It’s a rare occurrence, but I recently found myself victim to a massive hangover, the result of a martini happy hour and a lot of catching up with some of my high school crew. As I succumb to the pain and nausea, and gave myself over to the worthless sack of crap I would be for the day, it occurred to me that the years had not been kind. It was never this hard in my college days. The process then, looked something like: predrink, actual drink, eat pizza rolls, watch Cheaters, sleep, eat grease, resume role as functioning member of society. It was beautiful in its simplicity and sad in hindsight. But I lost my stride in my late 20s. The “day after” transformed into this heartless, brutal series of sacrifices and compromises that make the whole thing worth it only when entirely necessary, like 30th birthday parties and a warm night on a terrace with great girlfriends. What follows a night of cocktails is, inevitably, ugly, and outlined below.
The 5 stages of a hangover
1) The realization
As long as there have been adult beverages, one fact has mystified those who choose to partake. No matter how seasoned of a social drinker I become, it still astounds me how you can go from beautiful buzz to one too many and no turning back in one fateful sip. For me, the realization typically arrives when I go to bed. Regret swirls around in my head and stomach as the lines in our blinds bend and wave, taunting me to try and focus. Misery is the moment you become cognizant of that fact that you are in the first hour of what is sure to be a 24-hour hell.
2) The paralysis
When faced with unpleasant physical circumstances, my typical response is to stay as stationary as humanly possible. Maybe if I’m quiet, the hangover won’t notice me. It’ll get bored and decide to move on. Throwing up is at the top of my list of least-favorite activities, along with going to the dentist and writing on cardboard boxes with a marker. Because of this fact, what follows is an epic battle between my mind and esophagus. I find that a strong will and deep breathing can buy me at least an hour, if not a complete pass.
3) The guilt
When you’re a college kid and you piss a day away, it’s called “Friday,” which ceremoniously follows “Thirsty Thursday”. When you’re a 32-year-old mother of three, it’s called “being a piece of shit”. There is a direct correlation between the level of guilt I feel the morning after a night out and the amount of time that passes before my next night out. If I really get rowdy and can’t function until 2 pm the next day, and the girls want to go outside, only I can’t because my cranium is on the deck of a ship in the eye of a hurricane, for instance, we’re talking like a good 6 or 8 months before I’ll dip my toes back into the water. A mild headache … probably 2 or 3 months. It’s not an exact science, but it seems the occasions I’ll drink are fewer and fewer, as my recovery time gets longer and longer and my tolerance gets lower and lower. There’s this song by the Avett Brothers called “When I Drink,” and it is set on involuntarily shuffle in my mind on these mornings: “But when I drink/I spend the next morning in a haze/But we only get so many days/Now I have one less/Just do your best” Ahhhh … yup. Like a knee to the gut, that verse.
4) The triage
When I was 21, I could wake up at 11 o’clock in the morning, pile into a hot car with 3 other girls, go to Wendy’s and get a cheeseburger, fries and a fountain Diet Coke, and it was like the jungle juice never happened. These days, it’s a process. I begin by opening my eyes and taking a quick inventory of the damage: head – throbbing, mouth taste – like a visit from the poop fairy, stomach – unstable. Sensing the need for immediate action, I then slide the lower half of my body out of bed, finding stability and then slowly, ever so slowly, stacking my upper half on top, keeping my head tilted so as to trick my brain into thinking it’s still on a pillow. I then shuffle to the kitchen, where I grab the largest cup we have and fill it with ice water. By the time it’s topped off, my brain catches up and demands I go back to bed. This is where I will stay for at least 2 more hours. I will then move down to the couch and resume the same position to pretend I’m not being a completely terrible mother, because at least I can turn on Netflix for the chicks. Around 10 or so, I turn into the very hungry, hungover caterpillar: On the first hour, she tried some toast and black coffee, but she was still hungry. On the second hour, she went on a ballsy binge and ate 1 popsicle, 1 can of Sprite, 2 handfuls of goldfish crackers, 1 bowl of Kix and 1 sliced apple with peanut butter. On the third hour, she went back to the couch, but sat upright.
5) The gamble
Once the influx of carbs and sugars settles, I start evaluating my limitations and abilities. I could probably run and get the presents for the birthday party, but definitely not working out today. Although if I sweat it out, that could be good. Maybe I should watch one more House of Cards and chug this last glass of water and reevaluate. Eventually I do get up and scramble to salvage the hours that remain of the day I will forever recall as “the day I was so hungover I hated myself for a full 24 hours.” But it’s dicey, for a full day.
Again, just to drive the point home, this post in no way indicates that I have a problem other than the loss of my tolerance and occasional ridiculously bad judgement. But I will say, the mornings I feel the worst are often preceded by the best nights. Getting carried away by a conversation or dancing to my jam and laughing like the fool I love to be sometimes. It’s all good. You can’t have honey without the bees. It just sucks so bad when you get stung.