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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

I raced to get in the library queue for Sarah Hepola's Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget as soon as I read about its release. 

When drinking is such an ubiquitous part of the culture, where is the line between just enough and too much? Sarah Hepola spent a good chunk of her life drinking everyone she knew under the table. It impressed the guys, and was a big part of nights out with the girls. It loosened her up to write, helping her career take off with flying colors. It livened up her dating life. But it frequently ended up in blackouts, those elusive periods of time where she was still conscious and making decisions that would stay with her for a long time, but periods of time that she could just not recall.

This post actually took me a long time to just sit down and write, because Hepola’s work made me think long and hard about my own drinking. First of all, I haven’t had a blackout since college, but that’s in no way shape or form a self-congratulatory remark. I have certainly had more to drink than is within good judgement many, many times in my adult life. One of those times was very recently, and while I won’t go into here, I definitely sent some text messages that were probably better off staying in my head. One particular part in Hepola’s work was her statement (and I’m paraphrasing) that often women believe they were drugged when, in fact, they simply had too much to drink and blacked out. That was a particularly difficult section for me to read, as I have had experience in that arena. It’s not a story I want to spell out on this particular blog, but reading this research made me step back and reexamine what I remember about that night. I know I didn’t have enough alcohol to black out (three beers in two hours is what I call a “light night,” and my suspicions were confirmed that I was, in fact, drugged), but it was enough for me to turn inward and seriously examine my own drinking patterns.

There are few words to describe the impact this book had on me. “Good” doesn’t really work, because it’s about someone’s hard truths revealed through words on paper for the world to see. Hepola’s stories about dating when she finally gets sober are hard to read, because how do you go from wild times and great stories to just having to be…you. There was a level of dating I understood in her stories, being semi-mid-thirties and being out in the world mucking through the bachelors. I felt her pain, and it was pretty raw.

There was also a conversation she had with her best friend that stuck with me. While this memoir was about too much drinking, there was also an undercurrent of what it feels like to get older, and some of the reliance on alcohol being a panacea for that. (Hell, do I ever understand that one.) When she expressed frustration that those she knows who are married with (or even without) children can’t begin to understand how difficult it is to be single at an older age, I felt like I was stabbed in the heart, because I feel the exact same way. I have said many times that most of my friends have “dating amnesia.” It’s been so long since they’ve been single, and they were single at a much younger age than I am, and can’t even begin to recognize how absolutely difficult this is. It’s not to say, as Hepola recognizes in her book, that marriage isn’t hard and children even harder. It’s just a different life, and I felt that Hepola was writing my story in that anecdote. 

This book was incredibly affecting. This candid and raw memoir strikes a chord with anyone who has ever just had too much to drink and wishes they could take a night back. I think any person who has ever attended college can relate to this. (Well, ok, almost every person.) This book, however, is more important than simply being a memoir. Hepola uses her skills as a journalist to dig deep into the research on this very specific topic – women who drink until they blackout – to explain her choices and help her find a way into a sober future. I found this story and its supporting research to be one of the absolute best books I have read this year. Any woman who has ever had too much to drink should consider picking this up. I urge you to move past feeling bad about yourself – there were moments where her stories were just too read to deal with – and use it as a tool to uncover realities about yourself you want to – or don’t want to – face. 

For purchase below. 

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