The Moment of Clarity.
Sunday, May 7, 2006. 6:16PM
Some years ago my man Carter Woodrow used to often tell me that every time he was hung over and feeling down, he’d just had a read of The Tortured Life of a Teenage Alcoholic, and feel better in the realisation that he wasn’t doing so bad.
That article was written a little over three years ago, and I've had a lot to drink since then. I'm not a teenager anymore either, and I've been called an alcoholic far too much to take any pride in the term. The morning described still qualifies as the worst hangover I’ve ever had, however. I'm sure I've thrown up more and had a worse feeling head, and I've probably killed more brain cells in one sitting, but it remains the worst, because of one detail that has never been repeated: I threw up in my sleep. When you throw up in your sleep that means you could have died. That is not a good way to be.
Last night I went out to a little bash. It was the birthday of a friend’s little sister, and I guess I had a fair bit to drink. I had three 500m wheat beers that I remember, and three alcoholic ginger beers, and a Coopers red. Then I guess I had some champagne and a jug of beer at this sleazy dive pub we went to. I bought the jug assuming that everyone would share it with me, because jugs are for sharing, but no, everyone got their own drinks, shirking my jug as it sat alone on the table. I’d been smoking a lot all night as well, which came into play a little later at some club. I was drinking another beer, which I’d somehow managed to order, and sitting down smoking. There was a balding man next to me. His girlfriend came back with their drinks, and as she stood in front of him, he grabbed at the little role of flab on her stomach. “What’s this shit?” he asked. “Shut up!” she said. “I’m forty two, I’m allowed to.”
A moment later I noticed one of the girls I was with was staring at me, so I winked and blew her a smoke ring. “Oh my god! Do that again!” she squealed. I’m not that good at smoke rings that I can guarantee a repeat like that, so I refused. “He’s not a performing monkey” the middle aged man chimed in. “Go to her” he said in my ear. “Go over there right now, and you’ll score.” I tried to stand, not wanting to disappoint my new friend, and immediately feel back into me seat. He laughed. “Maybe in a little while.”
I sat there quietly for about half an hour, finishing my drink. Basically everyone in my party had hooked up. There was one blond girl who looked lonely – she kept annoying her friend by talking to her, when all she (the friend) wanted to do was make out with a guy, but I was in no state to make a play for her. Eventually and suddenly, I decided my night was up, and I rose and left, heading down the hill to get a souvlaki.
I stumbled down the road a ways to a petrol station, where I happened to know a kebab van parked at night. I ordered my meal with garlic sauce, barbecue sauce and all the trimmings. Six dollars. I decided to take the scenic route for the four or five blocks home, through the suburban streets rather than along the main road.
I had finished my kebab (delicious), and was looking for a house with an easily accessible garden tap in the front yard to get some water. I threw up a little bit, but not wanting to loose my six dollar kebab and its implied nutritional value, I swallowed it. It kept coming back up, so in the end I spat out a few mouthfuls of chunky paste, but I kept the majority of it down. I jumped a few fences and had a few mouthfuls of water, which help the process no end.
I don't know when exactly I got lost, but eventually I hit the train line. I followed it until I hit a station. The wrong station. I must have spent ten minutes on that platform trying to decide which way the trains I catch home go. I walked home along the loose stones between the sleepers and scuffed my shoes to shit.
I got in the door about 3:30am. I filled a pint glass that I stole from a pub many moons ago with water, and forced myself to drink half of it. I refilled the glass, and put it by my bed. I couldn't be fucked showering, or brushing my teeth, so I just took of my clothes and rolled, naked, into bed.
I woke up about 8:30am and my head hurt. I mean really hurt. There was something small with claws behind my temple, trying to tunnel its way out. Someone once told me that the reason you have a headache when you're hung over is because your brain gets dehydrated and shrinks, and the pain you feel is the shrunken brain tearing itself off from the inside of the skull. This is exactly what I was feeling. For the next hour or so I drifted in and out of consciousness, waking every fifteen minutes or so and taking another gulp of water from the glass by my bed. Eventually I decided to be proactive, to end this once and for all, so I sat up and took a big drink. Straight away one thought hit me. "I'm going to throw up."
I am not a man who believes in been motivated by consequences. Every time someone I know quits smoking I say “what are you doing? Don’t be a pussy. You enjoy it, do it.” I never understand people who don’t drink. Why would anyone cut out such a large part of social interactions across all cultures? It makes no sense to me. I really think more people should not buy into this insane propaganda campaign and start smoking – I aint saying we’d be healthier, but I think if everyone smoked we’d be jerks to each other a whole lot less of the time. I don’t understand people who drink and smoke and don’t do drugs, either. I don’t see a distinction between opiates and alcohol (except opiates are better). Every now and again someone asks me to justify this reckless hedonism, and I simply explain that we live in the future; and that they’ll cure cancer and AIDS and ageing and hangovers real soon. Everyone should have more abortions - we need the stem cells to make middle aged women look hot. Of course I know that it’s not true. The truth is that I love life when I feel good. These things make me feel good.
I bolted out of bed to grab my dressing gown, when it happened. Straight away, without any warning, I threw up. Instinctively, I cupped my hands, trying to catch it. This caused the fountain of chunder to splash back in my face. I briefly contemplated grabbing my gown. Very briefly. Cupping my dripping hand bowl of vomit I ran, naked through the house to the bathroom. I threw it in the sink and proceeded to give it company. The kebab had been inside me for more than five hours, but it had somehow avoided any significant digestion. All the key components were still clearly identifiable – meat, tomato, lettuce, onion – all loosely held together with a white paste of bread and sauce and water.
When I had done dry retching I looked up at myself in the mirror above the basin. Little bits of vomit flecked my eyebrows and hair. My eyes had watered with the stomach spasms. I had goofy expression. For the first time ever, I had a moment of clarity. The moment of clarity stayed with me for the next few hours, as I had a long hot shower (the heat sweats out the toxin), as I scooped the chunks of meat and tomato into a basin, and mopped my floor (using hot water, because it evaporates the smell faster). It ran through my mind as I walked down the road to the store to buy a bag of salted pretzels and coke (the pretzels are bland enough to stabilise your stomach for some reason. When you can’t keep anything else down, pretzels and coke is what you should try. Of course, it doesn’t always stay down, but the nice, broken down bready texture and sweet aftertaste of the coke feels almost as good coming up as it does going down). I had my Berocca and watched some episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and I began to feel better, and the clarity began to leave me. It’s point, however, remained. For the first time I asked myself “why do I do this?” For the first time I considered the question “are the highs and the good times really worth the lows?” For the first time, I knew some small part of the process that those pussies who stop drinking know. For the first time, I considered stopping myself.
Of course, as soon as the Berocca kicked in, it occurred to me that I’d had ten hours of feeling great for five of feeling shit. That everyone hates all those jerks at parties who sit around not being drunk. That feeling good feels great. That drinking and smoking makes you cool and popular.
Eight o’clock that evening saw me back on the horse at a nice restaurant with expensive wine, good friends and good feelings, drowning the clarity in claret.