In my 68th year, I was drinking so much wine that I had blackouts almost every night. Blacking out is different from passing out. You walk, you talk, some people even drive, but you have no memory of it. You’re one of the walking dead.
One morning shortly before I quit drinking, I found some shards of glass on the kitchen floor. “Wonder what these are from,” I said to my husband.
He looked at me oddly. “You don’t remember?” I shook my head.
He explained. The night before we’d been sitting at the kitchen table when a light fixture fell down and smashed on the table directly in front of me. I had remembered nothing about it, though gradually bits came back to me.
It’s extremely frightening not to know what you’ve said or done in a period of time, especially since you often behave quite differently when you’re drinking–weep, lash out in anger, throw yourself at people, stagger, fall, laugh loudly, dance on the table. You could behave like a complete lunatic, insult your best friend, end up in jail, and have no memory of how it happened.
Apparently, when your blood alcohol level is very high, there’s a chemical reaction in the brain that blocks the formation of new memories. It’s as though it never happened. Bits of your life that you’ve lived, but not lived. If you fall down and break a bone, do you feel the pain? Certainly when the alcohol wears off. The bone is still broken. But during the episode? Do you somehow remember the pain without remembering how you got it?
What if you did something really horrific? Killed someone, say. People tell you you’ve done it, say they saw you do it, but you have no memory of it. What would that be like? How could you ever take it in as something you’re responsible for, part of your experience? If you can’t remember doing it, who is the person who did it? Did you intend to? If not, whose intention was it?
It’s all very confusing. And frightening.
I am glad to be sober.