April is Alcohol Awareness month in the U.S. and I’m thinking of the absolute opposite of awareness… alcohol-related blackouts. I often drank to the blackout stage, probably because I crammed my drinking of large quantities into pretty short periods. Remembering the last hour of my evening was impossible. Usually, I drank at home, but that doesn’t make it any safer. That level of impairment isn’t safe, period. The worst feeling would be when my son would say something like “Mom tell me that story again” or “Remember in the movie when [something happened]?” and I’d have to act normal and see if I could figure out what he meant.
“Alcohol-related blackouts are gaps in a person’s memory for events that occurred while they were intoxicated. These gaps happen when a person drinks enough alcohol to temporarily block the transfer of memories from short-term to long-term storage—known as memory consolidation—in a brain area called the hippocampus.” Interrupted Memories: Alcohol-Induced Blackouts
In Sarah Hepola’s book Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget she explains alcohol-related blackouts as your brain shutting down “non-essential” functions to protect itself from the toxic effect of too much alcohol. She remembers them like this:
“And then, there is nothing. Not a goddamn thing. This happens to me sometimes. A curtain falling in the middle of the act, leaving minutes and sometimes hours in the dark. But anyone watching me wouldn’t notice.”
There was something fundamentally wrong about losing the narrative of my own life.
I recently attended an online Salon with Sarah Hepola where she stressed that she is still frustrated, 8 years after publishing her book, that medical professionals and health agencies do not emphasize or often even seem to understand, the dangers of alcohol-related blackouts.
Some messed-up behaviours get laughed off and normalised and sometimes we get distanced from the emotional and physical damage it [alcohol] causesQuote from Sarah Hepola in the BBC article Why do only some people get blackout drunk?
Sarah Hepola hopes to raise awareness and has done that for many of us with her book. Despite the dark subject matter Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget is an easy, truthful, and fun book to read. Her gift of describing thoughts, events and feelings grabs you right into her story, sometimes as though the pen was in your hands.
The book travels through the author’s life, from a young child stealing beer sips from the fridge, into her teenage and young adult life as a journalist who never missed an opportunity to party. More specifically, Sarah explains her experiences of having alcohol-related blackouts, and her long journey into sobriety. In Saraha’s words “A blackout is the untangling of a mystery. It’s detective work on your own life” which is exactly what the book is all about.
Sarah’s description of her story is transparent, not leaving any details out. Sarah shines a light on the effects of alcohol addiction, and how blackouts are more common than we think. She also grabs our hand, offers hope, and shows us that it is possible to get out of such a vicious cycle.
There is no single formula that makes a problem drinker. I’ve heard many competing stories. Parents who were too strict, parents who were too lax. A kid who got too much attention, and a kid who didn’t get enough. The reason I drank is because I became certain booze could save me. And I clung to this delusion for 25 years.
I HAD WANTED alcohol to make me fearless. But by the time I’d reached my mid-30s, I was scared all the time. Afraid of what I’d said and done in blackouts. Afraid I would have to stop. Afraid of a life without alcohol, because booze had been my trustiest tool.
You can find our book club discussion of Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget at the links below inside our Boom Rethink the Drink Community
Getting sober wasn’t some giant leap into sunlight. It was a series of small steps in the same direction. You say “I’ll do this today,” and then you say the same thing the next day, and you keep going, one foot in front of the other, until you make it out of the woods. I can’t believe I’d once thought the only interesting part of a story was when the heroine was drinking. Because those can be some of the most mind- numbing stories in the world. Is there any more obnoxious hero than a dead- eyed drunk, repeating herself? I was stuck in those reruns for years— the same conversations, the same humiliations, the same remorse, and there’s no narrative tension there, believe me. It was one big cycle of Same Old Shit. Sobriety wasn’t the boring part. Sobriety was the plot twist.
Our Book for April in the Book Club will be Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari.
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