Photo from Cirkel instagram.

If it’s January, this must be sparkling water.

Back in the days when I was in the music business, I rationalized that drinking was a natural part of socializing, networking and checking out fledgling bands in bars and nightclubs. After I accidentally crash-landed in the culinary world, I rationalized that one had to be intimately familiar with their subject matter in order to wax poetically (and knowledgeably) about food, wine and spirits. I suspect that if my next career is in the waste management industry, I’ll find a way to justify that it goes hand-in-hand with drinking. That’s because I love to drink. And in an era of diminishing vices, one must cling to the remaining socially acceptable pleasures in life.

Fortunately, in my early twenties I recognized that they don’t call alcohol fire water for nothing. If I wanted to avoid flaming out, I decided that I would have to be proactive. I toyed with several options: drinking on even-numbered days, limiting myself to one drink a day, and carrying a spit bucket. I settled on the strategy for abstaining from alcohol for one month of the year. Later on, I added another rule: I never drink alone. This addendum has contributed to many dry nights in the comfort of my own home and a few boozy “friendships of proximity.”

In the early years of my self-imposed program, I selected my dry months randomly. Then I settled on January because the first week of not drinking after the holidays is like a get-out-of-jail-free card. January also has 31 days, which adds to the challenge. In the 30 years that I have abstained for a month, I have only caved once. Shortly after my mother died in 1985, I went to a Club Med with my dad to spend some quality father and son time. I am not sure if it was the death of my mother, the prospect of spending a week alone with my father, or the faux free spirit of the resort, but on the 29th day of the month, I gave in to the temptation of a Planter’s Punch. It still haunts me that I wasn’t strong enough to tough it out for those last two days, and since then my willpower has been undefeated.

Over the years many friends and acquaintances have joined the club. Some follow my path and others make up their own rules — and exemptions. The dedicated succeed and the less committed are taken down by a well-shaken martini or the whiff of a vintage wine. But everyone finds a positive side to the experience. Let me qualify that: every person who requires three drinks to get to their “happy place.” It seems that moderate drinking just doesn’t have the same negative effects on the body and mind that enthusiastic drinking does. Consequently, responsible drinkers lose out on the pleasures of the purge (just another reason to drink like you mean it).

Oddly enough, I find that my appreciation for my annual dry month has grown so much that I really look forward to it. And at the end of every January, I feel so mentally clear and physically strong that I actually contemplate quitting drinking altogether. But then I give in to temptation and take my first sip of wine. As the liquid trickles down my throat and the first tingle of a heady buzz kicks in, I become a prisoner in paradise for another eleven months.

If you are on the fence about joining The January Club, here are some of the pros and cons to consider:

Pros

sleep

  • You sleep really well
  • You need fewer hours of sleep
  • You wake up less frequently to pee

energy

  • You get out of bed with a spring in your step
  • You have boundless energy well into the night
  • By week two you experience as much as 25% more athletic energy

sharpness

  • The mind sharpens to the point where you can actually go back in time and unravel unsolved mysteries (i.e. where you stored that jigsaw puzzle)
  • You don’t tell the same jokes twice
  • You tend to read more in bed

balance

  • You experience fewer mood swings
  • You develop a more optimistic and humorous perspective on day-to-day life

travel

  • Your drive home from any party is carefree

weight

  • Without even thinking about it — or trying — you drop a few pounds

money

  • Fancy-schmancy restaurants become affordable, and local dining joints seem like an absolute steal

social

  • You see people at parties in a whole new light
  • You see in other people what you are like when you drink
  • You prove that you have a modicum of willpower (which makes mere mortals secretly green with envy)
  • You actually remember who you met at industry functions

drinking

  • Drinking is far more pleasurable when you start again
  • You really appreciate the bouquet of a wine (even if you can’t drink it)
  • Drinking non-alcoholic drinks — say, sparkling water and lime — makes you realize how much you drink simply as an auto-function

Cons

drinking

  • Inevitably you miss out on at least one amazing opportunity to try something rare and fabulous

dining

  • A great steak or cheese doesn’t taste the same without wine

social

  • Some people don’t trust you
  • You feel socially awkward at parties, bars and social gatherings
  • You discover that some of your friends and family aren’t as interesting as you thought they were
  • You tend to cocoon for the month
  • Regardless of what month you choose, there is always a major event (i.e. a wedding) that falls within it
  • Every night seems like a Monday night
  • It’s hard to hang with the homeboys and watch major sporting events
  • You have to endure other people’s ‘boozy breath’
  • It’s virtually impossible to go on a blind date

balance

  • Tough, stressful days in the office are harder to unwind from
  • You tend to eat sweets (especially at the beginning of the month) to replace the sugar in alcohol

surprise!

  • Be prepared to tough it out through at least one unexpected calamity that will rattle your nerves (i.e. a death, ice storm, or earthquake — try the 1994 Northridge quake!)

money

  • Splitting the bill when you eat out with friends really sucks (even if it is karmic payback for all those times you drank at your non-drinking friends’ expense)

travel

  • Long flights seem interminable