In this essay, I am hypothesizing about the motivations of people who regularly get blackout drunk, not a person new to drinking who accidentally drinks too much too quickly based on inexperience.
Have you ever experienced being blackout drunk, also known as "alcohol induced amnesia"? An interesting thing happens when our body's alcohol level gets too high, too fast: our hippocampus, the part of our brain that is responsible for writing and storing memories, is unable to. When this happens, we will have a gap in our memory. A missing piece of time.
This brings to mind my favorite philosopher René Descartes' famous claim, "I think therefore I am." In his work, "Meditations on Philosophy," he deduces that we can know we truly exist because we are thinking beings (human thinkings?), capable of doubting. But what if you don't remember thinking? Were you in fact still thinking? And if you weren't thinking, did you cease to exist? Neuroscience tells us that we were in fact still thinking while blackout drunk: the brain simply did not store the memory of the thoughts we had during the time period where we we had too much alcohol in our bloodstream (specifically, the hippocampus is no longer able to store long term memories, but because your short term memory still works, you can remember 3 minutes of your existence at a time — the most recent 3 — so you can still participate in conversation, activities, etc., and appear completely normal to those around you). It's interesting to me to consider that all of our lives' experiences transform into memories of thoughts we had while experiencing them.
Unless we're blackout drunk. If you have ever been blackout drunk, I ask you this question: what was the point? If being tipsy or drunk allows you to feel more socially uninhibited and to feel "good," what is the point of feeling this way, if you can't remember how "good" it felt? It might as well have never happened at all.
Now, you know I never ask a question rhetorically so we’ll come back to “the point” of getting blackout drunk in a moment.
First, a claim of my own: our actions are the indicators of our desires. For example, when we do nothing, it’s because we want nothing done. (I realize that claim demands its own essay, one that dives into the nature of ambivalence as well. But for today, I am deducing only root causes.)
Being blackout drunk is potentially dangerous for a person's physical body: they could trip, fall, or incur some other injury that causes or hastens death. If our actions are the indicators of our desires, then when we take an action (getting blackout drunk) which increases the likelihood of death, I posit to you that it is because we desire to die (whether consciously or unconsciously).
Further, the next day, a person recovering from being blackout drunk will feel awful, physically. They have taken an action that leads to feeling "bad." In a sense, they have punished themselves. But why? Why did they desire to ultimately feel bad? I would ask them, "What did you do? What did you do that deserves punishment?" And when they can't remember minutes or hours of the previous night (or day), I would ask them, "What is it that you really want to forget? What happened? What do you keep remembering that makes you feel compelled to seek punishment?" Further, the reaction to the realization that one can't remember a whole block of time should be terror and horror. But it usually isn't: in fact, it's often relief. "Well, at least I can't remember what I did when I was drunk!" The desire for death is so repressed that the person reacts with a shrug of the shoulders to the realization that they experienced being under de facto general anesthesia the night before. This is a cause for deep concern.
Next, beyond the desire in our minds to live or to die, there is a desire to exist or not to exist. A blank spot in time checks us out of the hotel we call earth, if only temporarily: we get a short respite from having to endure the task of living life itself. But, if you can’t remember, then you might as well have not existed at all. If you aren't actively recording memories, you have no way of verifying your own existence, being certain that you did in fact exist at or within a specific set of space and time coordinates. "I remember what I did, therefore I existed," as it were.
Now, if a person takes an action which prevents the recording of a memory of their own existence, I submit to you that it’s because they don’t want there to be a memory — a record — of their existence. And the person who desires no record of their existence desires not just death, but obliteration: Complete and total destruction of their self along with any and all evidence that they once existed.
When we get blackout drunk, we erase a memory: in a way, we pre-forget. Now, you might counter, maybe the person who gets blackout drunk just wants to forget a temporary period of time spent out carousing? The problem with that objection is that we don't perceive being alive as "I am experiencing a temporary period of time spent being alive." No, we perceive ourselves as being (basically, baseline) alive, i.e. the thought or declaration of the obvious: "I'm alive." No one ever said, "It's great to be experiencing a temporary period of time being spent alive!!" We say, "it's great to be alive!!" Moreover, we don’t have any way of calculating how many minutes the blackout will last either. So when someone is in this dark psychic/emotional space, they could be risking a permanent blackout.
Here, I posit to you that the blackout drunken person is actually deeply suicidal. How else would we describe risking death along side the underlying desire to blot out one’s own record of existing?
This person would present (I posit) as unaware of this desire to die in waking everyday life. The desire is not suppressed, meaning stuck in the subconscious mind, but repressed—so deeply denied by the person in everyday life that only the most primal (autopilot) parts of the brain store the desire. Which they are then acting on by getting blackout drunk. It’s far more sinister than regular depression or suicidal ideation because the person who gets blackout drunk doesn't just want to die and want the memory of their entire existence to be erased—they have no conscious awareness of it! They then wouldn’t be as likely to consider therapy, spiritual comfort, or other support because they’re not necessarily feeling the anguish or anxiety that often precipitates reaching out.
Drawing “Anguish” by artist Kirsty Rogers
As a brief aside, it is interesting to note that suicidal ideation in children and young people often begins with the thought, “I wish I had never been born” and progresses to “I wish I were dead” before they get to (if they get to) the point of actively contemplating suicide. The desire for obliteration comes first.
Thank you, dear subscribers, for reading and subscribing and commenting — it means so much. As always, any feedback on this argument is much appreciated as eventually all my nonpolitical essays will be knitted together in a final thesis paper (“All of earth is a dungeon and then one day God lets us out through the mercy of death” because I can’t prove “We live in hell” without citing religious works, as mentioned in previous posts). There is much much joy to be experienced in this world, and my goal is to use logic to deduce insights into problems that are caused by anguish that can seem unsolvable. If we can better understand the causes of anguish, I wonder if those new insights can also help us find better solutions, ideas that will reduce pain and increase joy. My own faith motivates me. I believe we are all grounded in this dungeon together to learn forgiveness and to embrace opportunities to bring joy to — or at the very least, reduce/prevent the pain of — those around us. Though all of our pain and suffering will end when we die (I believe and cannot prove), so too will end all the opportunities to bring joy (or useful information) to others that would have made their existence that much less painful.
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That's an interesting conjecture about the roots of blackout alcoholism, but the hippocampus is just one of several areas of interest here. Take a look at images or models of the brains of alcoholics for the horrid damage done by alcoholism. "Increased alcohol intake is associated with damage to brain regions including the frontal lobe, limbic system, and cerebellum, with widespread cerebral atrophy, or brain shrinkage caused by neuron degeneration." (From "Alcohol-related brain damage" at Wikipedia.) Perhaps there is a subconscious wish for annihilation among the habitually blacked out. Another possibility is that atrophy damages parts responsible for desiring life. And is it both of these?