The Hangover Cure, Step 4: The Four Mile Run

How You'll Feel by Mile Three. This photo of the triumphant Betty Cuthbert statue courtesy of Wikimedia Contributor Melburnian

How You’ll Feel by Mile Three. This photo of the triumphantly bronzed Betty Cuthbert courtesy of Wikimedia Contributor Melburnian

Now I realize that this step may just be the hardest sell of all. That’s alright: it’s also the most important. Well, perhaps I don’t mean most important. If one doesn’t hydrate properly, after all, nothing else will help. What I mean, I think, is that the four mile run is the most transformative. This will be the definitive exorcism of your hangover, the death blow. Everything after this will be victorious denouement.

I won’t go into great detail here about all the ways in which running transforms your state, as I’ve already waxed rhapsodic on the subject here. I’ve said it before, but just to recap, running is magic. And if you really intend to vanquish your hangover for good and all, you’ll need precisely this magic. So don’t just sit there in your pit of suffering and regret, even if it may feel it more fitting. Don’t listen to the lingering spectres of self-flagellation. Get up, and transform your world.

Prepare your ritual objects: lace up the shoes, paint your face and limbs with the ceremonial sunscreen. (I recommend the zinc-based stuff to avoid overheating, as it reflects instead of absorbing key elements of the brutal sun’s rays). And then dance your way through the binary choreography, the paean of restoration, measured out by the accelerating metronome of your own two feet striking the earth, and launching it, ever so slightly away from you and behind you, till it falls back to balance on the ball of your next foot. At the end of this corridor, this succession of footfalls and moments, you will emerge, transformed.

Now, some of you are surely expert distance runners, for whom tossing off a four miler requires little more effort than thought. But I know that others are probably thinking at this very moment, “I wouldn’t be caught running four miles while in a state of perfect vigor and cheer, let alone while hungover.” You might be saying, as a friend once said to me, “if you ever see me running, call the police.”

It’s been well noted that no pastime or exercise, however tedious or cruel, has so many passionate opponents as does running; probably not even attending elementary school piccolo recitals, solving differential equations, or cow-tipping (unless one counts the cows, which one really ought to). For a hilarious and insightful exploration of this mystery, by the way, check out the new green podcast ”Running Sucks.”

It has also been observed, though, that those who overcome the considerable hurdle of acquiring a love for running often end up with an equally passionate ardor for the experience. For evidence, witness my own ecstatic ramblings.

However, if you’ve never been willing to undertake so much as a couch to 5k, and if the thought of a mere jog around the block fills you with waves of ennui and dread, I don’t expect that you’ll be persuaded to try it while convalescing after an evening spent “in all nature’s embrace”(1). If this describes your state, fear not. There are a few other exercises that will offer similar, though I would argue, lesser, relief. A good hard swim may be its equal, although in my experience, the benefits are achieved more slowly, as it is typically a less intense exercise. It may just be too easy to move in water. Then again, maybe that’s what your predisposition wants today.

I’m not sure how much is physical and how much psychological, but there is something truly regenerative about passing through the water. As I’ve said before, the baptism trope, whether as religious ceremony or convention of cinema, or as personal care, works for a reason, and I’d like to put my finger on exactly why. I’m sure it has something to do with our physical makeup, and reliance on the stuff, but perhaps also with the origins of our species, which would make sense if there really is some sort of atavistic or genetic “memory” in operation (another can of worms for another fishing trip). Beyond this, I personally suspect it relates to the overall spatial/sensory nature of consciousness and memory, as observed in the “doorway effect.”

For a modern celebration of water’s vital mythic status, enjoy this.

A note of caution: by no means should you attempt step 4 if you find yourself still even slightly dizzy or nauseous or dehydrated. Steps 1 through 3 have been designed to pry you out of such unhappy states, and hopefully, they have succeeded in doing so. As in all ailments though, some cases are far more serious than others. If you haven’t yet escaped these tiers of the spiral of recovery, please return to the more cautious, gentle methods. Continue to hydrate, rest, and generally coddle yourself until something resembling a steady picture begins to emerge.

Why four? Your mileage may vary (literally), but I find there’s something conclusive about four miles. More may be better, but fewer definitely leaves me wanting. Maybe it’s a full flush of the old fluids, a reset on some part of the endocrine system, or perhaps it’s merely the watershed moment of having achieved adequate endorphin saturation. For whatever reason, I find the difference palpable. How about you?

Up Next, Step 5: Comida Mas Rico!

(or return to Step 3).



(1) Katamari Damacy’s “The King of All Cosmos”

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The Hangover Cure, Step 3: Purgatorio

PurgatorioDante's Purgatorio, Birk & Sanders, 2005

A recently published, contemporary retelling of Dante’s classic, featuring gorgeous illustrations by Sandow Birk

In the second phase of Dante’s Divine Tragedy, the poet takes a guided tour through seven graduated levels of trial and suffering, each of which does its part to purify the climbing souls of the departed. (It puts the “purge” in “purgatory.”) It’s a long slog for these newbies to the afterlife, these pledges to the celestial fraternity, but they’ve landed on the top-side of the crucial line, so it’s just a matter of time and patience.

The hangover is not entirely unlike this. The similarities may seem elusive to any reader enjoying an entirely sound state of body and mind, but anyone plunged into this contorted experience is sure to feel the parallels. The trials of the hangover, whether physical or metaphysical (more on this from Kingsley a bit later) are of a mostly inner nature, but they can create the impression nevertheless that one is stranded in the depths of a very sad, strange place, and faced with the prospect of a long, hard slog before any serious relief can be achieved. (We should remember that Dante’s mountain itself is an allegorical extension into space and matter, a palpable, visual realization of a doctrine which itself doesn’t posit anything beyond spiritual states of being).

The hangover is also similar to the twilight land of the poet’s tale in this way: its point is one of purgation. Granted, the concentric coils of the mountain are meant to wring out moral impurities from the sufferers, while the inner spiral of the hangover is the body’s response to a heaping portion of toxic substances, but both conditions have purification as their end goal.

Getting right down to it: when you’re overhung, a serious slice of your dysphoria is digestive, and many solutions to digestive problems are excremental. Foreign substances which the body didn’t necessarily have any plans for have crashed down upon your system, demanding to be strained out of the blood stream, processed, and expelled. These malcontents have joined forces with whatever other nastiness the fine stewards of your inner equilibrium have selected for expulsion. Imagine a horde of rabid vermin clustered on a pier, all waiting to swarm onto the first ferry off the island.

If you awaken feeling a little nauseous, possibly even feverish with the full-blown ague and hot/cold sweats, you oughtn’t to be very surprised: your body is cleaning house, redistilling the pre-distilled out of the mix, steaming unpleasantness out the stovepipes of your pores, and looking to expel unwelcome elements by whatever avenues necessary. There may be many reasons you’ll be a treat while recovering — but this is most definitely one of them.

In the most extreme cases, the body handles this problem through regurgitation. You may have tried to get one (or seven) over on your body, but sooner or later the digestion knows to slam the box office window closed, and send the hordes on back from whence they came. Solutions that involve reversing peristalsis are never happy ones, but even if that grim fate claims you, there’s at least still reason to rejoice, however weakly: your body has just spared you a few more tiers of purgatory in the long run with a little short game suffering.

Having said that, maintaining flow in the standard direction is generally the best strategy. Without resorting to anything too extreme, and keeping in mind that your system requires a softer touch at such times, it is most definitely possible to expedite the process. A cup or two of strong coffee, or tea, if you prefer, ought to work well enough, while also supplying you with a much needed reserve of alertness. Contrary to Kingsley’s dismissal of the substance as largely unhelpful (E.D., p.83), a judiciously applied dose of coffee is an indispensable part of your recovery.

Eating something fresh or mild with your morning stimulant is recommended, as caffeine on an empty stomach can exacerbate nausea, and over-caffeination will likely lead to other forms of stress. However, consuming too much food too quickly may distress your body in other ways. Go slowly, by feel, and your system will let you know what it needs as you do so.

Obviously, there are many other ways of jump-starting the body’s flow, and everyone has their favorite method, and usually their least favorite as well — the mere mention of prune juice will have many grimacing in disgust. Whichever method sounds best, employ, although I should pass along Kingsley’s warning not to smoke, as nicotine makes several aspects of the hangover worse. I have never experienced this, and would welcome any accounts of personal experience. For routine smokers, I realize this provides something of a no-win situation, and my sympathies are with you.

To smoke, or not to smoke: does Kingsley know what he’s talking about here?

However you jump-start your own personal purgatorio, once you’ve succeeded, you’ll instantly feel much better. Any lingering nausea is likely to subside or diminish, your temperature will begin to normalize, and you’ll feel more comfortable in your skin. Take a moment to survey your achievements, and be encouraged! You aren’t yet right as rain, but you’ve made a fine start. The summit remains well above you, but this plateau offers a good vantage point to look back and see how far out of the oubliette you’ve climbed.

“Refrain at all costs from taking a cold shower. It may bring temporary relief, but in my own and others’ experience it will give your M.H. (Metaphysical Hangover) a tremendous boost after about half an hour, in extreme cases making you feel like a creature from another planet. Perhaps this is the result of having dealt another shock to your already shocked system.” – Kingley Amis, “The Hangover,” Everyday Drinking, p. 82

Tip: Every bit of detox helps, and pursuing alternate methods while remaining hydrated may prove instrumental in restoring your wellness. The hot shower will increase sweating and leave your skin feeling refreshed in two ways. The sauna has worked wonders for me in this respect as well. Of course, if you try this, please remember to hydrate over-zealously before, during, and after your time in the sauna. And, it should go without saying, observe safety regulations and your own condition while using the sauna, as prolonged exposure to such extremes can be very dangerous.

Up next, Step 4: The Four Mile Run

(or return to Step 2)

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Hangover Cure Step 2: In Dreams

Go on. There's still time to chase the turtle.

Go on. There’s still time to chase the turtle.

(The Fool-Proof Seven Step Hangover Cure, continued)

It’s been well established that the human animal, denied sleep for long enough, falls apart. Remember the fuzzy days that followed the all-nighters you studied/gamed/partied through back in college, the days that just sort of sprawl on in slow-motion, or unspool jerkily, like film on an old projector, constantly speeding up and slowing down, while everyone around you seems both too loud and too quiet at the same time, and you keep on getting jolted by the strange sensation that yesterday never ended, that it may never end, and that you’re not sure which morning you brushed your teeth, or whether you really played a hand of cards at Denny’s with a couple of strangers, or merely dreamed it while nodding off over the keyboard for a split-second. (Or maybe you’re pulling one right now. If so, my thoughts are with you. Brace yourself, it’s gonna get weird).

Going without sleep in the short term is a sure trip to Surrealsville – in the long term, an all expenses paid vacation to Psychosistown. A friend once confirmed for himself that auditory hallucinations start sometime in the fifty hour range. He decided that was far enough to go in his own personal existential/scientific endeavor. I guess the voices didn’t have a problem with that.

Most of the time, though, we experience the ill-effects of sleep deprivation on a much milder level. A sustained sleep deficit has been linked to all sorts of impaired function, disorientation, inability to process, to focus, and a greater susceptibility to various illnesses, not to mention manipulation via advertising. (For a decent and sobering roundup of mal-effects, this article works well enough). But for the most part, these mal-effects are incremental, subtle, long term, and therefore, easily ignored. There are some conditions, however, in which the difference made by an hour or two of sleep, more or less, is exponential. The hangover is just one such condition.

20130530-165223.jpgIn fact, I would go so far as to say that many an unnecessary hangover might have been prevented entirely by just a little more sleep. And many a mild hangover has turned needlessly into a full-blown catastrophe for the very same reason. Now, I realize that few among us have extreme liberty in terms of our schedules, and particularly, in matters of rising times (a peculiar and quite telling element of our culture’s neurotic war upon its own well-being in pursuit of, we must presume, “happiness” – or perhaps, as the cool kids are saying, utility – for a glimmer of insight into these collective social issues, I find this a worthy starting point). I realize further that it is precisely this lack of leisure which may have landed you in the miserable, nigh-inhuman ranks of the overhung. Needless to say, if you have no liberty to perform step 2, there are still many avenues of regeneration still available to you. If this is your situation, please proceed to step 3.

“At this point I must assume that you can devote at least a good part of the day to yourself and your condition. Those who inescapably have to get up and do something can only stay in bed as long as they dare, get up, shave, take a hot bath or shower, (more of this later), breakfast off an unsweetened grapefruit (m.o.t.l.) and coffee, and clear off, with the intention of getting as drunk at lunchtime as they dare.” (Kingsley Amis, The Hangover, Everyday Drinking)

Ahhh, the British. And by the British, I mean those British. Who really in fact resemble the Americans of the same era, what with their lunches of unapologetically multiple martinis. These were less stressed times, at least in some senses, and for some of the people. They were less alcophobic times and places, this much is clear. But we are nothing if not a post-Prohibitionist culture, convulsed at many turns by post-Prohibitionist guilt, which operates at once as would-be barrier and as unintended fuel to our fetishization, our very sacralization, of the spirit. But there goes a rant, and a fine one at that. We’ll save the rest for later.

Returning to the matter at hand: if you wake up with a few hours to spare and feel the onset of a hangover, or perhaps find yourself already well into the early-middle of it, (the telltale dehydration headache that seems to migrate about every part of your skull like a marching band’s drum section gone rogue, its pulses caroming off every wall; the sense you’ve stayed up all night eating cotton balls; the too-thin eyelids; the utter and complete absence of anything resembling poise): consider yourself most fortunate! You have been granted something of a reprieve. Slug a few glasses of water (see step 1 for elaboration). Sip, if necessary, if you fear too much liquid too quickly will make you queasy, but by all means, consume substantial quantities. The minor discomfort of a sloshing belly will be far outweighed by the grand improvement upon your condition when you again awaken.

This moment also offers an excellent opportunity to swallow an ibuprofen or two (check recommended dosages, by all means). If other analgesics are preferable to you, feel free, though beware of those that contain stimulants or cause irritation to the stomach. If you have a bit of bread, a banana, or something equally mild and small, consume it quickly before pitching any kind of pill at your system. It will soften the blow to your digestion, and may make your return to sleep more effortless. The ibuprofen itself, with its dual effects of pain-relief and anti-inflammation, will seem to have infused your constricted, tightly wound system, with space and ease, enough for your precious insides to relax and feel well. Your headache will subside soon, removing another possible barrier to sleep.

Please note: if you find yourself in the habit of regularly dodging a hangover with the help of pain/anti-inflammatory pills, don’t. These may be wonderful remedies, but they’re far from whole or natural foods. There is, I’ve discovered, no Ibuprofen tree. The consequences of prolonged use of these curatives is notoriously rough on the stomach. What’s more, combining them with a regular overindulgence in drink poses serious threats to various organs. The backs of bottles will have told you this much already, but in this context, I feel it bears repetition. If you too often find yourself weighing the dilemma of short-term relief vs. long term wellness, (and I never suggest this lightly, but) you might want to reconsider your relationship with wine and spirits, whether they’re serving you well, or vice-versa.

Then go back to sleep. Your body, replenished with the liquids necessary to resume its purge, will continue to work for you at the accelerated rate achieved only while slumbering. When you reawaken, however you find yourself, you’ll be able to take great comfort in the fact that you might have felt gravely worse.

Up next, Step 3: Purgatorio

(return to Step 1)


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The Fool-Proof Seven Step Hangover Cure


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.”
Step 1: Sanus per Aquam (hydration, hydration, hydration!)

“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.

The Shortcut:

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

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