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It was New Year’s Day 2014 — I believe I was trying to outflank an inchoate hangover migraine with flat lukewarm last-night champagne — when my girlfriend proposed Dry January. Dry wha? You know, a month without drinking alcohol. I went all Gollum on her, hissing and spitting, frog-eyed about how dare she try to take away my precious — my casually therapeutic glass of wine, my martinis that put satisfying punctuation at the end of a ragged, run-on sentence of a day. I think I had a bit of a conniption. Which meant, yeah, Dry January: probably a good idea.

Oh, it was dry, alright. My mind felt like a piece of chalk — hard, crumbly, a strangely primitive tool. (Turns out that was the return of a fugitive mental clarity that I didn’t know what to do with.) Most valuably, though, that month served as a sort of on ramp to (er, mostly) a more judicious and aware and consciously moderated approach to the party juice, mindful of things like school nights, big weekends, busy tomorrows at work. More fundamentally, Dry January became a kind of networking cocktail mixer (ha!) in which I got reintroduced to parts of my mind that were hiding behind the thickening pellicle of a drink here, a drink there.

This year — to even my surprise — I proposed Dry January. It almost felt like a seasonal urge, which I guess explains why, I’ve discovered, it’s a thing: a post-holidays period of alco-fasting to allow body and mind to regroup, to force a reckoning distance between you and your habits to consider anew the cost/value relationship. Last year, I was feeling Dry January every day; the phantom limb of a coveted habit pricked and shocked at every turn: This bad day is missing the fuzzy redemption of an Old Fashioned; this great dinner would be excellent with a glass of wine. The decision umbrellaed over the entire month felt like a sentence to get through; ironically, that comparison-born dissatisfaction had the same displacing effect of a drink (but not as fun.)

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This year, this month, however, the decision feels more like a liberation from all that minor-key fretting and fussing over what to drink, when to drink, how much — the questions of pacing, motive and intent that start to abrade and erode your mental energies. And with those reserves freed up from both drink and all its shadows, I like to think I’ve been sleeping better, waking wakier, and maybe even penning a higher breed of meandering, diaristic blog posts. None of this is some endorsement of the teetotaling lifestyle — ugh, that feels to me stonily final, and seems to hide in its heart a skulking puritanical suspicion of pleasure — but right now, hey man, let’s party.

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