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For the past couple of weeks, my friends have taken to sending me pictures of themselves swirling around a cabernet or sipping on a frothy Guinness somewhere.

This is their idea of a joke. It’s intended to make me feel bad, or maybe dumb, for once again subscribing to the month-long alcohol cleanse known as Dry January (DJ) or Drynuary, in which participants set aside the 31 days at the beginning of the year to see exactly how tight a grip booze has on them.

The origins of DJ are a bit murky. Some credit the British for first throwing down the abstinence gauntlet in 2013. Others say American John Ore came up with the idea in 2006. Regardless, in 2020, it is a verifiable thing, with legions of supporters and detractors lining up on either side of its growing presence.

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I took my first such sabbatical five years ago. Then, I waited until February to do it; shorter month. I did not find it easy, particularly since my wife wasn’t doing it with me, and so much of our socialization is done in pubs or living rooms with a drink in hand. This year, my wife is joining me, which has made it immeasurably less painful.

As DJ has become more popular, so too has the scrutiny of it. The standard criticisms go something like this: There are no long-term health effects to abstaining from drinking for a simple month; it’s no more effective in creating lasting change than a crash diet. Beyond that, Instagram and Facebook have provided platforms for people doing DJ to proselytize about the virtues of taking a break from drinking by posting pictures of themselves in a bar drinking tea. A typical tag line reads: “Give it a try, it’s easier than you think.”

Gag me with a corkscrew.

There is little I can do about those who want to virtue-signal by taking a month off drinking. If that’s their definition of some great life accomplishment, I would say that’s a pretty low bar. That said, for some people it may indeed be a significant triumph, because they found it incredibly hard to resist the temptation to submit to their cravings. But resist they did.

And you know what, that’s worth at least a “well done."

Those who insist that it’s a futile exercise with no long-term health benefit miss the point. For many people, myself included, a month spent on the wagon helps reset one’s relationship with alcohol, allows them to spend time reflecting on how much they consume and whether they need to adjust their intake valves.

Invariably, for me, it does just that, at least until summer rolls around and beer tastes better than it should be allowed to and there doesn’t seem to be a more fulfilling way to spend my existence than drinking wine on a patio somewhere. But I digress.

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I’m not here to be preachy about consumption habits. We’re all adults, and the dangers of alcohol abuse are well known. I can tell you a few things about my own experience taking time off from drinking, one of the primary being it’s been a great way to shed a few post-Christmas holiday pounds. But perhaps the most notable gain has been in the bedroom. Let me rephrase that. The most notable gain has come in the sleep department.

Whenever I stop drinking for a sustained period, I sleep better than ever. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night, as I often do, tossing and turning until daybreak. I sleep, and sleep, and sleep some more. It’s one of the great trade-offs: sleep or booze? Which is the priority?

Of course, a great sleep is wonderful but so is a cab franc from Burrowing Owl. So inevitably, what I try and do is strike the best balance I can and avoid old habits that are not in the best interests of my health. Here’s another thing I can attest to: Any time I stop drinking alcohol for a month, my blood pressure drops, not dramatically, but enough to confirm a correlation that doctors have long insisted exists.

And if all that isn’t reason enough to put a cork in your bottle for a month, there’s always this: You’ll save more money than you ever imagined.

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