Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

The Emotional Hangover

If there is one thing I do not miss now that I’m not drinking, it’s the hangover.  Lord knows I had some good ones.

In the earlier days of my sobriety, I began to learn about another kind of hangover – the emotional hangover.  This is the hangover resulting from letting my emotions take over my brain.

And it is equally devastating and equally painful.

Here’s an example of how this little gem plays out.  I find myself in a situation in which I’m bound and determined to see it through as I believe it should be handled.  (First warning bell – using the words, “I want”).  Then someone comes in with an alternative way of seeing the situation which is opposite of what I’ve envisioned.  I calmly try to get the other person to agree with my perspective (Second warning bell – subtle manipulation).  When this doesn’t work – because God forbid someone have a different opinion from mine – I start to talk in a flippant tone and here goes the snowball down the hill.  Eventually someone’s feelings will get hurt, the anger, frustration and irritation sets in leading to all communication coming to a screeching halt.

So, there I am, mentally telling myself how right I was and how the other person is being irrational and uncommunicative.  I tell myself it’s only a matter of time before they come to me with a set of apologies for words said and harm done (Third warning bell – unwilling to see my part in the disconnection).

The three warning bells have rung.  Get ready for the emotional hangover, and it’s going to hurt.

Oh, and the real joy of this?  I can “come to” at any given time, with the gifts of this kind of hangover just as insidious.  I feel equally horrible, equally regretful and equally ashamed of myself and my behavior.  The difference now is, there was no booze or lack of nutrition as the catalyst.

This is why I will always consider myself in recovery.  I am human and therefore am susceptible to the same self-centered thinking I lived on for decades.  It sneaks up on me if I’m feeling vulnerable and not putting my sobriety thinking first.

The truth is, I have had more than a few conversations about why (and how) I railroaded relationships while drinking and not fueling my body properly.  Knowing this, if I’m not careful, sober thinking will take a backseat and I’ll find myself in emotional pain and undoubtedly strapped with an emotional hangover.

The cure?  I need to circle back with the other person and explain what my part was in the disconnection.  I get honest.  I don’t just say “I’m sorry” because those words are empty unless there is a change.  I need to talk about why my behavior was not right and commit to being more conscientious of this in the future.

Do I always do this?  No, not always, but I try.  I just keep remembering recovery is all about progress, not perfection.


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