A new friend and I were talking recently, sharing old drinking stories. There was some laughter as we recounted escapades of our youth. This friend and I might have been drinking buddies had we grown up together. Actually, that’s a stretch. When it came down to it, I really had only one drinking buddy. I had people I drank around, but before long an exclusive relationship with alcohol developed.
Undoubtedly, I had some good times in my drinking days. Memories of time with friends, playing drinking games, letting inhibitions fall away. Looking like fools or doing something stupid and surviving; a proving ground for adolescence. Teens and then college students on a mission to push our own limits and the limits of the rules that bound us in our families and society in general.
Even before I left high school, the fun was already overshadowed by my problematic drinking and thinking. If I had weighed the fun in a balance with the not-fun, the fun didn’t stand a chance. The self-defeating and incessant “less than” self-talk weighed me down terribly. After a while, I couldn’t even enjoy the fun because I knew I had a serious problem. It became more about looking for an escape than looking for a good time.
Arguably, a few hours of drunkenness were an escape—from my self-pity, lack of confidence, and confusion. Then blackouts started happening. They were the worst form of mental torture. I can’t say for sure how old I was when I started having blackouts, but I was probably 16. They didn’t happen as frequently at first, but in my last three years of drinking in my early 20’s, they pretty much happened every time I got drunk.
You could say I had experience at having blackouts, but I can’t tell you much about them. Just to clarify, passing out and blacking out are quite different, though both are alcohol-induced (and you can have both on the same drinking occasion.) Passing out means no longer conscious, no longer engaged with those around you. Waking up a few hours later, there may be a hangover but you don’t have to ponder what you did in the hours you were passed out. You didn’t do anything, except maybe vomit (and luckily not aspirate) or wet yourself.
Blacking out is still being awake, walking, talking, saying and doing, but the next day you have no memory of it. Many blackout nights I remembered the beginning of the evening, but then had absolutely no recollection of several hours to end the night. Some blackouts were sporadic—I could piece together a few things based on the memories I had, but there were large gaps. Blackouts are not a normal part of drinking. They are a significant red flag.
I can’t speak for others, but when I was in a drunken state I wasn’t typically saying and doing things that were healthy or rational or kind to myself and others. There is a little blessing in not remembering some things. It lessened the guilt and shame a bit, but it heightened the fear and dread exponentially. I drove home in blackouts. I ended up in dangerous situations in blackouts. I said and did many things that would not make my parents proud. The fact that I survived these treacherous times, and didn’t cause serious harm to others, continues to be a significant source of gratitude in my life.
Spending too much time thinking about what did or did not happen in a blackout, what may or may not have been said or done, how sick and stupid I looked, did not have a calming effect. It is one of the ironies of alcoholic drinking. Things like blackouts made me crazy in the head, and I only knew one way to shut that crazy head up. Drink some more. Talk about a vicious cycle!
My last drunk and last blackout took place on August 12, 1989. I drank a few times after that, before beginning my stretch of sober days on September 4, but this last drunk was a doozie! I was at the wedding of two classmates. The bride and I were longtime friends, having gone to school together all through elementary and high school. The groom just happened to be my first cousin.
Needless to say, I knew many people at this wedding. And before the night was over, they knew I had drank way more than I should have. Thankfully, some who noticed did more than just notice. That night, among other things, helped get me to a place of surrender on September 3.
Alcohol may have been my drinking buddy, but I certainly had family who cared and true friends who kept an eye on me when alcohol clearly had taken over. Call it what you like, but only through human and divine intervention did I make it here.