This post was originally published on December 18, 2014.
Hangovers became a way of life for me for many years. It was a given that I would wake up morning after morning with a headache and dry mouth and be sweating, vomiting, tired and anxious. It was an exchange I was willing to make to drink like I wanted to, which was with no control. There was always this brief moment between waking up and coming to that I would have a few seconds of peace before my mind and body connected to remind me of my physical state. And then sure enough, a wave of shame, regret and pain would come crashing down.
With my eyes still closed, I would make a physical assessment of what hurt and then try to figure out why. I was a clumsy drunk and so I fell a lot. I would often wake up stuck to my bed sheets from where the blood from my cuts and scrapes had dried to the sheets. Sexy, I know. And there was that one time I woke up with a hospital bracelet on my wrist with no recollection of what I had done to land myself in the emergency room.
Nothing really surprised me except waking up without a hangover and that typically just meant I was still drunk and the hangover had not set in yet.
When I eventually made it to rehab, I was just happy to wake up not feeling like death. I was crawling out of my skin most days, but waking up not hung over was incredible. I didn’t need to chug Vitamin Water to replenish electrolytes. I didn’t need to take a couple BC powders to help with my headache. I didn’t need to make myself throw up to feel better. I didn’t need to bandage my knees or clean my sheets. All of these experiences were new to me, and I welcomed each of them. I loved the way I felt. I was actually getting sleep instead of just passing out and I would wake up feeling rested. The sight of breakfast didn’t make me want to vomit. I could drink coffee and enjoy it. I could actually shower in a timely manner instead of being bent over dry heaving or sitting on the floor of the shower and letting the water wash over me because, well, standing up was just too difficult of a task.
Waking up feeling good was like waking up as a kid on Christmas morning. Starting my day without a hangover gave me so much hope that the rest of my day would be okay without drinking.
Eventually, I began to realize that hangovers were a thing of the past for me as long as I stayed sober. Two-and-a-half years later, I still wake up so grateful for not being physically hung over. But somewhere along the way, I realized hangovers weren’t completely a thing of the past; I’d just started to experience a new kind of hangover, and it was way worse than any headache or vomiting or nausea or fatigue I had ever experienced. Yup, you may know the one. It’s the kind you experience when you let yesterday’s excessive negative emotions like anger, fear, jealousy, self-pity, envy or hurt pride carry over to the present: the emotional hangover.
Hangovers stole my energy, ruined the day ahead of me, took away my peace of mind and gave me a reason to start drinking sooner rather than later. Well, those still apply to the emotional hangover. Talk about a plot twist moment the first time I experienced one of these. I had no idea what it was. I just knew I didn’t like the way I felt.
I wanted my untroubled, content, peaceful state of mind back. But how? I knew no amount of greasy food, Vitamin Water, BC powder or Pepto would do the trick. I had been sober long enough to know the answer probably involved admission of some wrongdoing or finding my part in it—some self-examination bullshit my sponsor would tell me to do. And like any good alcoholic, I knew I would often try to argue my case as to why these feelings I had were justifiable.
Well, that only led to another plot twist moment when I found out these feelings may be the occasional luxury of normal people, but not for me as an alcoholic—alas, not even when it’s justified. When I first discovered this, I thought it was the biggest BS I had ever heard. But then I questioned why I would want to carry negative emotions around. It’s not fun for me. It’s certainly not fun for anyone around me.
It’s usually my overly inflated ego that gets in my way of letting things go—essentially, whether or not I’m being honest with myself. So it’s just a matter of deflating my ego a little, admitting when I am wrong and making it right when and where I can. It may not be as easy as eating a greasy cheeseburger or taking a shot of Pepto but the relief can be immediate and lasting.
Thoroughly searching my heart on a daily basis without fear allows me to eliminate these emotional hangovers when they pop up. Going to bed with a clear conscious is priceless. It’s something I was rarely able to do when I was drinking. There is no drink on earth that taste as good as sobriety feels and if that means doing a daily check and balance of my moral inventory, then that’s what I will do.
My advice for anyone who’s experienced this: next time you begin to see an emotional hangover set in, just yell, “Plot twist!” and deal with it immediately. Hangovers robbed us of living well long enough when we were drinking. Why suffer from one sober?