How Did I Get Home Last Night? My Bizarre, Panicked Life as a Blackout Drinker

The following is adapted and excerpted from "Blackout: Remember the Things I Drank to Forget," coming out June 23 (Grand Central).

I met my friend Allison at a Mexican restaurant. We hadn’t seen each other in years. It had been so long that, as I scanned the menu and failed to listen to the waiter recite the evening’s specials, I couldn’t stop my mind from tunneling back through time in an effort to pinpoint when we last hung out. This is a form of bragging for me. I pride myself on remembering more than anyone else.

“I know,” I said. “Your 36th birthday party,” and I smacked the table like it was a buzzer.

“You’re right!” she said.

That party was such a blast. Three years later, I can still remember so much about it: How her cozy Park Slope apartment was strung up with Christmas lights. How I planned to stop by for a quick drink, maybe three, before heading to another party across town. How I charmed her chic 20-something colleagues from the online fashion magazine with my big ideas about female comedians and sex.

But of all the details I can summon, one I cannot is how I got home that night. Trying to remember the end of that evening now is like watching a movie with a reel of film missing. I’m talking to this girl on the back porch, I’m laughing with this girl on the back porch, and then … the screen goes blank. CUT TO: Me, in my Williamsburg loft at 6 a.m., the white curtains billowing in the breeze.

I’d had blackouts since the first time I got drunk. If you’ve never had a blackout, then you might not understand the singular horror of waking up to discover that time is missing. People often confuse blackout with passing out, but the experiences are quite different. A person who is passed out is unconscious. A person in a blackout is very much awake: Walking, talking, singing bad karaoke. You keep going, even as your long-term memory shuts down. Sometimes my blackouts were only a few minutes, a temporary outage, but a few lasted hours, and the first 10 seconds of a hungover Sunday morning were a checklist of panic: Did I remember how I got home? Was anyone lying beside me? Did I have any cuts or bruises? I woke to strange data sets. Orange juice on the counter, refrigerator door flapping open. My vibrator tossed on the living room couch. Once I woke up with a half-eaten corn dog in my hand and a smear of mustard across my face. But I was starving, so I ate it.

Allison leaned in at the table. “Oh my God, do you remember that night?” she asked, and I braced myself. Anyone with a drinking history learns to hate those words. The wrecking ball is about to arrive.

“Actually, I don’t,” I said.

“You fell down my staircase.”

I covered my face with my hands and peeked at Allison through the slats of my fingers. “Yeah, I used to do that.“

“My stairs were marble,” she said. “It was terrifying. Honestly, I’d never seen anything like it. You don’t remember this at all?”

No, but I was familiar with the habit. By my mid-30s, I had drunkenly tumbled down rickety outdoor wooden steps and glamorous winding staircases. I don’t know what’s crazier: That I drank as long as I did, or that I kept wearing heels. Once, I tripped down the narrow metal staircase of a Turkish restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and wound up in St. Vincent’s hospital with a concussion and the world’s most excruciating hangover. But what was most remarkable about these extravagant nosedives was how painless and without consequence they often were. I’d get up, dust myself off, and grab another drink. OK. What’s next?

“I can’t even remember how I got home that night,” I told Allison.

“Oh I remember,” she said. “We put you in a cab.”

Thank God for cabbies. Other people can give teary testimonials to the cops and the fire department, but as far as I’m concerned, cabbies are the superheroes of New York City. They have ferried me safely home when I couldn’t see straight — I mean, when I literally held one hand over an eye to keep from spinning. They have driven me up and down the same few blocks while I tried to figure out which of the blurry row houses was my blurry row house.

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