After mistakenly spending $56 on ramen noodles, I’m giving Dry January a try
If I had to swear off something as a resolution this January, there’s no way in hell it was going to be caffeine, sugar, sex or cheese.
I want to start by saying I don’t have a problem. Still, I thought it would be easier to give up alcohol for a month. After learning about “Dry January,” where people give up drinking for one month in the new year, I wanted to give it a try.
Usually, I’m a light drinker–with alcohol making its appearance around 8 pm. Not every night, but maybe four nights a week on average. I go to the bar around the corner. I’ll get a pint, have some half-formed thoughts, chuckle inwardly at my wry observations (then forget to write them down), have a second beer, and after a bit more procrastination head home to fall asleep listening to NPR. From what I’ve read about Dry January, this level of consumption would put me roundly in the grammar school division.
Then New Year’s Eve happened. I was in Brooklyn, staying at a hostel and catching up with some high school friends. I wound up getting suckered into going to a Bavarian beer hall in Greenwich Village, followed by a house party in Bushwick, and climbing out a window then up a fire escape to a rooftop on Dekalb Ave to watch fireworks burst at midnight over Brooklyn. By night’s end I’d had three liters of beer at (or 6.34 pints, or two and a half glass boots) followed by a whiskey sour at the party and a champagne toast on the roof.
I was smashed. Hammered. Blotto. I’m surprised I made it back to a bed – let alone my bed, the bed I’d actually reserved – and didn’t end up fluffing up some trash bags in a back alley in Redhook. As I woke up with my head feeling like an overripe cantaloupe, and fished through the detritus of the night before to find a tissue, I pulled out a sales receipt.
I learned that somewhere around 2 am I’d spent $56 on ramen. That’s the moment I decided to try going sober for a month.
It happened to be the new year, but it didn’t strike me as any kind of resolution. I’ve long given up on trying to change myself in grand gestures. I just found myself infuriated by that receipt. Fifty six dollars for ramen?! You can get that stuff at the corner store for sixty seven cents a bag. Just who the hell was I at 2 am on January 1st of 2017? And besides, I wanted to forego drinking for a month just to prove to myself that I could.
For me, giving up drinking would be like giving up dryer sheets, I reasoned. I’ve got both a stash of booze and a stash of Bounty in my house, and there’s a layer of dust on both of them. And yet, there hasn’t been a day in the new year that I haven’t thought about having a drink.
It’s when something disappears from your life that you realize the role it held for you. Sure, I fall asleep faster and I wake up earlier, with more energy and better bowel movements, but on an evening out, just how am I going to talk to anyone without the gesture and prop of a glass of scotch to punctuate my various witty remarks?
Actually, that’s somewhat hyperbolic. While in my regular life I do have drinks on dates and with friends, mostly I drink alone. Sherman Alexie said ‘write drunk, edit sober,’ and I just feel less inclined to get to punching out words without a beer at hand to break up my thoughts and stop me from being so self-critical. I don’t know that alcohol facilitates the creative process for me, but it certainly is a part of it.
Another surprise was that rather than facilitate social interaction, I found that alcohol had frequently taken the place of friendship. Instead of meeting up with a friend, or making new ones, I would just stay in with a book, a beer, and a bath. Which is still among my favorite things, but I do like to at least occasionally do more with my friends than just texting. I hadn’t thought I had been out of touch, but it’s been really nice to find myself reconnecting and spending these rainy days watching movies and talking. However, I have to admit at least one extreme disappointment. The pizza joint around the corner, with its rota of fifteen different craft ciders and beers, is only fair to middling without an IPA.
So now that I’m not drinking, I’m reading up on alcoholism. In the United States around ten percent of men and five percent of women have struggled with alcohol abuse at some point in their life. However, for LGBT Americans, the figure is significantly higher, with twenty to thirty percent having faced substance abuse during their lifetime. While I couldn’t find the exact study cited for this number, the CDC does bear this out on their own website:
Studies have shown that, when compared with the general population, gay and bisexual men, lesbian, and transgender individuals are more likely to:
- Use alcohol and drugs,
- Have higher rates of substance abuse,
- Not withhold from alcohol and drug use, and
- Continue heavy drinking into later life.
I can’t wait for February to come. I swear to vodka I’ll somehow make it through this month.
I really don’t think I’m an alcoholic. There’s a beer in my fridge and a bottle of bourbon in my pantry, but I don’t crave to have either just for the sake of having them. I want the ceremony, not the substance. In the meantime, I still scribble down notes and fall asleep listening to NPR, but all my procrastinating just seems hollow without a few glasses of booze propping it up. I’m just sitting doing nothing. Not sitting doing nothing and feeling good about it. It’s extremely irritating. I wind up actually having to go do things.
This information is sobering, though regrettably unsurprising. The gay bar has long been the social gathering place for the LGBT community. And most, if not all gays, lesbians, and transgender people will face struggles of identity and acceptance in their lifetime, and will confront homophobia, discrimination, and violence. That they turn to chemical substances as a way to cope should not be a surprise, though it should be a concern.
Premium aged, naturally aromatic, produced in a facility that also uses soy, nuts, dairy, and gluten: these are the words that might be used to describe Cirrus Wood. Or they may just be something he read off a bag of basmati rice he had in the pantry because he didn’t know what to write here.
Cirrus Wood is a freelance writer and photographer, fine art model, bike messenger and, occasionally, adult film actor. His writing has appeared in the Bold Italic, California Magazine, UC Berkeley alumni journal and other publications.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of BETA or of San Francisco AIDS Foundation. BETA serves as a resource on new developments in HIV prevention and treatment, strategies for living well with HIV, and gay men’s health issues. Our goal is to inform, empower, and inspire conversation.