Melissa Febos is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Whip Smart (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press), which Kirkus Reviews said, “Expertly captures grace within depravity.” She has been featured on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross and on the cover of the NY Post, among many other national publications. Her writing has been published in Hunger Mountain, The Southeast Review, Redivider, The Rambler, Storyscape Journal, The Huffington Post, The New York Times online, Bitch Magazine, and on The Nervous Breakdown, where she regularly blogs. She co-curates and hosts the Mixer Reading and Music Series at Cake Shop, teaches at SUNY Purchase College, The Gotham Writers’ Workshop, and NYU, and holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. This summer, she will be a McDowell Colony fellow. She lives in Brooklyn.
Drinking Diaries: How old were you when you had your first drink and what was it?
Melissa Febos: I was eleven, and I remember only that it was a dusty bottle stolen from my parents’ cabinet. And how sick I got.
How did/does your family treat drinking?
In an entirely healthy way; my mother rarely drinks at all, my father has an occasional beer, but we rarely had any in our house. My dad grew up in an alcoholic household, and I was always warned of the dangers of drinking, and that alcoholism appeared on both sides of the family.
How do you approach alcohol in your everyday life?
I haven’t had a drink in over six years; it’s pretty absent from my life, actually. I’m not bothered in the least when other people drink (except perhaps that it gets a little boring being the only sober person at a party, so I don’t often linger in those scenarios).
Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?
Ha! I mean, yes. I drank a lot between the ages of eleven and twenty-two. In addition to myriad other mind and mood-altering substances.
What’s your drink of choice? Why?
Diet Coke. But when I drank alcohol–gin & tonics.
Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?
I may not remember the best time I ever had drinking, as a result of the quantities I was in the habit of ingesting, but I do remember the invincible feeling it lent me when I was very young, the way it seemed to make the world a suddenly larger place, a place I was more comfortable occupying. And, of course, the usual hijinks; the young, messy love it accelerated.
Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?
Well, I think that drinking induces a quick sort of intimacy, that is fun and a kind of short-cut, but ultimately less authentic than sober interaction. I’ve had a lot of fun, and a lot of friendships that might not have happened without alcohol, but none of them lasting. The relationships that I’ve cultivated while sober have always run deeper and more lasting. I’m also a better person sober–a more mindful friend, daughter, sister, lover. I don’t behave in ways that contradict what I believe in, or how I feel about the people in my life, and that often happened when I drank.
Do you have a favorite book, song, or movie about drinking?
As a kid, I read obsessively, and I particularly fetishized books about drinking, and drug addiction. Really, any kind of dark, seedy underworld. Many of my early idols were whopping alcoholics, or at least sang and wrote about booze as if they were. Tom Waits, Hemingway, William Burroughs…I could go on for days.
Why do, or don’t you, choose to drink?
Well, in the beginning, I stopped drinking because I was going to die. Not necessarily of drinking, but I was addicted to other substances, and it was impossible to isolate one from the other. If I drank, I knew I’d end up looking for the high I really wanted.
However, at this point, and for many years now, I’ve come to prefer being fully awake for as much of my life as possible. I don’t want to miss anything.