Near the end of her new memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, Sarah Hepola, newly sober, tries to imagine what the rest of her life will look like. She realizes that all her most satisfying daydreams depend upon her being someone else. So do her friendships, her romantic life, and even her career—she’s a writer and the personal essays editor of Salon, where, even in that catalog of human misery, her contributions stand out for their candor and lack of self-pity. For most of her life, she’d relied on alcohol to turn her into the person she wanted to be.

  • Zan Keith
  • Hepola

A lonely, attention-starved child, Hepola started stealing sips of her parents’ beer at age seven. She loved the way it made her feel, “melty inside . . . woozy with rainbows.” Later she liked that it made her brave. “I needed alcohol to drink away the things that plagued me . . . my self-consciousness, my insecurities, my fears. I drank away all the parts that made me human, in other words.”

But she didn’t realize that last part until her late 30s. By then she was blacking out regularly. Her life was full of incidents she couldn’t remember. She’d wake up with bruises from falling down stairs. She’d come to in the middle of sex with strange men. At first she was terrified. Then she accepted it. “It was hideous to let those nights slide into a crack in the ground,” she writes. “Even scarier was to remember your own life.”

Hepola’s not asking for anyone’s pity, though. She’s just written as good an explanation as I’ve ever read of why some people willingly hurt themselves so badly and why they just can’t stop.