Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget


By Sarah Hepola

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A memoir of unblinking honesty and poignant, laugh-out-loud humor, Blackout is the story of a woman stumbling into a new kind of adventure — the sober life she never wanted.

For Sarah Hepola, alcohol was “the gasoline of all adventure.” She spent her evenings at cocktail parties and dark bars where she proudly stayed till last call. Drinking felt like freedom, part of her birthright as a strong, enlightened twenty-first-century woman.

But there was a price. She often blacked out, waking up with a blank space where four hours should be. Mornings became detective work on her own life. What did I say last night? How did I meet that guy? She apologized for things she couldn’t remember doing, as though she were cleaning up after an evil twin. Publicly, she covered her shame with self-deprecating jokes, and her career flourished, but as the blackouts accumulated, she could no longer avoid a sinking truth. The fuel she thought she needed was draining her spirit instead.

A memoir of unblinking honesty and poignant, laugh-out-loud humor, Blackout is the story of a woman stumbling into a new kind of adventure — the sober life she never wanted. Shining a light into her blackouts, she discovers the person she buried, as well as the confidence, intimacy, and creativity she once believed came only from a bottle. Her tale will resonate with anyone who has been forced to reinvent or struggled in the face of necessary change. It’s about giving up the thing you cherish most — but getting yourself back in return.


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I was 33, and lying on a futon in the middle of the day watching a talk show, because I could. I was a freelance writer in New York, and I was hungover, and try to stop me.

The show was discussing roofies. GHB, Rohypnol, the date rape drugs. This was 2007, but I'd been hearing about roofies since the late '90s: odorless, colorless substances dropped into a drink to erase memory, like something out of a sci-fi movie. I'd recently seen a network crime drama in which the heroine was slipped a roofie and woke up in a dangerous man's house. Every once in a while, motherly types (including my actual mother) worried I might be vulnerable to this invisible menace. The talk show host, for one, was very concerned. Ladies, cover your drinks.

I had a different drinking problem, although I wouldn't have used the word "problem," at least not without air quotes. One morning, I woke up in the living room of a cute British guy's apartment. The inflatable mattress was leaking, and my ass was scraping the ground in a plastic hammock. The last thing I remembered was walking my friend Lisa to the subway the night before. She held both my hands. "Do not go home with that guy," she said, and I said, "I promise. Pinky swear." Then I went back into the bar, and he ordered us another round.

This was the kind of excitement I wanted from a single life in New York, the kind of excitement I was hoping to find when I left Texas at the age of 31 in a Honda loaded down with books and heartbreak. I understood the city was not the shimmering fantasia portrayed by charming Audrey Hepburn movies and Woody Allen valentines and four fancy ladies on HBO. But I wanted my own stories, and I understood drinking to be the gasoline of all adventure. The best evenings were the ones you might regret.

"I had sex with some random British dude and woke up on a leaking air mattress," I texted my friend Stephanie.

"Congratulations!" she texted back.

Awesome. High-five. Hell, yeah. These were the responses I got from female friends when I told them about my drunken escapades. Most of my friends were married by this point. Sometimes they wondered aloud what being unattached in their 30s would be like. Careening around the city at 2 am. Tilting the wide brim of a martini glass toward the sky to catch whatever plunked into it.

Being unattached in my 30s felt good. I wasn't so lonely; reality TV was quite robust that year. Design programs. Chef programs. Musicians who used to be famous dating women who hoped to become famous. That roofie talk show made it seem like being a single woman was perilous, and you had to be on guard at all times, but I was numb to terror alerts by then. Whatever horror existed in the world, I was pretty sure GHB was not my problem.

Once, 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?" my friend asked me.

"Yes," I told her. "I think someone slipped me ten drinks."

BOOKS ABOUT ALCOHOLISM often talk about the "hidden drinking" of women. That's been the line for decades. Bottles stashed behind the potted plant. Sips taken with shaking hands when no one is looking, because "society looks down on women who drink."

I looked up to women who drink. My heart belonged to the defiant ones, the cigarette smokers, the pants wearers, the ones who gave a stiff arm to history. In college, we drank like the boys. After college, we hung around in dive bars with our male friends, and later, when everyone grew lousy with expendable income and the freedom of having no kids, we drained bottles of cabernet over steak dinners and debated the smoothest blends of Mexican tequila.

I joined a women's book club when I was in my late 20s. It was called "Bitches and Books," which seemed funny at the time. We gathered once a month, and balanced tiny white plates of brie and crackers on our knees as we discussed Ann Patchett and Augusten Burroughs and drank wine. Rivers of wine. Waterfalls of wine. Wine and confession. Wine and sisterhood.

Wine had become our social glue, the mechanism of our bonding. We needed the wine to shut out the jackhammers of our own perfectionism and unlock the secrets we kept within. Wine was the centerpiece of dinner parties and relaxing evenings at home. It was a requirement for work events and formal festivities. Let's not even mention the word "bachelorette." Friends moved their weddings out of churches and into restaurants and bars, where waiters served champagne before the bride had even appeared. The cool mothers had chardonnay playdates and never let the demands of child rearing keep them from happy hour. DIY sites sold onesies with a wink. Mommy drinks because I cry.

I wrote stories about my drinking. Some were fiction, and some were painfully true, and I liked that my snappy comic tone made it hard to tell which was which. I wrote about getting wasted before 4 pm (true) and waking up after a hard-partying music festival next to Chuck Klosterman (not true), slamming shots with strangers and drinking queso from a to-go cup (more or less true). Women today are notorious for judging each other—about how we raise children, about how we look in a swimsuit, about how we discuss race, gender, or class. Yet no matter how reckless or boozing my tales were, I never felt judged for one of them. In fact, I kind of thought women looked up to me.

By the late aughts, bumbling, blotto heroines were a staple of our narratives. Bridget Jones's Diary was like a tree that had grown a thousand limbs. Carrie Bradshaw was a media empire. Chelsea Handler was building a savvy business brand playing the part of a woman much drunker and more foolish than she could possibly be. (Was there any book title more indicative of the moment than Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea? A longing for spiritual deliverance, the innocence of young adult literature, and Grey Goose.) My smart, successful female friends tore through their Us Weeklies, while New Yorkers piled on a corner table like homework, and followed the misadventures of the era's party girls. In an age of sex tapes and beaver shots, there was nothing edgy or remotely shocking about a woman like me reporting that, hey, everyone, I fell off my bar stool.

I sometimes wondered what my mother thought. "Well, I think you exaggerate," she told me once. In the personal essay I'd just written, for example, I mentioned having six beers. "I don't think a woman can have that many drinks in one night," she said. And my mother was right—it was more like eight.

They added up fast! Two drinks at home getting ready, three drinks with dinner, three pints at the bar afterward. And those were the nights I kept count.

My mother never drank like me. She was a sipper. A one-glass-with-dinner kind of lady. She tells me she cut loose at college frat parties, dancing in her bobby socks—a phrase that suggests how wild she did not get—but I've never seen her drunk and couldn't imagine what it would look like. When her extended family got together, my rowdy Irish uncles gathered in a separate room, splitting a bottle of Scotch and laughing loudly enough to rattle the walls, while my mother and her sister took care of the kids. Screw that. I wanted to be the center of the party, not the person sweeping up afterward.

By the time I was old enough to drink, culture had shifted to accommodate my desires. For generations, women had been the abstainers, the watchdogs and caretakers—women were a major force behind Prohibition, after all—but as women's place in society rose, so did their consumption, and '70s feminists ushered in a new spirit of equal-opportunity drinking. Over the following decades, as men turned away from the bottle, women did not, which meant that by the twenty-first century, when it came to drinking, women had nearly closed the gender gap. A 2013 CDC report declared binge drinking a "dangerous health problem" for women 18 to 34, especially whites and Hispanics. Nearly 14 million women in the country enjoyed an average of three binges a month, six drinks at a time. That equates to a hell of a lot of book clubs.

It's worth noting that the country, as a whole, is drinking less than we used to when alcohol hit its peak in the 1970s, the result of a higher drinking age and a shift away from three-martini lunches, among other factors. But a certain group of women have made booze a very public and very integral part of their culture. Young, educated, and drunk: That was life on the ground for me.

I thought nothing of spending most evenings in a bar, because that's what my friends were doing. I thought nothing of mandating wine bottles for any difficult conversation—for any conversation at all—because that's what I saw in movies and television. Glasses of white wine had become shorthand for honest communication. Clink, clink, here's to us. I may have found the Hollywood empowerment tales of "you-go-girl drinking" to be patronizing, but that doesn't mean they didn't capture my value system.

Empowerment. It was an early buzzword for the twenty-first century. Everything from building schools in third-world countries to emailing pictures of your ass to strangers became empowering. For years, I kept an Onion story tacked above my desk: "Women Now Empowered by Everything a Woman Does." The word's ubiquity suggested how much women wanted power but how conflicted we were about getting it. Ripping your pubic hair out by the roots was empowerment. Taking Jägermeister shots at the bar was empowerment. I just wish those shots had empowered me not to trip off the curb.

I did worry I drank too much. Actually, I had worried for a long time. I slipped in a club one night and bashed my kneecap. I fell down staircases (yes, plural). Sometimes I only skidded down a few steps—gravity problems, I used to joke—and then a few times I sailed to the bottom like a rag doll, and I'm not sure which is crazier: that I drank as long as I did, or that I kept wearing heels.

I think I knew I was in trouble. The small, still voice inside me always knew. I didn't hide the drinking, but I hid how much it hurt.

I WAS 20 YEARS old when I first started worrying I drank too much. I picked up one of those pamphlets at the student health center. Do you have a drinking problem? I was in college. I was pretty sure everyone I knew had a drinking problem. My photo album was a flipbook of evidence: My friend Dave, with a bottle of Jim Beam to his lips. My friend Anne, passed out on the couch with a red Solo cup still upright in her hand. Heroic postures of sin and debauch.

But there was something troubling about the way I drank. Friends would inch-worm up to me on Sundays, when our apartment was still wrecked with stink and regret. Hey. So. We need to talk. They tried to sound casual, like we were going to chat about boys and nail polish, but the next eight words were like needles sunk into my skin. Do you remember what you did last night?

And so, the pamphlet. It was such a corny, flimsy thing. It had probably been languishing on that rack of good intentions since the 1980s. The language was so alarmist and paternalistic (a word I'd just learned and enjoyed using).

Have you ever had a hangover? Come on. I felt pity for the wallflower who answered no to this question. Drinking at least three times a week was as fundamental to my education as choosing a major. My friends and I didn't hang with anyone who didn't party. There was something untrustworthy about people who crossed their arms at the bacchanal.

Next question: Do you ever drink to get drunk? Good lord. Why else would a person drink? To cure cancer? This was stupid. I had come to that health clinic with real fear in my heart, but already I felt foolish for being so dramatic.

Do you ever black out?

Wait, that one. That question, right there. Do you ever black out?

I did. I blacked out the first time I got drunk, and it happened again. And again. Some blackouts were benign, the last few hours of an evening turning into a blurry strobe. Some were extravagant. Like the one that brought me to the health clinic, after waking up in my parents' house and having no idea how I got there. Three hours, gone from my brain.

During uncomfortable conversations with my friends, I would listen in disbelief as they told stories about me that were like the work of an evil twin. I said what? I did what? But I didn't want to betray how little I knew. I wanted to eject from those discussions as quickly as possible, so I would nod and tell them I felt terrible about what I'd done (whatever it turned out to be). The soft language of disarmament: I hear you. You are heard.

Other questions in the pamphlet were sort of ridiculous. Do you drink every day? Have you ever been sent to jail for your drinking? This was the low stuff of gutter drunks to me. I still shopped at the Gap. I had a Winnie-the-Pooh night lamp. No, I hadn't been sent to jail, and no, I didn't drink every day, and I was relieved to find those questions there, because they felt like exemption.

I was a college kid. I loved beer, and I loved the sophisticated sting of red wine, and I loved the fine and fiery stupor of bourbon, and sometimes I got so wasted that I poured those drinks on my head while performing songs from A Chorus Line in some twilight state I could not recall, and in the scope of the universe and all its problems, was this really—really—such a big deal?

I didn't quit drinking that day. Of course I didn't. But I left the clinic with the notion that alcohol was an escalating madness, and the blackout issue was the juncture separating two kinds of drinking. One kind was a comet in your veins. The other kind left you sunken and cratered, drained of all light.

I figured if I stayed in the middle, in the gray area, I would be OK. Blacking out was bad, but it wasn't that big of a deal, right? It's not like I was the only person who ever forgot a night of drinking, right? And it's not like it happened to me that often.

At a party I threw a few months later, a friend danced in my living room in a giant fish costume. The next morning, as we stared at the shiny fabric in a heap on the floor, she said: Why is that costume there?

I was flooded with gratitude. Not just me. Thank God.

In my 20s, friends called with that hush in their voice to tell me they'd woken up beside some guy. They called after forgotten wedding receptions where the open bar had proven a little too open. Not just me. Thank God.

In my early 30s, I used to have brunch with a sardonic guy who actually bragged about his blackouts. He called it "time travel," which sounded so nifty, like a supernatural power. He wasn't drinking too many Long Island iced teas; he was punching a hole in the space-time continuum.

I was laughing about my blackouts by then, too. 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. I imagined myself crouched by the bed, wearing those blue plastic gloves and picking up each questionable item with long tweezers. This crumpled wrapper suggests our victim was hungry, I would say, holding the foil in the light and then giving it a long whiff. And this has the unmistakable smell of a Beef Meximelt.

It's weird how a woman frightened by her own blackouts becomes a woman who shrugs them off like an unpaid cable bill. But any heavy drinker understands the constant redistricting and gerrymandering of what constitutes an actual "problem." I'd come to think of blackouts as a surcharge for the grand spectacle of drinking. 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?

But there's a certain point when you fall down the staircase, and you look around, and no one is amused anymore. By 35, I was in that precarious place where I knew I drank too much, but I believed I could manage it somehow. I was seeing a therapist, and when I talked to her about my blackouts, she gasped. I bristled at her concern. Her tone was alarmist, like the pamphlet I'd once read, but a trip to any keg party would illustrate that if blackouts doomed a person to alcoholism, then most of us were doomed.

"Everyone has blackouts," I told her.

She locked eyes with me. "No, they don't."

FOR MANY YEARS, I was confounded by my blackouts, but the mechanics are quite simple. The blood reaches a certain alcohol saturation point and shuts down the hippocampus. Such a peculiar word, hippocampus, like a children's book character. I imagine a beast with a twitching snout and big, flapping eyelashes. But it's actually the part of the brain responsible for making long-term memories. You drink enough, and the beast stops twitching. Shutdown. No more memories.

Your short-term memory still works, but short-term memory lasts less than two minutes, which explains why wasted people can follow a conversation from point to point, but they will repeat themselves after some time has passed, what a friend of mine calls "getting caught in the drunkard's loop." The tendency to repeat what you just said is a classic sign of a blackout, although there are others. "Your eyes go dead, like a zombie," a boyfriend once told me. "It's like you're not there at all." People in a blackout often get a vacant, glazed-over look, as though their brain is unplugged. And, well, it kind of is.

Although some people learned to detect my blackouts, most could not. Blackouts are sneaky like that. They vary from person to person, and from night to night, the same way one drunk might put a lampshade on her head while another might sit quietly and stare into the middle distance. There's no red indicator light to alert your audience when the brain is off-line.

And people in a blackout can be surprisingly functional. This is a point worth underscoring, since the most common misperception about blacking out is confusing it with passing out, losing consciousness after too much booze. But in a blackout, a person is anything but silent and immobile. You can talk and laugh and charm people at the bar with funny stories of your past. You can sing the shit out of "Little Red Corvette" on a karaoke stage. You can run your greedy hands over a man whose name you never asked. The next day, your brain will have no imprint of these activities, almost as if they didn't happen. Once memories are lost in a blackout, they can't be coaxed back. Simple logic: Information that wasn't stored cannot be retrieved.

Some blackouts are worse than others, though. The less severe and more common form is a fragmentary blackout, or "brownout," which is like a light flickering on and off in the brain. Perhaps you remember ordering your drink, but not walking to the bar. Perhaps you remember kissing that guy, but not who made the first move.

Then there are en bloc blackouts, in which memory is totally disabled. En bloc blackouts were a specialty of mine. The light goes out and does not return for hours sometimes. I usually woke up from those blackouts on the safe shores of the next morning. The only exception was the night in Paris, when I zapped back to the world in that hotel room. I didn't even know that could happen, one of the many reasons the night stayed with me so long.

We may understand the basics of a blackout, but we still don't understand the nuances and complications. Is there any territory more vast and unknowable than the human mind? Ask anyone who's lost a parent to dementia or watched a spouse suffer a brain injury. What we remember, and how and why: This is a complex puzzle best explained by people in lab coats and not a girl who used to drink so much Dos Equis she would dip raw hot dogs in guacamole and shove them in her mouth.

One of the people in lab coats is Aaron White, a leading expert on blackouts. White is the program director for college drinking research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and he dispelled some of my own confusion about blackouts. I always thought my blackouts were caused by specific types of liquors. (Brown liquor, in particular.) According to White, brown liquor doesn't cause blackouts any more than clear liquor does. It's not the type of drink you put to your lips, it's the amount of alcohol in the blood and how quickly you get to that level. Fragmentary blackouts happen at a blood-alcohol content around .20, while en bloc blackouts happen around .30.

White is accustomed to people's ignorance about blackouts, because ours is a drinking culture disconnected from the dangers of alcohol. "If they were selling some drug at the gas station that shut down areas of your brain so that you were functioning with amnesia, we wouldn't have it," White says.

Katy Perry had a hit song about a blackout in 2011. "It was a blacked-out blur," she sang, "and I'm pretty sure it ruled." But White sees blackouts another way. From a clinical perspective, he explains, a blackout is like early Alzheimer's.

The more I learned about blackouts, the more I wondered why I'd read so little about them. I've read magazine articles dissecting some drug of the moment—how ecstasy or meth or heroin hijacks the brain. I've read click-bait stories on what new drugs your teens might be using. Mothballs, bath salts. I've seen scare segments on roofies, like the one I saw on that talk show. And yet I've never read a major article or seen a television program discussing blackouts. It's a menace hiding in plain sight.

I discussed roofies with Aaron White. Roofies aren't a myth, he said, but studies suggest the fear outpaces the incidence. Turns out, "being roofied" often doesn't involve roofies at all. People just don't realize how common it is to experience a blackout. And alcohol can have troubling interactions with prescription meds. Rohypnol is in the benzodiazepine family, often prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders. Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin—some of the most popular meds on the market—can all create an amnesiac effect when combined with booze.

My therapist was correct. Not everyone has blackouts. The majority of people will never have one in their lifetime. But blackouts are not rare in drinking circles. In fact, they're common. A 2002 study published in the Journal of American College Health found that among drinkers at Duke University, more than half had experienced blackouts.

I was particularly at risk, even though I didn't realize it. Blackout drinkers tend to be the ones who hold their liquor. If you bolt to the toilet after your third cosmo, or start snoring after your second margarita, you won't build up enough booze in your bloodstream to shut the machine down. I was so proud of the way I could knock 'em back. I drank fast, and I drank a lot. I was a beer-bingeing Annie Oakley slinging her empties into the trash and popping off the next bottle cap with a sly smile. Wanna watch me go again, boys?

I'm also five foot two. I need a step stool to reach some ceiling fan pulls, and yet I matched a six-foot-three boyfriend drink for drink. I also made genius decisions like skipping my dinner, trying to cut calories, because I was always scheming my way back to the size 4 dresses that hung in the back of my closet, like arrowheads from an ancient civilization.

Behold the risk factors for blacking out: a genetic predisposition to holding your liquor, drinking fast, and skipping meals. Oh, and one more: being female.

For a long time, blackouts were thought to be a guy thing. Of course, for a long time, drinking problems were thought to be a guy thing. But researchers now understand that women are more susceptible to blackouts than men. Alcohol is processed in our systems differently. Our bodies are smaller. Hormones can affect how quickly we get drunk. It's pure biology. Nature, as it turns out, insists on a few double standards.

The stories that men and women tell about their blackouts are different, too. All that alcohol can strip us down to our base drives. Our snarling, animal selves. I've heard countless tales of men waking up to find their faces bruised, their knuckles bloodied by some fit of unremembered violence.

The stories women tell are scary in another way. As Aaron White says, "When men are in a blackout, they do things to the world. When women are in a blackout, things are done to them."

I heard a saying once about drunks. Men wake up in jail cells, and women wake up in strangers' beds. It's not like that for everybody. But it was like that for me.

IT WAS SPRING 2010 when I heard the term "rape culture." I was 35, and editing a story for an online magazine, and strapped to my desk all the time, because I had to be.

"I honestly don't understand what this word means," I wrote to the author, in the blunt and slightly irritated language of a frazzled editor. The feminist blogosphere where she was a leading voice could get jargony, and I took a grammar snoot's delight in reminding writers their first duty was clarity.

"I bristled at the term at first, too," she responded, and sent me a link to a story called "Rape Culture 101." My eyes scanned a long list of ways that male sexual aggression was favored over women's safety, from movies that glamorize violent sex to the act of blaming a victim's behavior for her own rape.

It was one of those moments when I felt adrift from the feminist conversation. I'd only recently started calling myself a feminist. Writers at the magazine urged me to look past the baggage and the bickering around the term and address its core meaning: a belief that both sexes deserve equal opportunity and equal treatment. Back in high school, I'd been obsessed with the civil rights movement. My notebooks were emblazoned with Martin Luther King quotes. But it had never occurred to me to fight for my own gender. Maybe fishes don't know they're in a fishbowl, or maybe it's easier to identify another kid's short stick than to see the one you are holding.

Anyway, "rape culture" didn't track for me. Here I was, an editor at a magazine, run by a woman, working almost exclusively with female writers who wrote voluminously about female topics, and yet, we were being straitjacketed by a "rape culture"? I figured the term would sink back into the quiet halls of academic doublespeak. It spread like mad instead.

Over the next years, "rape culture" became one of the central issues around which smart, young women rallied online. And because this corner of the Internet was my neighborhood, the clamoring grew quite loud. A quick scan of personal essay pitches I received during this time: confronting my rapist; the rape I never reported; why won't my college students stop writing about their rapes?


  • "Simply extraordinary. Ms. Hepola's electric prose marks her as a flamingo among this genre's geese. She has direct access to the midnight gods of torch songs, neon signs, tap beer at a reasonable price, cigarettes and untrammeled longing. . . . As a form, addiction memoirs are permanently interesting because they're an excuse to crack open a life. Ms. Hepola's book moves to a top shelf in this arena. . . . It's a win-win. She got a better life. We have this book."—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
  • "It's hard to think of another memoir that burrows inside an addict's brain like this one does. . . . Her writing lights up the pages, and she infuses the chapters describing her resolute slog toward sobriety with warmth and sprightly humor. [Grade:] A."—Entertainment Weekly
  • "You don't need to be a reformed problem drinker to appreciate Hepola's gripping memoir about the years she lost to alcohol-and the self she rediscovered once she quit."—People, "Summer's Best Books"
  • "Brutally funny and alarmingly honest."—Entertainment Weekly, "Must List"
  • "Hepola unstintingly documents both her addiction's giddy pleasures and its grim tolls. Her account will leave you breathless-and impressed."—People, "Smart New Memoirs"
  • "Alcohol was the fuel of choice during Hepola's early years as a writer, but after too many nights spent falling down staircases, sleeping with men she didn't remember the next day, and narrowly surviving countless other near disasters, she fought her way clear of addiction and dared to face life without a drink in hand."—O Magazine, "The Season's Best Biographies and Memoirs"
  • "Wry, spirited. . . . Hepola avoids the tropes of the 'getting sober' confessional and takes us into unexplored territory, revealing what it's like to begin again-and actually like the person you see in the mirror."—MORE Magazine
  • "Hepola is an enchanting storyteller who writes in a chummy voice. She's that smart, witty friend you want to have dinner with. . . . Like Caroline Knapp's powerful 1996 memoir 'Drinking: A Love Story,' 'Blackout is not preachy or predictable: It's an insightful, subtly inspiring reflection by a woman who came undone and learned the very hard way how to put herself back together."—Washington Post
  • "A memoir that's good and true is a work of art that stands the literary test of time and also serves a purpose in the present. It mines intimate, personal experiences to raise bigger questions, tell a bigger story, help readers understand themselves, their circumstances, their world. Like the best sermon, the best memoir comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable. This rare bird is the Southern belle of literature: forceful, punctilious, beautiful. BLACKOUT, the debut memoir by Salon editor Sarah Hepola, is one such memoir. It's as lyrically written as a literary novel, as tightly wound as a thriller, as well-researched as a work of investigative journalism, and as impossible to put down as, well, a cold beer on a hot day."—Chicago Tribune
  • "Hepola refuses to uncomplicate the complicated, one of her memoir's greatest strengths. Yes, we see the familiar recovery story arc-I drank too much, I hit bottom, I found AA-but with it comes a deep dive into the shame, fear and perfectionism that tilt so many women toward defiant self-destruction with the goal of annihilating the confused flawed self to emerge different, better. Invincible. Reflecting on the fantasies that suffused her drinking years, a newly sober Hepola comes to see that they 'all had one thing in common: I was always someone else in them.'"—Los Angeles Times
  • "Riveting. . . .Tough and street-smart (and a little vulnerable), honest (as far as I can tell), she's sassy and funny, mouthy and flip, hard on herself and without a shred of self-pity."—Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • "Painfully honest, occasionally tragic and frequently hilarious. . . . Hepola dissects herself with razor-sharp powers of observation and self-awareness, in a voice that is intelligent and remarkably free of self-pity. She's like a good friend spilling secrets you don't really want to hear."—San Antonio Express-News
  • "An incisive, funny look backward at life."—Dallas Observer
  • "I love a recovery memoir, just in general, but Sarah Hepola's 'Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget', is an absolute stand-out in the genre. Her writing is superb, but her emotional insight is even greater."—Lenny
  • "Hepola delves into her own lush life as the merry lit gal about town with unique intensity...In this valiant, gracious work of powerful honesty, Hepola confronts head-on the minefield of self-sabotage that binge drinking caused in her work, relationships, and health before she eventually turned her life around."—Publisher's Weekly
  • "A poignant and revealing look into the mind of an alcoholic . . . . one of the best memoirs I've read. . . . [a] tour de force."—The Huffington Post
  • "This is a must-read for recovering addicts; for women susceptible to the glamour of being modern and independent; for anyone who has had a difficult past, and who wants to heal, but who wants mostly to laugh at themselves. Basically, we should all be reading Blackout this summer (and wishing the incredibly smart and candid Hepola was our BFF)."—Bustle
  • "Alcoholism is a difficult subject to tackle, but Sarah Hepola does so with grace and candor in this memoir about her own struggle with addiction. . . . Captivating and inspiring."—Bookish
  • "The writing is incredibly smart and maintains a level of intensity you don't often find in long-form memoirs....BLACKOUT is an enthralling interrogation of a life. Even the most banal moments are beautiful, elevated, and resonate across the human experience."—The Rumpus
  • "The book makes a case for toughness as both a valuable alternate default for women as well as a terrific conduit to self-destruction-just as much as vulnerability, and perhaps even more so. . . . Her style is bright, salty, cutting."—Jezebel
  • "Revelatory. . . . [Hepola] isn't trying to shock us, though her book is one part gross to four parts engrossing; she is merely painting an honest Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Drunk. And then, without the help of either Prince Charming or Jesus, she saves herself, for no other reason than because it's time."—Flavorwire
  • "A razor-sharp memoir that reveals the woman behind the wine glass. . . . Modern, raw, and painfully real-and even hilarious. As much as readers will cry over the author's boozy misadventures-bruising falls down marble staircases, grim encounters with strangers in hotel rooms, entire evenings' escapades missing from memory-they will laugh as Hepola laughs at herself, at the wrongheaded logic of the active alcoholic who rationalizes it all as an excuse for one more drink. . . . Hepola moves beyond the analysis of her addiction, making this the story of every woman's fight to be seen for who she really is. . . . Her honesty, and her ultimate success, will inspire anyone who knows a change is needed but thinks it may be impossible. A treasure trove of hard truths mined from a life soaked in booze."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
  • "Her true bravery emerges in this memoir's witty candor. . . . her own sobriety is as funny and fearless as her drinking days. . . . A rollicking and raw account of binge-drinking, blacking out and getting sober."—BookPage
  • "Bitingly funny, while at the same time its painful, unflinching details about alcoholism make your skin crawl...brash enough to pummel you into the ground, but honest enough to pick you back up after that pummeling...The pairing of disarmingly poignant moments with Hepola's unwavering dedication to telling the complete truth about her story--both the triumphs and the humiliations--makes BLACKOUT one of the most affecting memoirs I've read...Fundamentally, this is a story about overcoming the roadblocks in life that are specifically self-constructed. Hepola's writing is bombastic and graceful at once, making BLACKOUT a must-read."—BookTrib
  • "The story of a rising star's journey of self-destruction and realization, BLACKOUT is gripping, alternately excruciating and funny, scary and hopeful, and beautifully written. I loved it."—Anne Lamott, author of Small Victories and Traveling Mercies
  • "Sarah Hepola is my favorite kind of memoirist. She is a reporter with a poet's instincts, an anthropologist of her own soul. BLACKOUT is a book about drinking and eventual sobriety, but it's also an exploration of the fleeting nature of the comfort we all constantly seek--comfort with the self, with others, with the whole maddening, confusing, exhilarating world. What's more, Hepola's ability to bring such precise and evocative life to the blank spaces that were her drinking blackouts is downright stunning in places. I admire this book tremendously."—Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion
  • "This is a book about welcoming yourself back from a long absence. It's a memoir, but its author is not its main character; she is a new person sprung from the ashes of another one whose alcoholic self-erasure she describes with painful honesty and charming humor. A book about freedom that will help set others free as well."—Walter Kirn, author of Blood Will Out and Up In the Air
  • "Sarah Hepola's BLACKOUT is the best kind of memoir: fiercely funny, full of hard-won wisdom, marked by a writer with phenomenal gifts of observation and insight. The book engages universal questions--Where do I belong? What fulfills me?--that will engage any reader."—Emily Rapp, author of The Still Point of the Turning World

On Sale
Jun 23, 2015
Page Count
256 pages

Sarah Hepola

About the Author

Sarah Hepola‘s writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, New Republic, Glamour, Slate, Guardian, and Salon, where she was a longtime editor. She has worked as a music critic, travel writer, film reviewer, sex blogger, beauty columnist, and high school English teacher. She lives in Dallas.

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