Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Emotional Hangovers

I am very excited to bring you today's story for two reasons: 1) I'm continuing with my change-o'-pace story time themes and bringing some non-fiction into the mix! Yes, we've had essay and memoir excerpts here before, but they're pretty rare. 2) The author, Janine Yu, is a former MFA-er who graduated with me from The New School. 

A little about Janine: She is originally from the Philippines and now lives in Brooklyn, NY. Most of her writing has been for travel magazines and websites, and she is currently working on a travel memoir. Here is her essay, independent from her memoir (as you'll see) describing what it means to have an emotional hangover. Enjoy!

Emotional Hangovers
By Janine Yu

It used to be that I could go to sleep belligerent, passing out from the sheer intensity of negative emotion, then wake up calm, peaceful, as though I had awoken from a lovely dream, seemingly with no emotional imprint of last night’sexplosive exchange. I could go to bed drunk with ire, frothing with anger and resentment and all the corrosive feelings that wear down a relationship, and emerge from this dysphoria a new and transcendent person. These difficult nights even the most passionless among us must know --nights spent fighting with the person you love.

Everyone says that you should never go to bed angry, that successful marriages work partly because couples sort out their problems before approaching sleep. I’ve always been dubious of this, because, in my experience, solutions do not materialize just because it’s 4 a.m.Heightened emotion eventually gives way to exhaustion, in effect making me one to “sleep on it.” It was a tactic my first boyfriend relied on when we argued at night –when the conversation started becoming futile and running in circles, he would do whatever he could to get me to sleep. It served two purposes: we avoided saying things we might regret, and it was pretty much a guaranteethat I would be in chipper spirits after a full night’s rest.

The more I’ve had these late-night arguments, the more I’ve realized that the pitch of the arguments stays at the same alarming volume, whether it’s over the dirty socks he just can’t manage to throw in the hamper that’s two feet away, or about how I’ve changed and have stopped working to save the relationship. The more I’ve had them, the more I’ve realized that insults and accusationssurvivepast the deepest of sleeps, and I must deal with them in mornings that follow.

These mornings, I can no longer begin on a fresh slate. The bitter swill of the night before lingers in my head like a heavy,heady cloud. Like a hangover.An emotional hangover. I must be getting old.

At 26, I feel too young to be jaded, but clearly too old to bounce back as effortlessly as a younger, less encumbered version of myself. When I was 19, I downed 15 shots of the most awful alcoholic mixes (think tequila and Tabasco), and got my name engraved on a copper-plated wall of a cheesy beach bar in a Southeast Asian island. The feat was called “15 and Still Standing.” The standing part is, ironically, the hard part. Bravado and the cheerful stupidity of youth can get any teenager to throw back those 15 shots, but staying conscious afterwards is the trick. My friends cheered, the bartender congratulated me and handed me a T-shirt (because, truly, this is as taxing on the body as running a marathon), then I passed out. My next memory, four hours later, was of me back in the cheap, one-room hut I rented with three girlfriends, throwing up over the side of the bed. I had apparently vomited so much at the bar, I had nothing but bile to wretch. I felt like I was dying. I vowed never to drink again. One week later, I was on another island, pounding a tequila shot.

Resilience is, of course, the territory of youth. Young, healthy bodies recover. Just as young, unhurt hearts heal easily. I have always thought of myself as one who heals easily, both physically and emotionally. I guess I continue to think of myself as that 19-year old. These days, though, scars take longer to disappear. Hurtful words take longer to forget. I may no longer experiment with alcohol poisoning, but in my attempts to be an adult, to have serious and dynamic relationships, I sometimes give in to thepotent, and often toxic, ammunition that fuels heated arguments. Passion flares. Pain lingers.

And sometimes, I feel like I’m no longer standing.

I used to think that my emotional resilience had to do largely with my inability to sustain an emotion. I could never stay angry with anyone or at anything for long. Contentment, in my life, has always beenshort-lived. Falling in love –that most elusive of states—happened as suddenly as falling out. Emotions were temporal, and it seemed, so were their consequences.

Which is why this hovering –this hangover—is surprising to me. Maybe there never was a magical morning slate that set the tone for a new day. Maybe I just used to care less where he threw his dirty socks, and I used to care more about the relationship enough to do the little things everyday that would save it.

One thing’s for certain: there are no hangover cures. No crazy concoctions that wipe away traces of last night’s bender. Only time cures a hangover, and only self-control keeps me, and him, from the mornings heavy with the after-effect of squandered emotion.


  1. Very nice. Maybe it's a lifelong hardening process. Little children forget bad feelings after a few minutes.

  2. Janine, I found myself nodding in agreement. Believe me, the hangovers get worse with every year that passes. But, I think the older you get the less frequent they are – you get to know what to avoid for a pain free morning. It gets to a stage when it’s just not worth the hassle – let the socks lie where they fell, let the dishwasher remain empty and the sink full, grrrrr!

    Good point, Ben. As we get older we hold on longer.

  3. After eight years of marriage--and ten years living with that same person--I can honestly say that the whole "don't go to bed angry" thing is a crock of b.s. Like you said, at 4 a.m., it's either go to bed still pissed, or stay up and kick the cat. My wife and I are both animal lovers, so we opt for the sack. In the morning, some bad feelings linger, sure, but not enough to keep us from working things out. Unless of course the argument is over how I went to bed in the middle of her yelling at me. That one's tougher to resolve. Nice piece, by the way. Very intimate, both in subject and tone. Like sneeking a peek at your diary.

  4. Brutally honest & beautifully written.

    This gal can write - no argument here!

  5. I love this. The way the stories of alcohol-induced and emotion-induced hangovers were woven together was extremely effective. Loved the descriptive language used, and the insights. An awesome essay.