Last year, I attempted a Dry January and lasted 26 days. I knew from the onset that this was how long I would be able to last, since I had tickets to the birthday bevy from the Society of Beer Drinking Ladies on the 26th of the month. This year the event fell on February 9, so I had no excuses. The finish line is now behind me: an entire 31 day month without alcohol. If I were participating in AA, that would warrant a 1-month chip on the road of recovery, an important milestone. This year, Kole joined me in partaking in a dry month, which explains why we have been rather quiet thus far in 2019. There hasn’t been a lot to say – there is not much to write about on a booze blog when you’re avoiding fermented and distilled beverages for a spell.

December was indulgent, as it always is. This time around, I was presented with new challenges and obstacles. Instead of a non-stop cornucopia of chocolate, cheese, and wine at work, I was faced with the harsh reality that my employment dried up, and I needed a new strategy to face one of the hardest months ahead. We hosted a Chanukah party, I brewed a beer with the fine folks at the People’s Pint, and I spent a whirlwind two weeks traveling around Montreal, Miami, Belize, and Guatemala. I was exhausted, burned out, and a little bit broke. I had a lot of mediocre lagers in Belize and Guatemala, and enough rum punch to last me a lifetime. I don’t even like rum, so I’m not sure why I was in a rush to ingest copious quantities of it in Caye Caulker.

Over a bottle of wine in a hotel restaurant in Miami on New Year’s Eve, I convinced Kole to join me this time around. He reluctantly agreed to my experiment. It made it easier this time around, to experience life without alcohol together.

A few days into January, my friend Steve popped in from Montreal. Last year, we sat around over a pot of tea, trying to adapt to a dry reality. This year we devoured Korean food – specifically chosen as the Korean restaurants I know only serve macro lagers and soju, neither of which I find particularly appealing. We tried to go to Snakes and Lattes after dinner, an attempt to prolong hanging out without the crutch of alcohol. There was a 3-hour waitlist, so we continued along Bloor looking for another suitable venue to hang out in for a couple of hours without breaking the bank or having a few pints. Give it a try sometime – it’s harder than it looks. Our group settled on Clinton’s Pub, and a deck of Cards Against Humanity came out. The waitress frowned when she took our order. A ginger ale. A Shirley Temple. A club soda. One person in the group nursed a beer, another nursed a glass of wine. It’s hard to be a profitable table when you’re not drinking. Kole picked up the tab for both of us and reflected on how much money he saved compared to us having a few pints each. He and I regrouped the following evening over Ethiopian food, again chosen because it doesn’t scream craft beer.

And then Kole and I retreated into the warmth of our home and hibernated. It was cold this year, and I needed to keep what was left of my severance package going as long as I could while I hunted for work and waited for EI. We drank copious amounts of tea. We chatted over dinner like the old married couple that we are. We took the dog on long walks despite the very frigid conditions outside. I went on winter hikes and had friends over for brunch. I went on early morning job interviews, fresh-faced from a good night of sleep.

Then February hit. I made fresh ravioli for dinner on February 1, and we paired it with a bottle of wine. I missed wine more than I missed beer – smelling its aromas, enjoying the feeling of tannins on my tongue, enjoying the palate cleansing acidity each sip brought. We went to breweries again. To a painting class. We socialized. I didn’t exactly feel better, but I was glad to be around people again.

Last year was hard on us both. I experienced physical and mental health setbacks simultaneously and struggled as many of my close friends also went through their own mental health battles. We re-evaluated our priorities time and time again.  During the darkest moments of trying to figure out which way was up, we chose to temporarily give up alcohol to avoid using it as a crutch during that time. I think it helped. I could have easily used the extra free time to create more content, but that would mean having to sample more beer, wine, spirits, and ciders during a period where I was trying to be fiscally conservative, and attentive towards my health. 

It was a much-appreciated reprieve, and I think I will stick to a dry month once a year from here on out. It helped me keep my consumption to a more modest level and reboot my flavour preferences.

This post has been a work in progress for over 6 weeks. I kept writing it, and finding some of the details I shared too personal. I couldn’t get the tone quite right, and I’m still not really happy with how it came out. Maybe next year’s dry January will have better insights that I can share in a more timely manner.

Shawna O'Flaherty

Shawna is a 30-something Montreal native transplanted to Toronto in 2010. Wine loving, beer sniffing and rum swilling come naturally to her, and she is also a certified Irish whiskey taster. She has hosted beer and cheese pairing events in the past.

Shawna has visited vineyards in 6 countries on 3 continents, and has a knack for finding the hoppiest beers around. A dedicated Booze Hound, Shawna completed the Wine Specialist Certificate at George Brown College in 2018.

She can be found drinking alka-seltzer and coconut water in the morning.

Email: shawna@torontoboozehound.com