The Last Hurrah
Less four day hangovers, more taking the red pill in hopes of making a difference.
“Why was that the last time you drank? You didn’t do anything bad” My cousin and one of my best friends just told me this at my last sober wedding experience. He was referring to Thanksgiving 2021, when his sister, a younger cousin, got married in Chicago. It was nice to hear him say this. Truth be told on the scale of drunken damage of 1–10 it was about a 4. The most inappropriate thing I did was flirt with the maid of honor, a past quasi-flame, which sadly for me seems to be as natural as breathing. I remember despite me being 9/10 drunk at the wedding and having some rolling brownouts, I immediately started drinking the next morning because of the hangover and also because I knew I’d see her at a brunch and planned to apologize. Liquid advils for anxiety.
I am chronicling my last binge in hopes it can prove as a reference when nostalgic glimpses of sunny picnics, being on a boat, après ski, or the third hole on a golf course emerge. This trip was a solo quick renegade of an escape which new fathers are familiar with. A new child at home, therefore you have one night to fly somewhere, be a good family member, then get back home immediately to help. I could start down the path of changing societal father roles perhaps fueling this bender of liberation; knowing that I only had 24 hours turns you into a drinking Jack Bauer, but that is not the point. I recall being so happy to be solo that the drinking pretty much happened instantly. At the airport, I texted some friends, “Being at the airport through security without kids is up there with some of the greatest feelings in life.” Let the debauch begin.
From all the cancelled flights and vouchers from the pandemic I remember using them to book ‘first class’ (more like the front of a bus on a Greyhound when flying Delta) before they expire. Booking this, I remember it being as a justification to get free drinks rather than a race to beat an expiring monetary value clock. Despite drinks being free, I gave the female flight attendant a wink and my customary $20 to keep the drinks flowing. It’s amazing how well this works. 2 nips of vodka after 2 nips of vodka kept reappearing like magic.
It was a drink all day, try to nap unsuccessfully when get to hotel for stability (amazing how I’d drink to be stress-free and yet the anxiety to get a nap in lest I don’t go burning down in flames became an urgent priority) type of day. I kept it in semi-neutral (for me this just means light beers) as I expected a lot of family conversations. At the reception, probably 7/10 at this point, I asked my Dad if he wanted to go for a walk the next day. I wanted to talk to him about my drinking. Whether it be his early flight or my hungover slumber, the walk never happened. Before what was hopefully my final drunk pick-up line, there is a picture of me riding a luggage trolley to bring a big cooler down to the after party with my cousins. A true drunk Washington crossing the Miller-Lite filled Delaware. 9/10.
If this day were on its own it likely would not have fueled the “last episode” (thank you Dr. Dre, also sober). It was the next day, the travel day home, that caused the real wear down carry-over effect. As I mentioned, it started with a mimosa to help the headache. I said goodbye to my parents, packed my bags, and went to the bar for brunch, planning on staying there until my flight home. This got the dopamine flowing, who doesn’t like a day at the bar to help breeze through travel? TSA lines become fun. You slap high fives and make eyes. All the annoying inconveniences of traveling somehow become alive. That is, unless you take it over the edge, and then everything is in quicksand.
I put my card down (maybe per usual some monetary prize this would be my apology to the MOH?) and started the late morning with two huge steins of IPAs. As more people showed up, the day accelerated. This is the midwest after all. One very friendly husband ordered jager bombs. The spiral began. I had to order fireball as a thank you, of course. It turned into a slippery day. My saving grace, to an extent, was that my Aunt showed up. She is deeply religious and has been sober since 38, knowing the pitfalls it’s caused our Irish family and has plagued my mother, who hasn’t been able to have the same surrender. I don’t know exactly how it came up, but I told her I wanted to quit. She thought I meant cut down. No, I said. I wanted to be done. She said she would pray for me. When I saw her last weekend at my sisters wedding, holding a diet coke, I told her thank you, that her prayers are working. Tears went down her face. Instead of being this holy Mother Mary type she usually is, she proceeded to relate and tell me how scary it was going to parties recently sober. She remembered all the way back.
The trip to the airport is a bit blurry. It was getting to the point where the hint of sickness was beginning to emerge — enough for the sparkly buzz to dissipate. I thought my “chill out choice” red wine, would help. I went to some crazy Chicago Blackhawks bar and grille for nostalgic kid fandom sake and tipped a friendly Mexican server who looked quite overworked $20 when my wine showed up. Yeah, my behavior is interesting. I am just glad its generous.
I moved on to the gate and decided I needed a nap. I sat there at O’Hare with the Kevin McCallister Home Alone Christmas decor already out, my hat pulled over my eyes, listening to the crackly intercom of airports and realizing I overdid it. It’s always a fine line, but I found a way to cross it. Not throw-up cross it, but enough to break the “fun” sound-barrier. We finally boarded. I got my dumb first-class seat but for the first time ever, didn’t plan on ordering anything. I just wanted to sleep. I went to put my carry-on in its overhead bin and BAM, somehow missed and smacked the face of the woman sitting behind me. It was bad. It was a soft bag and not overly hard, but man, she really milked it. I immediately said I’m mortified and apologized to her and her boyfriend/husband who I’m sure saw my red eyes and very apparently made his own judgments. I felt awful. Things started to calm down, she accepted my apology, but I went to the front of the plane, gave the flight attendant yet another $20 (how many did I fucking bring?) and asked if she could bring them champagne. She goes “yeah, I heard that commotion. You do know drinks are free though right?” “I know. I just need the presentation for apology, it was bad.” I slept, hearing the flight attendant bring them and hearing some thank yous from the seat behind. At the end of the flight, she must have known that there was a deep psychological wound going on with me, because she again said it was okay. She was really pretty. I wish I could write her a letter and tell her this embarrassment came right after my last drink. She and her pretty smacked face played a role.
The next day I woke up to one of the worst just dead to the world hangovers and an angry wife. She is not the get out of jail free type. I mean, I get it, now two kids and she gave birth 5 months ago. I was not getting a “you stay home and rest, I will take our son to tennis.” I got an earful about how I can’t really overdo it as a Dad, how I need to be able to participate when I get home. She’s right, even if she could be a bit softer about it and kind of understand what weddings do. Not being from our family drinking background, naturally she doesn’t. I guess this type of thing doesn’t get transferred.
I sat through my son’s tennis lesson probably looking green. I could barely move. Nausea had started to emerge. The winding driving of getting home was almost too much. I was very apparent there was a child in the car and I was not 100% there. When we finally got home, I nearly lost it, and the dry-heaves started. Given my wife’s sixth-sense and natural talent at finding me at my most vulnerable, of course she was out side. She grabbed my son away, as if he was watching me commit a mortal sin. He has sensory issues and repeat himself a lot. Tennis lessons aren’t so much for tennis as it is for discipline. He asked me if I was sick for days and days afterwards. He was nervous that every time I drove a car I’d get sick. It was like a cruel innocent reminder. I am not overplaying this moment, it really wasn’t the look of disgust or anything from a movie. I just knew I was done. It was time.
Thank you for reading. If you are struggling, just know, the less flak you create in your life, the better you will feel. Come along with me.