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inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #0 of 111: Inkwell Host (jonl) Sat 16 Jan 16 11:10
    
We're excited to have Sarah Hepola joining us for an Inkwell
discussion. Sarah's book _Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank
to Forget_ was an Amazon Best Book of June 2015. 

Here's Amazon's review: 

"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

Sarah Hepola is the former personal essays editor at Salon. Her
writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Guardian, Glamour,
Slate, and The Morning News, where she has been a longtime
contributor. Back in the Pleistocene era of the late 90s, she was
named the "tech editor" at the Austin Chronicle, probably because
she was the youngest person on staff, and they assumed she
understood the Internet. (She did not.) Not long after that, she
started her own blog, right around the time they coined that word,
and she's been discovering the marvels and horrors of online
communities ever since. She lives in Dallas and writes while sitting
in bed.

Leading the conversation is Elizabeth Churchill, a longtime member
of The WELL. Elizabeth joined the Well back in the pioneering days
of 1990 with a 1200 baud modem (the exact same model Wilma
Flintstone owned!), and her very first post was a dubious claim to
have thrown a stolen typewriter off the Golden Gate Bridge. She
spent the next 20+ years wavering between insistence and denial,
depending on who was asking, until eventually the Well's collective
memory forgot what the hell a typewriter even is and the statue of
limitations was probably up anyway.

Elizabeth currently lives with two elderly dogs in a tiny rustic
treehouse deep in the forest on beautiful Bainbridge Island WA, a
mile from the nearest paved road. Fortunately she enjoys hiking, owl
gazing, and climbing up and down ladders.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #1 of 111: Elizabeth Churchill (leroyleroy) Sat 16 Jan 16 12:08
    
Thanks, Jon, and hi Sarah! 

Let me start off by saying how very much I enjoyed your book. I read
it straight through in one voracious sitting, simply could NOT put
it down. On New Year's Eve at that! Which, ok, is maybe a little
embarrassing, but it brings up what might be a salient point for
this discussion: I am not a drinker.

Through no fault of my own, I was dealt a genetic hand that manages
to block any feelings of euphoria and other fun effects of alcohol.
I certainly didn't inherit this condition from either parent, as
both my mother and father were heavy social drinkers, and I'm pretty
sure my mother and sister have both suffered alcohol induced
blackouts. But when it comes to me, I might as well be drinking
prune juice mixed with infant formula for all the thrill I get. It's
not that I'm some kind of Puritanical abstainer, I'm just not
capable of enjoying it. 

In the book you talk about how when you were drinking, you didn't
like to be around non-drinkers. Has that changed now? Can we be
friends?
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #2 of 111: Sarah Hepola (shepola) Sun 17 Jan 16 10:51
    
Oh, I hated non-drinkers. I had this prejudice that drinkers were
the “fun ones,” the ones who were truly living. Drinking was cool,
which meant non-drinkers must be UNCOOL. A lot of us have similar
blind spots. Atheists who can’t stand religious people. Intellects
who don’t like sports fans. When I met a new person, I wanted to
know one thing: Do you drink? Because if you didn’t, then I had no
time for you. If you did, then let’s head to the bar, so we can
learn each other’s secrets, and chase new adventure, and cry about
our sadness. My drinking was like a two-decade-long game of “Truth
or Dare.” And I liked being around drinkers, because they reinforced
some of my own questionable habits: Bingeing three or four times a
week, drinking alone, drinking to blackouts. There was always
someone who drank more than me.

When I began to see I needed to quit, this dismissive attitude
toward teetotalers haunted me. If I gave up drinking, then I would
become the kind of person I hated. Life is a hell of an instructor,
right? I also had a wildly inflated sense of how many people drank.
I’d say to my therapist (or my mom, or my friends): “But everyone
drinks!” Which is clearly false. Something like 20 percent of
Americans never drink at all, which is a massive amount, and the
number of your non-drinking friends increases as you get older. But
my vantage point was so distorted, because I’d spent so many years
on a bar stool.

Sobriety was the slow discovery of a whole other planet. A sober
life can be boring, of course, but it can also be full-throttle. The
splendor and agony of the universe without any numbing agent. And I
began to learn HOW MANY PEOPLE don’t drink at all. Not just sober
folks (and we are legion), but people like you, Elizabeth, who
simply don’t dig it. Booze doesn’t jibe with their lifestyle or
their biology. And I LOVE IT when non-drinkers tell me they enjoyed
the book. Probably 10 percent of my emails begin, “I don’t really
drink much, but I loved ‘Blackout.’” I think that’s because the book
is really about the human struggle underneath the drinking: The
insecurity, craving for connection, discomfort in your own body, the
struggle to find your own voice. We all share that.

I love hanging out with non-drinkers now, because they tend to have
interesting hobbies, and don’t mind sitting for hours with nothing
but tea or coffee between us. The far bigger challenge is hanging
out with my old drinking buddies. I still love many of them, but if
we spend too much time in the non-alcoholic world, I can sense them
get that ITCH. They want the release. The slow pour. We often part
at the witching hour. 

But that’s another subject. In short, yes, Elizabeth, we can be
friends. Especially if we can hang out in your treehouse.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #3 of 111: Elizabeth Churchill (leroyleroy) Sun 17 Jan 16 11:47
    
Absolutely! Any time you're in the Seattle area (though I warn you:
it's reeeeally tiny, sort of like hanging out in a phone booth).

That's interesting that other non-drinkers have loved your book as
much as I did. Is that unexpected? I mean, how did you envision your
reader demographic when you were writing the book: was it aimed at
newly sober people, or drinkers who needed inspiration, or
researchers and treatment professionals? And how has that played
out?
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #4 of 111: Sarah Hepola (shepola) Sun 17 Jan 16 18:32
    
When I was writing the book, I often thought about people stranded
in the awful purgatory where you want to quit drinking but you
can’t. I was stuck there for so long, and it was such a lonely
place. I wanted those people to know life isn’t over after you quit
drinking. I wanted them to know I had to fail many times, in many
ways before I finally quit. Of course I also thought about people in
the painful first year of sobriety, where you’re just an alien in a
human suit. In a way, “Blackout” is my big “it gets better” speech. 


But over the years, as I spoke to friends about my book, the more I
saw how the story resonated with many of them. Maybe they were going
through a divorce, or losing a parent, or dealing with a cancer
diagnosis. Those are all stories of loss and exile. How do you come
back to the world? I was hoping the book’s appeal would be broader
than simply the recovery community, and it has been -- although the
recovery community has been great.

The majority of readers seem to be women in their 30s and 40s.
That’s not surprising, because I wrote it with them in mind. But
what’s awesome is that men write me all the time and tell me how
they relate. I wrote it with drinkers in mind, but non-drinkers see
themselves in it, too. 

Is this just how writing works? You put a book in the world, and you
learn that it speaks in languages you never imagined? I’ve only put
out one book, so I can’t compare this to anything else. (And I’m not
trying to suggest everyone likes the book. Of course they don’t.)
I’ve learned, however, that the audience will bend to you. They will
find their universals in your specifics. That’s so cool. 
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #5 of 111: Elizabeth Churchill (leroyleroy) Sun 17 Jan 16 20:58
    <scribbled>
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #6 of 111: Elizabeth Churchill (leroyleroy) Sun 17 Jan 16 21:08
    
One of the things that makes your book stand out in the sea of
recovery memoirs is your focus on blackouts. Like many people I had
conflated blacking out with passing out but as you explain they're
two very distinct phenomena.

I've experienced people (parents, siblings, exes) who said and did
terrible things when they'd been drinking, then denied any memory of
it the next day. Clearly they hadn't passed out because they were
capable of driving cars, slamming doors, throwing plates, insulting
waiters. I suspected them of lying, or gaslighting, but after
reading your story I understand they were probably suffering
blackouts.

Can you explain what a blackout is, how it works biologically, how
it seems to observers and how it feels when it happens?
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #7 of 111: Sarah Hepola (shepola) Mon 18 Jan 16 13:46
    
I’m glad you asked. A blackout is when you drink so much that your
longterm memory shuts down. You can still talk and laugh, but later
you have no memory of doing so. It’s an alcohol-induced amnesia.

For a long time, blackouts were misunderstood in the medical
community as something rare and only experienced by alcoholics, but
they’re fairly common in binge-drinking circles, especially for
women, because our systems process alcohol differently than men.

Having a blackout is very creepy. They don’t feel like anything, but
they can create startling moments of discovery. You become aware
that time is missing. For me, I would wake up after a night of
drinking and wonder: How did I get home last night? Why is that
pizza box lying on the floor? It was disorienting. Pieces of my
story were gone, almost like a reel of film was missing from the
movie. I had a blackout the first time I got drunk, and I knew it
took place because my older cousin told me all these crazy things I
did that I couldn’t remember. So over the following years, when I
woke up with data missing, it was like: Ugh, another blackout. But
many people don’t realize how easily they can blackout (it’s caused
by a spike in BAC, often the result of drinking fast, or drinking on
an empty stomach), and so they assume they’ve been roofied. Roofies
do exist, of course, but more frequently, when someone can’t
remember a night of drinking, it’s because they blacked out.

Here’s the other creepy thing about blackouts: You can’t tell
someone is having them. A researcher I interviewed compared it to
having a headache; you can’t tell what’s going on in someone else’s
brain. And people in blackouts can be surprisingly functional, as
you pointed out. They say all sorts of shit and later don’t remember
it. One of the most poignant conversations I had after a book event
was with the adult son of an alcoholic whose father went to his
grave refusing to admit the terrible things he’d done and said while
he was drunk. After hearing my description of a blackout, the son
realized his father very likely didn’t remember those things. It was
a heavy moment. 

Blackouts do have a couple warning signs. Drunk people who tell you
a story, and then repeat the same story again? Those people are
usually in blackouts. Sometimes people in blackouts get this zombie
look in their eyes, like they’re not entirely there. But sometimes
people give no signs. I’ve heard SO MANY stories from people who had
an intense, powerful conversation with another person, and then the
next day one of them doesn’t remember it at all. It’s very
confusing.

I used to think everyone knew what a blackout was, but I've since
learned a LOT of people don't, which is crazy to me — that this
fairly common and devastating side effect of binge-drinking is
fundamentally misunderstood as “passing out.” From a neurological
perspective, blackouts are pretty fascinating, and there’s still a
lot they don’t know: Why do some people have them, and not others?
(Genetics probably plays a role.) What are their long-term effects
on the brain? (They don’t know.) From a literary standpoint,
blackouts were a good metaphor to examine the denial of a troubled
drinker. They create such a disconnect between you and the damage
you cause.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #8 of 111: Elizabeth Churchill (leroyleroy) Mon 18 Jan 16 16:14
    
You say women process alcohol differently than men. I imagine this
is true not just biologically, but also psychologically and
socially. One quote that really struck me was: “When men are in a
blackout, they do things to the world. When women are in a blackout,
things are done to them.” Can you elaborate a bit about blackouts
and what you refer to as "nature's double standards"?
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #9 of 111: Sarah Hepola (shepola) Tue 19 Jan 16 05:00
    
The line you quoted is something Aaron White at NIAAA told me. He’s
one of the leading experts on blackout, and an incredibly smart guy.
The broad-stroke tendency — and remember we’re talking in broad
strokes, this is not true for everyone — is that men grow more
aggressive when they’re drinking, and women become looser and more
compliant. Is that nature? Nurture? I can’t say. But you can see how
this would create some problems around sex and consent. 

What I said in the book is, “Nature insists on some double
standards.” We are lucky to live in a time when young women grow up
believing they are men’s equals, and they can do anything men can
do. That’s wonderful. We’re taught equality, but I worry sometimes
we’re not taught difference.  

To elaborate on my earlier point: Women get drunker faster. We have
less of a particular enzyme that breaks down alcohol, and we have a
higher ratio of fat to water in our bodies, which is why
binge-drinking guidelines are five drinks for men and four for
women. Place on top of that the fact that women are usually smaller
(I'm 5'2"), and we do things like skip meals (a big one for me, and
a major risk factor for blackout), and you see the problem with
"keeping up with the boys." I prided myself on holding my liquor --
look how tough I am, I can match these guys shot for shot -- but my
brain was shutting down. 

One thing I’ve noticed since putting out the book is that women and
men talk about their blackouts differently. Men are more likely to
find it funny, another night of drunken hijinks. Women are more
likely to be mortified by what they might have done. And the terror
is not just around issues of sex, either, though that is a big one.
I used to strip at awkward times. I called people names. It could be
a bad scene. The social costs of drunken buffoonery can be higher
for women, whereas men might have more of a “boys will be boys”
pass. Again, I’m speaking in broad strokes. I’ve certainly heard
from men who were haunted by their behavior in a blackout, and
oftentimes, it’s because they turned violent. Of course some women
turn violent, too, but it’s less common.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #10 of 111: behind on BADGES! (obizuth) Tue 19 Jan 16 09:42
    
this book is SO FUCKING GOOD. i hyperventilated all over goodreads. 
mazel tov, sarah. 
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #11 of 111: Sarah Hepola (shepola) Tue 19 Jan 16 09:56
    
Thank you! I am very honored by your all caps and f-bombs. As you
can tell from the book, I throw many myself.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #12 of 111: Administrivia (jonl) Tue 19 Jan 16 11:48
    
Handy administrivia, especially for those reading this who are not
members of the WELL...

You can share this discussion with a short link:
http://bit.ly/hepola-inkwell

You can also participate, even if you're not a WELL member, by
sending comments or questions to inkwell at well.com. Hosts will
post 'em here.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #13 of 111: Tom Howard (tom) Tue 19 Jan 16 12:57
    
Sarah, hi. Thanks so much for coming here. I stumbled across an
article of yours before I heard about your book and then happily got
your book when it became available at my library. It is, I must say,
a helluva story and you are a wonderful writer. 

And, I'm very happy for you and your reaching the point of stopping
drinking entirely. It is so amazing how long people will continue
such incredibly dangerous, destructive, damaging behavior, yes? 

The powerful story you tell in the book about the Paris trip reminds
me of the way the movie "28 Days" with Sandra Bullock was told. We
see her relate what happened at her sister's wedding and it is
horrible. However, later in the movie we see it thru the sister's
(and the world's) eyes, and it is beyond horrific. Your very, very
personal experience of the man and (especially) yourself in Paris
was practically heart-stopping.

Do say more about the reactions you've received, if you will. So
good to hear of the good feed-back you've received. I have seen such
terrible things said in comments sections relating to recovery that
it never ceases to amaze me - ever since Anne Lamott's columns in
Salon and the discussions in Table Talk back in 1995.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #14 of 111: Elizabeth Churchill (leroyleroy) Tue 19 Jan 16 13:48
    
(Not to distract anyone from the book, but since Tom mentioned
Sarah's articles I just want to pipe in and say I'm also a huge fan.
My very favorite might be "I Always Dated Tom Waits." Because, whoa,
that's funny, SO DID I!)

<http://www.salon.com/2012/04/14/i_always_dated_tom_waits/>
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #15 of 111: Frako Loden (frako) Tue 19 Jan 16 14:34
    
Sarah, I haven't read your book but I'm fascinated by people's ability TO
drink at all. I'm half-Asian and believe I lack much of that enzyme that
processes alcohol, so a half-inch of wine makes me red, giddy and
talkative--and any more brings me down so bad I'd just rather not indulge
much of the time. I'm fascinated by people who drink copiously and manage to
carry on or pass out. I've had my share of fainting episodes that involve
less alcohol and more weed or lack of fresh air, but I don't call those
blackouts of course. I remember every miserable minute of them.

Early in my college days I drank a lot of tequila, testing my limits. Now I
hear of young people on binges, at spring break, frat parties . . . I'm
amazed at the culture that surrounds drinking.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #16 of 111: Sarah Hepola (shepola) Tue 19 Jan 16 14:59
    
I like that essay too, Elizabeth. Thanks for mentioning it.

Tom, I'm happy to talk more about the positive response. It's been
overwhelming. I spent many years writing online, where the comments
sections could be toxic. I had grown accustomed to stretching out my
trembling hand with some personal revelation and getting a rotten
tomato in my face in return. That has not been the case with this
book. Of course, I'm sure I could find terrible things people have
said/written, but the emails, tweets, Facebook posts, and notes I
get through my website are incredibly positive and compassionate. 

The majority of people I hear from are people who want to quit
drinking, or quit drinking a long time ago and are very grateful for
the reminder of why. That first group: Those are the ones I so badly
wanted to reach. I learned the hard way that nobody can MAKE you
stop drinking. Nobody can GIVE you the willingness to change. That's
why it's so tricky. You have to do it on your own. But as I walked
across the long, cracked valley that led from "drinker" to
"non-drinker," I needed about 100 different assurances that I was
headed in the right direction. If my book can be one of those 100
assurances, I'm glad. 

I hear a lot of harrowing blackout stories, as you can imagine. I
wouldn't want to go into detail. I always feel like those notes are
a little bit like confessionals -- people want to share this one
terrifying story with someone else, just to take a bit of the sting
out of it. But I can say that a LOT of people have their own Paris
stories. The world is full of pain, I"m sorry to say.

Whenever I do a speaking event, I usually end up in some long
conversation with someone -- a young woman who thinks she has a
problem drinking, but is afraid of social exile if she quits, or a
couple who are worried about their son/daughter, who is struggling
with an addiction. Those might be the hardest, because you KNOW
those parents would do ANYTHING if they could make their kid stop.
They're so desperate. But again, it's not something they can
control. My heart goes out to them. 

With recovery stories, where I usually see the
comments/conversations go south is over the question of how you get
sober. A comments thread on AA can be a dark place. Personally, AA
was my way out, but it's not for everyone. There is an interesting,
complicated discussion going on about how we treat addiction, and
how we could improve. It's needed. There's so much addiction in our
country right now. 
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #17 of 111: Sarah Hepola (shepola) Tue 19 Jan 16 15:06
    
Frako, Your post reminds me of a guy I (briefly) dated from India,
who couldn't understand why everyone he met in Dallas wanted spend
their Friday in a bar getting wasted. The alcohol didn't agree with
him, and made him sluggish. He just didn't understand the
desire/need to drink yourself into oblivion three times a week. The
further I get from that world, the less sense it makes to me, too,
but I can tell you in my 20s, it was living to me. 

The ability to drink has a STRONG genetic component. I am part Irish
and part Finnish. If you know anything about those cultures, then
you know I am like a champion dog bred for binge drinking. I've
known other Asians who couldn't tolerate booze, either, and then
I've known some who drank more than me. I have a Google alert for
"Binge Drinking," and there are a few stories about binge-drinking
Japanese businessmen and young South Korean women. But 90 percent of
the stories are from the UK, Australia, and the U.S. -- it seems to
be the combination of social freedom plus Western wealth plus
consumer excess. Plus, copycat syndrome. Everyone does it because
everyone else does it!
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #18 of 111: Frako Loden (frako) Tue 19 Jan 16 17:57
    
Well, and binge drinking is the default Asian way of drinking. One reason is
that the trains shut down at a certain hour, and if you go out drinking with
your co-workers night after night, you know that you have to drink as much
as possible as quickly as possible. It's also rude to let your fellow
drinker sit there with an empty glass for more than a few seconds, so you're
always filling it and always trying to keep up with everybody else. "Ikki
nomi" is the performance of chugging just like at frat parties, and if
you're Asian and highly sensitive to alcohol, ikki nomi ensures that you'll
fall fast asleep on the train home and probably barf on the platform of the
connecting train or your home station if you're lucky.

Two other factors enable binge drinking in Japan at least. The things you
say while drunk are considered expressions of "sincerity," and they're
forgiven if not forgotten the next day at work. Also there's no charge for
being drunk and disorderly in public.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #19 of 111: Sarah Hepola (shepola) Tue 19 Jan 16 18:17
    
Fascinating. One of the tremendous appeals of drinking, across
cultures, is that it's a way to loosen up, be freer, and I do notice
that the more "uptight" societies (England, Japan) often have strong
drinking rituals. Think about American weddings: Who would EVER
dance if we were all sober?
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #20 of 111: david gault (dgault) Tue 19 Jan 16 18:45
    

I haven't had a drink for more than 10 years, and my ears
perked up (as if in reaction to a sound) when I read 
"I am part Irish and part Finnish..."  

That's how deep the instinct goes.  It's genetic and I
think it had survival value to the species for millenia.
But not so much, anymore.  I'm looking forward to reading
your book.  Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. 
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #21 of 111: Dodge (dodge1234) Wed 20 Jan 16 06:07
    
I don't like the taste of alcohol. It doesn't make me drunk. I have
to drink a lot to get a buzz on at all but I quickly reach a point
where I just can't stand the taste. I have been drunk once or twice.
Pina coladas was my downfall. They can be quite strong before you
taste the alcahol. That and Long Island Ice Tea which snuck up on
me. But mostly I just never got into the habit.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #22 of 111: Elizabeth Churchill (leroyleroy) Wed 20 Jan 16 09:26
    
Sarah, a few posts back you pointed out that the social costs of
drunkenness are higher for women than for men. This is true of many
things that are pleasurable, especially sex and food, and it makes
us want to rebel, to defy unfair social constraints. But
unfortunately the biological costs can also be higher for women. You
talked about this a little with regards to your efforts at weight
loss. Have you gotten any pushback from fat pride activists?
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #23 of 111: Sarah Hepola (shepola) Wed 20 Jan 16 12:25
    
This is a great question. It also points back to the incredible
allure of drinking for women in the first place. Booze is like two
middle fingers at the notion of being “a proper lady.” So much of my
behavior in early adulthood can be understood as either kowtowing to
these insane standards or rebelling against them, but both paths
neglected an essential question: Who do *I* want to be?   

After I quit drinking, I was deeply uncomfortable in my body. I was
in bad shape, physically — I had an ulcer, and was carrying around
50 extra pounds. I went on a diet, and there’s a chapter in the book
where I talk about the shame I felt “buying in” to the weight-loss
industrial complex. It’s so funny. Here we are, three-quarters of
the way through a book about booze and sex and bad decisions, and
what REALLY embarrasses me is the six months I spent logging
calories in My Fitness Pal. 

The body acceptance movement was blossoming during this time period:
Society, for the first time in my memory, was embracing fuller
figures, questioning what true health and beauty is. Our standards
had been so narrow, so warped. I really wondered — and still do —
whether my inability to accept my larger figure was a failure on my
part. But I was also painfully estranged from my body. It was not a
home to me. It was like a rental I despised, and never decorated.
Years of binge drinking and binge eating away my hangovers had
buried me, and in some ways, I was just discovering body for the
first time. 

I’ve never gotten any pushback from the fat activist community,
though I certainly would welcome their feedback. My sense is that
the body acceptance movement is about finding peace in your own
skin. Central to its philosophy is that all bodies are different,
and we should love and hold sacred the shape we’ve been given. I
think that’s what I was doing.
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #24 of 111: behind on BADGES! (obizuth) Wed 20 Jan 16 13:39
    
i think you're right, sarah -- i think real body-acceptance advocates 
understand that there are different ways to be at home in one's body, and 
there is no one-size-fits-all [sic] approach. there will always be 
knee-jerk people who talk about "real women" and yell "eat a sandwich" at 
strangers. 

apropros of nothing, and with no transition, one of my favorite moments in 
the book -- because it says SO MUCH about two different peopel (and gender 
and coolness) in two short paragraphs, and also because it is fucking 
hilarious -- is when sarah hangs a poster from Rent over her desk at the 
hipster paper in Austin on her first day and a scruffy dude walks by and 
glances at it and says SERIOUSLY? and walks away. 
  
inkwell.vue.488 : Sarah Hepola, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
permalink #25 of 111: Sarah Hepola (shepola) Wed 20 Jan 16 16:03
    
Ha, yes! I'm glad you liked that. And the scene picks up later, when
I replace "Rent" with a poster from "Blade Runner," a movie I'd
never even seen all the way through, but I knew movie dudes loved
it. That's me, nervously trying to court approval. There's a lot in
that chapter about doubting your own voice and your passions, which
young people inevitably do, because they're still so new, still
figuring out who they are. The Austin Chronicle was a huge education
in the arts for me, but it was also a lesson in the tyranny of cool.
My generation, Gen X -- much more than later generations -- judged
people according to pop culture tastes. Woe to the person who got
the answer wrong. 
  

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