Discretion gets the better part of venom

I spent two days working on a written complaint over something that's totally fine and actually pretty good before realizing the problem was that Twitter had broken my brain.

Dry January is absolutely fine.

In fact, it’s probably good for you — any of you — not to drink any alcohol the first month of the year. You’re probably going to sleep better, are likely to lose weight and taking a break will not only resent reset tolerance levels but give you some more information on the impact of alcohol on your life. At least those are among the benefits that many have reported after abstaining from alcohol for the first 31 days of the year.

And if you’re not going dry this January? Nothing wrong with that in my mind, either. Hell, if I could be trusted to exercise anything resembling responsibility when it comes to drinking there’s no way I’d take a whole month off every year, which actually gives you a pretty good idea of why I CAN’T be trusted to exercise anything resembling responsibility when it comes to alcohol consumption.

But this newletter isn’t really about Dry January. It’s about how Twitter has broken my brain to the point that I spent two days writing about the subject in a way that was entirely unnecessary and utterly reflective of the way the Internet encourages us to frame arguments.

But first, a little bit of an update on the newsletter because I am going to implement a change going forward with a subscription option, which will include at least one additional column per week. I’m setting the subscription at $5 per month or $50 if you pay for an annual subscription. I’m going to evaluate the number of subscriptions, but my hope is that in addition to the column I will add other features for subscribers like a weekly podcast and mailbag. If you’ve enjoyed the newsletter, consider becoming a premium subscriber. I’m not looking to replicate my full-time income with this newsletter, but I like doing it and as I build out my freelance business, I’d like this to be one component of that.

If you’re not interested or able to become a paid subscriber, you’ll still receive one newsletter each week, which will include links to my freelance work and my thoughts on any range of subjects. I’m not implementing the premium tier right away, but it’s coming.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, how Twitter broke my brain, nearly leading me to try and publish an utterly unnecessary screed regarding a practice that is — at worst — harmless and probably at least a little healthful: Dry January (or Drynuary if you’re interested in particularly awful nomenclature).

Dry January has been described as everything from a sobriety challenge to a public-health campaign. Alcohol Change UK is credited with formalizing it in 2013, but the practice dates all the way back to 1942 in Finland where the government asked for abstinence due to concerns about rising consumption during the Continuation War with Russia. As for the United States, two polls conducted in last year found that anywhere from 13 to 15 percent of those surveyed planned to abstain from alcohol in January.

So what’s the problem? There is none. Except over the past few years — basically since I’ve stopped drinking — I’ve found that there are some practitioners of Dry January who can be, well, annoying. Here’s how I described these particularly enthusiastic abstainers in the column I began writing on Monday:

The problem I’ve encountered with some of you practicing a Dry January is that once you find out I’m sober you perceive some sort of kinship or connection because of the fact that neither of us is consuming alcohol.

OK, all of that is true. I do find it kind of obnoxious when someone who is not drinking for 31 days talks about how hard it is not to drink. Back just before the pandemic, I was particularly annoyed by a Dry Guy I encountered who wanted to commiserate about how inconsiderate all the drinkers are in failing to provide non-alcoholic beverages. I wanted to explain to him that he was an amateur participating in some sort of recovery cosplay for 31 days where I needed to remain sober for approximately forever, and the best demonstration of the gap between us was that he couldn’t stop telling everyone about what he was doing and the very last thing I wanted to talk about at this particular party was what I was NOT drinking.

I didn’t say that, though. Because only a really intolerant jackass responds to a stranger’s attempt at friendly banter with that kind of broadside. I am frequently a jackass. I’ve been known to be an intolerant jackass, too. But I absolutely refuse to be a really intolerant jackass so I said something along the lines of, “Oh, I don’t know if it’s all that bad,” and we moved on to something else because this was real life, not Twitter. In real-life encounters, you tend to sidestep things that are annoying instead of squaring them up head-on and screaming your most hostile inner monologue. But on Twitter? You tend to stand eye to eye and scream your most hostile inner monologue. At least I do.

This is the very specific way in which Twitter has broken my brain. It causes me to take one thing I have encountered that is annoying and instead of shrugging it off and moving along, I wind up whipping my anger into stiff, white peaks. I make a real big production about how specifically annoying this thing right here, and I’m not alone. That’s kind of how the platform operates these days. It’s certainly the way it had me thinking this week because I didn’t stop at being annoyed at the people practicing binge sobriety. Nope. I had issues with the people mocking those people who are practicing binge sobriety, too. Another passage from the since-abandoned column:

Oh, and before I forget, all you people who make fun of Dry January while sipping a little sum’n-sum’n? Don’t act like you’re any less annoying. You’re treating the idea of abstinence from alcohol — even if it’s just for a month — with the kind of cynicism usually reserved for Cross-Fit or Keto. Then, you make it worse, by saying you’re mocking the Dry Januarians out of respect for people, like me, who actually have a drinking problem.

Well, that covers just about everyone now, doesn’t it? The people practicing Dry January suck because they won’t stop talking about it. The people criticizing those practicing Dry January suck, too, because they have no business talking about any of it. I guess the whole thing just sucks.

Except it doesn’t. Most people who practice Dry January aren’t annoying. They’re people who are practicing self improvement. That’s admirable. They’re taking a break that will likely help them feel better and save money, and it may even allow some of them re-evaluate or adjust their drinking in a way that leads to a happier life. Sure, some of those participating in Dry January may practice attention-seeking behavior, and while that may seem obnoxious or self-aggrandizing, it certainly isn’t done out of any malice or hostility. They might just be a little carried away in their own excitement or maybe they are a little self-involved, but you’re going to find people like that in every crowd. There are sober people who are super annoying in the way they point out how many people they believe have drinking problems.

As for those people mocking Dry January? Well, that’s not typical behavior, either. Most people — even if they’re drinking — respect the choices that others are making with regard to what they consume and when. The online discussions about this subject, however, obscure this fact that most people practice and discuss Dry January in utterly unobjectionable ways.

There’s this piece from Eater.com on what Dry January is and why people hate it. There’s this one that says you should stop doing it because it’s rude. Based on these stories it would seem that Dry January is a yet another polarizing topic in a polarizing time for a polarized country.

These articles, though, say way more about what gets promoted and consumed online than it does about the subject itself. Outliers are what get amplified. That’s true on the Internet in general, but Twitter specifically. Opinions that you absolutely can’t believe are singled out for ridicule. Then, in response, people will object to that ridicule by pointing out another opinion — which they believe is equally unbelievable — that has not been ridiculed nearly as much. Pretty soon, everyone is finding the most extreme example they can and describing it as typical or emblematic of that line of though or action. That’s how I wound up working on a column that complained about the behavior surrounding a practice that I actually support. I’m just glad I realized it soon enough to decide that what I was writing did not need to be put out into the world.

Now, this realization may not benefit me professionally. After all, I essentially talked myself out of pitching a column that had at least a chance of getting published. It had some energy to it, and I’m particularly proud of the phrases “recovery cosplay” and “binge sobriety.” Personally, I’m glad I recognized that I was setting up straw men, though, because the end result would have been a whole bunch of smarmy assessments about a practice that I actually think could be beneficial to an awful lot of people. I just better not get too carried away because being thoughtful and fair is no way to make a living when you’re trying to write on the Internet.

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