The first time I remember hearing about the concept of not drinking in July, I was with my basketball mates after a pick-up game in an area of my home city known for its night-life. This was a winter evening more than a decade ago, over a table of chicken sandwiches. One guy, who worked in commodities, was explaining to a group of us how, after the excesses he tends to fall prey to during the colder months, he liked to take a month off drinking. To detox. To refresh. To healthify. It felt like a strange secret from a better, more progressive place – particularly coming out in this post-game huddle. That night, the sweaty dude was just full of rarefied wisdom. And I was curious.
Nowadays, the concept of a sober July doesn’t feel so exotic. In fact, as known by its poplexicon title, “Dry July”, it’s practically a brand. According to the Dry July Foundation, in 2019 more than 43,000 people signed up to go grog-free. And, chances are, double or even triple that number would have sworn off the drink unofficially.
I have what I consider to be a pretty good relationship with drinking. Plainly, I’m a fan. I wasn’t a young drinking prodigy. It was when I moved to a big city, at 21, that I fell in love with bars and the things that can happen in them. I met some of my best friends that year. I also puked more that year, quite possibly, than in the rest of my life combined. Over time, I’ve calibrated my intake choices and minorly dabbled in drugs, from gateway to stronger stuff. It’s all brought me back to the same initial conclusion: in drinking, I have all the vice I ever need.
And yet I’ve been swept up, too: I’ve attempted Dry July three years running. Meanwhile, beyond episodic fads, sobriety has morphed into a lifestyle, the sober curious, a term popularised by the author/podcaster Ruby Warrington via her 2018 book of the same name. These people don’t just do Dry July – they hang out at sober bars, download sobriety podcasts and apps, and consume content from self-branded sober gurus.
“I feel like alcohol is the new cigarettes,” says Warrington. “Smoking was completely socially acceptable 30 years ago. Fast forward a couple of decades and people will drink and use alcohol much differently.”
As Dry July has boomed and cross-pollinated into sober curious, it’s also become divisive. If you have partaken, you know. Some people get it. But turn down a drink during the month of July and someone will declare, as if they’ve caught you: “You’re doing Dry July?” Know this: you have to be ready – aesthetically, morally, spiritually – to defend your decision.
To me, that makes total sense. The rapid permeation of the sober-curious wave has given it a slight tinge of mass psychosis. We’re talking about tens of thousands of people, largely people who don’t believe they have a drinking problem, giving up the sauce. Why would anyone willingly stop drinking?
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