At her 27th birthday party, Florence Welch’s mother made a speech asking her friends to keep her alive and out of the notorious “27 club.”
Today, the indie and bohemian frontwoman of Florence + The Machine reflects on that time. Now, at 32 and having sold millions of records and becoming one of the most successful female recording artists, Welch got sober just months after her 27th birthday. The soul-shaking and bright haired Valkyrie is now opening up about how she found freedom from alcohol, an eating disorder, and the internal war she finally won.
“I tend to look back on that time with a mix of nostalgia and terror,” writes Welch in the personal essay. “There’s a part of me that is in awe of that girl, her total disregard for self-preservation, how she could run at the world headfirst, eyes closed, with no care for the consequences.
Speaking about how she turned to alcohol as a way of coping with her rise to fame following the release of her debut album Lungs in 2009, she continued. “I also want to hold her in my arms, say, ‘It’s OK, you’re OK, you can come down now. You’ve been screaming at the top of that tree for a bit too long.”
“The Career Was Like A Tidal Wave”
Crediting her childhood to the songs of Billie Holliday and Nina Simone, she recalls alcohol playing a part even at a young age. “My Mom always used to find me in one of her nightgowns holding a glass of orange juice in a wine glass singing along.” She continued, “I kind of understood that whatever this was, it was going to involve alcohol and being sad, even at 10!”
In 2009, the singer released her debut album, Lungs, becoming an international sensation.
“The career was in itself like a tidal wave,” Welch said. “It just came and I kind of was in it.”
To keep herself afloat, Welch began depending more and more on alcohol. But she was skilled at hiding it: “I mean, people were just like, ‘How are you doing that? You haven’t been to bed in two days!’ And I say, ‘I know. I’m invincible.'”
In 2014, her alcoholism came to a head when she realized her had to quit. “I had to meet myself, with no one to pick up after me. I had to kind of sit with whatever chaos I caused.”
Also opening up about an eating disorder, she explained how terrified she was to talk about it for the first time. She added that her symptoms were part of a series of coping mechanisms for fears she had growing up. “I learned ways to manage that terror — drink, drugs, controlling food,” she said in an interview. “It was like a renaissance of childhood, a toddler’s self-destruction let loose in a person with grown-up impulses.”
Welch doesn’t know if her goal to find oblivion was born out of societal pressure, or a genetic predisposition to perfectionism and anxiety, but somewhere along the line she felt that she was not good enough and was angry at herself all the time. It’s a miracle now, she confides, that she hasn’t weighed herself for four years.
“I have no idea how much I weigh right now,” says Welch. “Five years ago, I could have told you how much in the morning, at night, clothes on, clothes off. With and without jewelry. To let go of that sometimes feels like a bigger achievement than headlining Glastonbury.”
A Personalized Shame Hole
Today, Welch is talking about her ongoing battle with social media, noting that at times she uses it to feel worse about herself.
“I can still come off stage with a crowd applauding and go back to sit alone in my room, scrolling through my phone until I’ve found enough things to make me really unhappy,” she revealed. ”Although I love social media as a way of connecting, it’s also a handy tool for digging your own personalized shame hole.’
While Florence appears to have a great life now, she often wonders if her former self would consider her ‘mundane.’
Welch said that she often wonders whether her younger self would be “horrified” at her Friday nights, which now consist of “eating pasta and watching TV”.
“Would she think me mundane?… I’m no longer sure about the rock ‘n’ roll behavior often expected of artists,” she said.
“Too many talented people have died, and the world feels too fragile to be swigging champagne and flicking the finger at it.”