The Girl on the Train Made Me Remember: Blackouts are Not Normal

I usually don’t see myself taking a drink.  It’s more the aftermath. The stretch of time between being drunk and what happens next is what is most terrifying.  All of a sudden in what seems like a 5 minute period of time, I’m back on my face with nothing to cling to and nothing to call my own and nothing short of horrifying pieced together memories.

Drinking dreams.  After a good many years sober, I still have them.  And today I’m thankful they get me.  It’s a great reminder.

Like most folks, I think, my worst nightmare is leaving my life. Prematurely. These dreams are a jolt to my system.  They help me remember just how bad it was.  My worst fear is leaving the people who count on me and me never seeing them again.

What is different about my dreams though is that I would cause this to happen.  It isn’t that my family is ripped from me, it’s that I would drink again and be the cause for so much heartache and loss.  Yet, this is a real possibility as I am an alcoholic.  Alcoholics drink.  Until we make the decision to stop and stay stopped every day. Until we do the work.

None of it is easy, but sobriety is so much easier to keep than to get.

I won’t spoil it for you, but I just finished reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  Oh man.  I was intimately engaged with this main character while she went through her day to day, minute to minute life as an active alcoholic.  While I dug the suspense and the book itself, I wasn’t prepared for the effect of the main character on my dreams.  On my heart. On my memory. She suffers from blackouts.  She cannot remember what she did while in a blackout.  She struggles to piece together the mystery of what happened and with whom she spoke.

She’s an alcoholic.  She’s struggled with infertility and loss.  She’s suffered ruined relationships because of it.  She tries every day to get better but keeps sabotaging herself.  It’s a wonder I got through this book at all because it is so familiar, but I like to keep my past close so I don’t repeat it. And man, was this one close.  Too close.

Mine started in college. The blacking out. The walking (kind of) talking (sort of) functioning (barely) but having absolutely no memory of it. It happened hundreds of times.  It’s not a convenient excuse, it is TERRIFYING.  It is EXCRUCIATING.  It’s not passing out, it’s being upright and interacting and having no memory. I really and truly, honest to pete, thought that’s what happened to everyone when they drank.

I would come to with terrible bruises and cuts and blood and missing all kinds of things and have absolutely no idea what happened.  The worst of it all though is the disregard for myself and only worrying about what others thought.  And even then not for long as I would go on to find the next fix. To numb it all out once again. Carry on the cycle of despair.  All while trying to hide how absolutely awful I felt about myself.

It’s as if it was projected from a neon sign on my forehead, as if everyone knew my shame and regret. Remorse and self hate.  And in return, they treated me thusly.  Until I changed.  

I remember so many days waking somewhere and having no memory of what happened the night before.  I would ask people to fill me in.  After a while, I would only ask people I didn’t know well as I didn’t want anyone close to me to know I didn’t remember.  That I was that bad off.  As if they didn’t know.

The searching, the grasping at straws, the looking for clues in every little thing, the terror, the shame, the remorse, the wanting to crawl under the covers and never come out.  The wanting to claw your face off with the wondering and the questioning what is going to pop up to haunt you today. It’s hell.  It’s hell on earth living this way.

SO WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES? WHY CAN’T WE STOP DRINKING?

Because my disposition does not mix well with alcohol.  My chemical and emotional make up does not allow me to drink like normal people can drink. And that’s ok.  Once I accept that I’m not like normal drinkers, once I get a handle on it and keep remembering that’s who I am I can quit.  With the help of other like minded folks and much perseverance, I can quit.  The trick is continuing to remember every single day forever.  One day at a time.  I can do anything for 24 hours, right?

On the days I forget or think it might be a good idea to drink, I talk to people who get it.  I go to a meeting.  I do what I need to do to get through it one more day no matter what. There is nothing so bad that drinking won’t make 10 times worse.

Blackouts are not a normal part of drinking.  For anyone reading this, please know it’s not normal to have no memory of what you did while you drinking.  It’s not normal to feel absolute shame and remorse when you come to.  It’s time to question your drinking when this happens often.

The easiest thing for me to do when I was drinking was to run.  Physically and emotionally, I ran.  From people, responsibilities, pain, reality, life.  I ran away.  So the train (and this book centered around the train) is a perfect metaphor for escape into nowhere.  I’ve taken the train a million times in my life, but since I’ve been sober and more particularly, since I’ve had kids, I don’t feel like I’m escaping anything.  If anything, it’s a straight trip TO MY HOME.  TO MY EVERYTHINGS.  If I’m lucky and do the work, I always have a home.

Home is your people, not even a place, really.  Today I have people.

I do have that gut instinct to run.  I think we all do.  But today I don’t have to act on it.  I don’t have to start the cycle up again.  The escape, the blackouts, the regret, the starting all over.  It’s the staying that matters.  It’s the staying that tests you and tells you your worth.  Anyone can run.  Anyone can escape.  Staying is the thing.

I see the pain on the train tracks.  I see the sadness and regret and despair.  I SEE YOU.  I see your desire to change.  I see you trying and falling and getting back up again.  I fall too.  I also see hope and courage and strength and love.  It’s hard. It’s all hard.  But the payoff when you stay is everything. It’s everything you ever searched for or dreamed.  Running or staying.  Which direction do you choose?

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