The Month Without Booze Is A Week Old. I'm Great! How Are You?

Hi ho campers, and welcome to Week Two of Drynuary. We think of Drynuary as being a lot like summer camp: you're out of your element, perhaps meeting new people. You're probably also discovering new activities to pass the time, or rediscovering old ones. There might be tears involved. If you're writing letters home to Mom and Dad we may need to have a talk.

The tears and the activities and such are what Week Two is all about; it's when Drynuary becomes what you make it. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

Last week we talked a bit about the origin story of Drynuary: it started on a dare. By definition, the question was "Can we? Can we do this? Can we make it a WHOLE month?" The problem with Can is it brings Can't into the equation as a possible outcome. Which, in turn, leads to all sorts of existential staring-into-the-chasm moments like, "What does it mean if I Can't?!?!?" If this is your first Drynuary, perhaps you are facing some of these questions. We all did. Some of us do every year, even though we know from years past that we absolutely Can. And while we can't answer those sphincter-clenching soul-plumbing questions for you, we can say this: you CAN. We're proof that you Can. We do this fast every year without flinching. (Naw, that's not true. There's a lot of flinching. But still! We do it.) Jolie once did an upside-down tequila shot at Flaming Saddles. And John shotgunned a tallboy after a rec league ice hockey game, like two weeks ago. He's in his 40s!

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The awesome part about getting past the Can or Can't is that you get to focus more on stuff like Why, which we did last week, and How, which we'll cover this week. Though as we mentioned, Why can also be fraught with its own peril, so be sure to involve your family and/or healthcare provider if you're struggling not to drink to a point that causes you concern. We think that something like Drynuary can be part of changing of America's typically puritanical attitudes toward controlling the use of substances that make you feel good. Coincidentally, the New York Times published an op-ed on New Year's Day which, among other things, noted that booze doesn't have to be a cold-turkey binary choice:

"[Moderation Management] instructs drinkers to abstain for 30 days, reintroduce alcohol while evaluating the effects of drinking, and then stick within limits..."

Boom! Drynuary. Now let's talk about How.

On The Importance Of Activities

John: As in, How are we doing? How do we do it?

Jolie: I'm doing pretty well actually! The first few days were the usual ghastly experience as I worked to break that 4pm wine habit, but the miserable weather helped in that I had absolutely no interest in leaving the house anyway, making the prospect of hitting a bar to work or catch up with friends utterly unappealing. Work, too, has helped in that I've had a lot (a lot a lot a lot) of it to do, and I love my work, so I'm happy to devote my time to it.

John: I've always advocated trying to maintain your routines and not hiding inside like a hermit. Easy for me to say, though, because I'm trapped inside with a 3-year-old and a pregnant woman! That said, go to bars, watch football with friends, enjoy your club soda with lime and smugness. My first Drynuary, my wife and I ended up in a diner at 10pm on a Saturday night, having coffee and pie and wondering where/who the hell we were. This year, Santa brought us a bunch of fun portable electronics that we need to figure out how to use, because we're Olde. (Spoiler alert: I can't WAIT to embarrass my kids when they get older. I'm gonna be THAT DAD with the outdated slang and last year's gadgets.) But what else can we recommend for folks whose weekend routine typically (and rightly) might involve catching up over drinks or a boozy brunch?

Jolie: This is where you and I diverge a bit: I'm a bit of a hermit by nature, so one of the selling points of Drynuary for me is the built-in excuse to abstain from socializing, especially after the amount of social time I'm required to put in during the holidays.

I also use my Drynuary time to get a jump on household projects in need of doing; I figure that while the weather is crummy and I'm not drinking, I might as well bang out things like fixing that sticky shower curtain rod (thank you, WD-40!) and cleaning behind the oven (oh hello, Blue Moon bottle cap from God knows when!).

Of course, there's only so much one can do around the house before one starts to talk to the walls. Which is when alternative activities come into play. This year I'm doing a lot of tea dates. In years past, I've met friends to wander around restaurant supply stores, checked out small and/or weird bookstores, and had friends over for pie and coffee. You mentioned diners, which are great alternatives to bars, as are coffee shops, for people who are looking to meet up with friends after work or on the weekends.

Drynuary is also a great time to take a class you've always said you wanted to check out—knife skills, learning how to knit, finally tackling the climbing wall at the gym … those are great things to try out when you're abstaining from alcohol.

I also devote some of my Drynuary time to futzing with new recipes—particularly ones that are longer and more involved than what I usually go in for. This year, because I'm capitalizing on not drinking by going back on my diet for the final weight loss sprint, I'm not doing as much baking as I generally would do during my dry month, instead opting to cook my way through the copy of Skinny Italian Santa Claus brought me.

On Cooking Your Way Through Drynuary

John: You know, since we can't talk about fun cocktail recipes … (drifts off into a wistful reverie) ... hmmmm … (shakes self out of it)...uh, we should talk about food! Especially since we both are big cooks. So, here are some recipes that can keep us occupied this month.

I'll start with a really simple slow-cooker short rib ragu recipe that really hits the spot, includes ingredients you probably already have laying around and did I mention that it's super easy?

It's been established that cooking with alcohol is allowed during Drynuary. Go nuts! It's winter, and you need to fortify your braising liquids, and adding wine to the short rib ragu recipe is perfectly reasonable. But it has an unintended risk this month: now that you've used a cup of that quaffable $11 bottle of red wine to make pot roast, you can't just quaff the rest. There's also this inherent contradiction of cooking great meals during Drynuary: Drinking while cooking the meal is at least as enjoyable as drinking while eating it. Our suggestion is to use caution, and maybe cook something like chili with a beer that leaves no tempting leftovers.

Jolie: I'm fortunate when it comes to those "tempting leftovers" that my husband is not participating in Drynuary, so he'll drink whatever is left from any wine I'm putting in the cooking. Actually, as I write this he's out buying wine for use in the chicken cacciatore a la Teresa Giudice that I'm making for dinner tonight. He's also picking up some diet ginger ale for me even though I told him I was planning to drink it out of a flute and call it "sham-pagne."

I know, "sham-pagne" is unforgivably awful. But it does provide a nice segue into a discussion of mocktails. (ALSO A TERRIBLE TERM, IT SHOULD BE NOTED.)

On Mocktails, Which Is A Terrible Term

John: Come on, Drynuary is rife with terrible neologisms. (WINK!) By now, you've started working substitute beverages into your routine. This early, I'm usually all about the simple stuff: club soda with a fresh lemon, lime, or orange wedge squeezed in. When I'm feeling fancy, I pour some tonic water over ice and add a wedge of fruit. I'm a huge Sodastream fan, but I avoid the flavor mixes you can add to the water in favor of natural fruit. This early in the month, these simple effervescent drinks can mimic a cocktail without mimicking the calories. That is key: One of the best effects of Drynuary is the slimming that comes from avoiding the calories of booze. So don't just replace the calories you are saving by watching Downton Abbey with a Big Gulp.

And did I mention coffee?

Jolie: You did! But it bears repeating that coffee is great stuff. Drynuary is a good time to get fancy with your coffee, in addition to developing a few go-to non-alcoholic drink recipes. An old favorite of mine is club soda with a splash of Rose's lime juice; growing up, I was fond of club soda and O.J. But those are both pretty basic, and we can do better. To Google!

Virgin Garden Mary | HGTV

Non-Alcoholic Sangria | The Kitchn

Haymaker's Ginger Switchel | Eating Well

Cherry Bombs | Martha Stewart

Rhubarb Soda | YumSugar

Wine Country Soda | Vignette

John: Apart from fizzy water, I got quite exotic last year by making Grenadian Sorrel Drink, and in addition to being a fun activity, it works for Drynuary as well as the rest of the year because you can tart it up with booze.

Wait, We've Got More To Say About Activities

Jolie: In a way that's similar to using cooking to fill up some time, making up fanciful drinks is another kind of fun activity that makes Drynuary a bit more tolerable (and we would love for you to tell us your favorites!) Which leads me back to our discussion about activities, because a thing I've been seeing on twitter (and have experienced myself) is a lot of gnashing of teeth about how bored people are.

A crucial factor in making it through Week Two and beyond is to take some time to think of things to do that don't involve alcohol. Which sounds incredibly simplistic, but sometimes stating things outright flips a switch for people.

One thing I find helpful is to plumb the recesses of my memory and think of things I enjoyed before I was of drinking age. Seriously! What hobbies did you have as a teenager? Maybe revisit one of those; you might be really surprised how much fun you have with it. Anything from playing D&D, to making collages or decoupaging everything in the house, to playing old video games. Embrace your inner dork, basically. What about board and card games? Those are wicked fun actually! And sometimes we forget that. If you're a solo dweller and have room for it, pick up a giant puzzle and work on that for the month. It takes some extra mental effort, but surely you can figure out one or two activities that don't require/aren't associated with alcohol that you enjoy. The bonus is that once Drynuary is over, you may keep up with the hobby and use it as one part of being more mindful about pairing drinking with fun-time activities.

On The Media Rending Its Garments Over Drynuary

John: Totally. It's still winter when Drynuary is over, after all, so adding anti-boredom activities to your repertoire is the gift that keeps on giving.

While it's too early to even think about the end of Drynuary—we'll cover that more in Week Four—there has been some teeth-gnashing over what's to become of us poor lost souls once Drynuary ends (and yes, it will end!). Thankfully, we have the New York Post to look after us:

"[Drynuary] also leads to bingeing as soon as the calendar hits Feb. 1, say experts."

Huh. As someone who's completed 7 Drynuarys—and no, don't mistake me for the guy from Bon Appetit who also happens to be on Drynuary VIII and starts on January 2nd and is joined by his wife and has favorite mocktails and writes tips on how to make it through the month—I'd consider myself a Drynuary expert, and I have to say that the Post's claim is utter bullshit. Unless you count getting tipsy on two glasses of wine "bingeing." Funny thing: I recall you and I explicitly warning people about the perils of "re-entry" way back when. Guess Google has a selective memory.

Jolie: I had just as much as a "Huh?" moment as you when I read that. I got in touch with the expert the Post cited, Rania Batayneh, to ask about the data behind that (and to offer to share my experience with her!) She responded that I'd misinterpreted her statements, but declined to clarify them, directing me instead to leave a comment on the article. I … did not choose to do that. Commenting on a Post article strikes me as a far worse thing to do to oneself than abstaining from drinking for a month.

In any event, both you and I came away from the various articles in opposition to Drynuary with the same reaction: "How odd." Your comments to Slate summed up our attitudes nicely, I thought, so I'll share them here: "There's no zealotry here. If you don't do Drynuary, who cares?"

John: Thanks. I fear we may accidentally stray into some Smug v. Smarm territory, but I do appreciate a well-researched piece.

Jolie Kerr is the author of the upcoming book My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can't Ask Martha (Plume, February 25, 2014); more of her natterings can be found on Twitter, Kinja, and Tumblr.

John Ore's writing has appeared on The Awl, The Hairpin, and The Billfold. You can also follow him on Twitter and Kinja if that's your thing.