On The Underrated Sublimity Of Throwing Your Miserable Guts Up

I come to sing the praises of a good, hard puke.

Such a stomach-turn is a borderline spiritual event, a deep cleanse. It's a medical marvel — hardly a cure-all, but certainly a cure-some. Get past the squeak it leaves on your molars, the collateral runny nose, the embarrassment of becoming an involuntary spectacle, the contagious smell. It's the most gratifying moment sickness offers, when the pendulum swings back toward equilibrium with soggy, zero-g violence. It's an Old Testament response (become the flood!) to an impurity. Emptiness is cleanliness is next to whatever expels the devil that became you.

It is here for good. Stand way the hell back and embrace it. Not for nothing does the rally follow the boot.


I was moved (in a relentless rocking motion) to deploy a GHP this week a few feet over the rich azure of the Pacific Ocean. This was on a snorkeling trip during high winds. I'd neglected to shave, leaving just enough room under the seal on my mask that the waves forced water in, and up my nose, and down my throat, and when I'd remove it to snot-blast out the salt, the snorkel would get wet — long story short, I don't know how many shots of ocean water I drank on yo-yo waves before clambering back onto the boat for a breather. I sauntered up to the bow, summoned a bit of focus and chummed up a burst of half-digested sandwich over the railing. I heard my soul rattle, and maybe an angel giggle. All sloshing stopped. Time went from being a flat circle to a confetti rain over a coral reef. It felt great because for a second I felt nothing at all.

A proper GHP will do that. You touch the void, and then you swish and spit. "You feel better?" one of the boat hands asked. Yes, I said, I did. She replied, "No one ever threw up and then said they felt worse."

That is, of course, over-optimistic bull. Plenty of throw-ups are right wretched. Not everyone has the world's largest geographical feature to use as his personal air-sick bag. Enclosed-spaces barfs are a pox. All too often we find ourselves yakking, or even GHPing, into a seat used most recently by an active human butt. Sometimes an overactive vurp masquerading as a GHP does little more than return a dinner we would have preferred to keep. And for every GHP that aborted a hangover, a staccato, Morse code series of pregnant hiccups signaled the onset of a flu or of food poisoning, followed by a solid 24 hours of sustained agony.

Then there are the empty-chamber aftershocks, the so-called dry heaves, that feel like doing standing crunches and generate nothing more than sludgy stomach paste. Sometimes, no matter how tightly you roll the tube, there is simply nothing left to squeeze out.

The heedlessly pro-throwup view also ignores the spiritual reckoning that a GHP forces upon us. Why, one asks while discreetly painting the yard, did it seem a good idea to run uphill sprint races after slow-nursing a half-bottle of Champagne on New Year's Eve? (Hint: Stupidity.) Under what warped circumstance, one asks while hunched over a Bourbon Street bar trash can, does a gentleman decide to chase an evening of celebratory red wine with shots of celebratory tequila? (They're only free until you pay for them.) The lucidity imparted by a GHP gives us pause. We have an eternal instant to evaluate drinks imbibed, chicken undercooked, mayonnaise unrefrigerated, turns taken too quickly, rollers coasted, dares doubly dogged. Through a GHP we learn our limits. In our clarity, shame may lurk. Usually, the GHP informs us, we done fucked up.

When Lionel Messi performs a good, hard puke during a match, he's allowed to say afterwards, "It happens to me all the time: during the matches, while training, when I'm at home. I don't know why it happens, but it happens." He gets to say that because he is at the outer limits of athleticism, of human being-ness. For most of us, it is a lesson disguised as a punishment. A GHP always teaches us something, and should properly open our minds, even as we realize we're impersonating a burst piñata.

My lesson this week was to shave before casting myself over 40 feet of water, expecting a mask to seal. Or not to tempt high waves at all. In either case, I learned anew to welcome and accept the GHP when it arrives. After I reverse-lunched, I felt a new equilibrium. I drank clean, cold water. I stood on the bow and stared into the distance. I breathed. And at some point, the salty soup and the rocking of the boat coalesced into a full-blown bout of seasickness, a pummeling of nausea that lasted four godforsaken hours. It was awful, except for the instant when all that cold water returned as an effortless levitation. In that moment of good, hard puke emptiness, the void brought on fleeting stillness. And then — hey, wouldn't you know. Beneath the opaque sheen there rose a Crayola riot of tropical fish, greedy beauties, compelled in an unexpected suddenness to ascend to the surface.

Photo credit: AP