There is an introspective tinge to today’s hangover. A strangely familiar lingering feeling deep inside that pulls at me from within.
Maybe now, at the age of 27, after 10 whole years of chronically abusing alcohol with little to show for it except for a string of dead-end jobs and failed relationships, I could consider doing something that isn’t drinking 12 pints of lager. This feeling deep inside grumbles, before physically manifesting itself in a streak of amber (lager) and red (stomach lining/ sauce), which liberally coats the bathroom wall and, sadly, only a small portion of the toilet.
I stare into the mirror, panting and sweating. Greeting me is every bit the 21st century Adonis. Hair slicked with grease, parted and flopping down to make me look like a 90’s Ibiza travel rep. My eyes are bloodshot and yellow, greatly removed from the bright spark that characterised my formative years; these are the eyes of the truly tired. Sunken into black pools and every bit dead to the world, devoid of thought or any emotion other than exhaustion. My skin is sliding down my face like an egg on a concrete wall, exposing jowled cheeks and the beginnings of a face gut. It creeps out from my neck and adds a misspent 5 years to my bedraggled appearance. My mouth is slack with teeth bleached white from the recent eruption. Above my lip is the scar that denotes where I bit through my own lip after another anonymous night, a night that took place over 7 years ago. I had physically grown since then but had evidently learnt nothing. The last thing to notice is my skin. Pale and dull despite the plentiful sunshine in southern Spain, it is the rehashed canvas of a piss-head, tired and re-used again and again to mask the feeling of boredom and frustration in some dingy bar.
The joy and fun of drinking has long since gone, any notion of “having a laugh” or “living for the weekend” along with it. This is purely functional, a desire to lose control so that I don’t have to deal with the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy being alive. I drink to excess and then feel like shit the next day. This gives me an excuse to begin the abuse in order to relieve my self-inflicted ailment. Whether it’s boredom, frustration or a simple time filler, the most galling aspect of the whole thing is that it makes absolutely no sense.
It is almost impossible to explain to people how this system works because our culture is just so geared for it. We go to university, where drinking culture is something that is fostered and often considered something of an achievement, in lieu of any actual talent or personality. After the priceless lessons of tertiary education we are funneled, for the most part, towards irrelevant jobs, whose only purpose is to inflate a bank balance. Monday to Friday people go through the motions, the management schemes, corporate acronyms and pieces of labouring jargon that permeate all facets of our working lives. This is supposed to last until you are nearly 70. It is little wonder that come Friday, the desire to cut loose and break away from the monochrome monotony of work is foremost in a lot of people’s minds. In order to lubricate this plan there is no better substance than booze. It’s accepted, it’s legal and you can get it almost anywhere.
Outside it starts to rain. Rural Spain is quite dismal in the rain, whitewashed houses streaked with grey drops from the Atlantic Ocean. Everyone scurries indoors or huddles under umbrellas. The shops are all shut, verandas blowing in the wind and echoing around the empty square. The only building that’s open is the church from which the monochromatic chanting of the evening congregation only adds to the depressing feel of the day.
People speak about turning their lives around after booze, at least all the ex-alcoholics I know have said this, and I always figured that it was some sort of generic expression garnered from meetings. Any wanker with a psychology degree could prescribe that thing and people at rock bottom would be delighted to get on board. However, when I have toyed with the idea of giving it up, then the magnitude of the situation becomes apparent. Stopping wouldn’t be an issue (I think), but filling the time taken up by booze certainly would be.
On a typical Friday I will finish work and immediately start getting pissed. After a few hours of binge drinking I will pass out or fall asleep and that will be Friday over. Saturday will be spent trying to alleviate the feeling of Friday and Sunday likewise Saturday. Most likely I will drink until the last possible opportunity on Sunday, fresh in the knowledge that Monday holds the grim promise of work. Waking up on Monday I will feel as any three day effort of substance abuse will leave you and I will limp through to the day’s end. The reward for doing this is, of course, alcohol. The same thing happens every night of the week. Sometimes I go out for dinner or to watch a football match but these activities are just another excuse to drink. I keep myself topped up with booze until Thursday, when I usually get really pissed, in the knowledge that Friday carries fewer responsibilities. Then cue the weekend.
This means that I will be filling all of my free time with either drinking or dealing with the effects of drinking. This adds up to days. The greatest challenge of overcoming alcohol is how to fill the time immediately after. In a world entirely governed by the contents of a bottle it is very hard to find an undertaking that is as time consuming as getting drunk.
The Spaniards like a drink, that much is true. On a good day they line the sun-drenched parable of ice-cold lager and heavy measures of gin would be perfect, but you would be wrong. They will beckon me over, to come and join a seemingly perfect situation. I usually decline though. They drink too slowly and I drink to excess. I need a lot to feel the effect and quite frankly I can’t wait for everyone. I find myself slinking off, ostensibly to the toilet, but safe in the knowledge that I can sneak a couple of drinks in at the bar. The barman knows, he knows that I am not getting the round as a slug down a couple of beers before returning to the gathering.
The sick in the bathroom is starting to stain the tiles, so with a drudgingly familiar sense that has transcended the feeling of shame and simply become normality I trudge over to the cleaning cupboard and fetch some bleach and a mop, methodically getting down to a job I have done hundreds of times before, and I will do hundreds of time again.
Cover image courtesy of Leo Hidalgo via Flickr
Read more about alcohol abuse here