Meditations on a Hangover
A beautiful morning in Madison today (or rather Saturday, when I wrote this, since I’m far too lazy to waste a perfectly good blog post by putting it up on the weekend) — one of those days where the air is so cool and the sky so blue that the summer sun is welcome warmth instead of punishing heat.
I of course was hungover for all of it.
There’s something fascinating about the intensely artificial alertness of waking up hungover and being unable to go back to sleep, especially once it’s propped up by diner coffee. It feels productive and awful all at once (productive in part, I grant, because it adds at least four or five hours to my usual desultory morning schedule). You think very fast and very inefficiently, like a powerful car stuck in second gear, all on top of an unpleasant physical backdrop that you try hard to ignore.
Stomach and head can be mastered by the same technique: overkill. Pour coffee on the brain until it’s too busy to bother about the dull ache behind the eyes. Shovel greasy food onto the rebellious stomach until it settles not so much in relief as in resignation. There will be a reckoning later, but it’s worth the immediate relief (almost anything is if it tips the scales away from “vomiting” and toward “not vomiting”).
Showers are my panacea. I take them when I have a fever (cold, to lower my body temperature), when I have congestion (hot, to steam the gunk out of my nose in a hideous bubbling ooze), and most especially when I am hungover (midway between hot and cold, for no particular reason other than that it suits the odd, incomplete-within-yourself feeling that comes with hangovers). I have a talismanic faith that the water sinks through my skin and rehydrates the depleted cells, which may or may not have a grounding in actual medical science.
Speaking of medical science, I disdain its explanation for the hangover. The real reason for the hangover goes something like this: things shrink when you pickle them, as any fool knows. After a night of heavy drinking your brain is thoroughly pickled and sloshing around in a brine of booze. Overnight the level recedes a bit, and you wake up with a still-shrunken brain sloshing back and forth in the half-filled vat of your skull. The headache comes of your brain banging up against the insides of your skull. Vivid, no?
Gatorade and fancy vitamin drinks are pure witch doctory.
Painkillers are, for serious drinkers, much like steroids for competitive athletes: physically effective, but they smack of spiritual weakness. Take them with a sense of shame or not at all.
The three S’s do not apply to hungover grooming. Attempting to shower and shave in the lingering miasma of your beer shits will tip the scales rapidly back toward “vomiting” no matter how brutally you beat your nausea down at the diner.
And writing while hungover is, apparently, entertaining but inadvisable. It does keep the headache off, or at the back of your mind, at least until the glare from the computer screen starts to get to you. But looking back over this I can’t say that it produces anything you’d want to sign your name to or post publicly on the Internet for all the world to see.