From as early as eight years old, Sarah loved beer. She took her first sip at age six, first stole it at seven. In Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank to Forget (Grand Central, 2015), Sarah Hepola, personal essays editor at Salon.com, shares with rare vulnerability and wit how using alcohol spiraled her life downward. She also details how, slowly, she began to take control so that, in the end, she rediscovered the person alcohol buried.
Sara’s memoir, racy, sexy, and sassy, describes alcohol as “the gasoline of all adventure.” “Once,” she writes, “I’d gotten so blasted at a party I woke up in a dog bed, in someone else’s house.” “‘Do you think you got roofied’ [slipped a date-rape knockout pill]? my friend asked me.” “‘Yes,’ I told her. ‘I think someone slipped me ten drinks'” (p. 7).
“Booze gave me permission to do and be whatever I wanted,” says Hepola. “So much of my life had been an endless loop of: ‘Where do you want to go to dinner?’/’I don’t know, where do you want to go to dinner?’ But if I poured some of that gasoline in my tank, I was all mouth. I want Taco Bell now. I want cigarettes now. I want [current boyfriend] Mateo now. And the crazy thing about finally asking for what you wanted is that sometimes–oftentimes–you got it” (p. 73).
But the embarrassment of waking up in someone’s dog bed paled compared with how Sarah felt waking up in bed with men she didn’t remember meeting. The word for her particular lack of recall: blackout. Blackout, in fact, refers to how alcohol can prevent registering the event in the first place; with no input into the brain, there can be no recall, or remembering. “I used to joke I was creating a show called CSI:Hangover, because I would be forced to dig around the apartment like a crime scene investigator, rooting through receipts and other detritus to build a plausible theory of the night’s events…there was something deliciously chaotic about tossing your night up into the air and finding out the next morning what happened. Haven’t you seen The Hangover?” (pp. 13-14).
What generated this alcohol behavior? Was it Helpola’s mother’s Irish descent? Was it her father, whose own father experienced a breakdown caused by mental illness, alcoholism, or both? “But most of my dad’s past, like my dad himself, was a mystery to me” (p. 33). In spite of Hepola finding her parents courtship charming, was it their nightly arguments? “But at night, in our cramped house, their fights curled like smoke underneath their bedroom door. And as tender as my mother could be, an Irish fire lurked in her, too. I could hear her voice each night, bitten by frustration. The tone that always made the veins on the side of her neck stand up like cords. Why can’t you do this right, John? Why can’t you listen, John? (p. 34).
Whatever the reasons for Hepola’s addiction to alcohol, in college, after acting in a particularly embarrassing way in front of her friends (she didn’t remember what she did), she begins her long journey to sobriety with questions: “What did it mean that I hid when I was sober, and stripped off all my clothes when I was blind drunk? What did it mean that I adored my roommate, but I lashed out at her after seven drinks? What did it mean that I didn’t love Dave (or maybe I did), but would slay dragons to win his approval? I needed to expose the deeper meaning here” (p. 78). The change was not immediate, of course, but she had begin the journey with a first step.
[ Next blog: Sarah’s Recovery. Photo: pixabay.com]