Australia invites folks to go alcohol-free during the month of July for a great cause: Dry July raises funds to improve the comfort, care and wellbeing of people affected by cancer. Which is totally appropriate, if you realize that ethanol is a classified poison that increases the risk for at least five kinds of cancer. For those who don't know, because it IS a well-kept secret, ethanol is the type of alcohol made from grain fermentation. Which means it's the active ingredient in that lovely glass of wine or frosted beer or sexy martini but also part of the fuel you pump into your car's gas tank. That's the reason the United Kingdom took it one step further when it launched Dry January with the clear purpose of raising awareness of alcohol as the U.K.'s biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability for people from 15 to 49.
Sorry to be the bearer of such tragic news, but yes, it's true. Ethanol is an addictive substance, a neurotoxin, and a known carcinogen that erodes physical and emotional and mental health. It's laughable that people even say "drugs or alcohol" because alcohol IS a hard drug and one of the most dangerous. In druggie terms it's a downer and in the medical world it's classified as a depressant. That means that any sensation of a "lift" is illusionary because that elevator might appear to have an UP and DOWN arrow, but in truth it only goes down. And down. And down. There is no sorrow or pain or loss or fear or anxiety or stress or depression that alcohol can't deepen. And there is no celebration or happy occasion that too much alcohol can't dull or diminish or distort or downright ruin.
The main difference between alcohol and drugs like weed and cocaine and heroin and LSD and God knows what else has little to do with being dangerous. It's all about legality and cultural perception fueled by industry greed and clever marketing—the very combo that has given us the current opioid crisis, by the way. At least in America, we have all agreed to advertise, market, and socially glorify alcohol as the Elixir of Happiness, Celebration, Connection, Conviviality (look that one up, it's perfect) and...wait for it...HEALTH!
Maybe "agreed" is too strong a word for the spell cast on the masses by the alcohol marketing machinery and all those suspect "studies" about the health benefits of imbibing. With the exception of Mormon gatherings, picnics (in theory) at public parks, and members of outlier religions that might also condemn things like music and lipstick, alcohol is part of nearly every scene. For God's sake, we even have mothers of new babies and toddlers getting together for Mommy Wine Events because who can possibly stay sane and sober under the stress of parenthood?
One of the magical things about Dry July and Dry January is the chance to be in solidarity with a FUN crowd of fellows who obviously enjoy drinking but are willing to step back and experience life and love and community sans alcohol. And you don't have to live in the U.K. or in Oz or have a really cool British or Australian accent to climb aboard these trains. Both of these movements have spilled over to capture global participation. Everyone on this ride has a chance to see how much they miss that drink (or 2 or 3) at the end of a tough day or out to dinner or at a Happy Hour gathering with friends or that Sunday afternoon pool party. Everyone gets the opportunity to "rethink the drink" and discover or rediscover that the Spirit is within them and not in the spirits.
And let's get real. Some folks, many folks, are never going to have a problem with alcohol. Whatever detrimental effects a small bit of occasional drinking might have will be negligible in a world rife with so many other breathable and touchable and edible toxins. At the same time, even moderate alcohol consumption has been linked to an approximate 30-50 percent increased risk for breast cancer. Which sounds like a terrifying jolt of truth or even possibility of truth. But one young mother who reposted a summary of that study on Facebook introduced it with, "I'll take my chances."
And I'm not even going to dive into the technical definition of "moderate drinking" and how few ounces per week that really is because moderation has never been my approach to anything. I was never going to be one of those people who rarely drinks or sips so slowly that they leave their first glass of wine half empty. And I'm not alone. Millions and millions of fully functional people are floating in my boat. Some of them see no problem with where we are. Why? Because drinking too much or too often or both is beyond normalized, it's touted as the ultimate great time. The Washington Post just published an article about the alarming celebration of alcohol in Country Music circles where artists are belting out hits that celebrate alcohol while their audience is belting down so much booze that ambulances are rushing people to emergency rooms. At least in one case, it was too late.
But many others who share my boat are quietly, deeply, and sometimes secretly questioning the place that alcohol has in their lives and what it's doing to their overall health and well-being, their mental clarity, their emotional state, and their spiritual life. That's why movements like Dry July and Dry January are attracting a growing number of health-minded enthusiasts along with people whose drinking habits are all over the map. A whopping 3.1 million U.K.ers signed up for Dry January in 2018. It's impossible to know how embedded a habit really is until you try to break it. That's also why today's recovery community is so diverse, from low-bottom folks whose lives are in total shambles to yoga teachers or wellness practitioners who feel like frauds because they want to kick alcohol to the curb but are finding that tougher than they ever imagined.
July is still in its infancy. It's not too late to take the rest of the Dry July joy ride and party like it's 1969! Okay, those rooms reeked of marijuana smoke so that's probably not a great battle cry, but at least the spirit holds true. What could be more exciting than being in solidarity with our fun-loving, carefree, and famously booze-soaked Australian bros and sisters for the rest of this month? Nothing, I tell you, nothing. This is the best celebration on the planet, because let's face it, so much of our world looks like a dumpster fire right now. We need all the clear thinkers and level heads and open hearts and wide-awake healthy people we can muster just to face each day with heart and intelligence and courage.
To quote the immortal words of the incomparable philosophers in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure: "Be excellent to yourselves, and PARTY ON, DUDES!"