Let me take you back to somewhere in 2006 when I had to lead a two-hour class, totally hungover, while having to yell above the pitter-patter of rain on the zinc roof of our hairdressing academy.
Wait, did I throw you too deep into the action? Need some context? Perhaps I could take you back a few hours earlier, to when I walked into the academy smelling like a distillery, and throwing up into the first wastepaper basket I saw.
Still too vague? A little further, then.
It was the night before and I’m at a club with my colleague Marc, because what else was a twenty-three year old going to do on a Friday night?
Sure, we were hairdressing mentors, and we had classes to teach the next morning, but you try telling a young adult that he should forgo a night of fun just so he could perform overtime with extra zeal.
Also, while you’re at it, perhaps you can also tell him to pace himself with the drinks, because we all know how our young idiotic selves love to go for broke every time there’s alcohol involved. No? Just me? Okay then.
Anyway, I already knew that the next day was going to be a problem when I had to tell our designated driver to stop three times so that I can puke at the side of the highway. But I was young and invulnerable, and work could go screw itself.
I’ll just sleep it off and go to work as usual, I told myself. Ha. Ha ha ha.
Paying the price
Now I’m somewhat of a people pleaser who’d rather stay unhappy just so others won’t hate me, so when my alarm rang at eight in the morning, my fear of getting an earful from the boss had me up and going in ten minutes.
And that was a good thing, because if it wasn’t for that, I’d have most probably come up with an excuse just to call in sick. By some miracle, I was able to get ready and get to work on time, but truth be told, the details are particularly hazy on this day.
My class was due to start soon, and most of the students were already talking about my puking-in-wastepaper-basket fiasco.
“I can’t take the class,” I told Marc. That dude was as drunk as I was the night before, yet he seemed fine that morning, and I resented him for that. Maybe him being a head taller than me had something to do about his alcohol metabolism. “You’ll have to cover for me.”
“No man,” Marc said. “If Pete hears about this, you’ll be in real deep shit. No one’s going to pity you for being hungover, so I suggest you suck it up and do your job.”
He had a point, and once again, Marc had tapped into my people-pleasing personality. I was going to do this because it meant escaping my boss’ and colleagues’ wrath.
“At least shuffle the classes a little bit. I’ll take the last session.” That gave me about four hours to recover, lunch break included. I’ll be fine after this, I told myself. Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha ha.
So our hairdressing academy was located on the highest floor of a shopping mall, and for some reason, we had hollow zinc sheets as roofs, and when my turn came to lead the class, fate saw it fit to throw me another challenge in the form of heavy rain.
I could barely speak without sending waves of nausea ricochetting through my innards, so having to speak over the din really was a lesson in attrition, one that I still recall to this day whenever I need proof that I can do hard things.
David Goggins has his three Hell Weeks in his cookie jar, I have my hungover yelling session.
But I did it. By the gods, I did it. Thanks to Marc’s advice, I managed to hold up my end of the bargain and not get into trouble at work. I also learned that no matter how much I think I can do, I can always do better.
Feeling normal again
I remember the moment I returned to Earth. Marc and I were having dinner after work, and between a mouthful of pork noodles, I realised that I didn’t feel like death anymore (well, relatively, at least).
I remember saying, “I’m back.” I remember swearing off alcohol for the rest of my life (ha ha). I remember being able to smile once more. Most importantly, I remember the joy of finally breaking through to the other side of that pain.
I think about that moment a lot, because it was the only time I’ve ever transitioned from being shitfaced to being normal again during my waking moments. The other times I’d gotten this drunk, I basically just slept it off.
There I was, trying not to move my head for the fear of seeing the world spin, and then I was fine a few minutes later.
It’s an important memory for me because that’s how I sometimes feel in real life too.
Some days I see the world in technicolour, and the general sense of doom doesn’t linger over me as it usually does, and I get a brief taste of what ‘normal’ feels like.
But those are fleeting moments, and the leave as quickly as they come. Sometimes I feel like I’m just going to have to live my entire life hungover, to accept this as my norm.
Then I remember the time when I didn’t just survive a particularly bad hangover, but did more than I thought I could. And I don’t know if I’ll ever make it out from under these dark clouds, but you know what? At least I know I’m perfectly capable of holding my own until the next time I get to say “I’m back.”