My journey to terrible hangovers - in my 40's

I didn’t really start drinking alcohol until I was around 22. It was always available in our home and frankly my mother and stepfather encouraged wine with dinner despite the federal government’s legal drinking age.  The truth is, I just didn’t like the taste. 

By the time I was old enough to even be around alcohol in high school, I was more enamored with being invited to cool parties than with actually drinking. So spectating took precedence over enjoying a few beers, like my friends were -- or, rather, my so-called friends. I would watch them all drink, play games and sometimes end up in another room or closet, pushing their limits with alcohol and other recreational activities. I was happy to keep to myself and enjoy the rare flirting -- if any boy even noticed I was alive. And that was never anything more than flirting because I was terrified of boys. At the end of the night, I was always thrilled to be the designated driver for whoever was too drunk to drive home.  My parents did not have the money to buy me a car when I was 17.  Even if they did, it would never be anything like the nice cars the popular kids from wealthier families had.  

Five or six years later, I had grown into a young lady determined to make her fashion dreams into reality.  I would spend every cent of my money on fashion magazines and tabloids (clearly this was before we had the internet). How these designers and models lived inspired me in so many ways. It gave me hope and motivation that I might be able to live like that one day too. I was so focused on this dream I still didn’t care much for drinking or partying. But right around my 22nd birthday I was at a backyard party and a friend of mine encouraged me to drink a Coors Light. I grimaced at the taste. Yuck -- bitter with fizz!  My friends told me to just chug it and that after the first one I would not notice the bitterness. Besides, drinking is more about the effect. So there you have it. I finally started drinking alcohol.  The problem was that I way behind the rest in my age group.  I would bring a six-pack of Coors Light to a party and drink four cans, as I was instructed to by my trusted friend. I drank the first one fast, like I had learned, so I could hardly taste the second. And the third and fourth were me being social… until my cousin was holding my hair over a ceramic bus (toilet) as I yacked my brains out.  This pattern lasted for some time too.  I assumed this was what everyone loved about drinking and I was on my way to building my tolerance up. Or so I thought (eye roll). No surprise, I hate beer now.  But don’t judge me if you ever see me sipping a beer -- it’s typically only at a sporting event.

Amazingly enough, during my weekend beer fests followed by what seemed like scheduled vomiting, I never felt a hangover.  So I thought I was successfully building my much-lacking alcohol tolerance beautifully. Slowly, I moved past the beer and onto sugary cocktails: Malibu Bay Breeze, Sex on the Beach, Paloma. I loved ordering them mostly because of their decadent-sounding names. Just like with the beer, weekend vomiting was the norm. Finally, a friend told me that eating bread before drinking was the cure. And she gave me the best advice ever: “SLOOOOOW DOWN.”  I would eat more and drink less when I went out. No vomiting. Triumphant!

When I turned 24 my then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I decided to go on a cruise.  We were both working full-time jobs, living at home with our parents and had some play money.  We bought two tickets to go on a Caribbean Cruise out of Florida. This was the first (and last) cruise I ever experienced. We seemed like the youngest people on this massive ship. Personally, I felt I had arrived at the lifestyle of the rich and famous.  The ship was 13 stories above sea level, complete with elevators and escalators.  I was completely awestruck.  Every night they would slip an itinerary under our cabin door telling us all the activities for the upcoming day.  On our first day, they served free Champagne at an art auction. This seemed like EXACTLY the kind of place I belonged.  My boyfriend and I quickly grabbed a seat right up front ready for…. well, who knew? We had no clue what to expect.  A fancy waiter quickly came up and served us the free champagne on a silver platter, which seemed beyond dreamy.  The room was quickly filling up and a couple in there mid 30’s asked if they could share the table with us. They were gorgeous -- together and apart.  Him: tall, dark and handsome. Her: blonde, blue-eyed with an amazing smile. They were both successful, smart, well-spoken -- first-class all the way. During our two-hour art auction, the couple bought eight paintings. Trying to appear like this was normal for us to be attending an art auction, we decided to make use of the fan they gave us. I still have the ugly painting we bought for $425 with money we didn’t have to spare. Nonetheless, the auction led us to priceless knowledge from our table mates, so the ugly painting was well worth it. As the bottomless champagne was being served, the gentleman at our table educated us on the beverage.  He said the smaller the bubbles, the higher the quality. Clearly, this man and his Mrs. knew plenty about alcohol, and I was eager to learn everything he was willing to teach. We moved on past the free garbage (I had now learned) champagne they were serving while Mr. Gentleman ordered a variety of champagnes, cheeses, crackers and fruits to teach us pairing.  Needless to say, we stayed in our seats way past the end of the auction, learning all we could. Once again, I was feeling like this is exactly the life I should be living. 

Later that night, we went to dinner. If you have ever been on a cruise you would know you have an assigned dinner time and you are always seated with the same people. To my astonishment, the handsome couple from the auction was seated at our table for what would be the next seven nights!  Night after night we started our dinners with champagne, then moved onto wine and, of course, ended with an after-dinner drink in the cigar lounge. Mr. Gentleman educated us on wine’s flavors, aromas, aftertaste -- from the full body to the fruitiness to the flora scents. It was ennnnddddllesss. So then and there, I became transfixed on WINE!  From that moment, I wanted to know everything I could learn about wine, and I loved drinking it regularly.  When you get to know me, you’ll learn that I become obsessed with things and am curious about them until I have exhausted every angle. 

For the next 10 years, all I drank was wine. My preference was full-bodied cabernets. Working in luxury fashion, I frequently visited Milan for work. I loved Italian wines. Really, I loved anywhere that grew grapes and produced fine vino. Considering I was an adult at this time -- or at least trying to be an adult -- I had a better handle on my over-drinking and hangovers. I cannot remember ever vomiting from over drinking wine, as I typically insisted on drinking good wine or not drinking at all. I did, however, start to experience night sweats when I overdid it. And the morning-after the headaches were severe at times -- but nothing a few Advil and a large glass of water or Gatorade couldn’t cure. 

In my early 40’s, I decided I needed to gain some sort of control. I had managed to balloon up to a weight I hadn’t seen since birthing my third child. My nightly wine wasn’t helping my weight and it wasn’t helping my emotional well being, either. Apart from the frequent night sweats, which I considered could be attributed to hormones (eye roll), I also started to notice that the day after a night of one too many glasses of wine I would feel extremely depressed and anxious. These were all hangover symptoms I never ever experienced in my 20’s or even my 30’s.  

I decided the only way to get rid of these feelings was to STOOOOPPPPPP drinking! And I did!  I didn’t have a sip of alcohol for nearly four weeks. For some people that sounds like no big deal but for me it was a BIG deal. There were several times in my life when I didn’t drink for long periods of time, like during my three pregnancies, any time I was feeling ill and the several times I attempted cleanses that put me near death (but that’s a story for a different blog). I didn’t typically drink every night, but I started to find myself drinking more often than “only on the weekends.” But suddenly, I was focused and ready to start new. Ta -DA! I dropped about 15lbs in a month and took on a whole new approach to my eating and began regularly training, lifting weights and doing cardio for the first time in MY LIFE.  At first, I hated it, but now it has become a lifestyle that I LOVE. All in all, I lost 30 pounds. It is still a struggle and daily commitment but I feel good and I’m proud of myself. 

After four totally dry weeks, I needed to find a new drink that would take the edge off but wasn’t as high in calories as wine. Enter vodka (or tequila) soda.  I was never a fan of either but, lucky for me, they now make flavored spirit. So mixing one of those  with some soda water is like a dessert in a glass that actually has fewer calories than a banana. Imagine that? Two cocktails in, I am feeling good. Three, I am teetering on a level of “I am going to be moving slow tomorrow.” But nothing is more irresponsible than when I think I am a sorority chick and ACTUALLY have the fourth (SMH).  Now if that happens, I need two days of recovery to be able to function normally. So it seems like I never really built up my tolerance. But having a high tolerance for alcohol is nothing banner-worthy. I had heard the older you get, the worse the hangover. I am here to tell you that is the GOD HONEST TRUTH! 

I wish I could say, I am going to stop enjoying my cocktails and keep them to a minimum, but that would either be wishful thinking or a straight-up lie. I like that little relaxed  feeling I get after a few sips. Life is a journey and every day we wake up is a new opportunity to learn and another chance at a fresh start.  Let’s just say, I am on this journey and still learning.

Until next time – Cheers!

Francis Sango

1 comment

  • Muz

    This is great stuff! Absolutely loved that cruise experience. I should forward this to our buddy of our Mr Butler! Proud of you…love you babe!

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