Friday, 24 May 2013

The Devastating Power of the Hangover


If you’re under 30 and you’re reading this, you’re probably going to wonder what on earth I’m banging on about, but just heed this warning: you’ll find out one day, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

To you, having a hangover probably just means lethargy, a slight headache, and a hankering for a fried breakfast and Lucozade. Just you wait, mi’laddo.

I was the same as you once. I didn’t get hangovers. Drinking too much just meant an extra long lie in the next day. Hell, I used to get drunk and get up at 7 for work – at least three times a week. Sometimes, for good measure, I’d get a helping of the giggles at some point during the day.

All that changes when you get into your mid thirties. Hangovers last two to three days, but after the first day they’re imperceptible, and you only realise you were hungover on the fourth day, when you feel normal again. My hangovers these days affect my whole outlook, perception of reality and conception of the future. And like it or not I’m wide awake at 7am, feeling like shit.

The first sign that your hangovers are increasing in severity is getting the anxiety. The anxiety is bad. Something isn’t quite sitting right. You’re not sure what it is, in fact, as far as you know everything is fine. You didn’t embarrass yourself or upset anyone, but for some reason you feel anxious, and the feeling won’t go away. It’s even worse if you did embarrass yourself or upset someone. Sure, at least then you know there’s a reason for feeling that way, but the import of the situation just gets blown way out of proportion until it seems like you’ve committed the most heinous crime imaginable, someone’s going to find out, and the whole world is going to come crashing down on you.

The final stage – or at least, the final stage I’m aware of so far (I hope it doesn’t get worse than this) – is the extended hangover. Usually it’s brought on by heavy drinking on two consecutive days.

The first hangover day will be more or less fine. You might be thirsty and anxious, though you could also have a headache and feel nauseous. The second day, you’re feeling physically better, but you’re just… so… tired. And because you’re tired, you feel heavily depressed, but that’s ok; it’s just because you’re tired.

The third day is the killer. By this time you’re not expecting to be hungover any longer and the drinking session(s) took place long enough ago that you’ve actually forgotten it/they took place. You have no physical symptoms whatsoever, but emotionally, you’re a wreck. Paranoid, forlorn, hopeless. Everything is crap, you don’t want to talk to anyone, you can’t get any pleasure out of anything. What is pleasure anyway? What’s the point in it? Why do you feel this way?

As I say, the day after that, it’s like you’ve been reborn. The world is normal again, there is a future after all. This is when you realise that it was all just a symptom of alcohol poisoning. You will resolve never to have two heavy sessions in a row again – some people might even vow never to drink again, but you’ll forget, and it will happen again. The only question is how many times will it take before you say enough is enough and mean it.

Because alcohol is poison, it’s just that alcohol poisoning’s early symptoms include a heightened sense of fun, increased confidence and the ability to be witty and charming. Then, when you enter the later stages, you have to experience not just the absence of these qualities, but a negative effect that isn’t just opposite, but disproportionate also.

I haven’t reached the quitting stage yet, and I’d better not or this blog is really going to suffer. Sometimes two days’ heavy drinking turns out to be necessary. Luckily, if you’ve gotten to this stage, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Here’s some knowledge for you.

First, you can moderate your drinking. I know, that sounds boring, but one day you’ll realise not only that you need to moderate your drinking, but also that you can – and I’m not talking moderate in line with what the government tells you, just more moderate than nuts out, kamikaze style drinking.

When you’re young it’s easy to spend the whole night chaining one drink after the next, but you’ll see it is possible to not have a drink in your hand sometimes, and it isn’t going to mean you have less fun. It’s just that sipping a drink is a good way to fill awkward gaps in conversation (should you be prone to these), and having to go and get another drink is a good way to get out of awkward conversations altogether.

Second, you can try to avoid consecutive heavy drinking sessions. As I say, sometimes it turns out to be necessary, but you can just try a little harder. When you’ve got a big Saturday night planned, and friends coming over in advance on Friday night, it’s very easy to make Friday night a big night, too. Just get your friends to come over on Saturday instead, or just have a couple of drinks on Friday. If you’re going on a three day (or more) stag do, or it’s the Christmas period where you’ve got so many friends and colleagues and so little time, just forget it. You’re going to have to prepare yourself for the worst.

Third, drink a big glass of water for every two or three alcoholic drinks you have. I know, this sounds a bit soft, but it will keep you going longer, and ensure your hydration levels are sufficient – and you’ll still have just as much fun, possibly even more. And you’ll be able to remember more of it.

If you fail to drink water periodically, the final thing you can do is make sure you drink at least two pints of water before you go to bed. Your body is going to be dehydrated the next day, and the only way to prevent that is to rehydrate before you go to bed. If you don’t, the next day you can drink as much water as you like, but it isn’t going to make you feel any better. The drawback with this one is that drinking two pints of water is difficult, and on top of that, it’s easy to say, I’ll be fine, I didn’t drink that much, or just black out and wake up the next day when it’s already too late. If you can remember though, you’ll be surprised at how effective this is.

There isn’t really anything you can do when the hangover has already kicked in. Some will tell you a greasy breakfast will sort you right out, but that always makes me feel worse. Having a beer might help, but you’re going to have to continue drinking after that, and it could make you feel nauseous and tired. Nor is it going to prevent days two and three of the hangover. Lucozade might help, but again, only for the first day. As for hard liquor, that just doesn’t taste very nice until you’ve recovered – so you’d be wasting it, and that’s worse still – and probably a fast-track to alcoholism, which isn’t the same as alco-thusiasm.

The all-consuming hangover is something you’re going to have to get used to if you’re going to stay committed to drinking, but you can take it. And if you can’t, you know what to do.
photo by Mrs Cake

 This week’s post is particularly relevant for me, since last weekend I attended my first three day music festival for quite a few years; Bearded Theory. At festivals you pretty much have to forget about considerations like moderation and drinking water, and just drink alcohol from the moment you wake to the moment you pass out face-down on your inflatable mattress – as far as I’m aware, it’s the only way to keep your energy levels up when you wake up on that first morning, at 7am, in a tent that’s so hot it makes your upper lip burn… and you need to go to the toilet so bad that you actually can’t move without feeling you’re going to burst. Oh, and your head weighs a ton.

Mrs Cake tried the practice of drinking water before bedtime (she’s become a real convert recently) and asked an official whether the water taps contained drinking water. He said he was 95% sure it was safe to drink, but that wasn’t enough for me.

So drink from morning till night was pretty much what I did last weekend, and boy did I pay for it earlier this week. Other circumstances didn’t help – such as the fact that we had to get up and leave the campsite at 6.30 on the Monday morning because we needed to be back home for 9 in case the guy from Parcelforce came to collect the piece of furniture we were returning to the supplier that early.

It’s a good job I wasn’t driving; I could barely keep my head up. On top of that, we’d been drinking Thornbridge Breweries' Jaipur IPA (5.9% ABV), which is fricking awesome, and it had turned both our insides to foul smelling mush.

On Tuesday morning when I returned to work, I thought I was ok, but I did that thing where you read an urgent e-mail… and panic. I just felt overwhelmed and couldn’t cope with all the e-mails that had come in on the two days I’d taken as leave. Then I had a high-powered finance meeting, and couldn’t remember the most basic thing from the week before that I definitely knew about.

‘I wouldn’t know about that £400,000 underspend’, I said. Oh shit, yes I would…. Too late.

You can’t say, 15 minutes later, “can I just interrupt? You know that thing we were talking about before? Yeh, I’m on it.” I mean, you can, but not when you’re the least senior person in the room.

For the rest of the morning I was chasing my tail around rabidly, overreacting to things, forgetting things, sweating like an 80s childrens’ tv presenter - until I had lunch, and equilibrium started to reassert itself. I remembered things aren’t so important, work’s not so hard, I work at a university. Aaaand relax.

By Thursday afternoon, it turned out that I hadn’t overreacted to one of the urgent e-mails, and I was actually in trouble, which wasn’t nice. For once, something I had worried about actually came to pass, but as on this occasion I had decided it was the hangover early on, I hadn’t wasted two days worrying about it – so that was good. I’m such a worrier normally.

I think the hangover kicked back in once I got in trouble and got back home. I decided to watch the Oh My Dayum Burger Song on Youtube, to cheer me up, and ended up crying tears of joy. I love that video.

Then I finished watching a documentary called Project Nim, where they put these chimps that had learned sign language into a medical testing facility. One of the scientists said that they noticed the chimps were signing, and wrote down what they were saying… and one of the things was “hug”… I started booing and laughing at myself at the same time.

“You’re such a sensitive soul,” said Mrs Cake.

Sure, you could go to a festival and drink sensibly, or not at all, but how are you supposed to have fun standing in a field all day? The real question here is was it worth it? And yes, it was. Mrs Cake and I had a terrific time. We drank a lot, watched some good bands (shout outs to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Asian Dub Foundation) and had a laugh rapping and singing our way back to our tents and hanging out with some very good friends.


















I also learned not to bother buying Carlsberg again. I haven’t bought it for years anyway, but knowing I needed to buy in bulk, and seeing 12 cans at Aldi for £8, I thought a couple of cases of that would do. I forgot to check whether it met my usual requirement for at least 4% alcohol (preferably much greater), and realised there was no wonder I was fully compus mentus after downing cans for breakfast – it’s only 3.8! It’s a good job I’d also took some Sagatiba Cachaca (38% ABV), M & S White Rum (37.5% ABV) - but that’s a story for another time - and that there were two beer tents selling a selection of Thornbridge ales at very reasonable prices. Because you are allowed to take a ‘moderate’ amount of your own alcohol to the festival for your own consumption, there weren’t even any queues in the beer tents.

Let me leave the subject of hangovers and Bearded Theory then with a few sights and moments that I found particularly memorable:


-          A man in a motability scooter who had the biggest hip flask in the world… but couldn’t get the cap loose. I had to tell him his flask was awesome.

-          A mother of 5 dancing to New Model Army, whose kids seemed to be asking each other, “what’s wrong with mummy?”

-          Emerging from the portaloo to announce to Mrs Cake in song, “here I am/ the biggest douche in the universe!”

-          Serenading our friend Victoria for a long time with, “V to the I to the C to the T! O to the R to the I to the A! Victo-o-o-o-ria! Vic-to-o-o-o-ria!” and later, beatboxing my way through the campsite.

-          Asian Dub Foundation reminding me why I liked them so much in the 90s.

-          A girl floating around in a pool in one of those orb things, wearing a pair or red lacy knickers, and everyone watching in disbelief – the men thinking, is she old enough for this to be ok? And the women, I am shocked and appalled. At one point it looked like even the girl was thinking, why is everyone looking at me?

-          Finally, all the nice, happy people who made the whole thing so much fun.  
      
another pic by Mrs Cake
I strongly suspect we’ll be attending Bearded Theory again in the future. I might even get over my middle aged aversion to festivals and go to some others. To be fair though, Bearded Theory was a nice size and well organised – many others are branded, strict on alcohol rules, and have nasty toilets. So we’ll see.

In other news, it’s another bank holiday weekend. I’m thinking of pitting two cheap supermarket brands of white rum against each other tonight, and can’t wait to get some more whiskies inside me. It could be time to open that Suntory Hakushu 12. I’ve got golf on Saturday morning, a Jeffrey Lewis show on Saturday night and a housewarming party on Sunday, so it looks like it’s going to be good. I’m going to try to enjoy my extended weekend, I hope you enjoy yours. Check back next week for another post.

Cheers.

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