I came across this book by way of Gordon Keith, a local radio personality, writer, musician, and comic. I idolize him a bit too much, so when he makes the rare recommendation for something to read, how could I refuse?
Sarah Hepola goes into graphic detail about her drinking. The bad choices made, the fears she was trying to overcome, the failures of trying to quit. She picks apart her childhood experiences and tries to understand what led her down the path of addiction. She struggles with quitting; with even admitting to herself and others that she is an addict. She tries to repair the damage she caused over the years from embarrassing her friends with her outrageous behavior. And finally, she comes through the other side where she is more accepting of her whole self. She comes to understand the parts of herself she was trying to hide. She sees her fears and shortcomings not just in herself, but in countless others and realizes it’s okay to be less than perfect. She no longer wastes energy in search of that impossible version of herself that doesn’t exist without alcohol. I’m sure she still struggles with various things she’d like to change about herself, but she seems to be okay with acknowledging that and living her life fully anyway.
In a fictional novel, I tend to pick apart the flow of the story, how characters evolve, and how the backdrop plays against the story. I seek out good writing, if for no other reason than to learn from it.
Sarah’s story was unquestionably well written, but it did something more. It pulled emotions out of me I didn’t realize were there. The power of this book is that everyone has some thing that causes them to hide or pretend to be someone they’re not. Maybe it doesn’t go far enough to lead you down the path of blackout drinking, but it definitely makes you feel like you’re not worthy of a relationship or a job or whatever. We all fight through bouts of low self confidence and the fear that everyone else will find out we don’t belong. That if you don’t behave a certain way, you’re not worthy of love or approval.
For me, this book brought me face to face with my fear that if I don’t do exactly what my father asked of me, I wouldn’t be worthy of his love. Please don’t misunderstand–this is my issue. I’m not placing blame on him for it. But for whatever reason, I molded my life for YEARS based on what I thought his version of my life should be. I got so lost in trying to be the perfect daughter that I actually forgot to ask if it was a life I wanted. I was desperate to hear him tell me he was proud of me that I didn’t care whether or not I was proud of me.
I lost sight of the idea that very little is actually within my control. I wasted so much energy trying to force life into this tiny box instead of being open to experiences and finding myself along the way. I even forgot what “me” even looked like.
It was a 10 year journey that’s still far from finished. Just when I think I have one thing figured out, something else pops up and throws it all off balance again. But now I remember to pause and ask myself if it I can control (my thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors) or is it something I must react to? Well, not all the time, but I am getting better.
I love this book because it’s a real reminder that we’re all trying to hide how imperfect we actually are. We’re all trying to be a better version of ourselves. And we all eventually come to the conclusion that life is really more about being perfectly imperfect–accepting ourselves for who we are, while taking small steps to improve ourselves a day at a time, knowing that perfect isn’t the goal.
There will always be set backs and mistakes. It’s okay to be embarrassed about those mistakes. Some of them will be embarrassing and cause irreparable damage. It’s about getting back up, dusting yourself off, and trying again. It’s about learning from those mistakes and not repeating the same selfish behaviors over and over. And not being an asshole to people along the way because they’re going through their own version of it, too.
So thank you, Sarah. Thank you for probably being scared to write this but doing it anyway. Thank you for showing your flaws. Thank you for sharing how tough it can be to admit to yourself and others that you’ve messed up. And thank you for your humor and wit shared through some painful memories.
We’re all on different places of the same path–the path of being comfortable in our own skin.