The Ghost Hangover

The only time I ever sleep in is when I actually have to be somewhere.

Even when I woke every single day into the most swollen of hangovers I'd wake up at 3am, regardless of the time I blacked out in the living room chair. Hangovers can be wicked, that way.

"Oh no, honey. No sleep for you. I wouldn't want you to miss this joyride of nausea, vertigo and regret – it's what you signed up for, isn't it?"

I'm off to an early morning photo shoot today, so of course I slept in later than I wanted to. In all honesty, I don't trust or understand people who want their photo taken before the forgiving light of 5pm. It's probably fair to say they aren't raging alcoholics prone to puffy mornings filled with bloodshot eyes, wine stained lips and mysteriously missing memories from last night.

They aren't afraid of what they look like, because they probably didn't spend most of yesterday beating themselves up.

Old me would have loved/hated today's early morning appointment. The key to an alcoholic's calendar is to schedule your To-Do's early enough in the day so that they don't interfere with wine-time (which was anytime after 12pm). I'm still adjusting to the idea that I can be sober, present and presentable at dinnertime and beyond.

I'm getting there.

Today marks my 3 week check-point: 21 Days Sober.

That happened quickly.

However, every morning since I've gotten rid of alcohol I've been waking into the weirdest of phenomena: the ghost hangover.

I don't know if this is actually a thing.

Or, if it's ever happened to anyone else. Maybe it's common, or maybe I'm one of the lucky ones who get a hangover from Pomegranate Juice.

Regardless, I still spend the first few minutes of my day groggy and grumpy, habitually rubbing my forehead as though I'm soothing a headache.

A headache I don't actually have.

I try and piece together the night before – with surprising ability, clarity and success.

What the hell. Why do I feel like shit when I didn't even drink last night?

I'm dragging my feet, would do anything for a gallon of water, and in my mind's eye imagine what I must look like: inflated and red, my eyes glossed over in their bloodshot jaundice'd glory, and deep pillow creases down my cheek from where I passed out, and remained.

Then, like clockwork, the negative self-talk begins.

Ughhhhh I feel like crap. What is wrong with me. I feel puffy. I can only imagine how washed up and broke down I look. Why do I do this. There's no amount of coffee that can make this go away. I hate everything.

Checks clock – 5 hours until drinking time...

But wait. 

I'm not even hungover. I don't actually look like a bag of shit. And I don't even drink alcohol anymore.

I haven't had a drink in 21 days.

How strong is this drug and how long have I spent every single morning (sluggishly) running the nausea-and-regret-riddled gamut, that even sober I go through the same motions, just this time tending to a ghost hangover?

I've conditioned myself to expect my mornings to be awful, despite them being my favourite time of day. Maybe I wake up early so I can wallow in self-loathing for awhile in peace and quiet. Maybe it's the decades of negative self-talk I've endured every morning that can't wait for me to wake up:

"Hey Shawn, it's time to get up. You deserve to feel like a bag of crap, and I don't want you to miss anything by sleeping it away."

21 Days in and still haunted by ghosts.

After my Grandfather passed away in 2007, my Grandma spent at least a month or two still putting his morning medications out with breakfast. Meals she would still cook two of, despite there being only one of them left.

And every day she'd cry when she realized what she had done. She'd cry when the new normal came rushing back, reminding her that every morning forward would never be like any of the mornings before.

I guess that's what happens when you've been married to someone for 63 years. Your routines become as much a part of you as your limbs. Death, loss, transformation and tragedy can leave you feeling as though part of you has been amputated. A part of you that has always been there, a habit you have always done – instantly absent, but still tied directly to your emotions.

Like a ghost.

And ghosts are just emotions that are bent out of shape.

There's a syndrome known as Phantom Limb Syndrome:

A phantom limb is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb is still attached. Approximately 60 to 80% of individuals with an amputation experience phantom sensations in their amputated limb, and the majority of the sensations are painful.

Maybe that helps to explain my ghost hangovers. 

I severed such a huge part of how I defined myself when I stopped drinking, and I'm not sure if all of my parts received the memo. That part of my brain that helps me get going in the morning – the auto-pilot – just moves me through the motions without much conscious thought on my part, until adequate levels of caffeine have been established.

Exactly like I always have. Until I slowly begin to wake up.

It seems a lot of people who get rid of alcohol start bouncing out of bed like Tigger on crack every morning: refreshed and made of shiny new springs.

Not me. Not lately, anyhow.

I'm still putting out Grandpa's medication.

I'm still cooking breakfast for two.

I can still feel pain in my phantom limbs.

I think it's time to have (another) good honest talk with myself, admitting once and for all that the parts I severed were not a loss, but actually cutting out an illness. And, now that it's gone, there's no need to dress and lick my wounds every morning.

I just need to let it be, and let things heal.

Sober, alcohol free recovery blogger.

Photographer. Writer. Ex-Blackout Artist.

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