11 December 2016

A Bout of Insomnia Evokes Memories of Hangovers

“I drink too much. The last time I gave a urine sample it had an olive in it.” - Rodney Dangerfield

Hey guess what I got to struggle with last night? My worst ever case of insomnia. Woke up at 12 something, 1 something, 2 something, 3 something and when I work up at 4 something there was no getting back to dreamland. I had both tossed and turned to no avail and so finally got up and spent an hour on the computer. I tried at last to sleep on the sofa and did so quite fitfully for 90 minutes before giving up on that too. So guess how I feel now? If you said like warmed over ostrich vomit you are correct.

The day after a bad night of sleep recalls the many hangovers I used to suffer. In fact one day a few months ago I woke up after not sleeping well adding to this I was severely depressed, had an upset stomach and a headache. If my wallet had been empty and I’d only recalled parts of the previous night it would have been exactly like a hangover.

When I was drinking, hangovers were just part of the deal like being sore after a good workout. Sometimes there’d be a point in the evening at which I realized that if I continued imbibing I’d be in for that morning after feeling. Usually I said, “aw screw it” and carried on nonplussed.

The typical hangover consisted of a blinding headache, achy bones, weakness, queasiness, guilt, anxiety, regret and a dash or two of depression. Hangovers varied according to what you drank.  I found beer hangovers to be the most tolerable unless the evening’s grog had consisted of heavy malts. Those could produce some dozzies. Wine hangovers were the ones most likely to cause nausea. Hard alcohol made for the worst headaches. Mixing drinks could also be lethal. The worst though was the Irish Coffee hangover. Whiskey, sugar and coffee are a brutal combination plus the concoction kept you up longer thus allowing you to drink more. Irish coffee hangovers made suicide seem an inviting option.

Hangovers could be blunted in two ways: drink plenty of water before going to bed, take two Tylenol. The problem is that you’re often too sloshed to think of it. As for hangover cures I found the best thing to do was to sleep as late as possible. After rising a shower would be in order and then, if at all possible, a hearty breakfast. But no matter these, the only real cure was a hair of the dog. A beer or two would take the edge off and if you could stop at a buzz you were usually good for the day. The risk, of course, was going beyond a few and starting in another evening of bacchanalia.

Another addition to hangover woes was cocaine, the more you’d partaken the worse the morning after. The cocaine itself could cause a nasty hangover and the copious amounts of liquor that the coke kept you awake to partake in furthered the damage. You may wake up next to a stranger. I did twice. In one instance I had no idea what her name was and we clearly been "intimate" the night before. Upon waking up she left and I never so her again nor did I discover her name. I remain particularly ashamed of that night/morning. I also woke up a few times to find vomit not far away. In one cases it had splashed upon a new book I'd just purchased that featured stills from all of Humphrey Bogart's films.

Drunks are perfectly happy to discuss and compare hangovers. The imagination runs wild in describing the hangover. One regular description was that a hole had been bored into the brain and sand had been poured in. There was also the claim that jackhammers were busy at work inside one’s head. Of course some swore off alcohol for a few days, a week or even longer when in the throes of a nasty one. You could tell a drunkard by the fact that the drinking would recommence well short of the goal. Often that very day. A real sot wouldn’t bother with promises and just get on with the drinking.

The real problem with hangovers was the guilt, shame and regret at what you did remember and the horror associated with large chunks of the evening that you had no memory of. God knows what you had done. Sometimes you can strain your brain and recall an image or person or a snippet of conversation. The worst was when the whole evening was a blank. You may well have insulted someone, flirted with the wrong woman, made a fool of yourself in front of the right woman or just made an ass of yourself in front of everyone. Sometimes you’d see a fellow reveler the next day and hear something to the effect of, “boy were you a mess last night” Or, “do you even remember last night?” Sometimes it wasn't so bad as in, “you were hilarious last night.” I once had a woman tell me what a good dancer I’d been and how funny I was. I neither recalled dancing nor making jests.

One day I woke up with no memory at all of the previous night. Total blank. Later that day I went to meet the people I’d been with that night at our favorite watering hole. They weren’t there. I asked around and someone told me that they’d gone to another bar. Funny, nobody told me. When I entered they turned their backs to me and pretended I wasn’t there. A collective cold shoulder. Freezing cold. I had a love/hate relationship with the most prominent member of our group and I’m sure that while in my cups I’d brought up every grievance I’d ever had with her. I slunk off, chastened, never to see “the gang” again. No matter, I moved out of the town shortly thereafter.  Some years later I heard that the aforementioned woman had died of cancer while still in her early forties. I regret to this day that I didn’t make amends with her.

When you have a serious pain somewhere your body is telling you that something is wrong. Similarly if you are ill there is cause that sometimes requires investigation. With that in mind a hangover is certainly an internal memo to your brain and body that what took place the previous evening did damage and is to be avoided in the future. A heavy drinker is not interested in that missive.

One of the great joys of sobriety is the complete and total absence of hangovers. Other ailments come along but they do not visit us out of our stupidity and there is no shame, no empty wallet and no gaps in the memory.

If you partake every now and again but rarely get tipsy and do not suffer hangovers, I congratulate you. Mind you I don’t understand this ability at all. Even today when I see or hear of someone having “a couple of drinks” and truly no more, I’m dumbfounded. How is it possible? Sure there were a few occasions when I stopped after one or two but they were the exception.

Now the exception is when I wake up not feeling well. Life can get better — provided you get enough sleep.

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