Every hangover is a testament to a version of you that is an asshole. What else would you call someone who defers pain to her future self, a self she considers another person? You, about eight hours ago, was not just a hedonist but a poisoner. A hangover blurs the lines of identity. It pits yourself against itself. It makes your name feel just a bit like a lie. And it’s not limited to hangovers from alcohol.
1. The TV Hangover
Like a pool filter with intestines, the longform nature of television slowly coaxes out something intimate within you, usually only touched (emotionally) on lengthy road trips or (physically) on lengthy road trips that end in an I-75 ditch with the screech of sundered metal and a chassis already blackened by the time you come to. But let’s stick with “emotionally:” you’ve come to regard this show like an old friend, and thus it has made a part of you external, like a really shitty horcrux. By hiding your feelings in the folds of a story you don’t know the end of, you can believe they will be safe there forever and what’s more, someone else’s responsibility.
So, when that show ends, you are suddenly left de-intestined and un-horcruxed (though the intestines are floating before and Voldemort didn’t feel anything when the horcruxes were actually destroyed, so whatever). This is the hangover of constipation and having gone home alone: the distress doesn’t come from something you’ve lost but from having an excess inside you. There’s no backup anymore. Player 2 has left the game. You’re just You, and who the hell is that anyway? The comfort of the show knowing what to say each week is gone, and all of those emotions you lent it are returned in a tangle. And it’s not like you know the right way to put your intestines back in you.
Commiserate with other mourners, find a new show to drop bits of yourself into, join a prison pen pal programs, listen to Baby Blue until it reverts to the classic rock song it has always been, start from the first season even though Leslie was just wrong as a character back then, eat lots of fiber.
2. The Solitude Hangover
So you’re Bon Ivering it somewhere or out of obligations or just spending a lot of time near-ish familiar strangers: you’re alone, and it’s kind of great. You don’t need to speak to anyone, to offer any favors, to behave like a human being who is always a human being with a distinct and worthwhile personality. You stop bathing. You sleep when you want. You implode, and when you implode, you lose your shape. The unique things about you—like “hard-working” or “honest” or “possessing of skin”—stop being explicitly stated, then stop seeming there at all. In place of a self, you have a series of mundane actions. Meals, sips, naps, wanks. All physical sensations and gut wants you could imagine anyone having. Steeped in your own sweat, you entire a sort of collective consciousness.
Suddenly, a friend who is human asks you to hang out, and there you are, pretending to be human, too. This is a post-blackout hangover, one in which you pretend to be Dr. Jekyll but fear that, at any moment, you’ll revert to something that humps the trashcans of neighbors. You speak in stumbling newborn deer sentences, “yes, isn’t that indeed humorous about the eggs,” “I sure do hope good things will happen to us both in a future we will both live for,” “that was a funny sentence, so please say another one.” You assign words and values to a body that was just a potato receptacle not long ago, and holding on to them is exhausting. You forget to smile. You forget to stretch without groaning. You forget to not tell yourself to die when you make mistakes. You’ll also probably scratch your genitals without thinking about it.
Read through minutiae of your social media life in order to convincingly imitate yourself as would any doppelganger worth its salt, practice standing completely still in the dark and smiling into a mirror, arrange an elaborate plot to collapse all individual human will into a collective entity that will float softly through the humming stars, get cheap beer.
3. The Ice Cream Hangover
This is almost a literal hangover. The salt and glee of enough ice cream to embalm a moose rob your body of water and hope the way alcohol does. And you feel like crap. No, not crap: you feel like ice cream. You feel like a shape whose edges get softer by the minute, who puddles in the closest ridge it can find. You feel like the sticky, gritty gullet after a quart or two, simultaneously lubricated and rough as a pore strip because, so coated, your innards have become what they carry. You feel like excess. You feel runny; for ice cream is a great thing to be in very specific temperatures only, and certainly not if you leave it out. Which you’ve done.
This is the hangover of waking up with a party hat still on, crumpled and askew. The hangover where you remember the distilled friendship of those shots the night before that seem so ludicrous in the daylight. The hangover where you know that something you said sad-drunk will affect a relationship well into the week. The hangover where you got arrested, or drove, or maybe just felt a beautiful togetherness in a room of strangers that you so desperately wish to reconstruct that you’ll go once more to the breach. The hangover where the revels haven’t left you; instead they settle in your gut and thighs, acid and salt and cream run through the digestive tract until it’s the color of that damnable sun making your joy seem ridiculous or costly.
So you close your eyes and turn the shades down and sit in a dark that’s a bit paler than you’d want, but it’s the best you can do. Place the pillow over your eyelids. You don’t want to melt any more.
Hair of the dog that bit you.