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Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget Paperback – June 7, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of June 2015: Bracing and heartbreakingly honest, Sarah Hepola’s memoir Blackout tears off the Band-Aid of her alcohol addiction and takes a whole lot of skin with it, too. Thirty-something and a successful writer in Manhattan, Hepola turns at night to the embrace of alcohol. When her drinking transforms from a gentle suitor into an uncontrollable beast, Hepola begins to black out regularly, operating for all the world as if she’s fully aware and conscious but with no memory later of what she did. Her blackouts lead to sex with strange men and force longtime friends to take a cautious step back, and after several unsuccessful starts, Hepola finally completes the grueling process of getting clean. Hepola’s wry voice stays on the sane side of raw but doesn’t relinquish any power of authenticity as she casts a light on her own bad decisions as well the fact we now live in a culture where women getting tipsy or drunk is considered a sign of female empowerment. You don’t need to be enthralled by alcohol to be deeply affected by Blackout. But for those who do worry—or know—that they have similar struggles, Hepola’s ultimately uplifting story could help lead the way out of the rabbit hole of alcohol abuse. --Adrian Liang--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"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
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Reading about people's struggles with--and triumphs over--addiction is especially fascinating to me. In the world of drug and alcohol abuse, everyone's story is so similar; but at the same time, everyone's story is so unique. When someone is brave enough to put their temporary train wreck of a life down on paper for the world to see, I can't help but get sucked in. Such was the case with Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola.
Hepola started drinking at an early age and fell in love with alcohol. This object of her affection eventually took control of her life, and for years she would drink to the point of blacking out. As you can probably guess from the title, that is the focus of much of this book. And Hepola holds nothing back.
"A blackout is the untangling of a mystery. It's detective work on your own life. A blackout is: What happened last night?"
In reality, as Hepola explains, a blackout happens when your blood becomes so saturated with alcohol that the part of your brain responsible for long-term memory--the hippocampus--shuts down. Your short-term memory still works, but with the long-term variety on strike, remembering what you did when you were blackout drunk becomes impossible.
"It's such a savage thing to lose your memory, but the crazy thing 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."
To say Blackout is a brutally honest memoir would be a bit of an understatement. Kind of like saying Taylor Swift has sold a few records. In her book, Hepola details--to the best of her recollection--numerous incidents from her drinking past, several of which end with her lying next to a stranger in bed.
Blackout is not all about Hepola sleeping with strangers, though. It's so much more than that. It's a poignant and revealing look into the mind of an alcoholic that lets the reader experience all of the raw emotions the author feels during her struggles. It's a tale of friendships and how they evolve--and devolve--over the years. Best of all, though, it's a success story.
The second part of this book is about Hepola's sobriety and the realizations that come along with it. "I finally understood alcohol was not a cure for pain; it was merely a postponement," she writes. It may have taken her years to get to that point, and there were many stops along the way; but recovery is a journey, and Hepola found her way.
The new sober life that she is living is challenging, but Hepola is happy. "Maybe at some advanced age, we get the gift of being happy where we are," she says. "Or maybe where I am right now got a whole lot easier to take."
Blackout is one of the best memoirs I've read. Like Kristen Johnston's Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, it treats a sensitive subject with unbridled honesty and humor. Yes, Blackout is a touching and, at times, heartbreaking story. It will likely make you cry. But it will also make you laugh out loud.
Sarah Hepola is the personal essays editor at Salon and has written for numerous other publications. But I have no doubt that Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget is her tour de force. At least for now.
Read this book. You won't be disappointed.
"The nights I can't remember are the nights I can never forget." --Sarah Hepola
About 50 percent through the kindle version, I suspected child sex abuse or early childhood assault. Not much was written about father or brother. Susan’s precocious maturation added physical and social challenges. She mentions being 12 years old when cousin Kimberley’s manager-friend age 22 helps himself during Susan’s first blackout. Only 80 percent through the narrative does Susan tell all about Brad, the 18 year old , who raped Susan at age 13, on her last day of summer vacation, again with Kimberley near by. I call it rape. Susan hesitates, writing that she makes her own interpretation to her experiences and feelings. The girls had a tape recording made soon after the rape. Cousin Kimberley knew. Another time, another set of circumstances, Susan’s mother would have known, risen up in wrath, found the police and prosecutor, and urged that Brad go to prison. In other jurisdictions, this has been the outcome i.e.sexual predator in prison.
Hepola provides Information on blackouts and the physiology of losing consciousness; also info on genetics and cultural tendencies. That allows for alternative explanations for the addiction to alcohol. What about the nicotine; what about body image and addiction to food? All of this has scrambled Hepola’s lifetime struggles for personal and professional survival. However, addiction could be a response to and consequence of sexual violation of a child.
Hepola comments on Alcoholics Anonymous and the place of God and Higher Power in transforming an addict’s destruction. Through her memoir, Hepola helps anyone – addict, friend, or family – to understand the turmoil. Hepola’s self-disclosure offers a gift to anyone who wants to better understand addiction.