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Category Archives: Drinking

Alcoholic blackouts: the cheat’s guide to LIVING IN THE NOW

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Just being in the moment – like, being in the moment – without your critical mind wittering on about future or past concerns (or providing a running commentary of the moment: “this is nice, isn’t it?”), is a simple concept that’s the bedrock of much new agery and ancient philosophy… but it’s fiendishly hard to achieve.

Unless you’re one of those drinkers to whom blackouts come naturally.

Here we have a state of mind that perfectly encapsulates living in the now. The word ‘blackout’ is misleading. It suggests a limbic paintbrush obliterating your night’s doings, a blight that could be reversed with time and patience, but in actual fact it refers to something more phenomenal.

According to The Alcoholic Blackout: Walking, Talking, Unconscious and Lethal, by Donal F Sweeney, when in a blackout you cannot form even short-term memories, due to a neuroreceptor in your hippocampus being rendered useless by sheer volume of grog and failing to pass on information. Drink too fast, too hard, too soon, on too little, and you’re trying to spark a Zippo with no gas. Connections are not made; you are literally living in the now. A person in a blackout could be wandering along train tracks and notice a train is coming, but lack the subsequent thought processes needed to put two and two together. Like a goldfish, you’d notice again two seconds later, then forget.

No amount of brow furrowing, piecing together of likelihoods, second-person accounts, injured silences from loved ones, or cops standing with folded arms is going to miraculously summon forth memories you never made in the first place. But at least – for one inglorious night – true enlightenment has been yours. Take that, Tolle!

Did John Butler 12-step me?*

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I was locked in a Tarago with the John Butler Trio, concentrating fiercely. They were playing Newcastle; I was leeching along with my dictaphone. Beneath all the talk of new songs, uranium mines and the importance of cracking the States, I could hear an undercurrent of something – a hidden message of some sorts.

John talked about the importance of being fully present, about putting out his intention and handing over his will.

My ears pricked up. I’d recently started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and I recognised these patterns of speech. Up till that point I’d been about as spiritual as a sock; suddenly I was the empty vessel into which talk of ‘acceptance’, ‘handing it over’ and ‘living in the now’ poured – usually in the form of a rhyme or acronym. Now John was revealing he’d heard them too. I was possum eyed with excitement. He was one of us.

Veering wildly off the interview script, I started throwing in some unusual questions. “Do you have a few drinks before you go on stage?” I asked. “What about after?”

John frowned, perhaps presuming I’d run out of Wiki ammo and was about to ask him his favourite colour. He might, he said, perhaps have a few beers. It was my turn to frown. So that wasn’t it. He must be Narcotics Anonymous.

What I had failed to realise, being a wet-behind-the-ears newb, was that while the foundations of AA may be built upon Jungian theory and cognitive restructuring, in recent years it’s acquired plenty of Eckhart Tolle-isms, mindfulness, and an appreciation of pop spirituality, like The Secret.

As Jung himself wrote to AA founding father Bill Wilson, “‘alcohol’ in Latin is ‘spiritus’ and you use the same word for the highest religious experience as for the most depraving poison.” No wonder the same spiritual path that attracted John – who has often spoken of having an awakening, aged 20 – is adopted by reformed boozehounds who have both lost their religion and had an awakening themselves.

AA wound up being a crash course for me, as I decided to home school myself after being told I was spiritually sick and unlikely to get better… but I’ll never forget that illuminating moment of identification the day I interviewed John.

* No. I snuck a peek at JB’s rider when he was on stage. He’s definitely not a friend of Bill W, but he does read The Secret.