My Sober Life, Chapter 12

In which blackouts turn from a funny, “What did I do?!?” to a more frightening, “What did I do…”

BLACKOUT – Medical Definition: to undergo a temporary loss of vision, consciousness, or memory (as from temporary impairment of cerebral circulation, retinal anoxia, a traumatic emotional blow, or an alcoholic binge)

Ahhh, blackouts. The entertainment industry loves this trope. THE HANGOVER movies are built around them. For years, it was a badge of honor. The fuzzy nights, the laughing the next morning, the piecing together. Hilarious recounts of, “Oh my god, you were so wasted!”

These types of nights sometimes come back in flashes, but the majority are just swaths of time completely missing from my memory. Then there are some events where I “come to” at some point during the night, and it’s like waking up. All of sudden, I am trying to figure out where I am and how did I get here and who are these people. 

One such memory found its way back into my forefront, and it unfolds like this: My head hurts. It’s hitting something over and over. It’s not super dark, but the lighting is off. There is some kind of shelf above me. My legs are spread and my dress hiked up to my waist. High heels still on and catching on the rug below. My head is at a weird angle, chin to chest. I look up to see the large underbelly of a sink. Pipes. My head is hitting pipes.

There’s someone on top of me, tie over shoulder, pants around ankles. “Is this what you want?” My feet flail, and I cannot push myself up. I am in pain, and internally, I’m screaming, STOP. But nothing is making it to my mouth. Why am I on the floor? Why are we under a sink? Where am I? I know him. Why is he doing this?

Then it’s over. He’s getting up, cleaning off, zipping up, and walking out. I lie there, confused and hurt. I cry.

This memory came back to me about four or five years ago. All I could remember was the above. And I sat there in disbelief, thinking, was I raped and don’t remember it?

One night not long after this memory returned, I was out on the town and ran into the person who was on the other side of this encounter. After a generous amount of wine, I decided to bring it up to them. They were shocked and upset by my questions. They adamantly denied any ill intent. We didn’t argue, but we didn’t talk much further about it. And that sort of ended it. For awhile.

Over the years, I thought about that night regularly. I vacillated between being upset at him and upset with myself. I kept trying to put the puzzle of that night together, but I finally realized couldn’t do it alone. Four months ago, I reached out to him and told him I wanted to write about that night, but I wanted to do it from a place of truth. In order to do that, I needed to know his side of the story. Would he be willing to help me?

Much to my surprise, he agreed. I wrote up what I thought was a fair representation of my side, and I did my best to get in his shoes and see it from his perspective. After much editing, hemming, hawing, and anxiety, I sent it to him.

He said he had some notes. And wanted to discuss it in person. I did not want to do it. Let’s just converse via email and we do not have to look each other in the eye while we talk about it. But I wanted to know more about that night and his motives. So I said yes. 

We had an excruciatingly uncomfortable, in-depth conversation over dinner. It was specific and awkward. But through it, we discovered details about that night that brought clarity for both of us. After it was done, even though my insides were a roiling mess of anxiety and fear, I was glad I had. I felt confident I was not forced into anything, which was my gut feeling from the beginning, but because my memory could not back it up, I didn’t know. And I no longer needed to write about it in the way I initially intended. It didn’t need to be a he said/she said. I had closure.

The clearest lesson that came from this was how potent my blackouts are. How many times did I get that drunk? How many times did I do something that sober me would not? How many people had I hurt? How many sketchy situations did I put myself in? How many memories are forever erased? I will never know.

Even after I was married with children, I still got blackout drunk. Not all the time, but I had two modes of drinking: 1) one drink and done, or 2) five or more, usually within an hour or two. There were nights when I didn’t come home until three or four in the morning, waking up the next day with no recollection of how I got there. At least two times (that I can remember), I didn’t come home at all. Slowly gaining consciousness on friends’ couches, makeup smeared, mouth dry, stomach churning.

I regularly put myself and my marriage at risk. At some point, I finally had to ask myself, why do you drink like this? Why do you need to numb yourself to the point of forgetting? What are you trying to prove? What are you trying to escape?

I’ve only been sober for 17 months, so I don’t have answers to all of these yet. But as we move to the next phase of chapters, some things have revealed themselves. More closure is to come. And more doors opening.

A heartfelt thank you to the person who helped me find closure in that memory. We haven’t spoken since, but your bravery in speaking openly and honestly with me is a gift. You have my gratitude. Cheers (with grape juice).

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