On being … complicated?

By Ingrid Sapona
My vacation was fantastic. I didn’t realize how badly I needed to relax. It was the perfect combination of sun, sand, tequila, guacamole, shrimp, and sleep.
On the return flight from Mexico, I was thinking about the fact that February would, in effect, be the start of my new year. Though I didn’t feel I over-indulged on the vacation, I decided I’d try doing what some refer to as “dry February”. My reason was two-fold: first, the calories – at home I drink wine and the smoother the wine, the easier to drink, and the quicker the calories add up! (Though I didn’t officially set a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, who doesn’t start a new year thinking they should lose a pound or two?) Second, the cost – during Covid lockdowns it was just easier to order wine by the case and have it delivered. But, like the calories, that cost adds up too! 
So, by the time the plane touched down, I decided to have a dry February. That said, given that my birthday’s in February, I wasn’t about to deny myself a glass of wine or something over a celebratory lunch or dinner with friends. So, rather than commit to zero alcohol in February – which is what I think most people mean when they talk about doing a “dry” month – instead, I decided it means I wouldn’t open any wine at home this month.
This idea of observing a “dry” month is something various friends have done in the past. The way it’s come up in conversation has been quite casual. For example, if I’m having friends over, we might be talking about what I’m considering serving. If friends tell me they’re dieting or trying to eat, say, less red meat, I’ll plan the menu accordingly. Similarly, they might mention they’re doing a dry month, so I know not to worry about having the perfect red or white on hand. When they mention they’re doing a dry month, I take it at face value and we never really discuss the wherefores and whys. Actually, I’ve always assumed they’ve done it for pretty much the same reasons I mentioned: calories and cost.
The other day a friend came over for coffee and when I offered a cookie to go with it, she declined. She explained she’s doing a “sugar-free February”. I told her I’d never heard of that. She said she’s doing in in support of a friend who had decided she wanted to give up something she likes for February and, since her friend doesn’t drink, they decided on sugar. My friend is catholic and I told her that sounded lent-like. We chuckled and I put away the cookies.
I subscribe to daily newsletters from a few different news sources. One of my favourites is The Conversation – an excellent website that is “an independent source of news and views, from the academic and research community, delivered direct to the public.”  One article caught my eye and interest this morning. The title was: “I’m an addiction researcher and therapist. Here’s why promoting sober ‘dry months’ bothers me.” Naturally I had to read that!
In the article, the author, Kara Fletcher, an Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Regina, starts off by explaining that Dry January was “officially launched in 2013 with a public health campaign by British charity Alcohol Change”. She explains that such “campaigns” usually challenge people to abstain from alcohol for one month – often in support of some cause. I know there are various campaigns where people do something – whether it’s growing a moustache (Movember) or throwing a bucket of ice on someone (the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) – in support of a cause and often to raise money for that cause, but I never thought of “dry” months as any sort of campaign.
Fletcher doesn’t disagree that there are potential personal health benefits of avoiding alcohol for a month, and that peer support in achieving such goals can be helpful. But she points out that substance use is complex. She worries these campaigns perpetuate the idea that quitting drinking for a month is simply a choice, when for those with substance use problems doing so is not. Furthermore, she feels these campaigns “do not contribute to a more nuanced discussion about substance use.” She also makes points about stigma and inequality, as well as policy and privilege.
I don’t mind admitting, the article was an eye-opener. To say I never thought about the meaning of a dry month in those terms is an understatement. I simply took it as a phrase to describe a personal goal to modify one’s consumption for a month – kind of like a new year’s resolution but with a time limited commitment. (Again, I think the best analogy is lent… but I’m not catholic, so lent is just a concept to me.)
I’m glad I read Fletcher’s piece – it offered a lot of food for thought. Indeed, maybe the next time a friend mentions they’re doing a dry month or abstaining from something in particular, I’ll ask why. Perhaps they would welcome a more nuanced conversation about whatever it is they’ve decided to forego. That said, I can’t help wonder when life got so complicated that even a simple phrase like “dry February” can be found to carry unintended meanings or messages.
© 2022 Ingrid Sapona








Post a Comment

<< Home