A few weeks ago, I woke up one day feeling awful. I inventoried my symptoms. I didn’t seem to be getting sick. I hadn’t had too much to drink. Was it food poisoning? No—the slight ache in my stomach wasn’t, exactly, physical. And then it all came crashing back over me, and I realized the truth: I had a gossip hangover.
I remembered my own avid interest in hearing petty bits of news; my snide encouragement; the tidbits I’d contributed, the brief high that had given way to a crushing shame. Like any old-fashioned alcohol-induced hangover, the gossip variety includes a large measure of self-disgust. Why didn’t I stop? you think. Why didn’t I walk away or change the subject or even object? The version of myself I saw in those replays was so far from who I wanted to be as to be unrecognizable.
I thought of my grandmother: endlessly kind, completely without malice. I thought how I had let her down. I wondered if the effects were irreversible, if I was becoming corroded beyond help. (All this happened as I lay in bed, by the way, wallowing in self-loathing.) There’s no conscience transplant, that I know of, or even a dedicated twelve-step program. (Well, maybe psychoanalysis.)
But maybe a sort of cleanse, a diet of kindness and nourishing people, could be a start. I would read my grandmother’s journals; I would keep away from petty company and think only positive thoughts; I would avoid the society of crummy people and strive not to be one. I would do it, I thought, throwing off the bedclothes and leaping up. Only to find I had moved too quickly, and that my head was swimming.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.