By Rachel Smith | Reporter
Journalist Sarah Hepola, author of The New York Times best-seller “Blackout: Remembering Things I Drank to Forget,” told students who filled Bennett Auditorium on Thursday night about her journey from a drinking problem to sobriety.
“I’m really not here tonight to tell you whether or not to drink,” Hepola said. “What I’m here to tell you is alcohol can’t fix you. Alcohol doesn’t change those feelings. It just makes you forget them for the night.”
Hepola’s subject was “Drinking, Blackouts and Seeking Power Beyond the Bottle.” After her lecture, Hepola answered questions from mediator Macarena Hernandez, Fred Hartman distinguished professor of journalism, and audience members.
“I really am an open book,” Hepola said. “You can really ask me anything.”
Hepola said that during her college years, she did not want to hear about someone else’s drinking problem.
“Drinking was not a problem for me,” Hepola said. “Drinking was a solution. I believed alcohol solved the biggest problem of my life- namely, that I was me.”
Hepola said she grew up as a middle class child in the Highland Park area of Dallas, which is known for affluence.
“I used to make my mom drop me off two blocks from school so no one would see our car,” Hepola said. “Some of my earliest memories are about not belonging and about a fundamental sense that I was not good enough.”
After Hepola spent her early years dealing with feelings of inadequacy and searching for escape, she found drinking, which she pursued heavily in college.
“Once I found drinking, all that other stuff faded into the background because drinking felt like home,” Hepola said. “Insecurities are really easy to mask with a red solo cup in your hand. Booze gave me permission to do and be whatever I wanted.”
Hepola explained the distinguishing factors of a blackout, which occurs when someone continues to walk, talk and interact with others but cannot recall it later.
“I would wake up with that stab of shame,” Hepola said. “I depended on alcohol to reveal me, but none of that felt like me. It felt like an evil twin.”
After graduating college and working at an alternative newspaper in Austin, Hepola moved to New York and continued to struggle with alcohol.
“Too often, we think that drinking problem means that someone has to lose their house or their home or their job,” Hepola said. “What happens to many of us is that we lose ourselves.”
As she recovered, Hepola said she thought her life was over, but she realized it was changing, and change is anything but instant.
“Sometimes you have to quit 50 times before you make the 51st time stick,” Hepola said. “Change is hard, and it is slow, and it is painful, and growth comes not in leaps and bounds, but in tiny little millimeters.”
During the question and answer portion, Hepola answered questions about friendship, consent, the media and writing, among other topics.
“I think good writing comes from honesty and it comes from paying attention,” Hepola said. “I think readers know when you’re lying to them.”
Austin senior Jade Moffett works for Bundle Magazine, which hosted a lunch for Hepola earlier in the day.
“I was really inspired by her words,” Moffett said. “I like how she took responsibility for what happened, and I like how she was very open about the process of getting clean. I also like how she didn’t victimize herself.”
Austin sophomore Arion Crenshaw read “Blackout” and attended the presentation to hear Hepola read book selections and get more information.
“What stood out to me the most were the hardships she faced on her path to recovery,” Crenshaw said. “She was able to find herself again and overcome those obstacles.”