Cure for Last Night’s Leftovers
Let’s be clear: There is no hangover cure. Anyone who claims to have never had a hangover is either a) a liar, b) a teetotaler, or c) a responsible drinker. I’m none of those things, most days, despite effort, and the number of times I’ve searched for “how to cure a hangover” in the harsh light of a weekend morning is embarrassing the older I get, so manage your expectations. There is no hangover cure. Except maybe time travel. Or discipline. Which, if you’re reading this, you have neither.
Under the best of circumstances, it’s Sunday and your obligations are either minimal or nonexistent: wash day, laundry day, meal-prep-and-clean-the-house day. Maybe you moan about how you’re never going to drink again as you cradle your head in your hands or wake up next to the toilet or ask where your car is. And perhaps this makes you a liar after all.
If you’re hungover today, I feel for you. Go get a glass of water. Here—I’ll even drink one with you. Now isn’t that better?
My spirit of choice is gin. Has been for almost a decade. It’s become a personality trait at this point. Bartenders bring it to me upon my arrival. Friends gift it to me on birthdays. I have a tattoo commemorating it. I don’t imagine I will change my preference, even if I change the way I ingest it.
So why do I still drink a cheap brand of gin that reminds me of sexual harassment, self-harm, abandonment, and misery? Why, with therapy and financial stability, do I still insist on beelining for the same shelf on the same side of the store with every visit?
Let me save you the effort of assumption: The solution to preventing bad hangovers is to stop drinking. I know that, you know that, our doctors know that. But that can’t be the only way. What about moderation, what about accountability, what about just drinking better gin?
This is not an essay about sobriety. This is not an essay about relinquishing alcohol’s hold on my life and saving the couple grand I spend every year on wine, liquor, and mixers. This is not an essay that judges the sober or the unwell. No—this is an essay about engaging one of my vices in a way that won’t kill me.
I’ll wait while you get another glass of water.
I started drinking gin in graduate school.
My history with alcohol isn’t interesting. My parents were teetotalers, despite being Guyanese and part of large families that enjoyed rum and high wine, so I never grew up with alcohol in the house. I didn’t drink in high school—I was a “good girl” when it came to breaking the law, so my vices weren’t alcohol, cigarettes, and weed, but emotional battery from my bullies and sexual chicken with anyone who thought I was pretty. In college, I drank because depression, but overall, I found alcohol largely unexciting. It made me tired and sadder—shocking—and I mostly drank because everyone else was drinking. At a private liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere (you know, where most of them are), there wasn’t much else to do but smoke, drink, fuck, and study, and I was never good at smoking.
When I arrived in Georgia to start my graduate degree in creative writing, I had zero preferences when it came to alcohol. Like every other twenty-two-year-old, I liked white wine because it tasted like juice, hated red wine because it tasted like dry juice, and loved any kind of liquor mixed with a soda or whipped cream. My lack of discernment annoyed my friend Sarah, a thirty-something with a more refined palate, so she always chose the cocktails when I ended up at her house instead of the bar.
“Tonight, I’m thinking gin,” she said when I arrived after my evening poetry class. “How do you take it? Martini? With tonic?”
“I don’t know anything about gin,” I confessed, plopping down at her kitchen table. “Except, my friend swears it tastes like Christmas.”
She laughed. “Well, you’re going to learn tonight!”
Sarah loved gin. She loved anything consumable, honestly. She knew so much about flavor profiles, ingredient pairings, and cooking processes. In her home over the three years we completed the MFA program in Milledgeville, I ate pâté, liver, fruit cake, and aspic. I tasted martinis, ice wine, Negronis, and Limoncello. Sarah drank white wine and gin in the spring and summer and switched to whiskey and red wine in the cooler months—less noticeable in middle Georgia, but she maintained the routine—and I followed suit because she had never given me anything I didn’t enjoy. The woman made her own pretzels for God’s sake.
I met Sarah during new student MFA orientation in 2012. In the same cohort but different genres, Sarah represented a glimpse into a life I could have one day. She was a Writer™—did morning pages, conducted extensive research for her essays, attended visiting writer lectures like the White House press corps. She taught me that if I wanted to write, I had to want it more than anything else in my life. Everything about my existence had to be for the writing—from the classes I took to the company I kept to the liquor I drank.
Sarah taught me how to drink gin, but she didn’t drink cheap gin. She was past the stage in her life where she drank to get drunk. She drank to savor, to celebrate, to improve her nonfiction. It’s how she approached everything in her life, and I wanted to be like her. I mean, I didn’t want to write prose, but I wanted a life I didn’t have to escape from using lime-infused gasoline.
At the bar once, I ordered a gin and tonic, and a colleague of mine made a face. “Firewater!” he said as the bartender poured the clear liquids. “How can you drink that?”
“It’s my favorite drink.”
“Figures,” he snorted. “I knew you were crazy.”
Poverty leaves a residue on your life. Though I’m no longer in graduate school making $900 a month and drinking $2 happy hour gin and tonics from 3-7PM every weekday, I still beeline for New Amsterdam gin in the back of the liquor store in Pennsylvania where I now live.
Step 1: Hydrate or Die-drate.
Seasoned drinkers know that matching a glass of water to every drink you have (in addition to only consuming one alcoholic beverage per hour) is how you avoid morning misery. Sometimes you remember, sometimes you don’t, sometimes you remember and don’t care.
To handle most of the horror that is a hangover, drink water. I recommend cold water because the shock to your system will force you to reckon with your bad choices and possibly encourage you to stop being so irresponsible. Unlikely, but still. The Internets will recommend room temperature water because it’s easier to drink and easier on your stomach. Whatever you decide, drink a glass.
Then drink another and another and another (just like last night, amirite?). Alcohol is a diuretic—meaning it makes you pee. It’s why all the girls are standing in the line for the bathroom and why the person who cleans bar bathrooms has the most thankless job in the building. You have to replace all the water the booze sucked out of you.
Depending on the severity of your hangover, you likely consumed alcohol with a high amount of sugar. And since sugar is also a diuretic, guess who needs to keep drinking water?
Between glasses, drink some Gatorade, orange juice, Sprite, or Pedialyte (if for some non-creepy reason you just have that on hand). Diuretics also drain the electrolytes out of your body through excessive peeing, so replacing them will make that throbbing in your head stop.
If you can, go back to bed.
When I moved home to Colorado after grad school in the summer of 2015, I discovered Denver Dry Gin, a spirit made exclusively by Mile High Spirits. A tasting at their distillery downtown proved it was the cleanest gin I’d ever had. For the first time since sampling expensive spirits with Sarah in Georgia, I actually tasted the juniper, felt the purity of the botanicals. You know, like gin is supposed to taste.
According to varying liquor critics and the brand’s website, New Amsterdam gin is citrus-forward, meaning the required juniper berries make an appearance but aren’t the main event. Lemons, limes, and oranges dominate the flavor profile of the original recipe. In the London Dry version, named such due to the method of distillation and not the city of production, the juniper joins lime on stage, but honestly, none of this matters to me.
I don’t drink gin because of juniper or the glass still Mile High Spirits uses or the badass reputation I get in bars when people realize I drink gin and not whatever stereotypical liquor Black people are supposed to like. I drink it because a woman I loved taught me how. And I loved Sarah because she showed me what it meant to be a writer, what it meant to become my most authentic self. I don’t have a better reason. I don’t think I ever will. Why would I stop drinking gin when it’s submerged in my identity as a writer?
The summer before I moved from Colorado to Pennsylvania for my fancy new university job in 2017, I was dating two men. The one who lived with me, Michael, was an unemployed Black novelist I’d met at an AWP conference years earlier. We believed we could be the next Black literary power couple—like Yona Harvey and Terrance Hayes, Sufiya Abdur-Rahman and Rion Amilcar Scott, Michelle and Barack Obama (can we count them?)—so we promised ourselves we’d put everything into our writing careers. It didn’t matter where we worked, as long as there was money for shelter, food, and submission fees.
But after I accepted the job at Susquehanna, a decision I made without him, things shifted between us. Michael didn’t want to move to central Pennsylvania, had no idea what he would do there if he did come with me. A staunch anti-capitalist and anarchist who didn’t vote in 2016, he resented the idea of having to follow me across the country with no real plan of action for his own life. Yes, he loved me; yes, he knew I’d do well there; yes, we’d make it work—but what about him? What about his needs?
A month before I got the job, some trash dude in California followed me onto a train and masturbated beside me. After avoiding sexual assault for four years, I felt small and crushed. Michael was sympathetic at first, but the grace didn’t last. Two days after the assault, he initiated sex and I burst into tears. He rolled his eyes. “What does some nigga in San Francisco got to do with me?” Those are real words he said to me.
Here’s what some nigga in San Francisco has to do with Michael: Since 2008, I’ve been raped or sexually assaulted upwards of eight times. The ages, races, and tactics of these men have varied, but each experience does the same thing: catapult me into isolating depressive spirals. Michael knew that. What stops the isolation is community support—a safe place to call home. My partner trying to fuck me while I’m in a PTSD spiral clocks in as the opposite of safe place.
“I don’t want you to live with me in Selinsgrove,” I told him in late May. “I need to live alone again, get used to my own space and self, so I can be good at this job.” I needed to be good at this job.
“What am I supposed to do?” Michael asked. “Stay here? Move with you and live not with you?”
“I don’t know,” I sighed. “It’s up to you. I’m going to Pennsylvania. You can come. Or not. But we’re not living together. That I know for sure.”
Michael felt annoyed, angry, betrayed. I didn’t care. Couldn’t. I was too wrapped up in trying not to drink myself into oblivion, not to buy a handle of New Amsterdam and a bottle of sleeping pills to end it all. I needed the chance to prove I could be a good teacher, a decent writer, a survivor of many things. Staying one more year in a house with a man who didn’t understand the aftershocks of sexual assault would ruin all of that.
In July, while I made dinner with my other boyfriend Travis during our designated weekend together, Michael spent the night alone. I imagine he was watching TV or writing notes for his book or reading or masturbating. The only thing I know for certain is he drank all the gin in the house—at the time, half a liter of New Amsterdam stuck in the freezer—and got into my car to drive to the corner convenience store for more mixers. He didn’t even like gin.
You can guess the rest: Michael made an illegal U-turn, cops pulled him over, they smelled booze on him, he failed the road sobriety test, and he spent the rest of the night in the drunk tank twenty miles away from home. DUI. Blood alcohol content: 0.111. Almost three times the legal limit in Colorado.
In the morning, I woke to panicked messages from his estranged mother, a missed call from an east coast area code I later learned belonged to his father, and a single text from Michael saying, Call me when you wake up.
“I’m fine,” he said when I called, wrapped in Travis’ bathrobe and hiding out in his bathroom. “I’m fine.”
“What’s going on?”
“I got a DUI last night. Your car is fine—I already picked it up and drove it home. But I’m fine, I’m fine.”
But I wasn’t fine. I was twenty days from moving out of the state. Twenty days from a new apartment in a town where no one knew me. Twenty days from a life of steady income, good health insurance, and maybe peace. Maybe healing. And Michael was on probation. He couldn’t come with me if he wanted to. Even if I wanted him to.
Michael and I met while drunk at an AWP dance party. Most of our encounters were drenched in beer, wine, and an assortment of liquors. Sure, we could be sober together—but we were writers. When he moved in with me in Denver, my weeks were already scheduled around happy hours, ladies’ nights, and recycling pickups. We drank heavily, a lubricant for a desiccated relationship. Drunk off our own loneliness, we called it love. It wasn’t love. Not anymore.
When my first paycheck hit my account at the end of August, I bought a bottle of New Amsterdam gin. I didn’t hesitate. I finished it the day we broke up over the phone, two months later in my new apartment ignoring the irony of sipping the beginning of our ending, the pours heavier and heavier until the bottle was empty.
Step 2: Eat Something
When I say, “eat a healthy meal,” I mean it. Yes, a Denny’s Grand Slam with scrambled eggs and extra bacon does seem like it will cure your thumping headache and quivering ankles. Who among us hasn’t forced a Lyft driver into a Taco Bell drive-through at 3AM for a crunch wrap supreme with promises of a quesadilla tip, or bribed the DD with McDonald’s fries and gas money in an act of brief responsibility before passing out on the couch with a melting McFlurry watching old episodes of Rick and Morty?
But resist the urge. I’m not saying salad. I’m saying savory oatmeal because it actually hits everything on the list: carbs, protein, veggies, maybe a fruit, and spice. And if you can’t manage that, anything is better than nothing. Eat. And get another glass of water while you wait for food to arrive.
In the winter of 2020, the morning after I drank six elderflower martinis in less than three hours during a virtual game night with my colleagues and my partner Rob, I woke up at 7AM, hungover. No surprise there.
I did everything I’m telling you to do: drank water, orange juice, and lemon-ginger tea; avoided strong light sources; ate half a breakfast burrito (not savory oatmeal, I know, but close enough); popped ibuprofen; drank more water. But three hours later, my headache wouldn’t subside.
“It’s the gin,” I moaned to Rob as he played Fire Emblem on his Nintendo Switch in bed beside me, the blackout curtains still drawn, my tea cooling in my hands. “There’s got to be something in the gin. Every time I drink New Amsterdam, I feel like this.”
“Are you sure it isn’t just you drank too much and had no water?” he asked, even pausing his game to look at me hard.
“I mean, yes, obviously, it’s that, too.” I sipped my tea. “But remember when we ran out of New Amsterdam during lockdown, and the only gin we could get our hands on was the expensive kind?”
In early 2020, Rob had finally managed to get an order through an overwhelmed franchise as liquor stores were reopening, but he had forgotten the name of my favorite gin. Back at home, as we disinfected the groceries and other supplies from our bi-weekly venture out of the house, I’d pulled out two gigantic—and expensive—bottles of Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire.
“I didn’t wake up feeling like this then,” I said, remembering my initial irritation at him for buying the wrong kind. “Sure, I had hangovers, but never for this long. Never this bad for this long.”
I wanted to believe it was just the brand. That the extra sugar in New Amsterdam, responsible for the “fake citrus” notes criticized by The Gin is In blog, coupled with the extra sugar of the elderflower liqueur and the speed at which I consumed the increasingly strong beverages, precipitated my agony. I wanted to believe that if I’d just paid closer attention to what gin I put in my body—meaning, purchasing a Dry or London Dry gin which contains no sweetening agents rather than the other processes which might include many—I could go back to enjoying the drinks I consumed, however heavily, and suffer less drastic consequences.
I want to believe that, seven years after I learned to drink gin, the only reason I punish myself by still drinking New Amsterdam, a decent gin in a glass bottle at a competitive price point, is because I haven’t learned forgiveness for every version of me that chose violence in alcohol over grace in sobriety. I haven’t learned that the residue left from old selves isn’t a tattoo but a UV stamp from a dance club that disappears after enough scrubbings.
Even now I still drink New Amsterdam, despite my fancy new job title, single-person apartment, and steady income. This gin bore witness to my glow-up. It’s the same reason I still drive a 2001 Nissan, get Netflix DVDs in the mail, and bank with Wells Fargo—complacency.
“Tradition is just bullying from dead people,” Rob once said nonchalantly.
But what if it’s just bullying from the person you used to be?
Step 3: Treat Your Symptoms
Nauseated? Lemon-ginger tea is great for fighting nausea and upping your water intake, plus it fights dizziness and tastes delicious. It also comes out in this gorgeous red color, which is nice.
Sweating liquor? Take a shower. A hot one. It’ll energize you and relax your sore muscles. Also, you can cry in there and no one will know. Don’t do anything strenuous like wash your hair or shave. Just stand under the water; breathe in the steam; and when you can, clean your body. Bonus: If you need to throw up, you can!
Headache? Consume no caffeine. I’m serious. It’ll worsen your headache when the caffeine wears off, and then you’ll want to take some ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and you shouldn’t because those don’t actually work when the real cause is dehydration. Not to mention your stupid liver is already working overtime trying to process all the booze in your system, so only take it if, after several hours of nonstop water consumption, you still feel EDM beats behind your eyes. And on this note, don’t take Midol—its main ingredient is caffeine. Look it up.
Exercise if you’re the kind of person who can. I’m not twenty-two anymore, so I only do yoga to treat fury and run to treat depression—never to treat a hangover.
Some of these things will make you feel better within thirty minutes. Some will make you feel better within a couple hours. And maybe they won’t work at all. The only thing I can offer you with absolute certainty is this: Do not drink a beer, take a shot, or down a Bloody Mary with your savory oatmeal. Contrary to popular belief, fighting a hangover with more alcohol makes you an alcoholic, not brilliant. (I lied; there’s a little bit of judgment in this essay.) Eventually, you’ll have to sober up, assuming you have responsibilities and that you’re not Sterling Archer.
Go back to sleep if you can. Intend to do better next time. Forgive yourself if you don’t.
I don’t talk to Sarah anymore. We’re still online friends, support and cheer each other on from a distance, but she’s pressed forward with her life. She got her degree, moved, had a baby. As thankful as I am for Sarah’s direction when I felt aimless, I don’t think our friendship was an even exchange. I learned how to shift my whole world toward my writing, how to write to save my life, while she lived vicariously through my reckless sexual entanglements. I probably owe her a bottle of wine for her service.
Even so, I started drinking gin because Sarah loved gin and I loved Sarah. But I kept drinking gin, cheap gin at that, because I didn’t know what else to do. Gin is a staple spirit in most bars, making it solid ground for me to land on as I danced away from my emotional turmoil. Romantic rejection? Gin and tonic, please. Bad poetry conference? Gin and tonic, please. Recent sexual assault? Gin and tonic, please—a double, this time.
Hangovers might be punishment for irresponsibility, for foolishly believing, even for a short time, that alcohol isn’t a depressant and there’s no way a night this fun could be fueled by something so toxic. And maybe the residue from former lives is punishment from not learning the lesson the first time, manifesting in the muscle memory of a bottle purchase or a drink order or a surreptitious exit from another stranger’s apartment. Of course, perhaps reading divine disapproval into every disappointment is another kind of residue I should scrub away, too.
There is no cure for a hangover, only treatment of symptoms that won’t work for everyone. In college, I’d take a fifteen-minute shower, eat crackers, and pass a gallon-jug of water back and forth with my inebriation partners. In grad school, I’d drink a bottle of water, eat egg-in-a-hole with hash browns and bacon, and go for a two-mile run. Now one bad hangover ruins my entire day, leaving me bedridden and repeating the mantra I’ve repeated to every therapist since the rapes, the moves across the country, the attempts to start over and over and over: I just want to feel better.
At the root of every morning greeted with nausea, headache, and weakness after a night drenched in cheap gin and melted ice, don’t we all just want to feel better? In January of 2021, I vowed to stop drinking New Amsterdam. When Rob and I moved in together later that summer, we set up our bar without a single cheap spirit. Our life together isn’t built on alcohol. I don’t want to escape any of it. I want to savor, to celebrate, to enhance every moment. And I want to remember it.
I hope you’re feeling better by now. I hope the worst of your symptoms have cleared and you’re back to your default setting. Tonight, I’ll raise a glass to you—to us—for still being here.
Rumpus original art by Carl Dimitri