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Book Review: Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola (Audiobook narrated by Sarah Hepola)

Book Review: Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola (Audiobook narrated by Sarah Hepola)Summary:
“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.”

For years Sarah Hepola ignored her blackouts. She was a young woman with a successful writing career living in New York City. She was empowered, and part of embracing equality was drinking like one of the guys. But while littering her writing with references to drinking and laughing off her drunken escapades, she actually spent her daytimes cleaning up after her blackouts. Figuring out how she scraped up her knees or tracking down her purse. Eventually, she realized that drinking wasn’t making her the life of the party and one of the guys. It was stealing who she was, and it was time to get herself back.

Review:
I have a thing for addiction memoirs (and addiction documentaries….movies…tv shows…). But I have often found myself puzzled by the female drinking memoir. Often presented as a woman (usually a wife and mother) who appears to have it all and hides all of her drinking because women don’t drink. I’m sorry, but as a Millennial, that’s not the kind of drinking I’ve seen women in my generation partake in. Drinking was considered unladylike by generations even as recent as the one right before ours (that my brother is in). But in mine? What I often saw was women proving their coolness by keeping up with the guys. These women would never hide wine. They’d take shots and get praised for it. So when I saw this memoir talking about the impact on women of drinking like one of the guys; of how this equality of substance abuse is really impacting women, I had a sense it was going to be something good and insightful, and I was right.

Sarah Hepola shows the reader through a clear lens exactly how the different perceptions of women and alcohol impacted her drinking, and thus how they might impact other women. The book starts with some context of how young women are both encouraged by their peers to binge drink but then are also blamed by them when bad things happen to them when they are drunk. She then moves on to talking about her own childhood when she would steal sips of beer from open cans in the fridge, and how her parents never suspected she was sneaking beer because little girls wouldn’t do that. She then gradually brings us up through time and shows us how with drinking she was subconsciously trying to pursue both fitting in and equality. She drank to fit in and be cool in college. She drank with co-workers on her male-dominated first job to be one of the guys and get the same networking opportunities they got after work by going out for beers. She liked that it wasn’t necessarily feminine. She liked feeling strong and empowered.

By embracing something that is perceived of by the culture as hyper-masculine, like binge drinking, women are seeking to be taken seriously and viewed as equals. Women do this in other areas too. Just look at power suits or the short haircuts preferred by women in positions of power. Our culture devalues what is perceived of as feminine and elevates what is perceived of as masculine. There are many issues with this, which I can’t go into in a short book review, but what matters about this for women and alcohol is that women’s bodies just don’t biologically process alcohol the same way men’s bodies do. Sarah Hepola goes into this in quite some detail, but essentially, women get drunker faster on less alcohol than men do, which means women black out more easily, and blackouts are dangerous. They make anyone vulnerable, but they make women particularly vulnerable to things like date rape.

Sarah Hepola does a much more eloquent job in the book than I am doing here in the review of illuminating how gender and alcohol mix to make the modern alcoholic young woman. And the book doesn’t just detail the dramatics of her youthful drinking. She also goes into great detail about what it was like to stop. To find the empowerment of being completely in control again and not losing parts of herself and her life to blackouts. She talks about her sober life and how exciting it is, and she even talks about finding some spirituality. Most importantly to me, she discusses how women in western culture today are often told we are equal but are able to sense that things that are feminine are just not taken seriously. So they pursue the masculine to be taken more seriously and in some cases the masculine is simply not helpful. It is harmful. Sometimes, in cases like with binge drinking,  it’s even more dangerous for women than for men. I believe the book offers some hope when Hepola talks about finding strength in her sober living and in her accomplishments at facing life as a single woman.

Those listening to the audiobook will be entranced by Hepola’s own voice telling the story. I couldn’t stop listening and listened every second I could. One of the more haunting moments of the audiobook is when toward the end Hepola introduces a tape recording she made as a teenager discussing a sexual encounter she had while drunk with a much older boy. Hearing the incredibly young voice of a woman already being drawn into the harmful world of addiction was heartbreaking to listen to and made me want to fix things, even though I wasn’t totally sure how.

This book left me realizing that the reality of women and alcohol has changed, and the cultural narrative needs to catch up with it. Women aren’t drinking in closets to dull their feminine mystique pain anymore. They’re drinking loud and proud because they want to be empowered and taken seriously and yes, even perceived of as cool. While we can talk about finding more positive ways of empowerment, I think it’s also important that we as a culture strive to stop putting innate positive value on the masculine and negative on the feminine. Things should be valued based on their impact on the world and not on the gender norm of who does it. And young women will stop feeling pressured to act like a man when men and women are equally valued. All of these things I am saying play into male drinking as well. If you think zero young men are binge drinking to be seen of as more of a man, you’re very wrong. We just see less of the immediate negative impact of male binge drinking because women black out so much more easily.

Hepola wrote a brave book that illuminates the issue of binge drinking among young women today. It’s both personal and with an eye to the culture as a whole, thinking beyond just the author herself. Readers will be haunted both by the voice of the young Sarah and by the thought of young women seeking to empower themselves actually making themselves more vulnerable. A key read for anyone who works with or cares about these younger generations of women.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Illness(es) featured: Addictive Disorders

Wolfy’s Favorites – Episode 1

February 29, 2016 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

I had a few things from the month of February that I wanted to tell you all about, but all of them were kind of short for their own posts. I got to thinking how a lot of bloggers have a favorites post they do once a month, and I thought that’s such a great idea! It’ll be a monthly feature that will showcase a range of things I’ve enjoyed in the last month.

We’ll start off with the two biggest things.

February Favorites

Screenshot of a quick video I took about a new book I received on PaperBackSwap. That little wolf is my periodic “Wolfy” representative for myself in videos or pics (although you *do* get to see the real  life non-Wolfy me sometimes too!)

Snapchat (username: opinionsofawolf)

I finally got on the Snapchat train! After hearing so much about it, I just had to download the app and see what all the fuss is about. I have to admit, I love it. For those who don’t know, Snapchat lets you post photos or videos (and annotate on top of them) that last a maximum of 24 hours before they disappear. It’s very stream-of-consciousness, and I love having a new format to talk about books, writing, and life in. (And there are definitely some videos of my cat). If you have (or get) Snapchat, friend me! My username is opinionsofawolf.

February Favorites

Instagram collage of my reading location one weekend when I attended my friend’s wedding. The lower left is the wallpaper in the hotel room, the upper left is the view, and on the right is my kindle with the two mugs that were our wedding favors.

Instagram lets you easily manage multiple accounts. Finally!

I’ve had a personal Instagram account for years (sorry, you can’t have that username!), but I found trying to manage a personal and a professional/hobby one to be frustrating, because the app forced you to log out entirely of one account before logging into the next one. There was no simple tapping back and forth between accounts. Well, this month Instagram finally fixed that! So I get to join my fellow book bloggers in the virtual world of #bookstagram. Please do check it out for shots of reading locations, real time mini-reviews and pictures of books as I finish them, and quotes from books as I read them, among other things! Username: opinionsofawolf.

Next up, two smaller, but still exciting to me, things this month.

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Nuun

I actually have another book blogger to thank for this discovery. The awesome Running ‘N’ Reading posted a few times about the recovery drink Nuun. Replenishing electrolytes and rehydrating are very important after working out. It helps with muscle recovery and just general hydration. I’ve struggled because I’m not really a fan of Powerade and Gatorade, especially for the calorie content. (The ones with zero calories don’t taste good to me). I love coconut water, but it’s full of calories and expensive to buy. Nuun comes in tubes that each contain 12 tablets. You drop the tablet into water, and in two minutes it dissolves into a drink. Each tablet contains 8 calories. The tablets make it easy to order online and stockpile into your home, as well as convenient to take with you on longer fitness excursions. My husband and I are both pretty addicted to them now! And we’ve both noticed less DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) after hard workout days. Our favorite flavors are lemon-lime and tri-berry.

February Favorites

Bunnies at HomeGoods!

I love bunnies, and this month HomeGoods stocked up their spring holdings. I was hard-pressed to select only a few items (I’ll find almost anything with a bunny on it adorable), but I did my best to stick to what we need. My husband and I each have our own bowl for mealtimes (they do not match) but mine was a bit small for meals like soup or stew. So I picked up one that is about the same size as his. We also had large plates and small plates but no medium-sized ones, so I picked up two of those. Finally, I can always use more kitchen towels, so I got a set of two with this cute bunny on them.

Finally, a book!

cover_blackout

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

I want to wrap up these monthly favorites posts with a quick comment about my favorite read of the month. I devoured Blackout in a mere two days in audiobook format. I basically was searching for any task I could do as an excuse to listen to it. It’s that good. First five star read of the year! Review to come.

So that’s it for February. Be sure to tune in next month for episode 2 of Wolfy’s Favorites!

What were some of your favorite things in the month of February? Have you tried out any of the things I’ve mentioned? Tell us about your experience in the comments! (Especially feel free to let me know your Snapchat or Instagram usernames).