motivator to go out.
  • I missed the small comfort that a cool beer or glass of red wine brings on a stressful day. Tea and water really don’t have the same ability to calm the nerves. 
  • To that end, I also found myself getting a bit more stressed out than normal, and as a result, my fuse and tolerance for bullshit was also much shorter in January. 

Too Little Beer, or Too Much Stress? 

It’s hard to tease out exactly how much effect abstaining from beer had on my stress levels. We had a lot of things going on in January. We’re five months into a huge home renovation, that felt like it would never end. I spent most of the month picking out appliances, bathroom fixtures, doing measurements and negotiating with contractors. I also spent most of the month stressing out because things were inevitably delayed. This wasn’t helped by the fact that we were out of the country most weekends on short trips. Now, I am a huge travel slut, but it left little in the way of downtime to decompress. 

Plus, it’s January. It was cold. And dark. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a thing, y’all. Also, I had a variety of interpersonal bits of grumpiness that are best reserved for a therapist’s couch, and not this blog. 

I also noticed that David and I saw more of one another, just the two of us. He stayed home from work more in January (he caught a few colds). We went out less, and had less opportunity to interact with others. And we skipped the winding-down ritual of drinking over dinner. 

Is Drinking Together a Bad Thing? 

While there are ample studies on the negative effects of alcohol on marriage (especially when one partner drinks and the other doesn’t), there are some studies that have shed light on positive aspects of moderate alcohol consumption in marriage: 

[D]rinking with one’s partner in romantic relationships is associated with positive relationship functioning (e.g., increased intimacy) … Relationship-specific alcohol expectancies (RSAE) may moderate these associations and illuminate for whom these processes are more positive or negative. The current study tested RSAE as a moderator of the time-lagged daily associations between relationship drinking contexts and next-day relationship functioning in a sample of mostly adult, married, moderate-drinking couples.

Levitt, Derrick and Testa, Relationship-specific alcohol expectancies and gender moderate the effects of relationship drinking contexts on daily relationship functioning (2014).

Another study, looking at drinking patterns amongst older adults found that “concordant drinking” patterns (where both partners drank), led to increases in positive marital outcomes, such as increased marital satisfaction and lower divorce rates, especially for wives. 

Kira S Birditt, James A Cranford, Jasmine A Manalel, Toni C Antonucci, Drinking Patterns Among Older Couples: Longitudinal Associations With Negative Marital Quality, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, Volume 73, Issue 4, May 2018, Pages 655–665, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbw073

I have a suspicion that some of this boils down to what kind of drunk you are. Fortunately, David and I are both happy, communicative drunks. I tend to take things less seriously, when I’ve had a few, and David becomes delightfully social. In fact, our entire relationship changed (for the better), when in the middle of a drunken gin & tonic session early in our relationship, I expressed my emphatic belief that marriage was overrated, and instead, relationships should be contractual.  We even borrowed the “relationship contract” from Big Bang Theory as a template.[1]

In last week’s Fizz, I expounded on why drinking for so many people is less about being drunk, and more useful as an aid for building relationships: 

I was at dinner yesterday with friends, and we discussed why drinking was important to us. For me, it’s the community of fellow drinkers that I’ve met in Ireland. We share a common interest, but deeply varied backgrounds, passions, pains and experiences. Yet we can always be assured to bond over a great beer. Or bitch about a crappy one. But, through that initial common interest, we also discuss our lives, our hopes, our dreams. We share our struggles. The alcohol cuts the anxiety of sharing, and friendships grow. 

During our month of sobriety, it was hard to get motivated to go out and engage socially. That hook of ‘getting a drink’ wasn’t there anymore. Moreover, I felt like if I did go out to a bar, as I love to do when I’m working on this blog, I’d chat with the bartenders, or my fellow patrons, and be tempted to break my vow of abstinence. 

 Is Drinking Like Sex? 

It’s said that a strong relationship needs many things to survive: good communication, shared experiences, mutual respect, intimacy, and for many, physical affection. When any one aspect is lacking, it can be hard to maintain. 

While I don’t think beer or drinking quite rises to the level of sex when it comes to necessity, alcohol does lower the armor that we adorn to survive in the world. We become less inhibited. We speak our minds (there is a reason in vino, veritas is a trope we’re all very familiar with). We’re better at listening (or at least bartenders are). And the guilt that many of us might have around sex diminishes with drink. 

Too much drink, like too much of anything, is bad. But is it possible that for some of us, so is too little?  

I don’t know if Dryanuary was tough from the beer, or tough due to an excess of stress in the month. I do know that it felt harder, but not in a craving sort of way, more in a getting by kind of way. 

It felt in many respects, like dealing with anxiety without resorting to an SSRI. Sure, you can do it without drugs. But it’s exhausting. Willpower takes energy and effort. It takes vigilance. And maintaining that is hard. Chemistry has made dealing with things like anxiety and depression easier, and for the most part, we as a society have accepted that. 

With booze, or drugs, we’re somewhat more schizophrenic. Lots of people drink. But just like having sex, there’s lots of guilt around drinking, even when you’re not doing it to excess. 

Maybe in the fullness of time, when David and I have been married for 50 years, I’ll have an answer to this question. For now, I’ll take another sip of beer and hope that the benefits outweigh the harm. 

[1] There’s much, much more to this story, but suffice to say, my now-husband is a smart man, saw an in, and played it perfectly.  

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