I was terrified by the idea of a blackout; the fact that you could walk, talk, dance, have sex - all seemingly consciously - yet have no recall of any of it, even when prompted.
Imagine the humiliation of having to call friends to find out what happened between, say, being at a restaurant and waking up in a stranger's bed.
Sarah Hepola, in her wonderful memoir - Blackout - describes it lyrically:
If you're like me, you know the thunderbolt of waking up to discover a blank space where pivotal scenes should be. My evenings came with trap doors....
....A curtain falling in the middle of the act, leaving minutes and sometimes hours in the dark. But anyone watching me wouldn't notice. They'd simply see a woman on her way to somewhere else, with no idea her memory just snapped in half.
The cause of blackouts is that, at a certain blood-alcohol content - around 0.3%, the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for making long term memories) shuts down.
Your short term memory still functions, but it can only retain detail for around two minutes, which is why people in a blackout often repeat themselves, like a talking goldfish.
The scary thing is that as those memories have never been stored, they can never be recalled, so even when your friends tell you what you did the night before, it doesn't help you to remember.
(This was central to the plot of the bestseller 'Girl on the Train' by Paula Hawkins. If you haven't read it, then do. A great page turner about an alcoholic - what's not to like?)
I was thinking about all of this in light of my post yesterday on the documentary 'Drinking to Oblivion,' where I'd concluded that there is no black and white to alcoholism, just ever darkening shades of grey.
That's when it struck me that I may not have had blackouts, but I'd definitely, and with increasing frequency, had memory 'issues'.
Because a blackout requires a certain level of blood saturation, you are most likely to have one if you drink strong alcohol, particularly quickly, and on an empty stomach.
(Women, with their lower body weights and higher fat ratios, are more at risk than men).
I only drank wine. Buckets of it, admittedly, but sipped over long periods, and I'd usually eat at some point. That's probably how I avoided the problem.
But, at a lower level of blood saturation (around 0.2%) you can experience 'fragmentary blackouts,' sometimes called 'brownouts.'
These are more like a light flickering on and off in your brain - you remember many details, but not all of them.
And that was me. Not often, but occasionally.
For example, I would go to a party and stay until 4am, and yet the period of time between, say, 1am and 4am would be a bit of a blur. I'd think back over all the people I talked to and conversations I'd had and I'd remember a fair bit, but only about one hour's worth.
Where did all the time go? I'd ask myself.
I thought maybe it was just the fact that time seemed to speed up when you were 'having fun.' But it never happens to me now.... (And I am still having fun, honestly!)
The other sign that I was heading down that slippery slope towards rock bottom was 'handbag panic.'
Several times over the last year or two of my love affair with booze, I would wake up, as per usual, at 3am, sweating alcohol and hating myself.
I would, after a bit of rummaging around in the memory banks, be able to remember how I got home, but I'd have a total panic about what I did with my handbag.
I have a beautiful Chanel clutch which Mr SM bought me on my fortieth birthday, and I would hyperventilate with fear that I'd left it at the party, or in a taxi.
At this point I would roam the house and my bedroom, using the torch on my iPhone, so as not to wake anyone, until I located the bag (which I always did). Then I'd toss and turn until past dawn.
It's only now I realise that those were 'brownouts.' My memory was flicking on and off, so I would get fragments of conversations, of a taxi journey, and so on, but some details (like where I put my bag) just disappeared through the trapdoor.
You see, it's really not black and white - just shades of grey (or brown).
And now I never lose time, or handbags, or my mind. Hurrah for that.
Love SM x