Blackouts, Vulnerability and Banter: The Dangerous Intersection Between Having Fun and Ruining Your Life

Last term, I discovered that I had an alter ego.

My alter-ego emerged when regular me had blacked out from alcohol. She would get with people she shouldn’t have, fall over, knock wing mirrors off of cars, stumble home alone, cover herself in bruises, chat shit, and generally ruin regular me’s life.

I would then wake up the following morning, sometimes with a boy in my bed who certainly shouldn’t have been there, filled with regret, shame and fear about what went on the night before.

We’ve all been there.

But this wasn’t a one-off, or my ‘worst alcohol experience’.

This was becoming regular, and it was becoming worrying.

I’ve always been a heavy drinker since the early days when we used to steal vodka from our parent’s cabinets and drink until we vomited in fields. I became known as the ‘chunder dragon’ in Sixth Form and the excessive drinking combined with an inherent ability to say no and a massive Fear of Missing Out meant that I was going out 3-4 times a week during first and second year, with a year abroad, which was basically freshers all over again, becoming another year of alcohol-fuelled hedonism.

But this term, something changed. The problem was, I think, that the alter ego became an in-joke. A source of banter between my housemates, my friends, my sports club pals. ‘Is she coming out tonight?’ was a question asked at every pre-drinks. I’d inevitably proclaim loudly that no, I was being sensible tonight, before inevitably I blacked out, the alter ego emerged, and the terrible cycle repeated itself again and again.

Did turning the alter ego into something that we should have been worried about into something funny, revered and almost ironically idolised turn it into something potentially dangerous? Did we turn vulnerability into banter?

Drinking is part of any university, school, and workplace culture. Weekly sports socials, nights out with friends, drinks down the pub, it’s all part of our day to day life. Although certainly not for everyone, it provides us with incredible memories, funny stories, in-jokes and iconic moments, a chance to cement friendships, the opportunity to dance, sing, smoke, hoe around, make tits out of ourselves, and forget about our responsibilities for a night. We’ve all drank too much. We’ve all blacked out, we’ve all made fools out of ourselves, we’ve all woken up the next morning feeling worse for wear and with that fear of not knowing who you spoke to or what you did. We will all claim to never drink again, before chugging VKs at Friday TP a mere week after.

But should we be more concerned about blacking out, the safety of our friends, and their inherent vulnerability when they’re in that state of weakness, rather than passing it off as funny and making a joke out of it?

Yes, Exeter is a relatively safe place compared to big cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, or London. But sexual assaults and crime are undeniably on the rise and walking home alone is neither sensible nor as safe as you would hope it would be, especially when you don’t know where you are and even who you are at that point. The boys I’ve brought home have been, thankfully, one’s I have known (although definitely still shouldn’t have got with), but what if it was a stranger? What if you wake up in a stranger’s bed with no idea where you are? What if the guy you get with takes advantage? It doesn’t bear thinking about, but the possibility is, unfortunately, there. Certain situations this term have made me realise how lucky I was that all I ended up with after a night out was a bit of shame, a couple of bruises, and a sore head. It could have been so much worse.

Something has now clicked in me and so far, the end of term 1 and beginning of term 2 have been much more sensible as I learn to balance my alcohol consumption with having fun and actually remembering the night.

We will all still black out from too much alcohol. We will all still make mistakes and do things we regret. But please, don’t intersect vulnerability with banter. Take care of your friends, help them learn their lesson, help them to cut down their drinking that leads them to this reckless kind of behaviour, and don’t turn their potentially dangerous and volatile binge drinking habits into an in-joke which fuels itself in a self-perpetuating cycle. Drinking is fun. Let’s keep it that way.