Metaphysical Hangover, huh?

A guest post by Nana Wereko-Brobby ( 

hangover to useThere’s a fantastic Irvine Welsh novel called ‘Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs’ situated in a boozy Edinburgh with a character called Skinner whose heavy drinking is destroying his life. His girlfriend leaves him, his job is compromised and he’s constantly in bloody skirmishes. Putting him to shame is his work colleague, and self-assigned nemesis, Kibby, who is nauseatingly clean living; he collects trains, plays computer games and drinks Horlicks. Putting the world to rights, Skinner decides to place a hex on Kibby. For every alcohol-fuelled battering Skinner’s body takes, Kibby will feel the effects. As Skinner wastes himself in whiskey dens, waking up hangover free, Kibby’s health takes a major hit. It’s a cruel trick that leaves Skinner enjoying a Dorian Grey- like existence of being relentlessly dissolute without the physical consequences. What a thought.

This is a state of insouciant bliss that I expected from the majority of my boozing twenties. We were entering a post-student period of being both financially soluble (first salary, still living at home) and passionately devoted to pleasure seeking (university boyfriend dumped, ready to rock London), embarking on what would be a very outrageous decade indeed. Evenutally securing some sort of job, we’d beat up our bodies night after night with work colleagues, ameliorating ourselves to the crew, downing whatever we were told to and thinking ‘so this is what the workforce does’. We would emerge the next day with no more than a headache, a slight sense of embarrassment and some comments from the team that, whilst insulting, made us feel wholly welcomed into the fold.

But then somewhere along the way, perhaps a year or so in, we realised that having a job was not like university, the end point was much further off, it was to be a way of life. As responsibilities mounted and the panic set in, our drinking binges started to be overshadowed by a new and horrid bedfellow, what Kingsley Amis called the ‘metaphysical hangover’. This is a state that accompanies the physical hangover and hits us around the mid-twenties. In a humorous but altogether pointless essay collection ‘Everyday Drinking’, Kinglsey describes the horror of the metaphysical hangover:

“When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred,
sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a
hangover. You are not sickening for anything, you have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that
bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about
what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is.”

As our twenties fully descend, we may drink with gusto the night before, but the mental flagellation that follows is something that is forcing us to think a bit harder about our drinking episodes, and certainly plan carefully how the next day will be spent. At university, a worthy hangover companion could be no more than a cheese toastie and a film, now we need to pad out our environments like a healthcare facility, optimising temperature, appetites, sounds and companionship to try and regain some sort of inner peace that we actually never had before.

And so now is the point in life that new alcohol deterrents come into play: sudden fears for our health,
the metaphysical hangover and vanity. Vanity is a horrible one to admit but there’s a reason people are
stubbing out their fags and laying off the wine. It is becoming harder to cope with the crinkled, sunken-
socketed beast that confronts us the morning after, a reminder of our new paranoid relationship with ageing.
Fitzgerald’s ‘rose-coloured glasses of life’ (alcohol) still does its job fantastically on a night out but what we’re
left with the next day is the de-robed drab reality of life, and the gap between the two is only widening.

There was a time, not long ago, when we used to wake up still drunk, glowing with sulphur sweat, happy, horny and ready to go again. Now we feel acidic, paranoid and guilty, replacing formerly wild hangover drinking sessions with a token bloody Mary, a side of eggs and a large jug of water in a well-to-do establishment called Bistrosomething. Not quite the same.

But, despite our complicated relationship with drinking, and the grim realisation that ‘fuck it, it’s a Tuesday’ may not hold up throughout this decade, we need to recognise that to demonise alcohol is faddy and, more than anything, a bore. Being in your twenties is about sussing out your own relationship with the world and every Jack Daniel or Jim Bean in it. So as long as you can juggle the ecstasy of the night out with the next day’s metaphysical hangover and still stay sane then you’re winning.

The upshot to all this is that one must, to get through these dark times, take heed from the pros. Just like the big drinkers Amis, Hemingway and Charles Bukowski, it helps to have your own booze quote to
focus you. This becomes a mantra that you repeat to yourself, ad nauseam until you’ve dispelled the nausea.

Here’s mine: I love boys and I love booze, but more than 7 hours with either and I’m a goner.

What’s yours?


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