Sarah Hepola, writer and editor, established herself as the party-girl friend in college. Stories of Hepola’s crazy antics filled every post-party recap. Hepola rarely had any memory of what she had done. She binge-drank and experienced frequent en bloc blackouts, where the drinker loses hours of memories. In college, Hepola’s drinking problem made her the life of the party.
Once she entered her late twenties and early thirties she noticed the shift in friends’ attitudes towards her behavior. Friends no longer laughed along as Hepola fell down stairs, shared inappropriately intimate information and cried on the shoulders of acquaintances, and slept with strange men. As Hepola’s friends distanced themselves from her, she began to question what led her to the decision to prioritize dangerous habits. Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget illustrates how Hepola faced the steps that led her into oblivion and how she was finally able to fight her way out.
Arguably the most common critique of portrayals of alcohol in the media is the glamorization of a problematic behavior. Hepola’s stories of her binge-drinking adventures are anything but glamorous. Hepola admits she thought she was living the kind of enviable, carefree life you see on TV; a single woman in charge of her career, sexuality, and personal life. In her mind, blackouts were so normal and expected that they became a punchline in her writing. She was quashing society’s narrow expectations for women by being bold, brash, and daring. A few lost memories and uncomfortable situations were the prices she paid for what she thought of as freedom.
Her walk towards recovery began when she noticed that friends were avoiding her. She always thought of her destructiveness as endearing, but her friends were maturing and no longer felt the need to use alcohol to have fun. They were rapidly losing patience with her desperate clinging to immature behavior. For a while, she convinced herself her problem was manageable. Reality set in when every attempt to go sober lasted mere days before having to numb herself with alcohol. Whether it was a rough day at work or the first free hour of the weekend, Hepola needed alcohol to deal with her insecurities. She began to realize that was the key reason she began to drink.
Hepola started drinking at the age of seven after a sip of beer left her feeling floaty and carefree. The effervescence of a cheap beer bubbled away the edges of her feelings of abandonment after her mom returned to work. In high school and college, she used alcohol to shed her self-consciousness so she would be more outgoing. She was able to be intimate with men without having reservations about how her looks and actions. As an adult, she used alcohol to plow through work assignments. Hepola had a career and was living in New York City, so she wondered why she still felt the need to drink. It’s rare for an addict to quit cold turkey and be instantly successful at sobriety, so Hepola naturally struggled on her journey.
While Hepola used to view her drunken escapades as hilarious, she portrays the reality of her behavior as the complete opposite. She wasn’t a free, unencumbered feminist living life on her own terms. She was a slave to the bottle trying to avoid the realities of adulthood. Waking up in bed with a stranger she couldn’t remember meeting the previous night wasn’t a patriarchy-smashing expression of sexuality, it was a dangerous game. Blacking out wasn’t an inevitable part of consuming liquor, it was stealing away enormous chunks of her life. Drinking left Hepola in a state of arrested adolescence, delaying development of healthy relationships with friends, work, and sex. Quitting drinking led her to overeat, which further proved that she was looking for excuses to soothe herself. Once she had this epiphany, she was finally able to deal with the issues she’d avoided for so long.
Once she was able to quit drinking, she realized that drinking to avoid problems only increases your problems. Reading about how dependent she was on liquor and seeing her become sober is inspirational for anyone dealing with addiction. Hepola worried that quitting booze would cause her to lose herself. In the end, she was finally able to become the person she’d been oppressing for so long.
Rating: 4 out of 5 empty champagne flutes