For Sarah Hepola, alcohol was “the gasoline of all adventure.” She spent her evenings at cocktail parties and dark bars, where she proudly stayed till last call … until she realised the fuel she thought powered her was draining her spirit instead. In her hilariously funny and honest memoir Blackout, Sarah writes about her road to sobriety and the friends that helped her along the way.
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 anything 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.
My friend Charlotte met me for lunch on a sparkling day in fall.
“So you’re not drinking,” Charlotte said. “How’s that going?” A fair question.
It was, perhaps, the only question I cared about. But I could not take the emotional splatter paint in my chest and translate it into words for her benefit. What could I possibly say? That I could sense every drinker in the room, and I hated every one of them?
Drinkers had started to throb from every patio and sidewalk. A few days before, I’d gotten a whiff of a drunk homeless guy in the subway and my mouth watered. Like a vampire.
“Good,” I told her, and stared at the floor for a long time, which is always super convincing.
Charlotte is my friend Stephanie’s younger sister. As teenagers, we met on back porches with domestic beer in our hands and shared the frustration of standing in Stephanie’s shadow. As adults, we met at smoking windows with purple mouths to complain about the ways the world still placed us second. She was one of my best friends in New York. We used to share rooms on girls’ weekends - two days of binge drinking and sisterly bonding - and I would go home feeling so understood, my stomach sore from laughing.
Now we sat at the table with nothing but awkwardness and salted butter between us.
My glass of Perrier was such flimsy compensation - all the fizz of champagne and none of its deliverance. Why couldn’t I tell Charlotte the truth - that I was miserable without drinking? Isn’t that what friends provide - a soft landing for your complicated pain?
But I relied on the alcohol to loosen my tongue. Actually, I would say, leaning in after the second glass, 'I’m a wreck'. 'I’m a wreck, too!' the woman would say, because every female was hoarding some secret misery. I couldn’t achieve such pliability at noon on a Saturday, though. And I didn’t want to bore Charlotte with lame stories of 12-step meetings and day counts. (One of the many downsides of my snarky attitude toward “recovery people” was the mortifying discovery I was one of them.) I felt sorry for Charlotte, confined to sit across from such a wretch. Sobriety could be so isolating.
Sometimes I felt like I was living on an island, where all I did was hope a friend would float by, and when they finally arrived, I began to wonder when they’d go away. I was a fire starter once. I could talk to anyone when I was drinking. I played therapist, devil’s advocate, clown. I actually used to brag I could be friends with Stalin. And it never occurred to me to ask: Who the hell would want to be friends with Stalin?