Well, So Much for Dry January


Well, that was quick.

Dry January, the social-media fueled month of voluntary sobriety, became Damp January in under a week for many temporary teetotalers. Many were horrified enough by the assault on the U.S. Capitol and the ensuing protracted situation to break their vow and reach for the bottle, as evidenced by jokes, confessions and memes ricocheting around Twitter and Instagram.

Among bandwagoneers, the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I conversation was happening offline, too, as many attempting four weeks as non-tipplers decided that a national crisis was bigger than a 31-day health kick.

Dry January at least seemed like a sensible way to start fresh in 2021, said Nina McConigley, an assistant honors professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie who swore off her extended pandemic cocktail kick.

But as she and her husband watched the tragedy unfold on television, feeling “sad and useless,” a nice dinner and a bottle of tempranillo seemed like the only balm, Ms. McConigley, 45, said: “I am of color, watching the Confederate flag being paraded in the Capitol, it was the worst. The act of a hot warm dinner and nice wine, it felt self-preserving.”

After five days of lemon detox tea, for example, Emily Titelman, an event producer in Los Angeles, detoured to tequila and orange juice on Wednesday, to ease her nerves after witnessing a mob send elected officials, their staff and media into hiding for their lives.

“As someone who is very politically engaged, I felt morally obligated to return to the news,” Ms. Titelman, 35, said. The drink, she added, “absolutely took the edge off my very real anger.”

A year of quarantine had converted Adam Roberts, 41, the creator of Amateur Gourmet, a food blog, from social drinker to a regular home drinker, he said. It got to the point that he had vowed that very day, on a walk with his husband, the film director Craig Johnson, and their dog in the Atwater Village neighborhood of Los Angeles, to cut out drinking on weekdays during January.

“But when we got home and saw the images of a guy in a Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt storming the U.S. Capitol, I said, ‘I changed my mind. Make me a Oaxacanite,” he said.

Others who had pledged a month of sobriety managed to stay dry through the crisis, if barely.

Hitha Palepu, a pharmaceuticals executive in New York, leaned on more than 20 Dry January accountability groups she had started on Instagram to convince her to to boil a kettle for tea (albeit, with a drop or two of CBD,) rather than uncork a bottle of pinot noir.

“I had spent the past four years numbing the feelings that the news brought me with wine,” Ms. Palepu, 36, said. “This time, I chose to fully feel these feelings and find a new way to process them. It was my own little act of resistance for my present and future self, against my past self.”

The vision of the president of the United States goading his supporters against Congress, the Senate and his own vice president proved to be a shocking test for Frauke Weston, who is German and a marketing manager in Brooklyn. She was wondering if she could stick with her alcohol-free month she began, as she awaits her final interview to gain citizenship later this month.

“I keep getting messages from German and American friends alike, jokingly asking ‘Are you sure you want to sign up for this?’” Ms. Weston said.

For those who signed on to Dry January as a wellness experiment, like a juice cleanse, it seemed all in good fun to ditch their resolve after a few days and post jokey memes on Twitter, like the oft-quoted line from the 1980 comedy film “Airplane” — “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

But for many with addiction issues, the crisis of Jan. 6 was a graver matter, particularly after a wearying 2020 that seemed like a stress-ridden version of the movie “Groundhog Day,” said Dr. Joseph Lee, the medical director of Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Minneapolis.

“You’re seeing the intersection of pandemic stress, economic stress, political and social strife, and all those things have added together and predictably have increased the consumption of various substances by high-risk people,” Dr. Lee said in an email.

A lot of people, he said, were posting messages on social media like, “‘We made it five days, then everything went dumpster-fire-emoji,’” he said. “But on a serious level, when people are isolated and already over-interpreting the news, worrying too much, and losing confidence in our sense of democracy, all these things can be tipping points for people at risk.”

For those with the luxury of experimenting with sobriety by choice, however, the evenings of hot tea with lemon will last only through a month, even if the political chaos does not.

A day after breaking her Dry January vow, Ms. McConigley was back on the wagon, intent to last through the month. Well, most of the month, anyway.

“My one exception for the month has always been Jan 20,” she said. “We have a special bottle of champagne we are saving for Inauguration Day.”



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