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Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

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Alcohol was "the gasoline of all adventure" for Sarah Hepola. 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 have been. 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.

230 pages, Hardcover

First published June 23, 2015

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About the author

Sarah Hepola

7 books305 followers
Sarah Hepola is the personal essays editor at Salon.com, where she reads people’s secrets for a living. She has written many stories about drinking and eating too much. Her essays on culture have appeared in the New York Times magazine, The New Republic, Glamour, The Guardian, Nerve, Slate, and The Morning News, where she has been a contributing writer for more than a decade. Her past jobs include: Travel columnist, music editor, film critic, sex blogger, and for about 15 seconds in the late ’90s, she taught high school English. She lives in East Dallas, where she enjoys playing her guitar poorly and listening to the “Xanadu” soundtrack.

Her memoir, “Blackout,” will be published by Grand Central on June 23, 2015. It was recently named one of the most anticipated upcoming memoirs by Publishers Weekly. You can contact her at sarahhepola@gmail.com. (Please send Salon story submissions to shepola@salon.com).

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,832 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
September 30, 2020
this memoir was pushed on me by someone who kept stressing how honest and funny and brave it was, and i read it as a favor to her, but i was unprepared for just how much it would suck me in, make me laugh, and completely charm me.

i don't read a lot of memoirs. i have enough trouble keeping up with the crap my own life throws at me, and it doesn't give me comfort or make me feel empowered to read about other people overcoming their problems. and i don't have any personal experience with alcohol addiction, so i didn't think there would be anything in this book that would make me nod or squirm in recognition.

but i was so wrong.

because it's about so much more than hepola's drunken misadventures and morning-after regrets or her long stretches of blankness where memories should be. there's plenty of that, but it's also about all the funny and horrible things that come with growing up as a girl and dealing with various social situations and body dysmorphia and all the ways our perceptions of our behavior differ from the way we come across to others whether we are sober or not, and she's merciless and incisive in her observations and good lord—her VOICE!

her writing is this perfect blend of confessional slumber party storyteller and broader view commentator on the mechanics of the blackout experience that is completely seductive, and even though i was about a hundred pages into another book when i picked this one up intending to just get a sense of her writing, suddenly i found myself several hours later, having abandoned everything else in favor of curling up in my bed and devouring the entire thing because i could not stop reading it. i needed more of her story. and not with the gleeful voyeuristic trainwreck schadenfreude of "how will she fuck up next?" but with genuine appreciation for how funny she is. not "i'm chelsea handler and i've wet myself" funny, but actually funny. jenny lawson funny. there's the same kind of "warts and all," lack of vanity here. she's way less kooky than lawson, but there's a freedom to her writing which, combined with smart and funny—is completely intoxicating. if you will excuse the word choice.

even though i have never blacked out from drinking—never lost time, never returned to my life to find myself having sex with a man i didn't recognize, i have had several seizures before, unrelated to alcohol. i have woken up confused, mind racing to fill in the gaps of my last memory and how i ended up covered in blood and pee on the floor of my apartment, and every time there is a rush of helplessness and fear barreling through me but also a completely rational calm feeling overriding it where my brain's first impulse is of self-preservation, of refusing to acknowledge a weakness—"do not let anyone know that you have lost control." even though in my case, it's a moot point because of all the twitching and flailing. but she articulates this so well in the book—the terrifying feeling of not knowing what is going on, but covering it up with a purr and a tightly-controlled veneer of composure while her mind is whirring to establish a graceful exit so she can examine the evidence in private. i can completely relate to this instinct to present an unruffled appearance in the face of the sudden realization that you have taken too much and gone too far. never let 'em see you sweat, sure, but never EVER let them see how fucked up you are. never be a target. and while she does put herself in the target position time and again, and bad things certainly do happen, she is lucky enough to have lived to tell the tale with all of her limbs and her sense of humor intact.

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."

but she is also capable of frank and clear-eyed self-assessment that makes me want to push this book at all the college-aged girls in the world:

Sex was a complicated bargain to me. It was chase, and it was hunt. It was hide and seek, clash and surrender, and the pendulum could swing inside my brain all night: I will, no I won't; I should, no I can't. I drank to drown those voices, because I wanted the bravado of a sexually liberated woman. I wanted the same freedom from internal conflict my male friends seemed to enjoy. So I drank myself to a place where I didn't care, but I woke up a person who cared enormously. Many yes's on Friday nights would have been no's on Saturday morning. My consent battle was in me.

this is a cautionary tale, yeah, but it never gets preachy, even after—spoiler alert—she gets sober. it's just a story of her own life, in which many of the early stories of her childhood don't involve (much) alcohol, but are instead just completely familiar stories of growing up with self-doubt and insecurity and being exposed to economic diversity and all the shame, rituals, aggression, and complicated erotic baggage of growing up girl.

her musings on body image are particularly great. and honestly—when this:

is one of your best friends, it's pretty hard to not feel like this:

i mean, i imagine.

anyway—this book is great. it surprised the crap out of me by being so great, and i urge you all to check it out. i'm mostly speaking to the ladies here, because it is such a wonderful psychological cross-section of female experience, but fellas are also welcome.

this is her blog, which also has some good stuff on it:


come to my blog!
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,717 followers
August 10, 2015
My addiction to addiction memoirs continues, and Blackout was the perfect fix. Sarah Hepola can WRITE. I had so many good passages marked in this book that I used up a pile of Post-Its.

Sarah's drug of choice was alcohol. She sipped her first beer at age 6, she started stealing beer at 7, and she first got blackout drunk when she was 11. She went to a summer party at a friend's lake house, drank a lot of beer and some liquor that tasted awful, but she kept drinking. The next morning, a friend said Sarah had taken off her pants in public and then started crying, saying she wasn't loved enough. Sarah had no memory of it.

It's such a savage thing, to lose your memory, but the crazy part is, it doesn't hurt one bit. A blackout doesn't sting, or stab, or leave a scar when it robs you. Close your eyes and open them again. That's what a blackout feels like.

The blackout scattered whatever pixie dust still remained from the night before, and I was spooked by the lost time. I had no idea this could happen. You could be present and not there at all. Those first few drinks gave me hope for escape. But I knew from Stephen King stories how hope could boomerang on a person and what looked like an exit door turned out to be the mouth of a more dangerous maze.

Blackouts aren't caused by a specific type of liquor, by the way. They happen when you reach a certain level of alcohol in your blood. The alcohol shuts down the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that stores long-term memories.

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.

At first, Sarah thought she could avoid blackouts by not drinking any brown liquors, but obviously that didn't work. After almost every embarrassing blackout episode, Sarah would promise friends and boyfriends that she would moderate her drinking, but she couldn't stick to it. When she was in her 20s and working as a writer in New York, the blackouts started to pile up.

The jarring scene that opens this memoir is when Sarah is sent to Paris on a writing assignment, drinks too much, blacks out, and comes to while screwing a stranger in a hotel room. She doesn't know how she got there, she doesn't know where her purse is, and she doesn't know where her own room is. She goes down to the front desk to ask for help and can't stop crying. The clerk helps her get into her room, and then tries to take advantage of her.

When men are in a blackout, they do things to the world. When women are in a blackout, things are done to them.

Like most addiction memoirs, this book has two main parts: the first is Sarah recounting her years of drinking, and the second part covers her years of sobriety. Sarah, who is well-read and references other popular addiction writers, makes a joke about this:

I've never liked the part of the book where the main character gets sober. No more cheap sex with strangers, no more clattering around bent alleyways with a cigarette scattering ashes into her cleavage. A sober life. Even the words sounded deflated. Like all the helium leaked out of your pretty red balloon.

Sarah had tried getting sober a few times over the years, but finally, when she was in her 30s, it stuck. She went to AA meetings, she focused on her work, and she avoided going to bars. She found friends who supported her sobriety. She tried online dating and was open about giving up drinking. She moved to Texas to be closer to her family, continued writing, and now she likes helping others who are trying to get sober.

It's funny how I used to think drinking made me a grown-up. Back when I was a little girl, I would slip a crystal wineglass off the shelf of my parents' cabinet, and the heft of it felt like independence. I played cocktail party, not tea party, because that's what glamorous adults on TV did. But drinking was actually an extended adolescence for me. An insanely fun, wonderfully complicated, emotionally arrested adolescence. And quitting drinking was the first true act of my adulthood. A coming-of-age for a woman who came of age a long time ago.

There are so many things I loved about this book. It is honest, powerful, emotional and beautifully written. But I also loved it because I related to Sarah. She started her career writing for an alternative newspaper, and so did I. She felt overwhelmed and out of place, and so did I. I never had a drinking problem, but I've had friends who reminded me of Sarah, and I felt compassion for her.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes a good memoir. It's a rewarding journey.

If you are interested in addiction memoirs, some other favorites are Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story, Pete Hamill's A Drinking Life, Kaylie Jones' Lies My Mother Never Told Me and Augusten Burroughs' Dry.

Favorite Quotes
"A blackout is the untangling of a mystery. It's detective work on your own life. A blackout is: What happened last night? Who are you, and why are we fucking?"

"I needed alcohol to drink away the things that plagued me. Not just my doubts about sex. My self-consciousness, my loneliness, my insecurities, my fears. I drank away all the parts that made me human, in other words, and I knew this was wrong. My mind could cobble together a thousand PowerPoint presentations to keep me seated on a bar stool. But when the lights were off, and I lay very quietly in my bed, I knew: There was something fundamentally wrong about losing the narrative of my own life."

"I was done sucking up to men. Fluffing their egos. Folding their tight whities. I was going to smash my bottles against the wall, and someone could clean up after me, goddammit."

"But still, I wondered: Why was I like this? College is a time to discover yourself — and alcohol is the Great Revealer — but I was more corkscrewed than ever. What did it mean that I hid when I was sober, and I 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? ... I needed to expose the deeper meaning here. I needed to workshop this fucker."

"The golden rule of a lush's life. Be kind to drunk people, for every one of them is fighting an enormous battle."

"Drinkers have an unlimited supply of 4 am epiphanies and 'no, really, I've got it this time' speeches."

"The point was: Own your own feelings, skepticism, irrational rage. Stop pretending to be someone you aren't, because otherwise you have to go into hiding whenever you can't keep up the act."

"People who quite drinking become terrified they will lose their power. They believe booze makes them the people they want to be. A better mother. A better lover. A better friend. Alcohol is one hell of a pitchman, and perhaps his greatest lie is convincing us we need him, even as he tears us apart."
Profile Image for Debbie.
454 reviews2,886 followers
March 7, 2016
“I remember nothing” is the title of a funny book by Nora Ephron and an old geezer's favorite (but sort of unfunny) joke. It also could have been the title of this book, which is the embarrassed, heartfelt confession and analysis of a drunk who has blackouts.

Blackouts are mean. Hepola describes how blackouts stole her time, ruined friendships, put her in danger, and did not let their brain form memories. Poof, blackouts made her disappear from herself for hours. The world saw her, but she couldn't see herself. She was unconscious but was acting like she was conscious. Bad decisions, embarrassing behavior, danger, neediness--are what others saw. The blacked-out person remembers nothing. How insanely weird is that--drinking so much that you black out and check out, a self-imposed sleep-walking. Hepola really makes you understand the anatomy of a blackout, which I found fascinating.

Who starts the night thinking, I want to remember nothing. I want my friends to see me do my thing, whatever it is. I can't wait to end up in a strange man's bed! I can't wait to get behind a wheel when I am unconscious! I can't wait to embarrass all my friends! (Hepola once mooned the people in the next car.) No, it seems like no one in their right mind would sign up for this: such is the power of alcohol addiction. Hepola does not blame her behavior on the addiction, though, she blames herself, she owns her fuckups and she worked hard to change her life.

When I was 4, my parents woke up one morning and saw I wasn't in my bed. They called for me over and over and frantically searched the house. They were going to call the cops when my dad went into the bathroom and sat on the can. The tub was hidden behind the door. When he shut the door, he could see the tub, and there I was, sound asleep. I had walked in my sleep. So innocent! And such a funny little story. A person in a blackout might do the same thing, but it will not be cute or funny. It could very well be a stranger's bathtub (and the stranger could well be dangerous). And chances are, no one is frantically looking for them. And unlikely, but nonetheless possible, the tub could be filled with water. The blacked out person really leads a scary, dangerous life.

This book drew me in from page 1. Hepola’s style is conversational; I felt like I was sitting across from her at a coffee shop, listening to her wise monologue. Granted, because she’d be spitting out a whole book, we would be sitting at our table for a loooong time, and for sure I would have to agree to duct tape over my mouth and a sore tailbone from sitting on the hard chair, but still, I’d go for it. I could sit there forever. Her story felt personal and direct. The writing is wonderful; it doesn’t hurt one bit that she’s a journalist by trade. She conveys her pain and her wisdom, and often even suffuses it with humor.

I had one weird reaction to this excellent book, and I'm pretty embarrassed to admit it. When Hepola got sober, I realized that I was LOOKING FORWARD to her next relapse and was disappointed when the drama ended. What?? After much soul searching and complete guilt over being a callous meanie, I realized that it was just that she wrote so well, she made her drinking stories so fascinating and adventurous, I wanted more thrills. This does NOT mean I was wishing she would fuck up again. It just means I forgot that this wasn't fiction, and that's because Hepola is so damn good at telling a story.

And actually, my reaction relates to my only criticism of the book--she underplays and seems to gloss over the event that led her to becoming sober for good. It's very possible I missed it, but if so, it makes me think she didn't emphasize it enough. This sort of explains why I was expecting another relapse. Ha, yeah, it's her fault I wanted to read about another relapse, lol.

And in my defense, when I stepped back and realized that damn, this is a true story about a real woman struggling, and struggling hard, I stopped thinking of her as simply the flawed main character, and I stopped wanting her to spiral downward. She ended up sober, and I am rooting for her all the way.

Nothing is worse than a drunk who is secretly bragging about their wild past, and I appreciated that Hepola is not doing that. The book is not full of nostalgia about the good old party days. On the contrary. She mourns all the time she lost when she blacked out. She also mourns the loss of (or change in) friendships that happened because of her alcoholism. She can never get that back, and that saddens her greatly.

So she doesn't go on and on recalling horrible episodes, but she does tell one story about a blackout she had in Paris. The enormity of her fuckup--what the blackout caused her to go through when she came to, the loss, the serious consequences--is horrifying. I think that experience was the biggest eye opener for her. And I think that story is stuck in my head forever.

I loved her raw honesty and her self-awareness. And I loved how articulate she was in telling her story. She's not into self-pity, nor does she go light on herself--it's cool to see how she owns her fuckups.

The book is uplifting--by the end of the book, she had many years of sobriety under her belt. I hope she is able to stay sober. Alcoholics are faced with a slippery slope, and they have to hang on tight so they don't fall down again. One of her ending sentences is true, sad, and powerful:

“Every sobriety tale is a cliffhanger. None of us knows how our story ends.”

I've had some experience with addiction, and all she said rang true. I liked this book almost as much as Drinking: A Love Story. If you know about addiction and want to read a good book about it, or if you're just curious, check this one out. It's a fast and poignant read.
Profile Image for Suz.
1,155 reviews600 followers
June 2, 2017
“Behold the risk factors for blacking out: a genetic predisposition to holding your liquor, drinking fast and skipping meals. Oh, and more: being female.”

Sarah Hepola, a 40-something journalist/writer is astoundingly clear and real recounting her spiral to the bottom and back up again. So glad she found her way back, such a hard road this would have been.

Whilst memoirs strike many different chords to any given reader, I need to say this story is amazingly real and just as equally scary – but again so, so real. Sarah is eloquent in her honesty and funny in her telling. Her Paris escapade where one of her many blackouts was crazy scary, and her resiliance in trying to fill that gap 20 years later was heart-warming. Whilst not filling that particular memory void (so scary for her), she still remembers who she was and where she wanted to go. She remembers, she does. Now.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews534 followers
August 6, 2019
Blackout, by Sarah Hepola, a girl who was always up for a party
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 drink
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 drink
1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 drink
Throw 'em back, till I lose count
I'm gonna swing from the chandelier, from the chandelier
Sia, "Chandelier"
While this is an important memoir by a Party Girl blackout alcoholic, I found it even more significant for Ms. Hepola's brilliant and sassy style in profoundly and provocatively addressing the prevalent problem of young women and alcohol on university campuses.

First and foremost to whether it's a book you might want to read, let me say that I enjoyed it immensely and laughed at loud at times. Ms. Hepola reminds me in many ways of the late Molly Ivins with her down-to-earth humor, drawl and style. Ms. Ivins was also a Dallas columnist/writer [recall speech at DNC: George [Bush] can't help it, "he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth"].

I hope Ms. Hepola is speaking, and making a difference, on campuses today to empower college females and perhaps prevent one night of "partying" from turning into a lifetime of fear and resentment .

I don't offer the GIFs in this review in humor. Rather, I'm trying to make a point, particularly as a father of 2 daughters who will be going off to university this time next year, of how easy it is for young ladies, lightened of the weight of the world, still growing into their bodies and ecstatic to finally be free from their parents, to lose count of how much they've had to drink and, before they know it, become falling-down drunk and vulnerable as prey.

It breaks my heart that the mistakes of one night can devastate their shiny dreams and bright futures. It also infuriates me beyond the ability to react sanely.

The imprisonment of the male who takes advantage of a drunk co-ed does nothing to allay the victim's severe pain and the negative long-term impact after the rape. Hepola offers cautionary tales and provokes ideas on preventive measures like going to parties together after making a pact to stay together and leave together and never let any one of you alone with a guy. No doubt, this is harder said than done, but if kids have adapted to the idea of a designated driver, they may ultimately warm to the idea of a designated lookout or protector.

Through her raw honesty and a wizardry with words, Sarah Hepola perfectly, poignantly and humorously captures the true essence of the hole in the soul I've seen in so many addicts/alcoholics. I was prepared to quote numerous passages from her book about "Martini math," and switching bodegas so no clerk catches on to booze purchasing patterns, and her experiences with strangers when she was drunk (and could remember), but I think one best paints the picture for anyone considering buying this book, of her self-revelation before finally "quitting":
[t]he need to hold onto booze was primal. Drinking had saved me. When I was a child trapped in loneliness, it gave me escape. When I was a teenager trapped by self-consciousness, it gave me power. When I was a young woman unsure of her work, it gave me courage. When I was lost, it gave me the path -- that way, towards the next drink and everywhere it leads you. When I triumphed, it celebrated with me. When I cried, it comforted me. And, even in the end, when I was tortured by all it had done to me, it gave me oblivion.
Ms. Hepola found sobriety at first, day by day and a state in which optimism does not come easily. She now says though that she sees "sobriety" in her life's story as "not the boring part, [but] the plot twist."

I hated to finish this book because it felt like a friend telling me her whole life story, sharing and stirring in me such raw emotions, and then ... I couldn't talk back.

Here's a piece she just wrote which was published for the 6/21/16 edition of NPR's Fresh Air, entitled Sobering Up, And Facing The Reality Of Sex Without 'Liquid Courage' And, from last summer: Sarah Hepola youtube plug

If you're on the fence between paper, electronic and audio, I suggest you get get the audible version of this book for a couple of reasons. Ms. Hepola has a soft, soothing, at times fiery, voice (with a little drawl, but not as thick as, say, Donna Tartt) and she puts the Dallas-to-NYC-and-back panache into telling her story. Second, maybe more importantly, the audible includes a mesmeric tape recording of 13-year-old Sarah Hepola recounting to a friend, shortly after the experience of drinking then having sex with an 18-year-old man (a statutory rape).

"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call [her] up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though."

I ran across this J.D. Salinger quote shortly after reading this book about this time last year (late June 2015). It's so true for this memoir. It may be the highest compliment one can give a memoir's author, and I say that with a genuine ardor for Ms. Hepola's sass and style.

[originally written 7/3/15 and updated/revised today, August 27, 2016]
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
504 reviews1,477 followers
March 7, 2016
This was absolutely an eloquently written, satirical reflection of Hepola's memoir from alcoholism to sobriety. From waking in strange hotel rooms with alarming states of vanished time; not knowing what happened, where and with whom. Liquor seductively lured her in, possessed her, made her feel loveable and brilliant. It took her more than once to get clean and she compares getting sober to a nasty breakup: when you hate and despise the other person but so long for that touch.
This was a journey of self discovery and recognizing the potential of being a greater person without the 'voodoo' of alcohol. Truly a brave feat overcoming the disease and having the voice in which to tell it. 4 ★
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,412 followers
December 14, 2016
Note: I’m uncharacteristically nervous about posting this review, because I know a lot of people really liked this book, and I… didn’t. Please, if you loved this book so much that you can’t bear to hear any criticism of it, do us both a favor and stop reading now.

I marked several pages in Blackout and originally planned to write a longish review where I backed up all of my opinions with passages from the text, but frankly this memoir is not worth that kind of effort. Hepola spends a lot of time trying to find things to blame her addiction on, and as a result, a disproportionately large part of the book addresses her childhood and family, which were mostly perfectly normal. I’m sorry, but that your father was quiet and not particularly expressive and that your mother eventually went back to school so you didn’t see her quite as much are not reasons why you became an alcoholic. I’m not going pretend objectivity here: In many ways, my own childhood was much worse than Hepola’s and I managed not to become addicted to anything, so I had quite a bit of difficulty sympathizing with the narrative path she chose to take with this memoir. It made me pretty angry, if you want to know the truth. Ditto her claims that U.S. culture is so focused on alcohol that it’s difficult not to develop a drinking problem. Seriously, the only people I’ve ever heard use this argument are alcoholics. If you are constantly finding yourself in situations and around people where you feel expected and pressured to drink, you should consider that it’s probably—if subconsciously—by design. In other words, your alcohol-steeped surroundings are an effect of your drinking problem, not a cause. As most of us are aware by now, predilection toward alcoholism has a strong genetic component, so all of this rationalization seemed like a complete waste of time to me. Honestly, if you’re not willing to dig a little deeper than all this, why are you bothering to write a book at all? To be perfectly clear, I’m not actually criticizing Hepola’s life or any of the choices she’s made in that life. I’m criticizing what she chose to focus on in telling her story. It just didn’t work for me. There were no insights to be gained here. To make matters worse, the writing style is pedestrian and uninspired. Blackout is proof that just because someone is a freelance writer with a few connections doesn’t mean they’re really qualified to add to the sagging shelf of addiction memoirs that are already out there.
Profile Image for Book Clubbed.
146 reviews206 followers
March 31, 2022
"Readable" is always a strange word to use when describing a book, because what else could it possibly be? Shit, it better be readable, if it is made of letters, words, and sentences.

Caveat aside, this book is "readable" in the sense that Sarah Hepola has a strong, punchy writing voice, an emotional vulnerability necessary for this type of nonfiction, and a sense of pace most mystery writers would be jealous of.

As a fellow sober alcoholic, I was curious to see what revelations she would have about the allure of drinking or the struggles of the newly sober. In AA, the gift and the curse is that everyone's stories fall into the same patterns. Struggle as we might to be unique, addiction flattens us into predictable characters.

Sarah had some nice turns of phrase about blacking out, guilt, self-loathing, and the mental fortitude you must amass to kill off the specter of your alcoholic ego. However, I found nothing revelatory here, and Sarah's alcoholism was actually quite mild compared to most of the people I know. This is a good thing for her, but means that her memoir contains neither the "shocking story" angle nor the acute, emotional insights I was hoping for.
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
352 reviews403 followers
May 8, 2015
A special thanks to NetGalley for this one!

Loved it! Sarah Hepola's memoir captivated me right from the start. Yes, it's a story of alcoholism and her eventual recovery, but WOW was the writing ever good. Her genuine honesty shined throughout, and her humor was priceless!

She starts out telling us of an especially fun night in Paris, the only problem is waking up the next morning in a stranger's bed, with no memory of how she got there. I was unclear if this was her first experience with a blackout or not, but this is the one that haunts. It also launches her into unraveling the mystery of a blackout. They are so misunderstood and I was stunned by what actually happens and why.

I was so engrossed throughout the entire memoir. She digs deep into her feelings, feelings I could relate to so much, I thought she was telling my story. These aren't just the feelings of a woman alcoholic though, but ones that seem universal. She says, "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." And while hers is the story of alcohol addiction, she frames this around all addictions, and just how prevalent they are in today's society.

Her sharp wit around such a subject kept the pages turning. And when she started the process of recovery I was cheering for her all the way. It's the filling of that giant hole with something solid. With finding a true sense of spirituality, that works for everyone differently. No matter the addiction, I think it's by reading memories just like this that help us all grow. Beautiful read!
Profile Image for ❀Julie.
97 reviews82 followers
January 15, 2016
This was my first book/memoir on addiction so I have nothing to compare it to, but I should mention that it rescued me from a serious reading rut. The author gives an intimate account of her life journey with alcoholism and had me so emotionally invested I was rooting for her recovery. She outlines the stages of her life beginning with the very first innocent sip of beer with her dad--at a very young age--that would haunt her for years to come.  She vividly details her feelings: how alcohol prevailed in her social life, affecting her friendships and relationships, and even her career; and she pieces together the lost memories from her “blackouts". She is candid in her telling but adds enough humor to lighten the tone when needed, although I found this more sobering than “laugh out loud” funny . I am normally drawn to darker fictional reads, possibly because they deliver profound messages, but what was so deeply affecting was that this was real. Some of the most thought provoking moments to me were her insights and reflections at the end of the book, and I was thankful she had a “happy” ending. I hope her story will be a source of healing and inspiration for others as she is a true example of how sometimes we have to hit rock bottom in order to change...but that change has to come from within. Kudos to the author on a book well written!

"We all want to believe our pain is singular – that no one else has felt this way – but our pain is ordinary, which is both a blessing and a curse. It means we're not unique. But it also means we're not alone.”
Profile Image for Tucker.
385 reviews113 followers
September 26, 2018
Much has been written about Sarah Hepola’s book “Blackout:Remembering The Things I Drank to Forget” and it is highly deserving of all the accolades it has received. There are plenty of addiction memoirs out there, but this one is top shelf. Ms. Hepola writes with great candor and honesty about how drinking progressed from a fun part of her life to the point where it was her whole life. Her alcohol-fueled adventures range from the hilarious to the heart-breaking. Her journey to recovery, while not easy, is encouraging and inspiring.

This is the absolute best memoir I’ve read in a long while, and you certainly don’t need to be a problem drinker to enjoy it. Very highly recommended.

Thank you to Grand Central Publishing and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book.

Profile Image for Kavita.
783 reviews378 followers
May 7, 2017
Since I was a kid, I was cautioned against American culture by family, relatives and random strangers. I never paid any attention, and as I grew up, I was confident that there was nothing wrong with American culture any more than there is with other cultures. Sarah Hepola, however, lived in this terrible place I thought was fiction. The woman seems to think that drinking is a cultural mandate in USA. This is the first I've heard of it! The entire book was all about sex, drinks, stories of self pity and random generalisations.

I don't know why a book on drinking should follow a narrative of every sexual escapade but nothing else? Surely, there are other ways in which drinking affected your life? It was boring and annoying to read about the author waking up with some stranger and wondering what the hell happened - again and again and again. She even devoted an entire chapter where she went to Paris and did exactly the same thing that she did in New York. Pointless. But even more annoying was the fact that she seems to assume that every girl was as insecure as her. For instance, Fat was the meanest word you could call a girl. The absolute worst thing in the world. Ummm, really?! Her behaviour with the men in her life was cringe-worthy. Rolling over and playing dead just to please them, and they didn't care. Why would they? She would go to AA meetings and think of marriage with random men and then cry when they turned out to be gay. What world did this woman live in?! I was just feeling vicariously embarrassed for most of the book.

The last couple of chapters were interesting as she spoke about her being sober and how hard it was, but again she makes generalisations about people's need for religion and god. It was these random generalisations about everyone else being just like her that put me off this memoir completely.

I had an alcoholic friend (dumped him when be became a sexist jerk as well), so I was interested to see how this addiction starts and holds fast onto some people. But I couldn't really draw any parallels. He whined, but nowhere close to Hepola, who appeared to be an expert during her drunk days. Interestingly, the most poignant part of the book is the grief she went through when she was sober and how she handled it after whining throughout the book about non-existent issues.

The writing wasn't great and the structure was choppy, going back and forth with a number of repetitions. I didn't find it funny at all, even though I tried hard to find the humour. But I am giving an extra star to the book because it led me to discover that such weird people really exist in the world. That said, I am glad Hepola got the help she needed and battled her addiction successfully.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,661 reviews2,658 followers
January 24, 2017
This is a terrific example of the confessional memoir, depicting all the stages of alcoholism – being a child beer thief; alcohol making her the life of every party in Texas and New York City; her worrying blackouts, including the opening scene in Paris; her failed resolutions to stop drinking; and the painful route to ultimate success. Hepola never shies away from details that reflect poorly on herself, and powerfully conveys the loneliness of the drinker. The book is possibly two chapters too long (sobriety is inevitably less interesting than drunkenness), but I’d recommend this to fans of Cheryl Strayed.

Favorite lines: “Still, I longed for some intervening incident to make me stop. Who doesn’t want a deus ex machina? Some benevolent character to float down from the clouds and take the goddamn pinot noir out of your hands?”
Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews931 followers
January 2, 2016
Well written and engrossing memoir by Sarah Hepola, who starting stealing sips of beer from the refrigerator at age seven and blossomed into a full-fledged alcoholic who regularly suffered blackouts, once wakening in a strange man's hotel room in Paris. I have no personal experience with addiction and so merely found this interesting and eye-opening, but I think this would be especially meaningful to someone who has grappled with an addiction of any sort.
Profile Image for Kelly.
889 reviews4,123 followers
March 20, 2017
I got a notification this morning that this was on sale on my kindle for $2 today and that was all I needed- this thing had been popping up on my feed on and off since it was released with really amazing reviews. I read this book in approximately three hours over the course of working out, doing dishes and folding laundry and I need another one of these every Sunday because never has that series of activities gone by so quickly.... even though I did sort of keep pausing and have to come back to myself when I got to particularly absorbing part.

The combination of her honesty with her insight and some occasional real gut-punches of ecstatic, gasping insight and sentences-just-right is exactly my bag these days. It's pretty much the only literature that can gather me up and take me away anymore. I admire how dedicated she was to not observing all the expected arcs of this sort of memoir- the detail of the part when she quit drinking and gained weight instead because that's how addictive personalities work, the wonderful/painful/amazing part about learning to have sex without drinking, the whole part about learning to "come back to her body" that I keep seeing in mindfulness therapy books right now- she was a great example of what that means in reality and why that's beneficial, not just a thing people say (PS- another great example of this is in Glennon Doyle Melton's Love Warrior, huge chunks of which I highly recommend- just skim over the Christianity stuff if that's not your thing).

Star withheld because of course parts of this are indulgent, some of her "oh poor me!" stuff I didn't quite trust wasn't showing off in disguise, some lurking stuff she hasn't dealt with yet that's particularly toxic in female culture. But overall, I mean, if you're going to be as true and wonderful and not look away from as much as she does, I can forgive these momentary lapses. We can't deal with ALL of the truth ALL of the time, but she seems to be attempting to access it more than most. Well done.
Profile Image for Ilyssa Wesche.
717 reviews20 followers
June 5, 2015
This was not bad, as far as addiction memoirs go. I certainly can empathize with the author's feelings re: blackouts.

I was, however, extremely put off by her not wanting to presume to know why people are atheists and, in the next sentence, bulldozing right into presuming - incorrectly I might add! I can't speak for all people, but the reason I am an athetist doesn't have anything to do with my feelings about organized religion, thank you. I'm glad she found some solace/comfort/strength in God, but I resent the implication that deep down we all believe, we're just not in touch enough to know it.

I know this amounted to about a page in an otherwise innocuous, entertaining book, but I'm still all jacked up about it.

On the other hand, though, she did introduce me to the the line "I have to workshop this motherfucker" (in regards to her feelings.)
June 23, 2018
I came upon Hepola’s memoir of alcoholism shortly after completing Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering—a self-absorbed and unwieldy tome, which I only disliked more and more after finishing it. Maybe it’s unfair to compare the two books, but the two authors’ descent(s) into alcoholism and many of their life experiences are quite similar. Making comparisons just seems inevitable. First of all, Hepola’s book is short and fast-paced. Although the author is occasionally guilty of the clever, showy writing that so characterizes Jamison’s book, she has no grand, ambitious plan to write an entirely new kind of choral, symphonic memoir about her experience as an alcoholic. She doesn’t seem to be driven by the same need to show how bright and smart and intellectual she is. Second, there are, thank God, no close analyses of the great drunken novelists (like Jean Rhys and Charles Jackson), inebriated poets (like John Berryman), or famous alcoholic short-story writers (like Raymond Carver). Neither are there visits with and biographies of other reformed alcoholics, sociological riffs on racism or justice issues related to addiction, or lengthy sections on the joys (and corny cliches) of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In the end, Hepola’s book is simply her story. It addresses the early signs (in childhood and in her teen-aged years) that alcohol was going to be a problem, the emotions that fueled her addiction, the attempts of friends and family to intervene and support her, her disastrous relationships with men, the degree to which her drinking took over her life, and (of course) the blackouts. Hepola initially struggled with recovery and continues to attend AA. I enjoyed her illuminating book, understood why her friends stood by her, and was moved to learn that she attained sobriety. I would certainly read more by her.
Profile Image for Constance.
180 reviews6 followers
December 12, 2015
I read a flashy magazine article promoting this book. Of course I ordered it before I could put down the article. I should realize after a 101 stories of drunk-a-logs that this was to be no different. It might be the 24 year age difference between the author & myself, or simply her writing style. It was too sing songy & well, too young. A mere 230 pages would take one reading, and this took me 3 weeks. I was never that in to it.
Profile Image for Caroline .
429 reviews593 followers
December 31, 2016

Sarah Hepola began drinking at a young age, and, unlike many little children, not only wasn’t repelled by the taste, but craved it from the first sip. Citing her Finnish and Irish ethnicity, she said, “the taste for beer was embroidered on my DNA.” This is a sincere and brutally honest memoir that chronicles her life as an alcoholic--a label she scoffed at and resisted for some time--and her eventual recovery. I was most interested in reading this to learn about what blackouts really feel like. I wanted the inside story, all details. Hepola delivered on that front. As she eloquently described it, experiencing a blackout was like having a curtain fall at one point on her consciousness, then lift again at another point. Whatever occurred when that curtain was down, she’ll never know; it’s impossible to recover those memories.

In the first half of the book, Hepola described her drunken escapades, often terribly embarrassing, as her behavior during blackouts was outrageous, offensive, and shocking--and nothing she’d dream of doing while sober. She’d find out the next day from friends, some of whom were none too happy with her. Hepola detailed these incidents and explained how her behavior while drunk destroyed cherished relationships. She had too many close calls that she’s fortunate weren’t more serious

Hepola was able to put into words something I imagine most, if not all, alcoholics can relate to. She seemed especially unafraid to share intimate details and many very embarrassing moments, turning inward to open up about alcohol’s vise-like grip.
. . . the need to hold on to booze was primal. Drinking had saved me. When I was a child trapped in loneliness, it gave me escape. When I was a teenager crippled by self-consciousness, it gave me power. When I was a young woman unsure of her worth, it gave me courage. When I was lost, it gave me the path: that way, toward the next drink and everywhere it leads you. When I triumphed, it celebrated with me. When I cried, it comforted me. And even in the end, when I was tortured by all that it had done to me, it gave me oblivion.
I felt Hepola’s memoir was less successful in part two, her recovery period.

I would have liked to learn more about the science behind blackouts--the parts I found most fascinating were when Hepola delved into the nitty-gritty in the introduction--but this isn’t the best book for that. It's best as a support, a comfort, and an inspiration. I do recommend it to readers like me who want to understand blackouts, but it's alcoholics and alcoholics in recovery who will probably find it most rewarding.
Profile Image for Amanda.
1,121 reviews229 followers
July 13, 2015
I love drinking/recovery memoirs so was super excited to win a copy of this from Goodreads first-reads giveaway and wow it did not disappoint. This is the best memoir I've read since Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story. Like Knapp's memoir it is brutally honest and for anyone like me who has suffered through addiction and recovery it is painful to read at times. There were several times when I was pretty much sobbing going yep that was me. Sarah Hepola has a great voice and I never found her preachy or judgemental. There is a lot more to this than just a drinking story so you don't have to have addiction issues to appreciate her tale. Anyone who has survived their teenage years will find something to relate to. I absolutely loved this and recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoirs and even if you don't think you enjoy them give this one a shot.
Profile Image for Emily M.
118 reviews24 followers
September 30, 2015
I needed to be reminded that I was not alone. I needed to be reminded I was not in charge. I needed to be reminded that a human life is infinitesimal, even as its beauty is tremendous. That I am big and small at the same time.

This book blew me away with its bravery, its honesty, and its persistent wit (seriously, who knew a memoir about alcoholism could make me laugh this much?). Sarah Hepola's voice is tremendous, and from start to finish, I felt so much a part of her challenges. Her self-deprecating humor here is alluring, but self-aware enough that it avoids that murky territory of "I am so insecure that I am just going to make fun of myself so you don't notice." 5 big stars.
Profile Image for Vanessa Bush.
Author 41 books18 followers
April 25, 2018
I spent a few months reading this I felt very close to the heroin and I needed to keep reading because I'm in recovery in around 4 months with a few call but keeping 💪, I applause her vocabulary and honesty, she can capture your imagination and you are left with homework. I love this optimism in this book and this unoblivious realization of various state of mind taking turn in the past. I would recommend 100%
Profile Image for Kelli.
851 reviews404 followers
December 30, 2019
I grew weary of this one. It was well written but very repetitive. I understand that, in many ways, that was the point, right? We readers listen to her escapades, missteps, accidents, and scary blackouts over and over and over. In the spaces that weren't absorbed with this narrative, there were clear, wise, brave, painful insights and assertions. I wish her the best success and much strength as she continues her sobriety journey. 2.5 stars
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,362 followers
April 8, 2016
When I finish a book, I usually have a clear idea about what I think about it, but I’m having trouble coming up with what to say about Blackout. Blackout is Sarah Hepola’s memoir about her many years as an alcoholic and her recent years of sobriety. At the end of the day, I don’t think I have a theme to sum up my reaction to this book, but rather a collection of thoughts and feelings:

>Blackout had me fully engaged.

>I couldn’t help having a tremendous amount of respect for Hepola for being so frank about her years of alcoholism – how young she was when she started drinking, some of things she did, some of the situations she doesn’t remember, some of the friends she lost, her scary sexual encounters…

>I couldn’t help cringing at much of what Hepola revealed – but I think this was part of the point.

>I was glad to know that Hepola found a way to sobriety – and I sincerely cross my fingers for her she will stay there.

>I loved the way she loved her cat – and the way her cat gave her so much comfort at the darkest of times.

>I loved the love and respect she has for her parents – there is no blaming going on in this narrative and I respect her for that.

>I loved her depiction of female friendships – their strengths, their weaknesses and their breaking points.

>I loved her writing – her narrative voice is very distinct – clever and sincere – I suspect this explains why she was able to hold on to work as a journalist even during her worst drinking years.

>At times, I grew weary of the inevitable self-absorption of her narrative – but this is a memoir about addiction and so self-absorption comes with the territory.

>I’m glad I listened to this audio. It was not earth shattering, but it felt like an honest description of addiction and recovery. And Hepola narrates her own story and does a great job.
Profile Image for Kathi.
24 reviews
July 28, 2015
Best book I've read on alcoholism...

and I have read a lot. In recovery myself for alcohol and drug addiction, I never tire of hearing or reading about the stories of others trudging this road of happy destiny

Sarah Hepola can write, and she has a heart as big as Texas. If I could give this book ten stars, I would. It is that good.
Profile Image for Theresa Alan.
Author 10 books1,042 followers
July 13, 2015
This is a well-written memoir. Hepola is a talented, quotable writer. Her introduction regarding the science of blackouts was especially interesting: She quotes Aaron White “When men are in blackout, they do things to the world. When women are in blackout, things are done to them.”

One reviewer called this “ferociously funny,” which it’s not. There were a few times I chuckled, but this is not a laugh-out-loud laugh riot.

While I enjoyed this book, I couldn’t help but compare it to similar memoirs like Augusten Burroughs’ Dry and This is How (Dry especially made me laugh and cry my guts out) and poet Mary Karr’s book Lit. Karr spends a lot of time describing working with a sponsor and finding religion. Hepola only briefly mentions finding a higher power and working with a sponsor. Hepola’s book focuses mainly on losing chunks of memory, which is admittedly terrifying
Profile Image for Jamise.
Author 2 books158 followers
December 30, 2015
Not your typical memoir. Sarah Hepola delivers a surprisingly open and honest memoir revealing her struggles with substance abuse and the journey to reclaim her life. I enjoyed the candid recollections and her ability to interject humor where pain once lived. "One of the great powers we have is the ability to give meaning to our own experience. It's a fine day when you finally figure out the right time to leave the party."
Profile Image for Julia Smillie.
104 reviews3 followers
August 5, 2015
At some point early on in reading Blackout, I stopped marking passages that were nearly identical to thoughts I'd had during my own drinking days and subsequent recovery. Not since I first read Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story have I felt as though a memoir not only "got" alcoholism, but also "got" me. This is not to say that my experience is identical to Hepola's, but it's similar enough that the book struck me deeply, with its remarkable authenticity. It's an important memoir and I'm glad it's out in the world, especially because it touches on the issue of alcoholism and sexual consent, something far too little has been written about.

It's not a perfect book - as with Mary Karr's Lit, the transition from drinking to recovery strikes me as too easy, or perhaps just not given enough weight. But that's a quibble. In recovery circles, we aim for something we call "rigorous honesty," and this is what Hepola delivers, with writing so poignant and well-observed it brought me to tears at times. I'm curious to know how this might read for someone whose personal experience is not as closely aligned with the author's.
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books237 followers
March 20, 2022
Entertaining and readable, at least for a time. Sadly (and deeply ironic), most addiction memoirs are more interesting during the gruelling "war stories" episodes and then the narrative trails off when the writer becomes sober and really tries to start grappling with the messy realities of a floundering life.

This memoir is about a writer who eventually becomes sober but believes readers will continue to be fascinated by every detail from her dating life. Why does sobriety feels so aimless? — this is a question that Hepola does not ask but was all I could think about. Perhaps a little more maturity and perspective would have enhanced the narrative and its conclusions.

(On a personal note — I'm sober, and totally cheering for Team Sobriety! But sometimes the dramatic messiness of addiction is more "entertaining," in a sick way. All I'm really saying is that it's a challenge to present the contrasting sobriety in a way that engages the reader.)
Profile Image for Janet.
866 reviews56 followers
September 30, 2015
I very much enjoyed this scorchingly honest memoir about Hepola's struggle with alcoholism. I originally picked this up because I have a friend whose husband has this illness but I quickly learned that women alcoholics are in a league of their own and that alcohol actually affects us differently. Before I picked this up I didn't even realize that blacking out (forgetting) is different from passing out (unconsciousness).

This book made me examine my own drinking. Like Hepola, social anxiety plays a big part because I am much more extroverted when I've had a few drinks. But I really think that alcoholism is genetic, otherwise why can some people stop and others cannot even when it destroys their relationships and employment opportunities? There seems to also be an element of self loathing although it's the chicken/egg phenomenon. Does she drink to excess because she hates herself or does she hate herself because she drinks to excess?

I especially enjoyed Hepola's descriptions of internet dating. She wonders why she is almost never attracted to those that are attracted to her and vice versa. I wanted to call her up and tell her about the 80-20 rule...lol.

Anyway definitely worth a few hours of your time especially if you are female and concerned with how our society bombards us with the messages that not only is it OK to drink a lot, it's cool, celebratory, and upper class.
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