In his essay entitled, “The Hangover,” Kingsley Amis remarks that his subject is one only poorly and inadequately addressed by the world’s vast store of brilliant and illuminating literature, citing Kafka’s The Metamorphosis as “perhaps … the best literary treatment” of the subject. For his own part, he flat-out refuses to patch this gaping hole, opting instead to provide the reader with a set of cautions, cures, and preventive measures. In the process of relating them, of course, he conveys quite a palpable and insightful portrait of the experience, one that is hilarious in points, and rings all too painfully true in others.
Along the way, the essay provides some really useful advice to anyone who is now or ever will be overhung, and conveys it all through hilarious and brilliantly articulated examples, and what seems to be not a small bit of personal experience.
It’s unclear whether Amis is moved here by pity for the plight of his readers, or merely by the desire to sagaciously dispense the hard-won wisdom gleaned along the course of his own misadventures. But whichever may be the case, the end result is of great use to anyone who may happen to find him or herself suffering under the crushing burden of that dreaded ailment, regarded all too often with Schadenfreude by those who have sucked out less of life’s marrow the evening previous; and which, too, is considered unworthy of any real sympathy, because the condition seems so clearly self-inflicted.
I would like very much to contribute to the literature of the hangover, to do my part filling in that gap which Amis has identified. I want to shine the light of consciousness into that strange state of mind and body, at once completely confounding and at the same time, infinitely more attenuated and acute than that of any hale, sound person. However, in my opinion, fiction and verse are more appropriate media for such inquiries than is the (pseudo) critical essay. Despite Amis’s claim that “a full, direct description of the metaphysical hangover” would be “no fun to read or write,” I do believe, as does my own most frequently overhung protagonist, that “an artist who refuses to be confounded and contorted by the madness of his society becomes gradually but increasingly irrelevant and useless to it. Although this leads toward tranquility and wellness on the one hand, it leads also toward isolation and effective exile on the other.”
In the meanwhile, for all of you laboring at this very moment under the pain and befuddlement of too many good times, if you can bear to lift your eyes and drag them across the screen, let me offer my very own Amis-inspired, but significantly augmented regimen. For your enjoyment, your relief, and perhaps even, in the most extreme of cases, for the salvation of your very life, I offer you “Clive Watson’s Seven Step Fool-Proof Hangover Cure.”
“Health by water” is the rough translation of this Latin phrase, which provides us with the word “spa,” via acronym, and ain’t it true as ever a thing was. We are, after all, largely comprised of water. We die without it, and a wide variety of ailments worsen when we don’t get enough of it. The hangover is one of these ailments.
In fact, your hangover is a result of rapid dehydration, plain and simple. Abandoning regular doses of this vital substance, you’ve gulped down substantial quantities of its opposite, a draught among whose many magical properties is that it makes you shed your precious reservoirs of water at an alarming rate. Quenching thirst with a Singapore Sling or a Belgian blonde is like trying to tunnel your way out of a sinking ship.
We hear many complaints about the uselessness of the oft-repeated prescription of hydration. “If I’d had the sense to drink an adequate amount of water the night before, then I wouldn’t have woken in this dreadful state in the first place.” And it’s true: much of the benevolently distributed wisdom masquerading as remedy amounts to little more than sanctimonious jeering. “If you’d had the good sense and proportion to pace yourself and drink water, you wouldn’t be suffering now,” and the like. In other words, you deserve what you get. True? Who can say. Helpful? Hardly. Humane? Not in the least.
No one is in need of more compassion than those suffering in such self-afflicted states of extreme fragility, and ironically, or perhaps merely as demonstration of exactly how beastly man is to man on a regular basis, in the most mundane of matters, and by habit, no one is more likely to receive inhuman doses of spite instead.
It’s never too late to rehydrate! (Well, you know. Unless …)
In fact, you’re never going to get over your headache, your vague queasiness, or any of the hangover’s myriad fever-like conditions until you re-hydrate. Your only meaningful decision: to bounce back with surprising speed, or to wallow through an interminable recovery?
Not all hangovers are created equal, of course. Alcohol of poor quality tends to contain much higher quantities of toxic congeners (what’s a congener? Look here for an indepth discussion of what they are and why they may end up in your glass), toxic byproducts that work various kinds of voodoo on your skull. Add to this the fact that you may still be experiencing the lingering disproportions of the poison’s primary effect, and the full force of the hangover’s dreaded triple-whammy looms into view. The very same lens of inebriation which can transform an evening into a whirligig of giddiness and communal joy can, in turn, distort an already grim physical state into something positively nightmarish.
Nevertheless, the root of the problem is mainly one of fluid imbalance, and this can be remedied in simple steps. Let this solid fact be your guiding light. Despite what may well be a tendency towards gloomy thoughts and irrational fears, there’s no need to despair in the claustrophobic labyrinth of post-inebriation. Celebrate the knowledge that you can easily alter your condition. Hold it aloft, as one would a torch in a darkened cave. And then, begin to take the first steps toward liberation: pour yourself a glass of water. Repeat as often and frequently as able.
Ingesting fluids is a great start, and by all means, do. But it’s the speed of relief that is of the essence to the overhung, so let me suggest a multi-pronged approach: don’t just hydrate internally. Solid as your skin seems, it’s worth remembering that it is in fact a fine mesh which allows moisture to pass through gradually, not just out, but also in (remember how your fingertips begin to wrinkle after too much time in the bath?) Now I’m not suggesting you sit in the bath all day long — extreme exposure is harmful in its own right. But a dip in the pool, the lake, the jacuzzi, etc., can really do a lot to boost your recovery. A simple shower can work wonders.
The mere sensation of these activities can be deeply pleasurable. I once achieved tremendous relief simply by rolling up my trousers and dangling my legs in a pool. Extreme sensitivity to temperature is a common symptom of a hangover, so if you feel overheated, take a cool dip. If you feel chilled, a bit of time in the bath or hot tub will ravel two knots at once.
It’s hard to know exactly how much of the relief of submersion is from its replenishing effects, how much from the pleasure of sensation, and how much just from the small psychosomatic thrill we get whenever we do anything for ourselves. We could take some time and do some experiments to tease out these elements. But recovery isn’t a time for such strenuous questions. Most importantly, remember that anything which makes you feel truly good is worth pursuing in such a state. The portion of suffering which is not strictly physical is emotional and/or, as Amis puts it, metaphysical. Treating all sides of the problem at once is the best way to proceed. Water will get you started.
Up next, step 2: only in dreams