People with normal relationships with drugs and alcohol are adorable. They will tell you they’re going out with friends for a drink and literally go have A DRINK. They will leave perfectly good half drank glasses of wine with zero remorse. They will go weeks or maybe months without drinking and then party for a weekend and then return to normal life for weeks on end. They are fucking weirdos.

Case in point, last month social media was littered with people chirping about Dry January. They, these weirdos in question, were all excited about a whole month where they didn’t drink. It’ll be great for their health! They’ll have to miss happy hour with the girls but it’ll be worth it! A whole month without craft beer? Chad and Cameron would suffer but they had one another for support! This is, of course, all very amusing to us who are sober, not just for a month, but, like, forever.

Not to shit all over anyone’s magical Dry January experience and I applaud anyone who quits anything for any period of time. I am currently not eating sugar and nearly homicidal so I understand how hard it is. That said, the mere idea of a month where we don’t drink and then can get hammered in celebration, is extremely funny. It’s funny because those of us who struggled with drugs and alcohol unsuccessfully tried things like “Dry January” or “Sober October” or “May-be You Can Try Being Less of Drunken Mess For A Whole Month” for years. Like just a halfhearted attempt for thirty days with the promise of returning back to my old ways never, ever worked. The idea that a daily drinker and drug user like me could go from Barrymore to Mormon over the course of a one month is hysterical. That’s not how recovery from addiction works.

Or at least that’s not how it worked for me. I tried to manage it- just drink beer, just smoke weed, just drink on days off, just not drink for a month- for a really long time. My beast needed to be slayed entirely, not put in a cage and let out with restrictions. Me getting entirely sober and forever(one day at a time, natch) was the only way I could stop being insane and nearly dying. It was a lot messier than Deborah and the gals in the office going a month without chardonnay. Ironically, I quit drinking back in January 2009 not with the intention of a month necessarily but because my life was off-the-charts shitty. Sure, there was some itty bitty hope that I could do this sobriety thing for six months and go back to drinking, finally, like one of those normal people. But deep in my heart I knew the jig was all the way up. I had two plus decades of receipts that proved I could never have a normal relationship with drugs and alcohol. Amazingly, my “Dry January”, that I didn’t even know was a thing in 2009, wound up lasting ten years.

Now that the month is over, Dry January continues to deliver some laughs. Social media is now filled with posts about how fucked up and how hungover people got by celebrating the end of a long, long month. Reports of packed bars and arrest have already made headlines. The internet is also packed with editorials on how abstinence is nonsense and that we should all indulge and enjoy our lives. This one from The Guardian is the most tone deaf look at our relationship with substances that I’ve ever seen. The author, Linda Somebody, pats herself on the back for not having a problem with alcohol while poo-pooing the idea of of quitting things for a month. Way to go, Linda WhoeverTheFuck. She even has a beer in her fridge dating back to 2015. Whatever happened to good old moderation, she wonders aloud. Okay, girl. We get it. You’re normal. Other editorials touted that they liked drinking way too much and instead tried to do a Damp January which for me reminds me of peeing my pants and therefore sounds unappealing. (For what it’s worth, all of these articles come from the UK, a region with a catastrophic rate of alcoholism. )

But maybe, just maybe there’s some value to Dry January for people struggling with drugs and alcohol. Taking a month off from drinking for somebody who isn’t Linda Whatsherface could shine the light on a bigger problem. I’d like to think that someone could survive the month and have the revelation that they need help staying sober way beyond January. My half-assed intention of getting sober in 2009 as part of a New Year’s resolution worked out pretty great so why couldn’t Dry January have the same outcome for someone who really needs to get sober?

For people like myself, sobriety doesn’t mean having a Dry January, only to follow it up with a Fuck It February. It means staying sober through holidays, through divorce, through death, divorce and job promotions. It means asking for help and changing everything about our lives. Thus if you are people like me that also means you don’t have to wait until next January and only have the freedom from the thing that’s slowly killing you for one month. It means you can have it forever.

Sean Paul Mahoney is a writer & recovery mentor in Portland. NOW THAT YOU'VE STOPPED DYING is his new essay collection, is available now from Zephyr Bookshelf.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store