Twenty-four years ago today I woke in the morning and my first thought was: ‘I’d rather be dead’. Then, I remembered what had happened the night before. This was the miracle. It was the very beginning of a new life; I didn’t know it then, but I had just been reborn.
Why do I say that the miracle was remembering the horror show of the previous evening? Because, given all my past experiences, I shouldn’t have: I had had a blackout.
I want to explain what this is for the benefit of all those lucky people who have never had one. A blackout happens –sometimes, not always- after a certain amount of alcohol has entered your system and, instead of getting drunk and passing out (which is the other possibility), the memory center in your mind shuts down completely -the movie being projected never reaches the screen- as if suddenly the lights had gone out. But the lights do not go out, not for you or for anyone else; the movie continues being projected, but the memory screen in your mind does not receive the images. This may happen while you are sipping your umpteenth cocktail before dinner or just as the dessert is placed in front of you on the table. At that moment, whatever it is that, in your brain, receives the movie so it may project it back for you the following morning, shuts down, blacks out, so to say. But you continue functioning as if nothing had happened; you are not aware that the receiver of memory has shut down. You finish your dessert, you converse or fight with someone, you thank your hostess and leave as if you were fresh as a daisy and then you insist on driving home because it is clear that your husband has had too much to drink.
The following morning you remember that last instant, say, when they put the dessert in front of you and then nothing, absolutely nothing, until the moment you wake up; there is a black hole in your personal history which you will never fill, a stretch of time during which a chapter in the story of your life is omitted. You have no idea who you fought with, how you managed to drive home, if anyone noticed. There was not one morning after a blackout that I did not awake terrified of asking what I had done the previous evening. Sometimes it was terrible; sometimes –surprisingly enough- no one had even noticed that I was drunk. But even on those luckier occasions, the horror of having a black hole in one’s existence is no less. I had long since given up the hope of ever recovering even a second of that lost time.
By that morning of the 26th of March, twenty-four years ago, I had been having blackouts for a long time, and they were becoming more and more frequent. On the previous evening, my husband and I were at our own personal bar at home and I was mad at him, so I had decided to get blind drunk to show him (I am not even going to try to explain the alcoholic logic of that thought). The last thing I remember before the blackout was a slow, festering anger and this illogical decision. That should have been all until the following morning, but it wasn’t.
Around 3a.m., for reasons I will never be able to explain, I suddenly snapped out of the blackout and saw myself. I was standing on one side of our king-size bed, glass in hand, vomiting insults expressed in the vilest language possible from my mouth. My husband stood on the other side of the bed and I will never forget the pained look of despair on his face as he reached for the gun he kept under the mattress. I ran from the room, locked myself in the bedroom that had been my son’s when he lived with us, and went to sleep.
That was the scene I remembered the following morning when my only thought was ‘I’d rather be dead’. That was the miracle I needed: to wake up and see myself, to see what I had become and the hopelessness of the life I was leading. I felt dead, hollow inside, beaten.
I dragged myself out of bed and called a friend who was a psychoanalyst. When she answered, I uttered the understatement of a lifetime: “I think I have a problem with my drinking”. She set up an appointment with a doctor specialized in addictions who, in turn, called the clinic where I ended up the following Monday the 30th of March. I thought I was dying; actually I was being born.
Today, 24 years later, I can look back on the simple miracle of a moment of memory that gave me new life.