3 min

Blacking Out Is Not Normal

“Not it!”

My college girlfriends stood around the dorm room, everyone with a finger to their nose except me. It was their way of deciding who would take care of me later that night. 

I was known for blacking out. 

I preferred to get drunk fast. My go-to was shots of cheap vodka that smelled like permanent marker, chased with Arizona iced tea. One night I blacked out at a party and vaguely remembered my crush being there. I shot up out of bed the next morning, hungover and panicked. My roommate was sitting at her desk. I gasped and Ellie responded, “Yup.” 

“Ellie, what did I do? Was it bad?”

“Yes, Charlie, it was bad.” 

It was horrible. I told the guy I liked him but also yelled at him (WTF??). And at one point I think I was begging him to tell me if he liked me. When he left I chased after him. We were in the stairwell together. It’s not a memory; just a snapshot. Was I trying to get him to kiss me?? To this day, I don’t know exactly what happened. 

How could I continue to let myself black out after that experience? 

It was because I felt uncomfortable in my skin. Blacking out gave me a free pass. The feelings of self-loathing and discomfort went away. And I couldn’t be held accountable for any stupid behavior because I couldn’t remember. I thought I was being carefree. I thought I was being likeable.

The last time I blacked out I was 32.

I had moved from LA to live with my now-husband in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sam had already been living there for a few years and had a circle of friends. All married couples. The wives were very nice but their lives seemed a stark contrast to mine. They graduated from Ivy League schools and had law degrees. They wore designer clothes. They lived in big houses and had babies. I worked in a restaurant and struggled to call myself a writer because I was barely writing. I didn’t grow up with money and had a chip on my shoulder when it came to “rich” people. I resented them. I stereotyped them. I felt less-than around them.

One night we went out to dinner for one of the women’s birthdays. Sitting around the table I felt anxious. I had nothing to say, nothing to offer. Every time I felt self-conscious I took a sip of sake. It came in a huge can so I was able to keep refilling my small, porcelain cup without anyone noticing.  

And then I blacked out.

I woke with a gasp the next morning, hungover and panicked. 

I had fallen asleep at the table and Sam had to escort me out of the restaurant. He wasn’t mad so much as disappointed, which felt even worse. I was 32 years old and had blacked out at a dinner party. 

I texted the women, apologizing. They were all very sweet in their replies but the damage had been done. The birthday girl - the only one I actually really liked and connected with - disappeared from our lives. 

It was embarrassing to black out in college but it was completely demoralizing to black out as an adult. It no longer felt acceptable. I could no longer justify blacking out without acknowledging there were deeper issues I needed to confront. 

That experience was a turning point in my relationship with alcohol. It was difficult to address my demons without feeling shame and embarrassment but Sam created space to make me feel safe and supported. 

I didn’t want to black out anymore. I wanted to be myself in front of people, uncomfortable or not. There’s nothing fun about having no recollection of how you acted or what you said. There’s nothing safe about losing all control of your decision-making skills. There’s nothing cool about being the drunkest girl at the party. 

I suppose if anyone expressed concern for my drinking habits in college I would have told them I was totally fine. I was just having fun and jumping off the bridge with everyone else. No matter what anyone said, the trajectory would have probably remained the same. 

Turning points in our lives don’t happen when we’re doing well. They happen when we’re at our worst. It took me a long time to realize blacking out wasn’t normal. But once I did, it was a catalyst for change. I wanted to feel confident and happy simply by being me. And I realized drinking to get drunk was monopolizing my time, health, relationships, and creativity. 

Whatever our vices and struggles, the way out begins with self-awareness and a desire to be whole. 

I’m not ashamed of my past discretions. I’m a better person because of them. 


Much thanks to Sam Charrington and Kelvin Obakhavbaye for feedback on this essay.