And so you wake, another day closer to death, your head stuffed like a pillow, your eyes pink and matte, your lips dry and stuck. Smell the air; smell your sour breath. These are those perfect, quiet seconds before the pain hits: before the bright light blares through the curtains, before the quiet ringing pain jolts through your skull, before you wake up and turn over and find yourself next to a half-eaten slice of pepperoni. This is peace time. This won't last long. You are hungover.
This is you, tomorrow, or the next day, or Sunday, after that thing—you know, Rob's thing, that thing he's doing at the bar? You're not really up for it but he says it's going to be a big one—and this will be every Sunday like it until you hit middle-age and decide drinking isn't worth it any more, and stuff like "intricately prepared cups of herbal tea" and "watching Grand Designs" are better instead, a slow form of self-death, a quiet sigh of giving up.
But until then: tequila? Yes, please. Brandy? Don't even like it pal but I'll gulp it down. What's that you say: eight more lagers, drunk in rapid succession before having a sort of blurry-eyed fight with a bouncer, swinging both weak fists but failing entirely to connect, the bouncer taking such pity on me that instead of fracturing my skull he calls me a taxi? Don't mind if I do! And then you wake up the next day, rigid and agonized, a physical embodiment of regret.
Fun, right? Here's a guide to surviving it:
Hup, hup, buddy, come the fuck on. Ho now. Easy now. Come on: close up your eyes and brace your stiff legs, and press your tender palms against the bed. This is it, you are rising. You are up. You are basically Jesus after Easter. And then it hits you: the blood rush to your head, the headache that always threatened but never took hold, and your spirit wanes, and you flop back onto the duvet. Give it 15 and try again. Check Twitter for a bit, sideways with one eye open, the way that Twitter was always meant to be consumed, and hope the big roving whatever Greek god of pain there is will pass his ire over you as you lurk quietly in the shadows. Maybe just lie on the bed for an hour-and-a-half and order Domino's using the app.
DEALING WITH THOSE QUICKFIRE lIGHTNING SHOCKS OF EMBARRASSED MEMORY THAT SNIPE THROUGH YOUR HEAD, PTSD FROM THE NIGHT BEFORE
At some crucial point in your hangover your evening splays itself in front of you like a Prodigy video as you fit, lavishly, into stasis, rendered unworkable by the reality of The Shit You Do When You Are Drunk. This is how you die: a 2001: A Space Odyssey journey through a space inhabited by your worst drunken behaviors and most terrible spat sentences, flashing before you as a single tear winds its way out of your face, as you replay yourself trying to air kiss someone hello and headbutting them instead, as you suddenly judderingly remember vomiting into your hands inside a taxi and then just sitting there, like, holding it?
This is when the fear hits you, and it is fear—a cold clench in the middle of your chest, a dread so heavy you can feel it—because it's not just a fear of embarrassment: it's a fear that the drunk you is the real you.
We are all monsters scrapping against our own skin. We are all terrible people imprisoned by societal norms. We are all secretly Hydes, disguised by Jekylls. Memories of the night before are truly the most uncomfortable reality that there is: that these drunk people are ourselves, untethered from our normal person prison, left to run wild, to fight and vomit with abandon, to call three consecutive taxi drivers an asshole. The truth of drunk flashbacks is just that: they are us, and we are them, and no matter how hard you deny it, we are all, secretly, just base and filthy little animals who like shouting and fucking. Anyway: that's all very real for a hangover, so just close your eyes, don't check your sent texts folder, and try to forget it.
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YOUR SENT TEXTS FOLDER
The sent texts folder after a night out is actual Room 101. It is horrors and it is promises of horrors. It is the worst nightmare you can imagine, only instead of a rat in a cage strapped to your face it's "empirical proof that you text your ex again, you idiot." I would rather have to murder an innocent man with a shovel than check my sent texts folder. Do not check your sent texts folder until you are sure—until you are absolutely sure—that you are emotionally ready for it.
There's always one person you went out with the night before who posts a photo on Facebook at 11:00 AM the next day like, "Beautiful day in the Catskills!"—as though popping up to the mountains is a viable activity after what you did to your body last night, as though standing upright while wearing a bathing suit by a swimming hole is somehow anything less than a miracle. Who are these people, and how do they clear their heads? They are aliens and monsters, disguised as ruddy-faced and wholesome human people. They are not real. They cannot be real. Their existence is a smug mirage. Do not be envious of them: pity them, for they do not know, through regular visits to the bathroom over the course of a lazy Sunday, the simple joy of watching your piss slowly turning an acceptable color.
BEING SICK AS AN ART FORM
With enough practice it is possible to be an elegant vomitter, arcs of puke gracefully crossing the room and dinging with pinpoint accuracy into a pint glass, spewing in a toilet so carefully there isn't any splashback, no cleanup necessary. It's possible. But more likely it will be you, pulling your own hair back, dampening the knees of your jogging bottoms, weeping and crying at the same time, doing that thing when you're gasping for air because you're crying—"Ah–huagh! Ah–huagh! Ah!"—but also gasping because you're vomiting—"A–roo! Ah–ah–ah–roo!"—and making both sounds at once, a sort of compound gurgling, that of a tortuously dying animal.
I don't know quite when it was in my life that I got such a thing for soft furnishings—pre-25, I truly would have slept under a shit-on tarpaulin on a big piece of corrugated metal if I had to – but now I am So Into Blankets And Cushions That It Is Unreal. And that goes double, triple, one hundred fold when I am in the throes of a hangover. Get some blankets in. Build a little fort. Keep your bedding fresh and tight. Have some pillows and cushions about. Swaddle yourself in decadence. Spend $100 on a blanket and hold it over your body when you're feeling shitty and thank me for it later. SOFT FURNISHING CRUNK CREW 4 LYFE.
Fundamentally, you need a cheap painkiller, a sugary drink, and something that has the smell of food and comes in the shape of food. So that's two Ibuprofen, one big Gatorade, and a McMuffin. Or the dregs of a bottle of Tropicana filled with water and shaken, taken with some Tylenol and a takeaway pizza. Sweet tea and someone else going to the shops for doughnuts also helps. That's the hangover cure you deserve, but not the one you need. What you need is a massive punch of protein and to get over it. I once cured a hangover in six minutes flat by eating grilled bacon and some scrambled eggs, no toast. Have I done it since? No, I like toast and I like wallowing. But the option is there. If you resist the urge to gorge on carbohydrates, you can hurdle over the meat of a hangover before you've even charged your phone.
Bloody Marys are very bad and, sidebar, for assholes. Do not drink Bloody Marys.
HAIR OF THE DOG
Hair of the dog works, technically, in that way that a cold can suddenly wake the top of your brain up, and the liquid seems so refreshing, and your blood is pumping again, and the pain is dulled a little, but then you find yourself at 2:00 PM on it again, your skin feeling tight on your body, your limbs aching and so tired, and someone puts their arm around you and says "Heyyyy!" and you just go "FUCK OFF, PAL" you push them and go "NO JUST FUCK OFF I'M NOT IN THE MOOD," and you're upright and functioning—yes—but you're also a grouchy little fucker now, you're the guy in the pub questioning if people really want a pint when it's your round, you've got two-thirds of a pint anyway, I'm not buying them to stack them up, I'm not made of money. When you get like that, you need to make your excuses and split, grabbing a pizza on the way home, getting in bed, and watching cheery Netflix cartoons until you fall asleep in a pit of your own filth.
If you have ever made plans with someone the day after you made plans to have a big one, you need to know that you are an idiot, and legal authorities should be able to make the decision that you are unsafe to live your own life. That said: we've all done it, haven't we, and then had to turn up for some activity—"Climbing?" you said, nine days ago, you idiot. "On a Sunday morning at 8:00 AM? Sounds fun!"—and now you are both sweating and shivering while an Australian dude with arms bigger than your apartment is telling you that "chalk dust is pretty fucking important," and "make sure the harness doesn't get all tangled in your gooch." You've fucked this. You've fucked this right up.
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The sooner you get over the squeamishness you have about canceling plans, the better. I always go by this rule: 90 percent of the time, the other person wants you to cancel the plans anyway. Does anyone, truly, ever want to do anything? Does anyone want to spend their Sunday catching two buses and one train to see you be sick off the top of a climbing wall? Does everyone not really just want to be in bed watching TV? Send the text. Apologize profusely. Cancel the plans. Never leave the house again.
Phoning in sick to work with a hangover is the worst waste of a sick day ever, because if you can mount the commute and get to your desk then you can have your hangover there and get paid for it. Think about that: you are being paid to be the husk-like shell of a human person. Nobody minds if you don't really do much that day: you're hungover. Whatever small amount of work you do will be treated as though a wounded soldier has somehow battled through the Somme. You can go for at least two 40-minute shits during the day and nobody will even blink. Sleep on the toilet. Drink full fat Coke at your desk. Hour-and-a-half lunch break to go get a burrito. The last hour of the day you can outwardly play Solitaire and nobody will bother you about it. Then slink off home at 5:00 PM on the dot, wishing everyone well on the way out, and maybe go home to mill around in sweatpants. Done.
WAKING UP ON A SOFA WITH A DICK DRAWN ON YOUR FACE
Listen, I know gender is fluid now and the binary has been flipped on its head and none of us are men or women but rather inhabitants in various junk-having bodies that may or may not correspond to our own complex and internal feelings and identities, human beings containing gender multitudes, human beings containing genders infinite, and so the following is actually very politically incorrect to say now, but I have a theory: given a surface and something to etch with, men will draw penises and girls will draw either hearts or very basic smilies. Do the science on this, it's real. Give me the PhD funding and I will do it for you.
This is why you woke up at a house party with a dick drawn on your face: men, with access to Sharpies and a face, will always draw a dick with the Sharpie on the face. The bell of the dick is etched toward your mouth, the balls towards your ears. A man did this. Unerring pubic detailing. A man did this. This is the albatross you have to endure, now, because vigorously washing your face with whatever liquid soap you can find is only going to make it worse. Go home, dickface, slink home, and hide your shame upon a pillow.
At some point, sooner or later, while your heart palpitates as you lie on the couch in the depths of despair, you will renounce alcohol in all its forms. You will tell everyone you are doing one of those dry months, you know the ones. "Just a Coke for me," you say at the bar. They ask you if Pepsi is OK. "No." Don't you feel good? Don't you feel… brighter, somehow less exhausted? All of your friends are slamming beers and you are drinking an orange juice and jogging. Have you finally kicked it? You notice how you're better at work, that getting up in the mornings isn't a chore now, you feel like all the blood in your body has been cycled out and renewed, that all your cells have been updated and rebooted. God, you're so ALIVE, aren't you? You're just so—well, I guess it's Friday. A Corona won't hurt. Haha, you're buying? All right: one, but then I really have to go to the gym. Di–did you put vodka in this lime and soda? You fucker. And then scene deleted you wake up, and roll over, and put the TV on, and you realize you have once again tumbled off the wagon and been trampled by its self-righteous wheels. Your body is again a trash can. Six days, you lasted. Six.
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During a hangover is the only time you are allowed to wear sunglasses indoors unless you wake up one day and are actually Lenny Kravitz.
The loudest noise in the world is the sound of knocking eight empty cans of Bud into a metal sink while enduring a hangover. Don't do it. Don't clean up. You always do it in that weird, tight-backed pose anyway, tiptoeing around the house, occasionally pausing to pick up a single yogurt carton and ferrying it to the garbage and turning around and finding the mess has multiplied behind you. It can wait until tomorrow. Stop this nonsense now.
FORGETTING IT ALL AND DOING THE SAME THING AGAIN
And so as surely as the moon follows the sun and the sea returns lovingly to the shore, so you will follow the worst hangover of your life by thinking yeah, actually, maybe a G&T would be all right now, wouldn't it? Because forgetting the agony of a hangover is like the flood of hormones into the brain that make new moms forget about the pain of childbirth, only instead of holding a baby and cooing you are cradling a bottle of wine and making two-fifths of an orgasm noise. Go on, brave little soldier. Go forth and spread good cheer. See you again tomorrow morning for a Domino's and a quiet little scream into a pillow.
Unless otherwise stated, all photos by Tumblr darling Bob Foster
Follow Joel Golby on Twitter.