The mourning after the night before…
I hadn’t planned on drinking so much, but one cheeky mid-week beverage turned into several when wine flowed as quickly as conversation. Even my university years failed to increase my alcohol tolerance as 2 glasses in and I’m talking too loudly and flushing crimson! Apparently this flush (often referred to as ‘Asian flush’) is a sign of alcohol intolerance due to a faulty version of a gene ALDH2. When working, this gene breaks down a substance in alcohol called acetaldehyde, which in excess amounts causes facial flushing and high blood pressure. Yet even my rosy cheeks couldn’t stop me consuming wine like water after a demanding day running around the city. I was physically fatigued and mentally exhausted, so an early night probably would have been wiser than wine. Yet, Sauvignon Blanc seduced me away from sleep, reassuring me that I would feel relaxed and revived after a few simple sips. Drinking is so ingrained in city socialisation that it is not only accepted- but encouraged- and before you know it, you’re drunk on the last train home…on a Tuesday night.
Now I don’t want to make it sound like I had a terrible time on Tuesday. In fact, I was totally unaware of my tipsiness, worry-free and wishing for the night to go on forever. It was one of those wonderful evenings where I found myself completely focused on my boyfriend, as if the world around me had stopped moving for a moment in time.
However, Wednesday morning was a whole other story.
I woke abruptly at 6am with a hammering heart and a head full of uncontrollable thoughts. It was as if a light-bulb had switched on in my head, illuminating all of the apprehension in my agitated mind. The worries that wine had wished away had come back to haunt me tenfold! Desensitising myself with dinner and a drug had only offered a momentary release and had resulted in me falling further into a state of stress. Because let’s face it: even though it’s described as a ‘legal high’ drink is a sedative, a depressant and a drug none the less. One that we are far too reckless with and regularly reliant upon when the going gets tough.
My mind was a mess for most of Wednesday and I found myself longing for a standard hangover. One made up of physical symptoms that are simple to sort with ibuprofen, stodgy food and a lot of water. It’s much harder to mend the mental side-effects because alcohol impacts the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. By lowering the levels of serotonin in the brain – a chemical that helps to regulate your mood- alcohol actually increases feelings of anxiety and depression, particularly if feelings were present pre-drinking. So why then, do we tend to drink more after “a hard day in the office?” Because we want to numb our reality, escape the drama and silence the monkey-mind for a couple of hours. It increases confidence, lowers inhibitions and turns you in to the life and soul of the party! But it also disconnects you from what’s really going on inside and how you are actually feeling. Whilst it’s true that alcohol can have a similar affect to anti-anxiety medication, this sense of relaxation doesn’t usually last long. As soon as blood alcohol content levels start to lower, feelings of depression might start to set in…and may leave you feeling worse off than you did before drinking! Which is precisely where I was on Wednesday, when I woke up with all the world's worries in my head!
Sometimes referred to as ‘hangziety’ it is a drink-induced state of anxiety when unwelcome feelings of stress become difficult to control. It’s certainly not an isolated incident but this particular episode made me re-evaluate why I drink mid-week... or at all. I definitely don’t drink to get drunk anymore: this is an attitude I left behind in my early twenties when I started to prefer socialising to the throwing up! I am also fussier about the flavour and usually spend a bit more money to get a drink I actually like. A real turning point in my twenties was when I started to prioritise the wine region over the alcohol content (Marlborough, New Zealand of course!) So on paper my motivations for drinking seem healthy and I guess… normal! But a wise friend once told me to be careful when using the word ‘normal.’ Just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it normal. It makes it average.
Now I’m not trying to take the fun out of my Friday nights: I’m simply trying to heighten my conscious awareness so I can work out why I really want wine. Perhaps if I can pin-point this prior to drinking I can preempt- and therefore avoid- another hangzeity attack, brought on by mindless sipping and a desire to distract. Of course the easiest way to avoid it is not to drink, but this might not be always be possible- or even desired. So for me, mindful, moderate drinking seems like the right balance between effort and ease. I won’t have to miss out but I also won’t drink to ‘drown my sorrows.’ It’s about finding harmony between the mind, body and city: staying in the world and yet being at home with myself.