It’s Day 2 and holy crap, can anyone really not drink for a year? What do they…actually DO?
No, wait. Let’s try that again, this time without the ghosts of negative thoughts a-gathering.
It’s Day 2! I woke up to a NoMo chip on my phone – a great sobriety tracking app which pops up cheerily and declares “woohoo! Yesterday you did not drink!” – and it wasn’t quite as much of a thrill as that time I woke up to find that Lin Manuel Miranda had liked one of my tweets, but it was extremely pleasing all the same. I could hear my partner B. in the kitchen, talking to the cat as though she’s a human. He brought me tea, the sun was shining, and I was Regular Morning Tired.
In other words, I was Not Hungover.
Today I am going to contemplate the different kingdoms of Regular Morning Tired and Hungover. Or, if you will, the Starks and the Targaryens, the Hufflepuff and Slytherin, the Good Janet and Bad Janet of morningtimes. If you’re here, I imagine you might have experienced them both, because you might well have experienced the “well hell yes let’s open another bottle/head on to the next bar/go on to this lovely whisky I’ve got” night before which leads directly to the “uuuuurgghhhh sweet baby jesus why” morning after.
Regular Morning Tired is bleary and soft. It lies on you heavily for a while, but it can be coaxed off with a friendly cup of tea and some light conversation. It makes your limbs heavy, but you can shake or shower it off, and enjoy the feeling of slowly coming up. You surface through Regular Morning Tired, break the water, draw breath and emerge as yourself, into a daylight that might be a little bright but which is ultimately welcoming. By the time you’ve turned on the radio or checked the news, got dressed, hopped in the car or strolled to the tube stop, Regular Morning Tired decides that it has things to do and heads off in its own direction, whistling to itself, and you barely notice it slipping away into the distance.
Hungover is different. It’s scaly and clingy. It squats on your chest like Gollum, and growls if you try to get away from it, and it follows you closely into the bathroom, or the kitchen, and breathes hotly down your neck. It has a sour smell, and it won’t be fooled by strong coffee or by a cool shower: it can be quietened down by greasy carbs, just a little, but it’s not gone, just lurking. You can feel it licking its lips wetly as you ride the bus or walk to class, as you pound a bottle of water in the office bathroom and it makes your stomach lurch, and you stand just a little further away from everyone than usual, just in case they can see its red eyes, its puffy cheeks, its dull, grey skin. At lunchtime, it’s still in your bones. Everything feels leaden and dragging. By late afternoon, Hungover might have decided to climb off you, but it’s still next to you, still stalking you with its seedy shuffle and its quiet, malicious muttering, because Hungover is fascinated with your faults, which it lists relentlessly just within earshot: lazy, ill-disciplined, no self-control, missing the gym again, are we, weak, immature, embarrassing, stupid. Hungover follows you home, maybe three or four paces behind you now, maybe quieter, and then quite suddenly, as evening falls, you hear the door bang behind it. “God,” you say, “I finally feel better.”
But Hungover knows where you live. Hungover will be back.
When I was younger, I had what I thought was an amazing resilience to hangovers (and which I now realise was just a state called “being in your early twenties and being basically bullet-proof, you lucky, young, perfect-skinned fool” rather than some sort of special gift for shrugging off a skinfull). I bounced back. Now, I genuinely believe that Hungover knows the exact date of your thirtieth birthday and turns up like a very unwelcome guest, bearing two beautifully wrapped gifts: Gift 1, several bottles of the much more expensive booze that you can now appreciate and afford and Gift 2, the complete inability to drink them without consequences.
Because I didn’t drink every day, I often spent time with Regular Morning Tired. I learned to really appreciate its gentle ways, but I always went crawling back to Hungover eventually. And we do have a strange, shared cultural response to Hungover, don’t we? We celebrate it. We trade war stories about it, we slap each other’s backs in jocular commiseration and use terms like “absolute lad” and “legend”, we make hit movies about it, and we use the “horrific morning after” as a hilarious trope on sit-coms. Regular Morning Tired, by comparison, can seem a bit…well…dull. After all, no one ever pitched “a group of friends have a nice dinner, enjoy each other’s company, go to bed at a sensible time and wake up a bit sleepy but basically fine WITH HILLARIOUS CONSEQUENCES!” to a room-full of gleeful studio execs.
When I told a few friends about my plans for a full year off the booze, and floated the idea of it all getting a bit much, what with the lurking figure of Hungover getting ever worse and all, one of them looked at me with real exasperation and said, “then why on earth don’t you just drink a bit LESS?”
I don’t know why.
Why don’t I just drink less? When I know full well that Hungover knows where I live, and is just outside and knocking at my door?
But you see, in folk tales and mythology, from Vampires to Trojan Horses, there’s often a common theme uniting the things that are really going to hurt you. They rely on you to do it to yourself. You always have to invite them in.