Are We Still Doing Hangovers?

Let’s not.

I don’t like labels. I don’t like structure or confinement or things I “have to” do in order to conform into expected or required behaviors. “I’m a vegan” makes your skin crawl because it’s annoying but here I am having a panic attack at all the rules they have to abide by in order to qualify. I especially don’t like labels and rules I’ve electively assigned to myself.

I first heard the term “sober curious” while listening to Ruby Warrington speak as a guest on a podcast. At first blush I thought, “Really? Can’t we just call it “drinking less?”

But then I realized sober curiosity as a discussion does need to exist, because as social beings born from the early 80s to present, it never really has before.

There’s been “sober,” as a term given to people who give up alcohol for addiction reasons or perhaps they’re pregnant, but that has always had a (quite unfair in my opinion) negative tint. As if it’s a thing that you “have to” do and is therefore bad. The average social drinker probably assuming sober individuals are “missing out” or that social activities are suddenly so boring for them.

And so we let the discussion of casual, elective sobriety fall away. Sober curiosity is perhaps a softer landing for the “drink less or not at all” set that appears to have fewer of those rules and structures that I’m not fond of. It lacks a “have to” rigidity, and is more instead a conversation starter in our own brains. Honestly I think it’s a brilliant way to expand the discussion around drinking and while 100% sobriety from alcohol doesn’t interest me, expanding discussions does.

Drinking (and I am speaking as an average, drinking human here—this is obviously an irrelevant piece of work for those who are 100% sober for a multitude of reasons) is just part of culture. It’s just something we do. It’s a symbol of hospitality, of industry, of creativity, when you invite someone somewhere, you offer them a drink. For heaven’s sake it’s almost manners!

Alcohol is obviously everywhere. Every time I leave the house there is the opportunity to socially drink. Unsocially drink, too, honestly. And I’m not mad at that. I don’t have any desire to drive drinking underground and hide it as if it’s wrong and bad and shameful, because I personally don’t think alcohol is any of those things. Hangovers however, are the fucking devil.

I am not sober curious, but I am cancelling hangovers. I am cancelling lost Saturdays, lost Sundays, scrapped to-do lists, missed opportunities to meditate or be creative, self-care plans converted to restoring one’s body to a livable state, all of it. I’m 36 years old and two days ago was the first time I’ve ever cancelled plans specifically to avoid a hangover. It felt fantastic.

And yes, the obvious retort is, “you could just not drink.” You achieve your goals your way, and I will achieve my goals mine. Also in this case drinking was only half the battle—this shit was way past my bedtime. Anyway.

Do you remember hangovers? Like, real ones? All those college and twentysomething mornings feeling like someone had flipped me inside out like an eyelid? To imagine the sheer liquid volume of alcohol I drank in my early and mid twenties gives me a physical reaction now. Like when you watch your friend get a paper cut and you feel it? That.

My hangovers have always been monumental. The poets could have found material in my suffering. Alcohol has always affected me very strongly on the backend and for a long time I always thought that was just a part of the bargain in being social.

My first major step in cancelling hangovers came five years ago, when I gave up hard alcohol entirely. It was the height of craft cocktail madness and those damn things were so delicious that I consumed them as if they were little more than juice. Maybe I’m alone on this, but I believe there is a rock bottom hangover that will change things for people. Mine involved vomiting in a public restroom at Chicago O’Hare. I have not ordered a cocktail since, and my hangover frequency and severity have dropped significantly.

Now, well into my 30s, social activities, at least the ones I enjoy the most, aren’t about going “out.” There is absolutely zero drinking for drinking’s sake happening in my life. There is always a heavily weighted leaning toward meaningful time with my friends in places I can hear them. You couldn’t get me in a pair of high heels and fabric that clings to my body now for all the gold in your kingdom. “Going out,” like out-out, hasn’t been fun to me since before I needed to dye my grays. If it ever was at all. I am a chill partier, this is me.

Presently, my social strategy is simply: places we can sit down for a long time. I like a large table, plenty of chairs, access to food and, yes—drink—convenient restrooms, music I can ignore, and premises staff who will either not rush me, or do not exist. A chill day with my friends hanging out at our own pace, enjoying each others company, and hopefully delicious refreshments.

I love a good open-floorplan beer hall. A venue like Pig Beach that operates 2/3 of its business outdoors. I like renting houses upstate over long weekends and never leaving them, preferring a patio or hot tub to overly packed, touristy social situations (ahem, the Hamptons) where I’ll hate the situation so much I’ll just overdrink to ignore.

That’s the secret. That’s what nobody tells you when you’re young and still own miniskirts. Drinking culture is pretty much just full of people who haven’t figured out how to have fun yet. Once you find the crowd and the space and the activities that really make you feel like you’re soaking up the joy in your downtime, there is less desire to completely saturate it with wine.

On the other hand, I love wine. I love drinking wine, learning about wine, exploring culture and regions through wine—all of it. I’ve taken wine classes, wine tours, wine trips, and I ain’t done. Giving up hard alcohol and becoming more conscious of my hangover hatred opened up more space for me to enjoy wine—not just drink it.

And by parking myself squarely in the wine-only zone for the last five years I have indeed drastically reduced my consumption of alcohol overall thusly leading to fewer (but not zero) hangovers. Lately it seems, even my beloved magic grape juice intends to hurt me. Even my wine hangovers have really begun to sting, and to steal time from me.

My task at hand is to now reconcile two parts of myself into a new one that can carry forward as a happy, healthy, and social adult. I am old enough and have processed enough self worth to know that there is nothing “uncool” about social activities that do not involve alcohol. But I also have enough self worth to not feel “bad” or “guilty” for wanting alcohol to be present. More of my dates (lol) are going to occur in parks and museums, but invite me to a baby shower without mimosas, I actually dare you.

For me, alcohol is not a bad thing—but lost time is. I’ve been rounding the corner of cancelling hangovers for awhile now, but now I’ve decided to take action: there are no more hangovers, not for me. There will be glasses of wine, yes. But moving forward, my consciousness has to shift. My purpose has to shift. I have to find the space where I can enjoy three things at the same time: My friends, my wine, and my Saturday morning. Wish me luck.

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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