Emily Strohm
September 07, 2016 10:00 AM

One of the scariest lows Elizabeth Vargas hit while battling her alcohol addiction was the day she blacked out for 13 hours.

“It was terrifying once I started to hear the particulars,” Vargas, 54, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue. “I will never know who that person was that saved my life.”

Vargas woke up in a New York City hospital unaware of how she got there and, to this day, still doesn’t know exactly what happened.

“I spent a lot of time and energy after that trying to pry a memory out around that padlocked door, and I can’t,” she says. “I was sure that in a few weeks … I could get something out. No. I don’t remember anything.”

After wrapping a shoot for 20/20, Vargas began drinking a bottle of wine she had bought earlier in the day and stashed in her purse to help with her hangover.

That’s the last thing she remembers.

On the afternoon of July 7, 2012, she was picked up by a Good Samaritan who spotted her wandering in the city and drove her home. By the time they arrived at her apartment, Vargas was unconscious and had to be taken to the emergency room.

“I’ve heard people talk about it. Some people do black out,” she says. “I had never done that. It was terrible. I could have died.”

Elizabeth Vargas
Eric Ogden
Patrick Dempsey on the cover of PEOPLE

For more on Elizabeth Vargas’ battle with addiction, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Between Breaths
Peter Zambouros

Now in recovery, the ABC anchor is grateful for everyday she has sober – and she’s sharing her story in her new book, Between Breaths (out Tuesday).

“Addiction is a hopeless, dark place,” she says. “I have great empathy for people trapped there. And I hope my story can help someone else.”

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