Sober Song Sunday — Frank Turner’s “The Real Damage”

So much media glorifies the drinking lifestyle that I’ve decided to write a weekly post featuring songs that do the opposite — reveal the downsides of the drinking lifestyle, or make not drinking seem as exciting and fun as it is.

I’m writing this blog on a Sunday morning around 10am and have already accomplished a lot — I woke up at 7, meditated, wrote in my journal, went to the gym, made breakfast, and had a long wedding-planning conversation with my fiance.

Normally while drinking I’d still be in bed, and wouldn’t be up until 11am or noon (or later, depending on how much I’d drank the night before).

Once you’ve stopped drinking, it’s easy to view your drinking days with rose-colored glasses. You remember the good times, but not the hangovers, the money wasted and the lost opportunities.

So the more you think about what you’ve gained when you stop drinking, the less it makes sense to glorify the drinking days.

Back to the music. For my first song, I’ve chosen Frank Turner’s The Real Damage. For those of you that don’t know Frank Turner, check him out on Spotify. He’s a great British singer/songwriter with kind of a post-punk, Oasis meets The Pogues sound. He sings a lot about being hungover, and I think he was sober for a long time. I definitely encourage you to check out his catalogue as it’s pretty great.

The Real Damage is about waking up on a Sunday after a long night of drinking. He’s in a house with people he doesn’t know, without the people he began the night with.

As he leaves the house (“longing for a shower, and for clean sheets, and a charger for my phone”) he’s confronted with the “sadly sobering light”.

I can definitely relate. There’s an undeniable sense of shame that comes with waking up hungover — “What did I do last night?” Thinking of how much money you spent is depressing. When Turner “rifled through his pockets for some change”, all he finds is a “packet of broken cigarettes and a sinking sense of shame”.

No matter how much fun the night before was, I always found myself waking up feeling exposed, like my guts were laying all over the room and I had to spend the rest of the day picking them up, putting them back in and getting to a point where I could feel like a human being again.

Not exactly a good feeling.

Turner keeps coming back to being “halfway through the best years of [his] life” throughout the song. This reflection is brought on by the hangover, which brings a feeling that you are wasting your time.

Because the cost of drinking isn’t just the money you spend, or the negative effects on your health. It’s also the time you put in, time that you have trouble remember, and then time spent recovering from the impact that alcohol has on your body.

Life is so short, it’s a shame to essentially hit the fast forward button. I had a lot of fun on big nights out with my friends, the probably is many of them were a blur. I remember little, and spent vast amounts of time recovering. That experience is perfectly encapsulated by The Real Damage.

Drinking is like trying to buy fun now with your time in the future. You pay an enormous cost — is the value added really worth it?

As I’ve mentioned in some of my other posts, I definitely feel that you can have just as much, or more, fun doing the same exact activities while sober as you could while drinking. So in my opinion, it is definitely not worth it.

Turner ends the song by realizing that he is “halfway through the first day of the week”. At first this is strange to me — he replaces his refrain about being halfway through the best years of his life with being halfway through the first day of the work. On the surface, his final conclusion is the less profound one, which doesn’t necessarily make sense in terms of the progression of the song.

But I do think I understand why he made that choice. Beyond all the big picture, philosophical feelings of being down on yourself that come from being hungover, there’s a very practical, immediate impact that gets glossed over too often — you’re starting the week, and the day, off already halfway over. It’s like you’re spending your entire life playing from behind. Which sucks.

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