"The nights I can't remember are the nights I can never forget."
July 8, 2015 7:37 AM   Subscribe

It's possible you don't know what I'm talking about. Maybe you're a moderate drinker who baby-sips two glasses of wine and leaves every party at a reasonable hour. Maybe you are one of those lucky people who can slurp your whisky all afternoon and never disappear. But if you're like me, you know the thunderbolt of waking up to discover a blank space where pivotal scenes should be. My evenings come with trapdoors.
An excerpt from Sarah Hepola's new memoir: "Everyone has blackouts, don't they?"

Interviews with and essays about Sarah Hepola and the aforementioned memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget:

The Atlantic: Anatomy of a Blackout
"What we consider to be consequences of drinking aren't always consequences to the drinkers," [Aaron] White says. "[A blackout] can be considered a barometer for how drunk you got, so therefore you must have had a lot more fun."

There's a confusion here of what adventure is. Alcohol can fuel a sense of adventure, and make you feel like anything could happen. But a blackout is the reverse. Anything could have happened. "After a blackout, I would torture myself thinking of the awful things I might have said or done,” Hepola writes. "My mind became an endless loop of what scared me the most."
The Rumpus: The Saturday Rumpus Interview: Sarah Hepola
"It's a uniquely lacerating punishment to not know what you've done. Because it means you could have done anything. I didn't sleep well when I drank, so I often woke up at 5am, and I would lie in bed for hours torturing myself with what might have happened. "What might have happened" is a list you can build until the stars fall out of the sky. It didn't help that my past experience taught me my behavior in blackouts could be bizarre. Exhibitionist, aggressive, cruel. I didn’t even have the dignity of assuring myself, "I would never do that," because I did quite a few things in a blackout that I would normally never do.

So yes, the shock of not knowing is unforgettable. Where am I? What the hell happened? But that sentence has a double meaning for me. Because I was prone to relapse and magical thinking, it's also a call to awareness. Never forget your own story."
The Dallas Observer: "It's my story, but I'm not alone."
"...the longer you walk into sobriety, the more how you see yourself shifts, your memories shift. What does that mean? Are you remembering it more clearly? Or worse with more distance? As a personal essay writer, I have these really specific memories of my life that I can use as material, and here is a place where there is just a blank space. People know more about your life than you do, which is the weird thing that drinkers get into where they're so detached and distanced from their own activity and also the damage they do to other people. It just seemed to me that it was a really interesting way to talk about memory, the faulty mechanism of the mind but also the beautiful machine of the mind, and this weird thing that drinking, something that is celebrated across our culture, that is legal after the age of 21, but socially acceptable from the age of more or less 17 on, can give you amnesia, and nobody talks about it."
Vogue: A New Memoir Explores a Taboo Subject: Blackout Drinking

NPR Weekend Edition: After Years Of Blackouts, A Writer Remembers What She 'Drank To Forget'

She Knows: Author Sarah Hepola talks women and drinking habits, and why we hide it
posted by divined by radio (111 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
But a blackout is the reverse. Anything could have happened. "After a blackout, I would torture myself thinking of the awful things I might have said or done,” Hepola writes. "My mind became an endless loop of what scared me the most."

I don't blackout very often, but it happens occasionally, and when I do, I always make sure to poke my wife just enough to wake her up and say "I love you." I can usually tell if I did anything I need to apologize for by how she responds.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:44 AM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


I heard her interviewed last night on CBC's q. The interviewer was Candy Palmater and it was a terrific conversation. Hepola is insightful and articulate and very frank about her experiences with alcohol. I want to read this book.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:47 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


What? No! Thank Christ for blackouts, lest we be haunted by the memories of all the embarrassing stuff we did when we were hammered!

(problem: friends gleefully bayoneting you with witness accounts the next day)
posted by ominous_paws at 7:48 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can count the number of times I've blacked out on one hand. But I've found that the loss of memory isn't necessarily the same as being drunk to the point of incoherence. The stories My friends have recounted are typically pretty boring and along the lines of "you realized how drunk you were, excused yourself and went home."

Except for that one time I was out dancing with a friend at a club, tried to drop it low, and ended up just sitting down on the ground before crawling away in embarrassment. I have a friend who won't let me forget that.
posted by C'est la D.C. at 7:57 AM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yes, well, sometimes I'm glad my life doesn't have a recent activity button.

An undo button would be nice, though.
posted by notyou at 7:58 AM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


What we consider to be ourselves is really just a series of memories - drinking to the point of blackouts is a form of short term suicide; you've taken enough of a drug to poison your brain.
posted by 445supermag at 7:59 AM on July 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


I'm only about halfway through the book but it's quite good so far. A difficult read if you've got loved ones who drink to this level of excess, as I do, but worth picking up.
posted by Stacey at 8:05 AM on July 8, 2015


I'll read this, for sure.

I imagine I will relate to a fair bit of it even though I was only really drunk once. Though to be fair, it lasted from 2002 to 2005.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:06 AM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


I generally blackout more than my husband (because Fuck You is why) but when he does OH BOY DOES HE!

One time we were getting into bed after a night out and we got into some stupid minor argument because I kept reminding him of something and he kept forgetting that I'd reminded him (because he was blacking out). Eventually I got super frustrated and was like "I ALREADY TOLD YOU THIS SIX TIMES!" and he had NO IDEA why I was so angry because he kept blacking out. So I was angry because I was annoyed and he was angry because I was annoyed and he DIDN'T KNOW WHY and we kept fighting about this and eventually I had the brilliant idea of sleeping downstairs so I could just get some goddamned sleep figuring he'd just forget we'd been fighting and leave me alone, but noooooooooo, he didn't remember why we were fighting but he definitely had the feeling of anger so he FOLLOWED ME DOWNSTAIRS and I was like "could you please just go to bed?" and he was like "I'll go to bed as soon as you tell me why we're fighting!" and it was just the most absurd thing that had ever happened because at that point we were only fighting because he was angry about something he couldn't remember.

Obviously it all turned out totally fine and we woke up the next morning and it was totally cool for everyone except our poor roommate who had to hear what was probably the stupidest fight the world has ever known.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:06 AM on July 8, 2015 [37 favorites]


I'm glad my life doesn't have a recent activity button.

I'm not on Facebook for this reason. However, I've blacked out at parties where everybody else is on Facebook and now I live in fear of the pictures they're all laughing at.
posted by colie at 8:08 AM on July 8, 2015


I just reserved her book at my local library.

I am currently choosing to be sober for a prolonged period of time. My drinking is nowhere near as bad as it was when I was living in Atlanta and single. (I have talked candidly about the various days of the week and what drinking activities were going on.) But still. I did have blackouts then; I often fell down when I had had way too many; I spent a lot of time feeling guilty and ashamed about what I might have done while I was drunk. I don't want to say that marrying my husband saved me, but in a real way, it helped. When someone loves you as a partner and a spouse, you really think about how that person sees you. Do I want my husband to see me as a sot? No. I won't say the reduced drinking habit happened right away after I got married and moved--it took a couple of really nasty fights instigated by my behaviour before that happened--but it opened up my eyes. I didn't want to be this person. But this person was the only person I could remember being for so long: the girl who was constantly up for grabbing a drink (which was rarely one) even if I had to work at 5 am the next morning. It's a hard self-identity to unlearn, especially when you have anxiety and depression.

I am much much less of that person but I am still trying to purge her completely. So here I am, going dry for a long time and figuring out how I want to live the rest of my life.

Oh, I am reading Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol by Ann Dowsett Johnston and holy cats, is it an eye-opener in re: to women and drinking.
posted by Kitteh at 8:08 AM on July 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


I've loved Hepola's writing for years, so I'm glad she's getting a splash with this book! Obviously, it'll go on my Kindle shortly.

Right next to Rosie Schaap's _Drinking with Men_, as sort of a counterpoint. Heh.
posted by uberchet at 8:12 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Man, I used to have to drink quite a lot to get to "blackout." It was a rare, rare occasion because I am a wee thing and not actually that into getting wasted. And at least once, it was also definitely roofie-assisted. But as I've gotten older they are really really unpredictable! Or at least the brownout variety. These days I can occasionally lose a half hour or an hour of an evening (usually, the tail end of it--the walking-home or the pre-bedtime rituals) to just two drinks. But only occasionally; most of the time, two drinks will barely touch me. It's disconcerting. I've not been able to work out a pattern of whether I've eaten enough/slept enough/am maybe on my period?/or whatever other factors may be at play when things start flickering.

But, my mother has always had a troubling relationship to alcohol, and it wouldn't be the worst thing if I developed a stupidly low tolerance at this age--it would definitely prevent me from ever reaching her level of booziness.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:14 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sadly, been there, seen it, left the tee-shirt in the back seat of a stranger's car.
posted by Splunge at 8:15 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


For me, the problem always was that I could have a couple of drinks and leave at that often, but I couldn't predict when my brain would go into FUCK IT LET US KEEP DRINKING mode. So it becomes a really awful crapshoot.
posted by Kitteh at 8:16 AM on July 8, 2015 [20 favorites]


That this is a well-known and dramatic side effect of alcohol usage, yet alcohol remains legal, amazes me. If it were found that cannabis caused chunks of memory to drop out this way (some argue that it does but I have never experienced this) there is no way that legalization would be considered.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:19 AM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


drinking to the point of blackouts is a form of short term suicide

"I have the feeling that drinking is a form of suicide where you're allowed to return to life and begin all over the next day" - Bukowski.

I'd say he's not completely wrong.
posted by thelonius at 8:21 AM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


yet alcohol remains legal, amazes me.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:19 AM on July 8


Well, it was illegal at one point....
posted by magstheaxe at 8:21 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of the few times I can say: It pays to be an emetophobe. I love wine more than I love ice cream (which is saying something) but I can't drink past the point of dizzy-nausea, much less drink til I barf and go back for more. Or accept that I'll be barfing the next day. I just can't. So I am forced to temper my wine with lots of water, space it out, etc., which I guess is what you're supposed to do anyway. Brownouts are usually for routine getting-ready-for-bed activities that I don't think much about anyway, so I couldn't say that they're real brownouts. The one true blackout I had was a few years ago and it was so terrifying that I'll never go back. Accompanying the scary hangover was some really significant nausea, so that sealed that deal. Never again.

But man, if I had no barrier w/r/t barfing...and considering my genetic inheritance...I'd have all kinds of substance problems, up to and including opiates. It's frightening.
posted by witchen at 8:22 AM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


About a decade ago, I attended a Christmas party that one of my co-workers was throwing. I'd taken a cab over, because I knew that I was going to be drinking, and I drank like a particularly irresponsible fish. At the end of the night, my friend/co-worker Sandy (not her real name) offered me a ride home.

I'd seen Sandy drinking throughout the evening, but I was feeling pretty sober at that point, and she seemed sharper than I was and said that she was sober, so I figured she was probably fine to drive. We got into her car, and as she was driving to my place I could feel myself somehow getting drunker, like the delayed reaction to my last drink was suddenly kicking in.

When Sandy dropped my off, I worried that she was experiencing the same resurgence of drunkenness that I was. I considered asking her not to drive off, but then I also considered that I didn't want to be that guy who says to a female friend, "Now that you're at my place, I think you're too drunk to drive home; you should stay the night."

One of the many ways that patriarchy is shitty is that it makes it difficult to express genuine concern for a woman's safety without her having to worry about what your ulterior motive might be.

Sandy drove herself home. The next day at work, she walked up and asked me a question that I don't think I'll ever be able to forget:

"Hey, did I drive you home last night?" I affirmed that she had, and she paused for several seconds before asking her follow-up.

"Did we crash?"

We had not. What apparently happened is that after she dropped me off, she headed home, and as she was exiting the freeway she ran directly into the back of a tow truck. That particular crash was a Honda Accord vs a tow truck, so the Accord's front end was totaled, while the tow truck didn't have a scratch on it. The tow truck driver looked at the vehicles, looked at the obviously drunk Accord driver, and towed her the rest of the way home. She went to bed and completely forgot about it until the next morning when she went downstairs and found her car smashed up. Even then, she couldn't remember if I had been there for the crash, or even if I'd been in her car at all that night.

Alcohol is fucking scary.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 8:23 AM on July 8, 2015 [45 favorites]


See this article brought all my inner prejudices to the fore: typical yank, can't hold her liquor, never learned to drink properly, too stupid to manage getting drunk without blacking out.

It's not a point of pride to drink to the point of blackout; it's knowing how to get drunk without hitting that point. And not drinking so fucking much if you can't.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:25 AM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


That this is a well-known and dramatic side effect of alcohol usage, yet alcohol remains legal, amazes me.

I am able to drink alcohol and I do not black out. I can and do stop after a few drinks. I would be very unhappy if alcohol were made illegal.

I would posit that blacking out while drinking is not normal.
posted by Nevin at 8:25 AM on July 8, 2015 [15 favorites]


I'm glad you posted this. Blackout is an astonishingly good book, brave and honest and often very funny. (Of course, I just adore Sarah Hepola's voice; she could write about picking out pumpkins, and I'd be there). I've already pushed Blackout on several of my friends/family, and they've uniformly loved it, too. It is framed as a recovery memoir (which it is) but it is also about growing up in the 1980s, pop music, journalism, friendship, consent, love of an orange cat, online culture, and much more. I didn't see a link posted to the almost-adoring NYT review and the excellent Chicago Tribune review, so I'll post them here, as I think they get the book:

NYT Review by Dwight Garner: "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. [. . .] But I’m glad, for herself and for us, that Ms. Hepola found A.A. and other varieties of help. “I had wanted alcohol to make me fearless,” she writes. “But by the time I’d reached my mid-30s, I was scared all the time.

It’s a win-win. She got a better life. We have this book."

Chicago Tribune Review: "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."
posted by seventyfour at 8:27 AM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think Martin Amis has the best blackout tale in Money - monster-drinking John Self turns up a dinner party with his bottle of wine ready to rock, host informs him that the party has actually been over for several hours, and Self attended it.
posted by colie at 8:29 AM on July 8, 2015 [17 favorites]


Anthony Hopkins came to in New Mexico and didn't remember coming to the US. That's when he got sober.
posted by thelonius at 8:31 AM on July 8, 2015


I would like any men posting in this thread to please remember that the relationship between women and alcohol is a lot more fraught than that of men and alcohol. So yes, you're right, drinking to the blackout is not normal. But this:

It's not a point of pride to drink to the point of blackout; it's knowing how to get drunk without hitting that point. And not drinking so fucking much if you can't.

For a lot of women, we aren't taught to about how to not get drunk without hitting that point. We are taught that if we're nervous, shy, awkward, or if we want to fit in and be one of the cool girls, then fuck yes, we'll match men drink for drink. Or at the very least, we will drink more than is good for us because it makes us feel more confident or less uncomfortable in whatever given social situation. And you know what? Society encourages that. Liquor/beer/wine adverts geared towards women show us that if we want to be worldly, poised, or have the best night of our lives, well, drink this product! So not drinking so fucking much if we can't? Yeah, that's pretty easy to say but not easy to do. Especially when no one knows or cares why we're drinking so much in the first place.
posted by Kitteh at 8:37 AM on July 8, 2015 [31 favorites]


It's not a point of pride to drink to the point of blackout; it's knowing how to get drunk without hitting that point. And not drinking so fucking much if you can't.

She, uh, doesn't seem to have a lot of pride in drinking to the point of blackout. I know I don't. It's one of the scariest feelings in the world. It's not like you go into a situation where there's alcohol involved like, "Huh, if I have this next drink, I'm gonna have a blackout!" It's like you're normal drunk normal drunk normal drunk... whoops, lights out. And to put it lightly, for people with substance abuse or addiction problems, "not drinking so fucking much" is much easier said than done.

Social aspects aside, it's significantly easier for women to suffer from blackouts in a purely physical sense: Our bodies metabolize alcohol differently than men's bodies do.
...even if a man and a woman of similar size matched each other shot for shot, the woman would be more likely to black out. Women have less alcohol dehydrogenase in their guts—an enzyme that helps break down alcohol. And they have less free-floating water in their bodies. "That means that it's like pouring a shot into a six-ounce glass of Coke rather than a 12-ounce glass," White says.
posted by divined by radio at 8:39 AM on July 8, 2015 [14 favorites]


Thank Christ for blackouts, lest we be haunted by the memories of all the embarrassing stuff we did when we were hammered!

I've never blacked out (or perhaps I've never been able to drink enough to black out). My special penance for drinking heavily is that I remember everything I did when I was hammered. The relentless sober catalog of the ways in which I probably embarrassed myself the night night before is usually worse than the physical symptoms of hangover. I still drink, and drink fairly regularly. But this, among other (perhaps more sensible) things, is why I no longer drink anywhere near as much as I did when I was younger.
posted by thivaia at 8:40 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not a point of pride to drink to the point of blackout; it's knowing how to get drunk without hitting that point. And not drinking so fucking much if you can't.

Alcoholics just aren't that good at not drinking so fucking much.
posted by seventyfour at 8:44 AM on July 8, 2015 [26 favorites]


Blacking out while drinking is a symptom of alcoholism. This is not a reflection on someone's ability to "handle their booze" or how well the "know how to drink", it is a symptom of illness.
posted by Nevin at 8:44 AM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


For a lot of women, we aren't taught to about how to not get drunk without hitting that point. We are taught that if we're nervous, shy, awkward, or if we want to fit in and be one of the cool girls, then fuck yes, we'll match men drink for drink.

This is a really good point (and yes, as mentioned above, I still drink quite a bit and I enjoy it) -- I didn't drink at all until I started college and I remember when I first started drinking, at age eighteen, telling one of my friends (a guy who had graduated a few years before and still lived nearby and had been a member of the same improv/sketch comedy group of which I was a part) that I wanted to be able to drink a lot because I wanted to be like the woman from Raiders of the Lost Ark and he was like "that's awesome" and paid for my chunk of the alcohol order (he is a good guy and we are still friends although I see him pretty seldom now).

There's a ton of pressure, positive and negative, for women to be "good at drinking" and order "real" and not "girly" drinks. I drank only straight whiskey for a while for this stupid reason. Straight whiskey is very alcoholic and I drank a ton of it and I was very, very lucky that nothing worse happened to me than getting really sick and having friends take care of me and being embarrassed.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:44 AM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


I can also count the number of times I've blacked out on one hand.

Barely.

Once was too many. But over 25 years of fairly heavy drinking, I filled the hand anyway.

Fortunately I more or less can't drink anymore (it makes me ill), and my wife doesn't drink at all aside from a thimbleful of tuaca in her cocoa from time to time. And I was never an alcoholic in the sense of feeling a need. (My terror of dependency would lead me to back off when that started.)
posted by lodurr at 8:46 AM on July 8, 2015


As for books about drinking, I'm always leery. When you make art about drug abuse, there's always the very substantial risk that you'll end up glamorizing it. (And probably whatever you do will glamorize it for certain people.) I don't have a magic test to identify the line between pandering and earnest disclosure, and sometimes the pandering is in how a publisher uses the work, not in how the author intended it.
posted by lodurr at 8:50 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Believe me, the book I am reading is not very glamorous re: drinking. If anyone is coming away from stories of women losing their jobs & marriages/custody of their kids/health problems/addiction sparked by abuse thinking "This sounds awesome!", then that person has some serious problems that didn't require a book to make them feel that way.
posted by Kitteh at 8:52 AM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


In my younger days I lived and worked in and industry and town that was party all the time. I participated a lot. Heaps of fun and thinking back I'm amazed at the schedule and that I survived. Being various levels of inebriated throughout the week was normal.

After reading this I'm surprised I didn't regularly experience black-outs. They were rare enough that I remember the one main time it did and how utterly bizzare it was. I did have various levels of brownouts but never complete blank outs. That night just went completely blank after a certain point with the exception of two blurry memories of getting into a van and dancing on some speakers. The next day my friends had a hard time believing that I didn't remember because although obviously drunk I was up and moving and dancing and talking like any other normal drinky evening. I did end up at a guys house, although I did know him from before. It wasn't horrible but it sure wasn't something that normally happened even on regular old drinky evenings.

It did totally unnerve me though because I don't recall making any decisions about it. At other drinky evenings things may have been blurry and inhibitions lowered but at least I remembered going through the 'should I or shouldn't I thought process.' The only thing that made me feel better was that my guy friends did have a discussion with each other when it became apparent that I was going home with him about whether they should intervene and stop it. Since we all knew each other and they knew that he was an okay guy they decided it was okay. That the only harm would be embarassment when we showed up at work the next day. They said they would have never let me go home with a stranger so yay?

I can't imagine having that sort of thing happen on a regular basis and just with random people you'd meet on that night. Although not a totally conscious decision that I recall making I'm pretty sure that experience did make me more aware and 'drunk aware' of not drinking so much that it happened again.
posted by Jalliah at 8:54 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's stories like this that make me completely okay with the idea of never getting drunk in my life.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:01 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Despite having far too much to drink on many occasions when I was younger, I've only once been blackout drunk, and even then I remember the vast majority of that afternoon/evening, despite the $500 or so of my client's money that was spent on my drinks that day. I did at least learn from the experience that it is best not to go to the bar just because you have nothing else to do. Especially when it's not even noon yet, and especially not when with people who consider it a good idea to pay waitresses to show off their breasts. I remember that, I remember being dragged up the stairs to my hotel room, I remember puking my guts up in the sink, and I remember yelling at my SO when she called because it woke me up and made the room start spinning again. Yeah, not doing that again.

I have no idea why, but even a whole bottle of tequila just doesn't manage to wipe away the memories. I'm not complaining; it is definitely for the best. It really has wiped away any interest in drinking, much less drinking to excess. What's the point if all you get is slurred speech and a bunch of embarrassing things to remember? Not to mention a horrendous hangover.
posted by wierdo at 9:04 AM on July 8, 2015


I am some kind of incredible wimp and my hangovers (if I get really blasted) last two days before they completely lift, and that is the most effective anti-drunkenness tool I can imagine. I drink to "pleasantly woozy" and stop, because I don't have time to be that sick that long.
posted by emjaybee at 9:13 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a long-suffering alcoholic friend of mine pointed out, it sucks to be drinking to cope with the lack of control in your life, only to black out and lose control over your own actions and memories. It's not just frightening but a circular problem.
posted by notionoriety at 9:15 AM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


typical yank, can't hold her liquor

I don't understand this comment. Is it some sort of moral failing to get knocked-down drunk from three beers instead of six? Is there some sort of training she failed to undertake so she could handle six beers? Or is this more of a "Haha, I was born bigger and stronger than you, wimp," sort of taunt?
posted by straight at 9:28 AM on July 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


I wonder about the relationship people have with alcohol in Britain, in the States, and in Canada. I have lived on and off in Japan for twenty years, and while alcoholism is a problem there, there is no fighting and despite what you might think, binge-drinking is not that popular.

What is it about our shared Anglo-American culture and booze?
posted by Nevin at 9:35 AM on July 8, 2015


I feel obliged to comment: don't really see blackouts as being a big deal.
posted by booooooze at 9:35 AM on July 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


I also think that there's really just not good information out there for how much is really enough for a normal, non-alcoholic person. I'm a pretty big guy and my absolute limit for the night is 8-9 drinks. With no cheating on the definition of drink as 12 oz of 5% alcohol beer. So a bottle of IPA counts as 1.5 and a pint counts for 1 and a third.

Heck I'll get a little clumsy after one beer on an empty stomach.

Strangely enough, my ability to do math is just about the last thing to go when drunk, tired or otherwise impaired. The drunkest I've ever been was a night I had between 12 and 13 drinks. And I don't remember much else...
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:36 AM on July 8, 2015


For a lot of women, we aren't taught to about how to not get drunk without hitting that point.


I must have missed school on the day men were being taught this lesson.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:36 AM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


I did it a few times in college, waking up on dorm room floors or in bed with a puddle of vomit on the rug (me: Who threw up on our floor? roommate: You did.).

But as a parent of small kids the idea of drinking to blackout is just...incomprehensible. Even drinking itself: you're always so damn tired, even though a drink or two is a nice relaxer, the overall depressant effect is pretty unappealing. (Plus when do you even get the fucking time?)
posted by gottabefunky at 9:37 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is one of my mixed blessings: If I ever drink fast enough to potentially blackout, I will nearly always fall asleep in a chair or a convenient floor before that point. It's only happened otherwise once, and all apparently did was rant for a bit before passing out in a chair, so I feel pretty safe.

It's still not fun to realize afterward though, and that put a damper on drinking for a few months afterward.
posted by solarion at 9:54 AM on July 8, 2015


I've legit blacked out two times I can think of right off the bat, and I can think of those two times right off the bat because they were two of the worst nights of my entire life, even with limited after-the-fact knowledge.

Which is neither here nor there, but yeah, this
I’ve heard countless tales of men waking up to find their faces bruised, their knuckles bloodied by some fit of unremembered violence. The stories women tell are scary in another way. As Aaron White says, “When men are in a blackout, they do things to the world. When women are in a blackout, things are done to them.”
posted by likeatoaster at 10:00 AM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I was seeing a therapist, and when I talked to her about my blackouts, she gasped. I bristled at her concern.

“Everyone has blackouts,” I told her.

She locked eyes with me. “No, they don’t.”


Then MeFi blearily looked around and said "Yes, we do!"
posted by FatherDagon at 10:02 AM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I must have missed school on the day men were being taught this lesson.

Fair play, but there is a not inconsiderable amount of machismo and identity of masculinity when men drink to excess. And as likeatoaster posted upthread, the consequences of your blackouts tend to center around harming other people while women have to worry most about what harm was done to them. (Ever woken up in a stranger's apartment after a blackout, unsure if you consented to sex or not?)
posted by Kitteh at 10:05 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


What is it about our shared Anglo-American culture and booze?

Ask the Russians or Poles or Fins or French or Irish or Australians. Most of the globe is pissed out of their heads.
posted by colie at 10:08 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I don't understand this comment. Is it some sort of moral failing to get knocked-down drunk from three beers instead of six? Is there some sort of training she failed to undertake so she could handle six beers? Or is this more of a "Haha, I was born bigger and stronger than you, wimp," sort of taunt?

All of the above, I think. Comments like this have driven me to binge drink on more occasions than I could possibly count, for reasons outlined by Kitteh and Mrs. Pterodactyl above. You don't want to be a square or a prude, you want to be cool! One of the guys, not some dumb, weak little girl! It's gender-neutral on its face (because people of all configurations say this shit to each other all the time) but very deeply gendered when the person speaking is a man and the person on the receiving end is a woman, as the pressure to respond with an insistence that you're "not like the other women girls" is vicious and incredibly strong.

IME when a dude (rhetorically or literally) snorts and rolls his eyes at you for declining the next round, his intent is basically to call you out on the carpet for having the gall to tap out before he would thinks you should. Depending on your nature, you're either going to feel duty-bound to rise to meet the challenge (drink more/harder booze) or bail (not me, I'm from Milwaukee). I'm an extremely feisty person, so back in the day, anything remotely like "ha, can't hold your liquor?!" would result in me ordering a trio of shots, drinking them all while looking the offender square in the eye, and spending the next however many hours trying to act normal while the room spun around me at an alarming rate of speed. I used to run with a lot of big, burly dudes who eventually wound up getting some "stop drinking or you're going to die" real talk but for many years, until they all slowed their respective rolls, I tried so hard to match them 1:1 for absolutely no other reason than because I couldn't handle my friends trying to make me feel like a pussy.

Bonus difficulty level: Acknowledging problem drinking or alcoholism (your own or others') is something I was raised to feel deeply uncomfortable/conflicted about because I was born and raised in the most notoriously boozy United State. Booze is just not supposed to be that big of a deal -- I and most people I know here spent an incredible percentage of our childhoods frequenting bars and taverns. Alcohol isn't only an intoxicant here, it's basically a way of life. Our excuse is usually that we live a place where it's so miserable outside for 3/4 of the year that the only thing you can do is sit inside and drink (and then when it's nice outside, nothing's better than a frosty brew mojito, paloma, or Moscow mule on a hot summer day) but there's also a heavy dose of the timeless Midwestern tendency to minimize problematic behavior so as not to put anyone out.
posted by divined by radio at 10:08 AM on July 8, 2015 [29 favorites]


Then MeFi blearily looked around and said "Yes, we do!"

Well, some of MeFi might. This MeFite doesn't. I can't drink that much before I start puking. And puking is awful. Also, now, I get hangovers from only 3 drinks in an evening.
posted by suelac at 10:11 AM on July 8, 2015


I have never blacked out, thank god. I have had one or two fuzzy nights that included brief brownouts, but mostly the brownouts were me passing out. I almost always throw up before I get to the brownout period. And I hate throwing up while drunk. It is incredibly unpleasant, as suddenly all the enjoyment of the alcohol in your system vanishes and you just want the night to end. (At least for me.) Also, falling asleep with your head on the toilet seat after vomiting is something that I hopefully will never do again.

I noticed this happens on nights when I either do not count or lose count of the number of drinks I have had. As long as I'm counting, I know when to check myself. As soon as I lose count, well, I think that happens at about the same time as the "this is a horrible idea, let's do it" imp rises up out of the woodwork.

Half of my family are/were alcoholics. I am still a fairly lightweight and did not drink until I was 21 in order to help reduce risk factors. Stories like this chill me and instill a bit of a "there but for the grace of God go I" sentiment in myself. These stories fascinate and scare me.
posted by Hactar at 10:26 AM on July 8, 2015


What is it about our shared Anglo-American culture and booze?

I grew up with my parents listening to the Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem. Lessee:

Whiskey in the Jar
The Pub with No Beer
Seven Drunken Nights
Maloney Wants a Drink
I'm a Rover, Seldom Sober
Finnegan's Wake
All For Me Grog
The Wild Rover
Whiskey on a Sunday
The Moonshiner
Whiskey is the Life of Man
The Jolly Roving Tar
posted by Melismata at 10:30 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I never blacked out until I got a phone with a camera.
Three drinks per night, that's all, no discussion.
posted by From Bklyn at 10:36 AM on July 8, 2015


Blackouts are one of the things that made me get shit-scared enough to get serious about quitting; it was a matter of time, I reasoned, before blackout me decided that he was FINE to drive, and that the thing to do was head for the coast......
posted by thelonius at 10:43 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


These days I can occasionally lose a half hour or an hour of an evening (usually, the tail end of it--the walking-home or the pre-bedtime rituals) to just two drinks. But only occasionally; most of the time, two drinks will barely touch me. It's disconcerting. I've not been able to work out a pattern of whether I've eaten enough/slept enough/am maybe on my period?

This started for me in my mid-late 30s and has gotten worse into my 40s so that I never know if one glass of wine will leave me sweaty and over-talky - and leave me too stupid to not drink a second - or if I will drink most of the bottle and still be able to read a book or feel like cleaning up the kitchen before bed. Generally the worst consequence is I have to re-watch the last half hour of the show we were watching, or I sleep poorly, but I no longer drink much if anything when I'm out because who the fuck knows what's going to happen. I can't figure out the pattern.

I don't think it's quite as simplistic as not knowing how to drink or knowing your limits, there's clearly a more complicated mechanism to intoxication than that.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:43 AM on July 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


booooooze: I feel obliged to comment: don't really see blackouts as being a big deal.

This is awesome.
posted by seventyfour at 11:00 AM on July 8, 2015


MartinWisse: "See this article brought all my inner prejudices to the fore: typical yank, can't hold her liquor, never learned to drink properly, too stupid to manage getting drunk without blacking out. "

And this is one of the lines dudes use when pushing drinks on American women (at home and abroad) -- if you were a little more worldly, more cosmopolitan, less small-town American, you'd be better at drinking! Awww, it's so cute that you're so Puritanical and can't hold your liquor, little Yankee! Here, have another!

straight: "I don't understand this comment."

Primarily it's a way to get female American college students drunker than they want to be.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:01 AM on July 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


I learned this lesson early on. Liquor and I *really* don't mix, because three-for-three when I drank liquor as a night's thing, it led to a blackout. (Not in short succession, but over time)

First time was me wanting to figure out how I was when drunk. Some stories for friends to chuckle at, moderate terror for me at realizing there was this entire block of time when I was apparently entirely lucid but which I had no memory of. But, you know, one time thing, don't go that far in the future, etc.

Second time was alright until I was handed a tumbler-glass of lemon drop and told to drink it down some because the friend mixing it didn't have the balance right. I thought it was "Lemon drop, of the potency where one drinks an entire glass of it for a drink" and I drank it accordingly. It was "Lemon drop, of the shot-type potency". That's about the last I remember there, fade-to-black. Again, some stories for friends to rib me about, more terror at the loss-of-time/self. This time though I made a bit more publicly a fool of myself, with some stories not coming up until way down the line.

Third time... third time I heard about it a couple months later. It wasn't good, and that's where I'll leave that. No more stories for friends to rib me about, and three points made for a pretty clear pattern. I had to end it there.

So yeah. I don't drink liquor anymore. (A taste of someone else's if it's something novel, perhaps, but it's not a thing I drink.) Not sure why, but for whatever reason it goes straight to my memory, and that terrifies me. Even to this day, feeling the leftovers of a night out (even when I have a full recollection of the night) triggers a sense of unease that something could've went wrong and I wouldn't know about it.

Beer? I'm alright. Cider? I'm alright. But liquor's a road I can't go down, and I'm lucky learning that didn't turn out worse than it did (somehow).
posted by CrystalDave at 11:09 AM on July 8, 2015


All the things I want to add to this conversation are so embarrassing.
posted by gucci mane at 11:10 AM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


I would posit that blacking out while drinking is not normal.

Yeah, this. I drink regularly, but I've been blackout drunk exactly once in my life. The amount of alcohol it took to get there -- the better part of a fifth of Scotch -- was completely bananas, to the point that even now, more than a decade later, just the smell of Scotch makes me retch. That was when I was a lightweight in every sense of the word, and the alcohol was far from the only intoxicant in my system at the time.

That anyone could consider blackouts a normal part of drinking is utterly flabbergasting.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


"You call it blacking out, I call it time travel" - some comedian
posted by sidereal at 11:49 AM on July 8, 2015


That anyone could consider blackouts a normal part of drinking is utterly flabbergasting.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:43 PM on July 8


I think a lot of this varies wildly from person to person. People upthread described "browning out" from two drinks, for example. For me it varies hugely from day to day; I've definitely blacked out with less in my system than other days when I didn't. I went through a period last year where I blacked out 3 times in a couple months, which is way more often than usual, but my alcohol consumption wasn't hugely different than usual. Like so much of drinking this is impossible to generalize.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:57 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ask the Russians or Poles or Fins or French or Irish or Australians. Most of the globe is pissed out of their heads.

Oh, really.

I had never seen such scenes in Poland or any other country I had visited before.
posted by Nevin at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2015


Can't wait to read the book. A similar memoir in the unglamorous alcoholic awakening genre is Caroline Knapp's incisive Drinking: A Love Story. Sadly, Knapp died of lung cancer in 2002, at the age of 42.
posted by informavore at 12:18 PM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


I have to get this book.

But as a parent of small kids the idea of drinking to blackout is just...incomprehensible.

It was incomprehensible for me with my three small kids too but there I was. There were times when I didn't have a blackout maybe 2 days a week.

Even drinking itself: you're always so damn tired, even though a drink or two is a nice relaxer, the overall depressant effect is pretty unappealing.

It was never relaxing. It was never fun. I did it to intentionally blackout. I didn't want to be there - or anywhere. Temporary suicide is a good analogy because permanent suicide would have happened if circumstances had been different.

(Plus when do you even get the fucking time?)

When you drink constantly you don't have to find the time. I drank 24 hours a day every day for a while. It didn't really take any time. You stop for a drink of water or coffee or Coke or whatever right? So did I but it was always vodka straight. That's as fast as pouring a glass of water - faster if you don't even use a glass. I would have been more useless and had even less productive time then if I stopped drinking for short periods. Of course I'm not saying I was better off then than I am now sober.

I'm not trying to glorify my stupid behavior or grandstand and I'm not calling out this comment specifically for any good reason. I am saying there seems to be a disconnect here with different types of drinking. There is a kind of drinking where it's just life. The room never spins, you never vomit, you can function somewhat normally, you never sober up, and you lose chunks of time regularly. The article resonated with me because it sounded closer to how I used to be than 'I blacked out twice and that was enough for me! Now I have a beer once a week. Why would anybody have more?' Simply believing “Everyone has blackouts” is a different thing than many people will ever have to experience, thankfully.

It sounds to me like this is not about knowing how to drink. She knew how to drink. I knew how to drink. It was the desired result that was different. I didn't fail at not blacking out.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2015 [48 favorites]


Oh, really.

I had never seen such scenes in Poland or any other country I had visited before.
posted by Nevin at 3:16 PM on July 8


Well, I'll definitely believe an alarmist Daily Mail article over the statistics that show that the UK, US, and Canada drink less than plenty of other countries.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Clinging to the Wreckage, thank you for sharing that. If I could favorite your comment a bajillion times I would.
posted by Kitteh at 12:30 PM on July 8, 2015


I think there's a distinction to be made between "blacking out" and "passing out / falling asleep". In the former, you keep doing stuff but you don't remember it later. In the latter you're just unconscious/asleep. The "blackout state" can't be detected while it's happening, only later because it's a function of memory.
posted by achrise at 12:42 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Ever woken up in a stranger's apartment after a blackout, unsure if you consented to sex or not?)

Yes, and worried about the presence or absence of a condom, as well as which role I played, and who the person was whose face I could only hazily remember. It's not useful to insist on gendering the problems that come with heavy alcohol consumption.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:43 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not useful to insist on gendering the problems that come with heavy alcohol consumption.

From one of the links in the FPP: "I don't know how much time I lose. And when I come to, I'm having sex with somebody and I don't know where he came from. I'm in a terrible kind of fog. I eventually sort of got sharp enough to realize that I needed to get out of that hotel room."

Heavy alcohol consumption and its consequences are already heavily gendered, sorry.
posted by Kitteh at 12:51 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


It was incomprehensible for me with my three small kids too but there I was. There were times when I didn't have a blackout maybe 2 days a week.

My dad was a blackout drunk who sobered up a few times and then bailed on us when I was five. I've seen him a few times since then, mostly in my teens, and once a few years ago at my wedding, invited at my mother's insistence; I don't bear him any ill will, but we don't have any sort of relationship.

He quit drinking for good a long time ago, but it had already wrecked his health and his brain. I wonder, sometimes, if he has any memories at all of me as a kid, given the circumstances. I have a few of him, just scattered pieces, mostly good except for one which, actually, feels sort of neutral, even though obviously it's not. My mom and I had come home from somewhere and had to step over him, passed out by the front door. The next morning I was eating S'Mores Crunch at Nana's house; I remember the cereal very specifically for some reason.

I seem to have dodged the alcoholism bullet--there have been down times in my life when I drank more than I ought to have, but hell, I was in my early 20s. Blacking out is scary as hell; I can't imagine how much scarier it can be for women. Nowadays I want the idea of a few beers more than the reality, and I'm okay with that.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:58 PM on July 8, 2015


This is unreal to me. I've always considered myself pretty good fun; I've impressed dudes with drinking; I've carried off late nights out and early mornings; I've even worried about my consumption and then cut it down. But I have never blacked out. I didn't even think that was something that happened to people who weren't on the road to the grave or AA. Once I read an anecdote about John Larroquette waking up in the window seat of an airplane, and having to make careful conversation with his seatmate in order to find out where exactly the plane was headed. I thought blackouts were for people like that, with enormous, Hollywood-sized problems.

Possibly this is because I have carried some extra weight, which makes it harder for booze to sneak up on you; possibly it is because I make sure to drink lots of water. Whatever it is, I am grateful to have learned more about blackouts.

I will be extra careful as I get older. As someone once said, I drink to make other people more interesting. An evening out without a drink is like food without salt. Without a little something, I am either miserably attentive to the social situation and the hard work of conversation or I am quiet, withdrawn, trying not to think about catastrophic climate change or some damn thing. I don't human very well without it. I can't run alcohol into the ground; it has too much left to do for me.
posted by Countess Elena at 1:00 PM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


MartinWisse: "See this article brought all my inner prejudices to the fore: typical yank, can't hold her liquor, never learned to drink properly, too stupid to manage getting drunk without blacking out. "

This reminds me that I keep meaning to use an AskMe question to get resources on the gender breakdown between people who truly believe that their body processes respond to their will and people who do not. The suggestion that the way in which your body processes a given night's alcohol might have something to do with your intelligence is boggling to me. But as a woman, I feel like I'm also just really used to the knowledge that my body will always be doing unfortunate things, constantly, without my input and even in defiance of my brain.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:10 PM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Countess Elena, that is a big part of the reason why I am quitting for the time being. I am socially awkward and anxious and having drinks at a social situation where I am not comfortable is SOP for me. But I'm realizing that maybe that that isn't the best way for me to function. It's been very scary to realize how much of a crutch it has been, but I am hoping that some distance from booze will help me figure out what role it can play in my future.
posted by Kitteh at 1:11 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I used to run with a lot of big, burly dudes who eventually wound up getting some "stop drinking or you're going to die" real talk but for many years, until they all slowed their respective rolls, I tried so hard to match them 1:1 for absolutely no other reason than because I couldn't handle my friends trying to make me feel like a pussy.

~ r e a l t a l k ~
posted by beefetish at 1:30 PM on July 8, 2015


I couldn't handle my friends trying to make me feel like a pussy

I'm not sure if I've just been lucky, or if it was growing up in a suburban area and going to a primarily commuter undergrad meant that there really wasn't a lot of this, from anyone.

A "Gotta Drive" immediately got you a knowing nod. Occasionally someone might pull a "Just crash on the couch!" (if it was a house party), but it wasn't really pushed beyond one of that, and the implication was usually we're having such fun (and not coercively) mixed with that Midwestern sense of hospitality. And if on occasion someone came off as a bit pushy, other people would tell them to back off.
posted by ghost phoneme at 1:45 PM on July 8, 2015


If anyone is coming away from stories of women losing their jobs & marriages/custody of their kids/health problems/addiction sparked by abuse thinking "This sounds awesome!", then that person has some serious problems that didn't require a book to make them feel that way.

Right, but that's a little bit of a false dichotomy. Nobody says "This sounds awesome!" But a lot of people unconsciously or semi-consciously seek drama, and I don't think that tendency is all that gendered. I first observed it in males, in college, where this stereotype of the romantic drunk elevated and made heroes of figures like Bukowski and Sid Vicious. One guy on my hall admiringly recited from an article describing John Lydon's* typical daily alcohol consumption. An old roommate spoke with mocking longing of a family friend who had "threshholded" to the point where he could get drunk on a couple of sips.** It was ironic, but it was at least half-serious. A third lionized drunken track bums and aspired to one day be just like them.

Some of those guys straightened out. The one who admired the threshhold drunk has two lovely kids and a great job. The one who admired Lydon spent years emotionally abusing one of the nicest, smartest women I ever met in college*** and last I knew had never amounted to anything. (She, by contrast, has lovely twins and a nice career. He'd hate that.) The third went into a field of law that would afford him lots of opportunity to get drunk with shady clients. Most of us lost track of him about 20 years ago.

Others admired consumption for its macho sake. One roommate was proud of his hasho-shmasho skills (it involves poking a hole in the side of a beer can so you can drink it super-fast); another guy on the hall could drink juice glasses full of whiskey without breaking sweat. I'm ashamed to admit I encouraged that.

The women weren't really very different. I didn't know as many women, but I knew a couple who were into the same kind of romantic-drunk thing as the guys, and with similar objects. The ones I knew were all into male artists; only since then have I gotten to know women who were into female artists. Later I lived with a woman like that for almost five years. Some were also into the macho thing, and with them it was more like what some have described about "keeping up with the boys."

And I felt it myself. That's why I paid attention to it in others. I always pulled back when I started to feel physically dependent, but I drank hard for years and most of it was out of boredom. I didn't look for the blackouts -- they scared the hell out of me when they happened -- but I knew people who did. At the same time that it horrified me, I could see in myself a little bit of admiration for something that could be construed by a twisted mind as courage.

So, this thing about romantic drinking narratives -- it's real. And to a certain extent, people can find them wherever they look. An old writing group friend, with years as a drug & alcohol counselor, talked often about the one-upsmanship you see in recovery groups. I heard it myself when I went to a recovery group for a while, and heard them from a family member in drug rehab. "Rock bottom" was a place a lot of these folks were darkly proud of.

You can dismiss those people, but I'm not sure where that gets you. I've known a lot of them. They're real. Whether they have problems before the book is irrelevant: they're finding that narrative and adopting it, and even if they don't fall into a drunken stupor they can spend a lot of their time intoxicated that they could be doing other things, like building human relationships that didn't require lubrication.

--
*alleged, that is. I remain unconvinced he was ever as bad as he pretended to be.
***a number of us look back and regret not having a talk with her about this. he was charming, but we all knew she could do a hell of a lot better. Ultimately she did, in spades, but that was down to her, not us.
posted by lodurr at 2:00 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well sure, but a book like what Kitteh describes is pretty clearly poking holes in that romantic drinking narrative. I get the whole "no such thing as an anti-war movie that's not also a pro-war movie", but a big part of the problem, especially for women with substance abuse is that it isn't talked about frankly.
posted by kagredon at 2:05 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well sure, but a book like what Kitteh describes is pretty clearly poking holes in that romantic drinking narrative....but a big part of the problem, especially for women with substance abuse is that it isn't talked about frankly.

It's a problem. A lot of the problem with tools like these books is how you use them. Do you set them up to help them work, or do you set them up to romanticize the addict? I have a suspicion that they work less well if they follow one or more individual stories through a cohesive arc. That makes a "hero" out of the subject, and we're wired to model on such heroes. The narratives may work better if the stories don't complete, or if you aren't given a way to make sense of them.

I'm trying to think of books or films that left me with no desire to emulate the lifestyle. A lot of people cite Trees Lounge for this (and it sure felt that way for me), but I had an old girlfriend who loved to talk about how moving and terrifying that movie was -- when she was drunk. Infinite Jest is probably the single book that most demystified it for me, and I think that might be because it spreads the story around and doesn't let you close the arc.
posted by lodurr at 2:14 PM on July 8, 2015


Yeah, I get what you're saying, lodurr, but the book I'm talking about isn't about romantic drinking unless you specifically want to see it as that narrative. The book, for me, is painfully familiar and horrifying, and I speak as someone who doesn't need a reason to drink. It speaks bluntly about substance abuse that also combines with the drinking (something that never happened to me, thank god), the effects of having alcoholic mothers on their children, learning to navigate a society where so much booze marketing is aimed at young women (which doesn't stop even if you're an older woman), etc.

But you know what? I am sure you know better than I do. After all, I am just another woman who is trying to deal with the effects of alcohol in her everyday life.
posted by Kitteh at 2:15 PM on July 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


As a focus for someone who still romanticizes their drinking a book like this is a drop in the bucket, though. Whereas for someone who used to be that person it offers frank discussion of perspectives that aren't much discussed.
posted by atoxyl at 3:06 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


(I wasn't a drunk. Or at least I haven't been to date. I was into another class of drug with an extensive romantic narrative. You know, the other one. The balance between catharsis and temptation in reading/watching/listening to addiction stories is a tricky thing but it's worth a lot to know that somebody understands since most people definitely won't.)
posted by atoxyl at 3:25 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is so terrifying.

I love drinking, and fortunately, I'm good at it. And I don't have wasted hook-ups, ever. But the thought that some of the people I've drunk with through the years have woken up like this woman is really, really dispiriting.

Fuuuck. I need a drink.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:51 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


And the line "men wake up in jail; women wake up in bed with strange men" is a goody.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:52 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I tend to shy away from memoirs like this, finding them self-indulgent at best.

This one is different. Hepola spends a lot of time covering life after getting sober and the struggles that come with it, especially when a lot of her friends still drink. There is a lot of good, hard, connectable stuff there.
posted by Thistledown at 6:00 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


My one (?) blackout happened when I was already in bed. So I had no clue about it until the man I'd platonically shared a fold out couch with began, years later, to tell me what I'd said. There are details about things that he could only have gotten from me and I can almost recreate things but it's blank. I went to bed drunk, woke up with a hangover. Except that years later I find out that I actually spent several hours detailing things about my life that were not mine to share (kinks of previous partners and so on).

Do you know the fear that engenders? I still see this guy, a lot, and periodically he reminds me that he knows these things, that there's part of my life he remembers that I don't, and it is hard not to feel that as specifically gendered, and threatening. He doesn't mean it to be, I think, but it is. I have no memories of it, I shared things I would have never chosen to share, that were unethical of me to share, and all I can know about it comes from this one guy.

But, I woke up with a day long hangover last month, and a smile on my face, because I'd spent the night drinking wine with my best friend. I don't want to stop drinking, but there are risk factors and decisions I make now that are very different since I found out about that blackout.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:24 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much overlap there is between female drinkers and drinkers of Asian descent (doubly so for female drinkers of Asian descent?)?

Drank irresponsibly in HS in Canada, went to the US for undergrad (private liberal arts college in the Midwest, also spent some time at a big State school) and between competitive drinking while there and my previous training, was so able to drink far above my weight and vastly above my perceived weight as a little Chinese dude. Unfortunately, I'd much rather need to drink less to feel the same these days.
posted by porpoise at 7:42 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


That this is a well-known and dramatic side effect of alcohol usage, yet alcohol remains legal, amazes me.

Man, wait til you try ambien.
posted by ryanrs at 11:44 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


sidereal: "You call it blacking out, I call it time travel" - some comedian

That would be the great Dave Attell.
posted by dr_dank at 4:15 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


This amazes me. I had no idea that blackouts were a thing. I don't like drinking, generally, but I presume I know people who are into it, and nobody has ever mentioned it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:34 AM on July 9, 2015


atoxyl: You know, the other one.

If I do, I've lived for several years now with someone who's been there. They're doing really well now, & we try to help them remember that because it's important. But the shame involved in that was just huge for them. Things were done that we don't even want to know about. They don't romanticize them anymore, but they did when they were using and for a long time after.

What really hit home for me in that process was the importance of shame in the glamorization narrative. it's not like I didn't know it before -- it was more, one of those things I have to continually re-learn.
posted by lodurr at 5:28 AM on July 9, 2015


This amazes me. I had no idea that blackouts were a thing. I don't like drinking, generally, but I presume I know people who are into it, and nobody has ever mentioned it.

Well, most people are ashamed of it. I know I always was. So it's not something we're going to talk about with someone who we figure to start with isn't going to grok the value of drinking. (My wife is like you. She doesn't get it, and I have to say I've come to see her point.)
posted by lodurr at 5:30 AM on July 9, 2015


... because I'd spent the night drinking wine with my best friend.

Looking back I realize now that most of the things I miss about drinking are the social things, and with a little practice I've learned that I can have those things without drinking.

I do miss red wine, though. I try to make do with coffee as a substitute. (It's a spicy food thing.)
posted by lodurr at 5:34 AM on July 9, 2015


My only blackout came after a four whiskey evening, one drink per hour. I know this because we were four pals at a pool hall and we each bought one round. I interrogated my pals who all told me I acted a little distant toward the end but nothing untoward. Apparently I came home, had a short talk with my wife on the couch and retired. She said I was a little distant and tired but ok.

I do recall one thing. I was the only whiskey drinker at the table, and for the $boocoo_dollares we were paying I never got two fingers of the mediocre blended stuff I ordered. I was paying and tipping for the third round and I asked our waitress if she could ask the bartender to see if this one could be "better" or something. I fear that I had been "bettered" by the staff either for speaking in code and tipping well, or for pissing off the staff. Or not, but it was spooky.
posted by drowsy at 5:48 AM on July 9, 2015


On the subject being taught social drinking: For reasons I cut alcohol out of my diet soon after I became a father. My kids can see my wife use alcohol, she is a one glass of wine person. So we keep it in the house and all, we don't make it taboo or anything, we can just point out that it doesn't work for everyone the same way and we need to be aware. And like most folks we are raising the kids to think that strangers trying to buy you things is WEIRD. I will ask that they take the "no candy from strangers" thing to the bar.

I have a daughter, so my wife and I team up to talk about when nonstrangers can be problematic too.

That and try to raise the kids to be kind and generous but not the people-pleasing insecure kinds.

Wish us luck.
posted by drowsy at 6:06 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't black out. I mean, I'm sure I could. I am human. And maybe that line will change as I get older and surprise me some day. But generally it's not something that happens to me. I may have a hangover, and I may fall asleep in the cab on the way home, but my memory keeps working. Though remembering myself no longer funny, no longer clever, no longer thoughtful - that made me decide to back off. I don't want to drink until I am a bore, or worse: boorish.
posted by Nothing at 6:43 AM on July 9, 2015


To all of you chiming in with the 'but I never get blackouts' comments - you do realise that just because something doesn't happen to you doesn't mean it isn't a problem for a lot of other people, right?
posted by Megami at 7:57 AM on July 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I dunno, I read those "I've never blacked out" comments as folks trying to get their minds around an experience they haven't had but that many others have reported and not a kind of second guessing or expression of doubt. The episode Hepola describes in the excerpt is an especially stark example (which is why it was excerpted!), and the surprised and shocked responses are maybe... unsurprising.
posted by notyou at 8:28 AM on July 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


that would be easier to believe if there weren't so many that were solely "I've never blacked out! Suck on that, people who have/person who said everyone has*! You're bad at drinking!"

*based on a pullquote that in context was meant to illustrate the exact opposite point
posted by kagredon at 9:31 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


The idea that someone could succesfully attack me for not drinking enough is risible. I worked up to where I could drink a fifth of whiskey, over about 6 hours, and not even get sick. That's.....not so good.
posted by thelonius at 9:50 AM on July 9, 2015


I, too, never had a blackout, thankfully. My body seems to puke up its guts before that point, which is a feature rather than a bug imo. Another result of my body's reaction is that I don't get much urge to drink in the first place.

My youngest sister didn't share the mechanism. She was a voracious drinker, the one to goad others on to drink in excess very chance she got, all in good fun. And drank herself to death at the ripe old age of 33. Without anyone knowing the extent of her addiction. In retrospect, it should have been more evident, particularly in the last year. But she had been living in a different state for several years, which may have been an attempt to isolate herself/hide the extent of her booze consumption. It seems the reality of the damage she'd done herself was something she was able to ignore until her kidneys actually called it quits. YOLO was the way she lived, and the rest of us are still trying to figure out why.

This blackout level amusement never held much purchase with me, just because alcohol held no attraction to begin with. Now I'm hyper sensitive to people drinking, particularly in excess, now. Drunkenness is viewed so oddly in our world.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:29 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


My problem is that my drunk fun meter is fucked up. Most people reach Peak Fun at tipsy/socially drunk. My Peak Fun is at almost blacked out. By that point I'm drunk enough that I'm not anxious, I've forgotten the 1.5 zillion things I hate about myself, the 2 zillion I hate about my body, I'm ready to dance, to play, to hook up with someone, to make friends. I feel quick witted and pretty and awesome.

I spent a solid ten years trying to figure out how to reach and maintain that Peak Fun for skrozidile level without blacking out. It is maybe impossible because during Peak Fun I always drink the two drinks it takes to cross the line and then the rest of the night goes missing.

Cutting out drinking to me feels like cutting out one of the only things that allows me relief from social anxiety, from sexual anxiety, that allows me to make friends and be outgoing.

In the past two years I have radically altered my approach to drinking. I am still figuring it out, but so far I feel much better. I am very grateful to hear all of the experiences from people in this thread.
posted by skrozidile at 12:08 PM on July 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


Cutting out drinking to me feels like cutting out one of the only things that allows me relief from social anxiety, from sexual anxiety, that allows me to make friends and be outgoing.

That's why I am quitting for a while. If alcohol is the main thing that helps me relieve my social anxiety (which it does and is), then I need to really think about that for myself. My husband and I were talking about how drinking as a stigma affects both sexes but in different ways. "If you're male and drunk, you can be seen as a rogue, or the life of the party. But if a woman gets drunk, she'll be seen as slutty or embarrassing."
posted by Kitteh at 4:09 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Kitteh, I'm probably not the only one who sees male drunks as alarming and potentially threatening.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:28 PM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I kinda figured that was a given.
posted by Kitteh at 5:34 PM on July 9, 2015


i've never managed to black out just from sheer quantity of booze consumed, it seems to be tied to the rate of consumption. i think there are a lot of people who just can't black out before they get sick and throw up, unless they're actively chugging booze in pursuit of a blackout

i completely don't understand how somebody can regularly get blackout drunk unless they're trying to or their barf machine is broken
posted by tehloki at 1:21 PM on July 10, 2015


Practice, mainly. We alkies have lots of practice at holding lots of booze.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:42 PM on July 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


thelonius: The idea that someone could succesfully attack me for not drinking enough is risible.

It's not that you're not drinking enough. It's that you're not doing it properly.

To do it properly you need to... well, that is... ok, I'm gonna have to get back to you on this...
posted by lodurr at 7:17 AM on July 11, 2015


Got a hold of the book earlier this week, and read it in just about one sitting. I've been a Hepola fan for years and am so happy she has this book out, and her life in the place it is now.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 3:07 PM on July 12, 2015


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