The Last Day of My Twenties + A Decade of Hangovers

Actual footage of me while hungover

On the day before I turned 30, I woke up in the same state I had been in throughout much of my twenties; incredibly, deathly hungover. My best intentions to take it easy, drink water between each drink, eat something before drinking, and only drink red wine didn’t work, exactly the way they hadn’t worked so many times before.
We’d had a work event on a boat, cruising around the Hudson River, and got back onto land around 8pm. I followed groups of friends to a bar somewhere near Soho – I don’t know where – and instead of sticking with red wine I drank beer and vodka as it was handed to me.

After a few of those, I walked with my friend to the Prince Street subway and kept going to meet another friend at a bar on Mulberry Street. I wanted to feel like a grown up on the last night of my twenties, so I ordered three cocktails, and then listened to U2 on the subway ride back to Brooklyn and on my walk home. When I got home, I danced around my room for a bit, took my makeup off, put my on my pajamas and went to bed, really thinking I would be fine in the morning. The fact I remembered to take off my makeup, change out of my clothes, and turn the light off is some kind of miracle. I have woken up many times fully clothed, sometimes with one or both shoes on, with mascara on my face and the light on.

I spent the last day of my twenties feeling like I was going to die. I decided getting on the subway would be a mistake – no one wants to be that sick passenger causing havoc – and got a Lyft Line into work. As we barreled through potholes in Brooklyn Heights before dropping off the other passenger, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold it in. I discreetly threw up in the plastic bag I’d brought for emergencies, and sat back hoping that would be it for the rest of the journey.

The driver noticed and handed me a box of tissues when the other passenger got out, and opened the door for me when we arrived at my office. I went straight to the bathroom, and spent most of the morning there until I got myself to 7-11 and got a Coke slurpee. This is my go-to hangover cure, something I started back when I was 18 and hangovers weren’t even that bad, and it has served me well ever since. In Australia, I can get frozen Coke from McDonald’s, but since they don’t have that here in America I have to rely on the 7-11s scattered sparsely around the city and Brooklyn to get my fix.

I have had some awful hangovers in my time, and while I’ve often been lucky enough that I can just stay in bed and ride it out until later in the day, there have been a lot of times where I’ve had to get myself to work or to meet friends. I’ve decided to write about the worst hangovers I’ve had in my twenties – the ones when I haven’t been able to stay in bed and hope for the best – as a memoir to some of the great times I’ve had… and maybe as a reason to ease off on the binge-drinking now that I am 30 and meant to be an adult.

The Time I Got Sent Home from Work:
Age: 23
Occasion: Drinks with work friends at Cruise Bar
Drink: Wine before I went out, then a mix of things – cocktails, shots, and black Smirnoffs
Details: I met some work friends at Cruise Bar, a place down near the Sydney Opera House/Harbour Bridge. Friends I hadn’t seen in a while bought me shots and one girl tricked me into buying us black Smirnoffs.
I fell over as I got out of the taxi when I got home and broke my watch – and bruised my leg – and then woke up early the next day with the lights on. I had to go to work in the city, so I walked there very slowly, and bought myself a Boost Juice, hoping the sugar would help. It didn’t. I had to keep going into the backroom to throw up in the sink in between serving customers, and eventually my boss sent me home. I went to bed, then dragged myself out to dinner at a Thai restaurant, where I drank about three glasses of coke and ate fried rice. Hangover cured.

Another Time I Got Sent Home from Work:

Age: 24
Occasion: Party where I didn’t really know many people
Drink: White wine pre-drunk, then whatever I could find at the party (yes, I was that person)
Details: I went to a party with my friend, and drank too much because I didn’t know many people there and felt self-conscious. I ended up going home with someone, we made out while listening to ‘The National Anthem’ by Radiohead (by the way, that song is not sexy at all, and I don’t recommend listening to anything from Kid A if you’re going to make out with someone), and then I got a taxi home the next morning.
I went to sleep for a couple of hours until it was time for me to go to work, and when I got there I threw up in a bucket in the backroom until my boss sent me home. I went home, had a can of Coke, and slept until I had to go watch and review The Whitest Boy Alive at Sydney Festival.

The Time I Wasn’t Allowed to Go Home from Work:
Age: 27
Occasion: Work party
Drink: Beer, cider… and then by some reports whiskey drank out of the bottle. Shots, probably
Details: We had a work party that started in the afternoon. I had lunch, then thought I would be smart and only drink one kind of alcohol that day. This was ruined when the first bar we went to had shit beer and I had to switch to cider. Then, my team won the Trivia competition and we were awarded a free cocktail, and it was downhill from there. We went to a karaoke place, and someone (not me. Really, not me) stole a bottle of whiskey from behind the bar. He brought it into the karaoke room where my friend and I were singing Amy Winehouse, Madonna, Whitney Houston, and Billy Ocean, and by some accounts I was swigging it out of the bottle.
I got to work late the next day, spent most of the morning in the bathroom throwing up, until I managed to walk to Harbourside Shopping Centre and get a frozen Coke from McDonald’s. My boss would not let me go home and told me to “Wait it out until 5pm.”

The Time I Threw Up in My Car:
Age: 27
Occasion: Night on Oxford Street
Drink: Vodka
Details: My friend and I went to The Annandale to watch a singer he likes – who we didn’t realize would be going on stage at 11pm, so we left before she came on – and had drinks at my place before we went to Palms. I had recently come back from the USA and had a lot of duty free vodka to share. We drank that at my place as we waited for another friend of ours to finish work, and then went to Palms, our favorite place on Oxford Street.
The next day, I had brunch plans with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I forced myself to get to the café to meet her, and she was feeling just as bad as I was. She was suffering from a migraine and threw up in the bathroom, and then decided to go home to bed. We cancelled our food orders but I stupidly drank my coffee thinking I would be OK. But I wasn’t. I went to get a frozen Coke on my way home, and threw up on myself and in my car as I was driving.

The Time I Had to Drive for Three Hours:
Age: 28
Occasion: Work party (seeing a theme here?)
Drink: Vodka, sparkling wine, red wine, vodka
Details: We had a work conference up at the Hunter Valley, and then we were having our Christmas party afterwards. I had driven two of my friends there because I knew I would be in no mood to spend three hours on a bus with work people the day after. They had given us little bottles of alcohol, and I drank mine in the hotel room before the party. I started drinking sparkling wine, then switched to red wine, and then switched to vodka when they stared serving spirits at the next part of the party.
I woke up in my hotel room, fully clothed, and couldn’t get myself out of bed to leave for hours. I drove one of my friends back to Sydney with me, got two frozen cokes at McDonald’s, but had to stop the car to throw up. Luckily, this was not on the freeway, but on a country road where there were no cars behind me and it was safe to stop.

The Time I Lost My Passport:
Age: 28
Occasion: Work party
Drink: Vodka, maybe one beer
Details: I went to a work party on a boat, and didn’t know many people. I drank too much to over-compensate, and then went with one of my work friends to his apartment before we went to another event. I didn’t think the second event would have free spirits, but it did, so I just carried on drinking vodka.
I got a $50 Uber from Chelsea home to Williamsburg, passed out with the lights on, woke up with a pizza stain on my dress and the crushing realization I had to get to work. I texted my boss to tell him I’d be late, and got an Uber pool to East 42nd Street. I didn’t throw up in that car, but I threw up in the garden outside while I was waiting, and as soon as I found a bathroom in the office. I didn’t realize this at the time but I along with my dignity, I lost my passport that night. Good work, drunk Justine.

I know that reading this will make some of you, if not all, think that I am an alcoholic. I have those thoughts sometimes too, and while I appreciate the concern, I really don’t think this is the case. I have noticed my hangovers are worst when I don’t eat, or don’t eat enough, before I start drinking.

Mixing alcohol is a bad idea, but then, so is drinking too much of anything. I am an optimistic drunk, I often think everything will be fine from a certain point, and I have a lot of friends who are the same way. I do know my limits, I do know what to do to ensure I don’t have a terrible hangover the next day but I’m often having such a good time that I just forget.

Perhaps turning 30 will help me to become more mature and better at making decisions when I have things to do the day after a night out, and these kinds of hangovers will become less frequent. Or maybe I’ll stop making myself feel guilty for having a good time, and just accept it. Self-acceptance is what getting older is about, isn’t it?

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Justine McNamara

I'm an Australian living in New York. I work in marketing but I write about music, New York, and my own personal experiences.

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