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My One and Only Hangover – Why PWCs Can’t Drink

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My One and Only Hangover - Why PWCs Can’t Drink"It's the only true common denominator for people with ME/CFS/FM. No one medication works for all of us, but all of us just cannot drink… not and LIKE the result. We for some reason cannot metabolize the stuff." Penny McCracken

The only hangover I ever had was after the occasion of a party in our Navy housing, near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. My husband was then assigned to the diesel-electric submarine U.S.S. “Tang.” I was all of 24 years old.

I had not, in previous times, understood the absolute depth of a hangover. Since I did not drink very much, if at all, I just had never experienced how awful they could be. In retrospect, it is a wonder I was not murdered before that! When my husband had occasionally imbibed too much, I was not always sympathetic. I tended to bang doors, slam cupboards, and let the kids play, while the poor man was nearly incapacitated.

So, we had friends over to dinner, and all except the hostess were playing cards. I continued to languish on the couch, having suffered a mishap which left me with my right leg in a toe-to-hip cast.

My husband was bringing drinks to one and all, and over the course of an evening, he had brought me three tall drinks of “Seven and Seven.” I didn’t realize that the ratio of whiskey to 7-Up had been seriously altered! I wondered, briefly, at the glint of mischief in his eyes. Understand, this evening also included a full meal. So in any case, it should not have bothered me all that much. After all, I am rather tall, and, er – zaftig!

The last thing I remembered was going up the stairs in a fireman’s carry, while at each of the three turns it took to ascend said stairs, my cast banged the wall, while I giggled a lot, and reached down to pat my husband’s rather wonderful buttocks!

He helped me change to nightwear, smiled solicitously, kissed me goodnight, and left. I corked off to sleep almost immediately.

When I awoke in the morning, I looked sleepily about. My husband was standing there, grinning in a way I had not quite seen before. I felt OK – sort of – until he leaned over my shell-pink ear, and bellowed GOOD MORNING, HONEY!” I lurched up – and the entire world caved in on my head! Oh, God, what was THIS? I am sure that only my frantic grasp of my head kept it from immediately toppling from its place above my shoulders!

My head felt as though it was packed with wet sand. And every grain was being aggressive to its neighbor. I had to balance it carefully, lest all that sand shift to one side, leaving me with head parked helplessly on my shoulder. My teeth itched. A camel seemed to have been French-kissing me all night. My eyes were boiled rubies, underlined, not with bags, but whole steamer trunks! Even my HAIR hurt!

Now came the delicate matter of my morning’s ablutions. I put my cast on the floor, as lightly (I thought) as eiderdown. The resulting crash sounded like nuclear war, many megatons of it. Getting up on crutches was a process not to be believed, and please God, never to be repeated! I was gently assisted to the necessary room for those ablutions, by a man who seemed to have turned pro wrestler – overnight. He SAID he was being gentle. I called him unprintable names, while he laughed, evilly. I stopped, just to get rid of that laughter. Any sound but that.

After I took care of the call of Nature, I attempted to brush several layers of, well – ICHOR off of my teeth. The electric toothbrush screamed like a chainsaw, the toothpaste was an affront to my delicate stomach, and flushing the commode nearly did me in. Niagara falls – from directly beneath!

After returning to bed, about two miles away, I caved in with a grateful sigh. Husband, having revenged himself (but only slightly!) left, while still chortling. I hurled a pillow at him – followed by more unprintable words. Oh! Even that hurt! Better not move head, there was still all that sand to consider. I cradled my poor head on the soft pillow, wincing as the feathers inside engaged in a fencing match.

Gentle husband left me alone for awhile. Still no silence – a gecko stomped across the ceiling – with combat boots on. A small bird chirruped innocently from a tree nearby. I thought it was a condor, in full cry! Then there was the mosquito – oh, hell, let it bite. Maybe it will get drunk and kill the others.

Later, husband returned, with what he said was something called “hair of the dog that bit you.” I turned green, and needed that bathroom again! We nearly didn’t make it.

All that day, husband remained gleefully, evilly in “get even” mode. By now, I didn’t blame him. I had time to contemplate, with regret, the times I had not understood when he was overtaken by the same condition. I regretted every banged cupboard, every slammed-down pot, and every act of unkindness to his poor state. I contemplated them, in fact, at some leisure – while still praying that sand would at least dry up! He offered me the occasional comestible – which caused renewed nausea and outright refusal from my beleaguered stomach. And so the day passed. I spent it in bed, except for the occasional repeat of visits to that far away bathroom.

The next morning, I still refused food. By now there was nothing left in my stomach to indulge in riot. Second day passed, much as the first.

By day three, husband was actually showing signs of sympathy. He had NEVER seen anyone take this long to recover from too much of the “uisgebeatha” – in Scotland and Ireland, called “The water of life”. Those Scots and Irishmen were made of sterner stuff than yours truly – including their women – and just possibly, their children!

Day four and now he is actually worried. Still cannot look at food, and can barely tolerate water – which I sniffed suspiciously before drinking, in case he was trying to slip me a Mickey. He actually called the doctor at the Submarine base. He said it was hard to talk to him, over the bellows of laughter coming from the phone. I could hear them – and even that hurt.

Day five and the sand is beginning to be more like a beach, with occasional waves of pain surfing in on the crashing waves. Must have been 30-footers. I still cannot eat. But I’m beginning to think I just might live – and finally cared whether or not I did!

Now-chastened husband is asking me if I want to go to the doctor. Remembering the bellows emitting from the phone, I declined. Figured I would gut it out, given that there was so much space in there. Feeling dizzy when arising from my bed of pain. Plaster still thumps harshly against the floor, crutches being clumsily wielded by a marionette, with the strings cut. But I am, more or less, able to make it to that distant bathroom under my own, well,” steam” is the wrong word.

Day six. I just languish in bed. Still can’t, you could excuse the word, “stomach” food. Husband now bringing viands I once found tempting. Yecchh!

Day seven – and I finally rise. Even manage to go downstairs. Sans crutches. It is safer to sit on stairs, bump down on behind, one at a time. Carefully check out head. It seems to be again, firmly attached. Only a few grains of sand left. But occasionally, one of them kicks another, starting small war. I may live. Finally figure out: “You know, that stuff is probably not good for me!” Make soulful promise to self never to overindulge again!

From then on, I never drank more than one drink of an evening, and only on about four or five occasions per annum. Husband makes monumental discovery: One drink, I get amiable – and amorous! Two, I smile beatifically, and find a corner where I can nod off. No action that night! Husband now gives me one drink – and then, lots of coffee! Smart guy.

Final discovery – figure all that time, no food, I should have lost a few pounds. Nothing. Some rule or other: If you don’t burn any energy, you don’t lose any weight. Lying in bed and moaning apparently does not constitute “burning energy.” Damn.

Later, more attentive when husband suffers repeat of same condition. Only one question: Why, in the name of all that’s holy, does anyone volunteer to suffer that same condition, again?

Note: Looking back, Penny recognizes she had symptoms of ME/CFS/FM and associated medical problems for years before becoming too ill to continue her career, at age “40-something.” We have reproduced this cautionary tale with kind permission of the author.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (65 votes, average: 3.35 out of 5)

20 thoughts on “My One and Only Hangover – Why PWCs Can’t Drink”

  1. FAN says:

    I’ve led a FM/CFS/ME support group for over 10 years and tell members that they will regret it if they drink alcohol. I cannot tell you the number of people who have come back to the meetings and said, “You are right about not drinking alcohol.” Alcohol is one of several substance that people with these conditions should avoid if they don’t want to suffer the consequences.

  2. debra49659 says:

    I lost several hours of time and behaved in ways that most sailors would find inappropiate. Never, never again will alcohol pass these lips!!

  3. madelyn says:

    My one and only hangover was caused by drinking a single wine cooler. I really can’t drink! (And I am Irish!)

    1. fannyfc says:

      I used to love to, well, “hang one on” occasionally, even with the next day results, but once I got ME/CFS/FM, my system would no longer accept liquor. It’s been four years since my discovery of that fact, and I can have, say, a small glass of wine with food. No more. I had two glasses of wine a couple of months ago, while visiting my totally-evil sister (who kept pushing the stuff on me!)! Not my fault. Nope. Anyway, I was down, flat on my back, in about two hours time, and remained that way through most of the next day! I now do the same thing with an excess of sweet foods, too much salt or too much caffeine. Most of my vices have been taken away from me! Just wish my body would reject tobacco in the same way…

      1. fannyfc says:

        I’ve mentioned all of this to my doctors (all the kazillion of them I went to before and after I was finally diagnosed!), and they all just shake their heads at me. I have no idea why my system is so sensitive to these things, and I don’t think they do, either! Someone who researches this stuff might have a clue, but there aren’t any of them around here—I just try to avoid the things that bother me and remain ignorant as to WHY!

    2. sandy10m says:

      There is a scientific reason for alcohol problems with FM/CFS. When the liver metabolizes alcohol, it first uses enzymes to break down the alcohol into acetyl acid. That is a fairly easy step, and the acetyl acid isn’t particularly toxic. The second step is to break down the acetyl acid into acetaldehyde, again not too difficult. The final product is to break down acetaldehydes into non-toxic products. This is where the problem occurs. Most people store a small amount of the enzyme needed to break down the acetaldehydes and make it without problem when needed to break down the alcohol to its final products. However, the acetaldehyde accumulates when there isn’t enough enzyme (or you drink too much), and then you get a nasty hangover (or you die, if it’s bad enough). Coincidentally, the waste products of a candida (yeast) infection in your intestines include acetaldehydes. Since most people with FM/CFS have a candida infection in their intestines (I certainly did), the liver is overwhelmed with acetaldehydes 24/7, and it has no enzymes left to process alcohol. I wish some scientists would take a closer look at this.

    3. madelyn says:

      I wish this would be looked at too. I have been tested for candida repeatedly, always negative. So why am I not able to break down the alcohol?
      Is it possible that my tests could be wrong?

    4. sandy10m says:

      The test I get is a stool test done through a specialized parasitology lab. I always test negative with the standard MD tests, but this lab specializes in parasites like candida and gives accurate results (my nutritionist introduced me to them). My symptoms have always agreed 100% with their findings. You can order a test kit by phone: 480-767-2522. The lab is called Parasitology Center, 903 S. Rural Rd, #101-318, Tempe AZ 85201. The kit is like $25, and the test is like $100. I have done the test 12 times now and have used it to monitor my progress. None of the herbal products cured the candida. I had to go to prescription anti-fungals, starting with daily Diflucan for 2 weeks along with oral Nystatin powder every day for one year. The Diflucan gives you a head start on killing the candida from the body side of the intestines, and then the Nystatin kills the candida from the intestinal side, since Nystatin is not absorbed by the body (safe for pregnant women, according to the website). The most important part about this treatment was switching to a Paleolithic (caveman) diet along with this regimen, and the candida were finally gone. The oral powdered Nystatin is essential (not the premade liquid stuff) because it is stronger and has no sugar in it. Tastes bad (like stale pretzels), but the stuff really works. Check out Hi-Tech oral Nystatin powder (it must be refrigerated). There is another company, but I have already forgotten the name. Getting a doctor to prescribe it is a major problem, but I had minor oral thrush at the same time, so that was a “legal” reason to have the prescription.

    5. madelyn says:

      Thanks so much!

    6. madelyn says:

      What is the Paleolithic diet like? I already eat a very low carb, no sugar diet, without which I would be flat on my back. (I used to be.)

    7. TrudyBird says:

      So that’s why I thought I was going to die from a hangover the four times I drank more than 1 drink. Facinating! I’m a pretty cheap date. I’m a one drink gal. I learned that when I was in my 20’s. Back then I didn’t know I had CFS/FM. It didn’t stand out until I got older and diagnosed after years of treating multiple symptoms…Go figure!!

      Also… be watchful of seeing someone with too many hangovers.
      Alcoholism is a very real disease that can creep up on you too.
      A social drinker can progress to a problem drinker… to an alcoholic right in front of you in the most innocent, casual, social events. I saw it happen with my own eyes to my first husband. It’s very insidious. Some people are pre-disposed to alcoholism due to their genetic makeup. Sometimes it skips a generation. It’s just something to be aware of and perhaps read up on. It’s always good to be educated about stuff like this.
      Blessings to all!

    8. beartow says:

      Finally, “others” who cannot tolerate alcohol! I cannot even
      tolerate non alcoholic champagne! Life lesson learned was slurred speech,room spinning,acting weird, headache, facial numbness FOR THREE DAYS! Nobody believes me when I explain how NAC affected me. Since I’ve also been an “easy drunk” I had tried the non alcoholic champagne. But that was worse than regular alcohol! And because of my bad experiences from alcohol I’ve learned that I have to be feeling very good healthwise to have a drink, (which was very rare)and then it is only the clean/clear alcohol I could tolerate like vodka or gin. But to me it is not worth the headache or days trying to recover. Just half a wine cooler gave me the room spins, so just better to stay away all of it. Which makes me tend to stay from people also because they don’t understand my “weirdness”, and I cannot socialize like others. To that I say I really don’t care anymore, Oh Well, and Too Bad! They don’t have to go through the everyday hell and suffering, much less add alcohol to it! Thanks for the article, I thought I was the only “weird” one!

    9. sandy10m says:

      There are several websites and a few books about the diet. It sounds like you’re almost there with the low carb/sugar diet. The idea is that for millions of years we were cave people. We were hunters/gatherers, and our DNA adapted to those conditions. Today with all the agriculture, processed stuff, etc., we are eating foods that are not compatible with our bodies. Anyway, the “forbidden foods” on the diet are anything grain, sugar, milk, legume, or anything that can’t be eaten raw. The idea was that cave people ate their food raw most of the time. So, all fruits are okay. All meats are okay, although organic and leaner ones are more cave-like (eat more birds and fish than cow). Only non-legume veggies are okay. Most legumes and grains have to be cooked or processed in some way (you can’t eat beans of any kind, including soy and potatoes) . These were considered “starvation foods” to cave people, if nothing else was available you could eat that to survive. However, in today’s diet, the starvation foods are like 70% of our meal, hence all our health problems. You should get about 40% of your calories from meat, 30% from fat, and 30% from fruits/veggies. Half your plate is meat. The diet sounds a lot like Adkins, but it’s not. Now that the candida is gone, I allow myself the occasional treat of bread, or a dessert, but I typically stay on the paleo diet overall. One website among many is: http://www.thepaleodiet.com/

    10. madelyn says:

      Thanks again for all the information. I am going to see about the candida again, and check out the diet.

    11. jdaninger says:

      I come from a family with a lot of social drinkers. I have tried to keep up for years – always getting incredibly sick. Finally my slow brain realized to just never touch the stuff again – hello!! I started having problems with alcohol in college, but didn’t come down with Fibro/CFS until my mid 30’s. Finally I know that I am not crazy. I am glad to hear others stories. These are not fun times and I wish that there was a cure so this type of chat didn’t need to exist, but until then, I now know that I am not the lone ranger.

    12. jdaninger says:

      I am tired of going to doctors who think that my symptoms are all in my head and that I need to be on depression medication right away. I can’t seem to get it through to any of the doctors that I have seen that I am bummed, but not depressed. I am sick and tired of being sick and tired! I am a single mom with a daughter who has aspergers disorder. I work full time and take care of my daughter, that’s it. No energy left to do fun things with my daughter or see my friends. I struggle to make it 8 hours at work. I don’t want to worry my daughter, so I try to hide how I am feeling. What have some of you tired to help your symptoms and improve your energy level? I drink Diet Coke like it’s going out of style, but doesn’t seem to work anymore.

    13. leaknits says:

      …but NON-drinking hangovers exist, as well.

      I’m serious. Even those with the tiniest possible bit of empathy can get a Contact Hangover if they are not indulging personally but are around people who are swimming (no, not literally, lol) in booze.

      Been there, done that. Didn’t believe it. Called an expert. Read “expert” as former drunk turned alcoholic…i.e., non-drinker of anything more powerful than coffee.

      “Is it possible,” I asked expert, “to get a hangover without drinking one drop?”

      The answer was short and non-sweet. “Yup. Happens to empathic people like you all the time. Stay away from everyone who has a glass or can of anything alcoholic in hand.”

      Side note…I’ve also found that I get contact whatevers by being around anyone with nearly any drug “on board” as the medical folks say.
      Hmm. If only, if only my empathy button got pushed by people using pain-maskers!! AARRRGGGHH!


    14. lke1165 says:

      I actually use alcohol as a coping mechanism, much to my (and my families;)chegrin. I was never much of a drinker until I started to get sick (9years ago) and couldn’t figure it out (fibro/CFIDS caused by 4 1/2 years of exposure to toxic mold at my workplace). Then, a glass of wine or two helped me relax and sleep, but I couldn’t handle more than that. I then got a series of lipostabil/glutathione IVs by my naturepath doctor. After that, seemed I could drink much more. The more treatments, the better the ability to consume more alcohol – champagne (not expensive) my drink of choice. Now, I drink before I exercise (swim) because it keeps my neck from “freezing up.” And then continue after swimming (late afternoon) and shower until bed time. When I drink, I sleep deeply, well and wake with less pain (unless I go way overboard – won’t say how much), then I wake up shaky, because I usually don’t eat if I’m drinking. When I don’t drink as much as the norm (for me, now) I sleep worse and have more pain). I’ve actually lost weight – weird. My champagne brings me mental, emotional and physical (pain) relief/coping. Can’t explain, I know it’s contrary to the norm, but there it is! Now, I feel I need to go to AA, but no way could I handle going to meetings everyday . .. . .ugghh (no energy/can’t work or keep a schedule), nor do I want to give it up. I know it’s not good. I’m frustrated, for sure. Can’t tell my pain management doctor, or they’ll take my meds away. Just venting. I just know it was those IVs that allowed for this predictament.
      Thanks for listening!

  4. cpspa says:

    How eloquently put! Your story was full of life and color and was amusing to read. You should seriously think about becoming a writer! I have FM and have noticed I cannot tolerate drinking anymore either. I used to do my share, with plenty of those “sandstorm hangovers” that you described. Since being this way, I can barely consume one drink-be it a beer or glass of wine-without suffering from a horrible headache the following day. And yes, sometimes they last for more than one day. I thought it was due to aging or not being used to drinking as much as I used to-sadly not the case.
    Thanks for your amusing, yet truthful biography of why we can’t drink.

  5. madelyn says:

    I also cannot tolerate any sugar at all–only some fruit in moderate quantities. What does this mean? No doctor has ever addressed this symptom.

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