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The holiday season is a reminder of holidays past- some of them which we may remember and some of them which we may not. If we have lived with active alcoholism in our lives, we may have spent many a holiday celebration under the influence of alcohol, the point that we blacked out. A blackout is when we become overly intoxicated with alcohol to a point of being unconscious. We may walk, talk, drive, and continue to participate in life, but we aren’t fully there. Large portions of our memories disappear, leaving many of our holiday memories blank.

Alcoholism, or the abuse of alcohol, is often a coping mechanism. If we have experienced significant trauma in our life, of any kind, we may have turned to alcohol as a way to cope with the painful emotions and memories. The holiday season can be particularly triggering, which is why we drank more heavily during the late fall and winter months.

Not everyone will completely lose their memories of the holiday due to a blackout because there are two different kinds of blacking out. First is the “en bloc”, in which someone completely loses all memory of the period of time they were blacked out. Second is the “fragmentary” blackout, in which someone will maintain some amount of memory recall for short time periods. Those with fragmentary memories can have their memory activated with a simple reminder.

How Blackouts Happen

Research into the neuroscience of a blackout has found that there is a significant disruption in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is one of the brain’s most important regions for creating memories. During a blackout, the brain goes through a form of amnesia, losing its ability to form new memories. This is why people can still be active in their physical behaviors, having conversations, and participating in life, but they won’t be able to remember any of it the next day.

Staying Sober Through The Holidays

Memories of having no-memories from holiday celebrations past can be difficult. Guilt, shame, and deep remorse might accompany you in addition to thankfulness, gratitude, and season’s cheers. If you are in recovery this year, you have plenty to celebrate and be thankful for. Each moment that you stay sober is a gift to yourself and everyone around you. The past is in the past. Raise a non-alcoholic toast to a new life, a new year, and a new start.