I’ve met some interesting people in my life. Some of the most interesting are those people who say they don’t get hangovers. It’s still kind of impossible for me to wrap my mind around this concept. I am still doubtful. Really? You drink all night long and don’t feel hungover at all the next day? “I just don’t get hangovers,” they’d say. Insert *mind blow* emoji here. How is that even a thing? I’d say to myself.
We know from science that it’s not just the amount of alcohol you drink that determines a hangover, but how fast you drink it, plus age, genetics, medications, diet, immune systems, weight and gender. But I just don’t believe that there are people who drink excessively and don’t get hangovers. Hangovers can manifest in a variety of ways. If you drank the night before and the next day you’re feeling exhausted, extra thirsty, have cottonmouth, head is throbbing, body is achy or sore, still feeling intoxicated, can’t concentrate, heart is racing, have increased anxiety, feeling shaky, nauseous, dizzy, or can’t sleep - these are all symptoms of a hangover. That’s why I guess I have a really hard time believing that people don’t feel even one of these things the day after drinking a whole lot.
When I was drinking there were days when my hangover was worse than others, but there was never a day when I didn’t have a hangover. There was not one day when I didn’t at least wake up feeling exhausted, or with a slight head throb, or small case of dizziness. On the worst days I would vomit yellow stomach bile and my head would throb so bad it felt like my temples had their own heartbeats. On many days I would be doing hangover things - laying in my bed, eating fast food, or recapping a night with my friends at brunch, and an overwhelming sense of anxiety and dread would overtake me. My heart would beat out of my chest like it was looking for a way out. What were the anxiety or feelings of dread about? Mostly just feeling like absolute shit. My body was having a pretty drastic response to me putting poison in it, and then it would be compounded by wondering what I did or said in the state of my blackouts. Did I embarrass myself or my friends? Did I fuck someone and not even remember? Did I puke on the dance floor? Did I cheat on my significant other? Did I see anyone I knew? Those are just a few of the library of thoughts that would invade my mind the day after drinking. Imagine that combined with a racing heart and a throbbing brain.
I guess I didn’t really understand how devastating my hangovers were until I got sober. I had gotten so used to living with them. I operated my life in this state for many years and I see so many people around me still doing it every day. After a few weeks of what I considered to be mild withdrawal symptoms when I quit drinking, I immediately felt better physically. Not experiencing a hangover on a regular basis was nothing short of a miracle, and that, in and of itself is a powerful motivator to stay sober.
But the novelty fades and life goes on. And eventually, you’re no longer “getting sober.” It got me thinking, what’s it really like to wake up without a hangover every day of your life? To sum it up in one short phrase: it’s real life. Sometimes I wake up on days like today, the Earth is quiet and the house is dark. My husband is next to me in dreamland. The sun rises beyond the palm trees. My cats stretch and start following me around. I turn on my coffee maker and plop down on my meditation cushion. And I close my eyes and I am moved to tears. Sometimes I cry because life is so overwhelmingly beautiful, I can’t believe that it’s real. Sometimes I cry because my heart aches - for injustices, for my crimes against wisdom (as Taryn Strong says), for hurt feelings, and not being able to let go, and for past traumas that still invade my life. But then I know that this is what it feels like to be open and raw and real. This is what it feels like to process life - all of it - without any mind altering substances.
Waking up with no filter, no excuse to sleep the day away, no immediate need for aspirin or gatorade, or the need to throw up, or the need to retrace my steps to find my belongings, no heart racing, dread building, or life closing in on me - is what it’s like to wake up without hangovers. I used to think I was living in a dream when I lived in Cancun, waking up in paradise, partying and selling vacation packages for a living, and just doing whatever the fuck I wanted all the time.
Now I know the real dream is being free from the prison of hangovers and all the pain and fear that came along with them. Now I understand that a hangover can also be feeling the slightest bit thirsty, feeling depressed on a Sunday night, feeling like you need to fill your weekend with activities to mask how bad you feel about yourself, and planning escapes from your life.
Waking up without hangovers is facing your life, not running from it.
Now I’ll ask you, how do you define your hangover-free life?
Here’s mine: To me, hangover-free means I am unburdened by the negative physical and psychological after effects of poisonous substances, choosing to live in today’s reality without having to escape knowing nothing is or ever will be perfect.