If you’re familiar with the hardcore punk movement of the early 1980s, you’ll be familiar with the term ‘straight edge’.
For those of you who aren’t, let me give a short description of what it is.
Straight-Edge is a social movement that evolved out of the hardcore punk movement. It’s defining principle is a rejection of alcohol, tobacco, and other recreational drugs. It was a direct reaction to the sexual revolution, hedonism, and excess associated with punk rock.
While I’m about to be a sanctimonious prick, I thought I would preface this article with a bit of damage control. Although it may be a little too late for that. If you were going to leave, you’d have gone by now, but here it is. I shouldn’t have to state this, but you can’t take anything as read in this climate.
I’m not attacking you
This post is not to convince you to stop drinking/taking drugs/smoking. I would rather you didn’t because I love you and I would like to see you be clean and alive for as long as possible, but what-the-fuck-ever guys, that’s your choice to make and I’m not about to force it on you. This post is to address why I choose to live a straight edge lifestyle, which is something that is frequently questioned. If you’re the kind of superawesome person that likes social experiments, try not drinking, not smoking and not taking recreational drugs for 2 weeks. If you’re over 30, this probably won’t be questioned, but if you’re 18 – 29, I reckon you’ll face the sort of accusatory bullshit that I did.
Our culture is obsessed with alcohol. Try and avoid it for two weeks and you’ll understand what I mean. It’s almost as ubiquitous as sex. People refer to it in their conversation, use it as a status symbol, use it to sell to you, use it to relate to you, use it to disconnect from themselves. It’s fucking EVERYWHERE.
“What you up to?”
“Nothing much, just off to meet Dave for a beer”
Think about socialising. Going out to meet your friends. That’s cool, right? You’re gonna hang out with your buddies and have some fun.
Now try to imagine that situation taking place without any alcohol.
Weird isn’t it?
If I say to you “We’re going to have a night out” what comes to mind? What do you immediately think of? You may think of going out for food, or going out to catch a movie or whatever, but I guarantee you, somewhere along the road we end up in a bar with some alcohol in our hand.
We need it. It’s such an integral part of our social lives, that we can’t function properly without it.
The effects of alcohol on the body are well documented. Some red wine is good for you, a sensible limit is X units per week but overall the main point it’s dancing around is that alcohol is a poison and it fucks you up. You can be as cavalier about it as you like and say “Oh fuck it all, let’s get pissed” in the face of overwhelming evidence that it’s taking your money, making you dumb, slowing you down, making you fat and making you feel awful, but it’s a poison and it’s not going to stop fucking you up unless you choose to make it stop.
Drink in moderation.
Yeah, that’ll probably help. It’s better to do everything in moderation really. Having 10 cigarettes a day is better than having 20. Having just one line of speed is better than having 10. It’s certainly a lesser evil, and if you’re the person who is drinking to enjoy ‘the taste’ then maybe this option is for you.
Social experimenters, listen up! Grab your notepad, go to a bar, order a Diet Pepsi and sit there and take notes of everyone who is drinking in moderation so they can enjoy the taste. The British Medical association puts ‘moderate drinking’ at around 2 beers, or one cocktail.
Count the number of people who aren’t enjoying a lovely drink on their night out, and are, instead, intending to get FUCKED UP. Check out the popularity of the “£1 a shot” promotion that bar is running. If you don’t want to do that, why not wait until 12pm before you go out, and count the amount of heavily intoxicated people, staggering through the streets like zombies from The Walking Dead, except they hunger for lamb shavings in a pitta rather than human flesh.
After you’ve enjoyed your social experiment, go home, have a glass of water and go to bed, setting your alarm for 8am. When you get up, feeling refreshed and able to face the day, go into the street and catch a bus. See how beautiful and quiet it is out there. Your bus ride is pleasant. Just you, some old folks and people who have to go to work. I know this because I am now that guy. The ‘walkers’ won’t rise until around noon, where they’ll stagger from their homes, still in their pyjamas to a fast food restaurant like a KFC, McDonald’s or Dominos Pizza. They will spend around £15 per person on a meal of over 3000 calories, most of which will come from the high-fat content of whatever crap they’re eating. The alcohol-fuelled night they had before will leave them £45 in the hole (£50 if they’re a smoker). They’ll do it again on Saturday night and Sunday morning and at the end of the week they’ll have nothing to show for it but debts and regrets. Their skin will freak-the-fuck-out because of the insane toxins coursing though their body that their liver is working overtime to get rid of. They’ll put loads of makeup on to cover it (not just the women), which makes it worse. Their body will scream out for the cheese and bread and oil it thinks it needs to recover, and the residual alcohol in their system will destroy any willpower they may have had to resist it. So they’ll gain weight, and spend the rest of the week starving themselves in a bid to try and redress that balance.
If you’re one of the few people that genuinely doesn’t recognise this behaviour in your life or the lives of people you know then congratulations. You’re the minority and you appear to have got out alive. For most of you, this will be a familiar story. There may even be a certain amount of bravado attached to just how fucked up you can get. Like living the lifestyle of ‘Sid Vicious’ is something to aspire to. Wearing stupidity like a badge of honour. Reckless like you don’t care. Rebel without a cause. It’s not a pretty sight, but I see it everywhere. It’s ugly and it’s depressing. It’s like we forgot how to have a good time without being so drunk that we can’t hold a conversation.
I believe Gandhi when he said “Be the change you want to see in the world” so I think it’s important to reject fashion and pop culture if they’re not enriching your life in any way. I was going to bars and drinking because that’s what PEOPLE DID. I wanted to meet new and interesting people and instead I was just meeting drunk people. I felt like it was cowardly to have to “have a few drinks so you could relax” and it annoyed me that people wouldn’t just cut the crap and be real without being under the influence.
I guess that’s the worst part really. People give me shit because I drink stuff with caffeine in it. They’ll give me shit like “CAFFEINE IS A RECREATIONAL DRUG” shit to make them feel better about themselves. They’re talking at me, but the real argument they’re having is with their conscience. The difference is, I don’t need caffeine to get through my life. Were tea naturally caffeine free, I’d still drink it. Caffeine does not change who I am after I’ve consumed some. You get the exact same person, with or without it. I don’t consider it to be recreational, because the fact that caffeine exists in something is not the reason I would choose it.
The real trauma with alcohol is the radical effect it has on people’s minds when they’re on it. They regress right back to their lizard brain, thinking that the other drunk asshole bumped into them ON PURPOSE, or that it’s ok to try and slap some waitresses arse because it’ll be “funny”. It makes people into the biggest assholes because it makes them think that fucked-up shit is ok. We’ve created a society where “I was drunk” is a reason for why you did something stupid. Like you can drink away your social responsibility and that’s ok because, hey, you were drunk right?
So I didn’t like what I saw, and I chose to be apart from the ugliest side of humanity by distancing myself from that behaviour. I decided that I wanted to be me all-the-fucking-time. You get exactly the real me, all the time. I stay what I feel, I have tact, decorum, manners. I try to be interesting and I place more value on conversation than intoxication. That comes with it’s own share of sacrifices.
You think, “Ok cool. I don’t want to be the guy who refuses to join his friends at the pub. Pubs serve soft drinks. Remember nominated driver campaigns? It’s cool. We’ll hit the bars and I’ll stick to soft drinks.”. In theory that’s a great plan. You are still part of that social circle and yet you get to keep your wits about you, be awake in the morning without feeling like you were hit by a truck and you get to be smart the whole way.
Well be prepared to experience suspicion and hostility like you’ve never experienced before. From people who you love. Because just like I can’t understand why people need to drink, some people are unable to comprehend why I don’t.
In the 2 years I’ve been clean, here’s what has happened to me.
- I have been told that I should “Stop being a pussy and have a beer”
- I have had my drink spiked with alcohol in the hope I wouldn’t notice
- I have had beers ordered FOR me, after I had already explained I wasn’t interested
- I have been asked if I am on medication, and that’s why I am not drinking
- I have been told that if I want girls to like me, I should drink
- I have been told that not drinking makes me seem like a rapist
- I have had groups pair off around me and ditch me because I’m not drinking
Each time that crap happens it just strengthens my resolve. I don’t visit bars anymore. I’ve given up on that whole thing. There’s literally nothing for me there. It’s full of drunk pricks trying to out-prick other drunk pricks. The music is shit and I can’t hold a conversation with anyone because they don’t remember what was said a few minutes ago because their short term memory is beat to fuck by the poison in their brains.
Does it make me better than you? Nah, not really. I just don’t want to be a part of any of that scene that’s been built around drug use. I didn’t try and change you, I just left. Which, for the record, is what I think most people should do when they have a problem with something other people are enjoying. If you don’t like the TV program, turn it off. If you think it’s bad for your kids, then turn it off. If you don’t like what’s on the radio, turn it off. That’s a far more powerful signal than a strongly worded letter, expouting the moral decay of society.
I just walked away.
But you see it doesn’t stop there, does it? Restaurants in Cyprus were offering free booze as a way to try and seal the deal to get me to eat there. I walked away from any of them that suggested such a thing. A recent wedding reception explained that there would be ‘champagne for all the adults, and orange juice for the kids’ to toast the new bride. You can’t get away from it. You say “I don’t drink” and the reply is almost always “Why?”. Like that’s not enough.
When I was 19/20 years old, I didn’t really want to be alive. For various reasons that I don’t need to go into here I had a few unsuccessful and poorly planned attempts at taking my own life that were more likely me testing my own limits than anything else, but fuck it, I didn’t want to be dead, I just didn’t care if I lived or not.
I started smoking and taking all the drugs I could get my hands on. I didn’t want to be me, or anything like me. I wanted to get away from where I was and who I was. I felt like I was living in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like I had no hope and no opportunity and that the world that was promised to me in my childhood turned out to be somewhat different to the actual world I lived in (You can go anywhere and do anything… But only if you have wealthy white parents and are willing to surrender any and all individuality) I was miserable. The drugs probably didn’t help that. I smoked, drank loads, took drugs you name it. I could party like a rockstar, right? I could live that life we’re told to aspire to? It fucked me up. I hated who I was so I took some more drugs and drank some more. It was bullshit. I developed a smokers cough. I gained weight. I lost weight. I gained it again. I fucked up relationships with people I cared about because my own self-doubt wouldn’t let me just be cool and fucking love those people like I should have done.
My life went up and down through various things. I moved across the country trying to escape my old life. I got drunk in the new place, it was just as miserable as before. I went to a music festival in Leeds called Damnation Festival. Before we left for the show, I got drunk. I got as drunk as I could, so that my sight was spinning. I drank and smoked and ate myself into a really horrible place. The heat in the building, the heat of warm bodies (something I once cherished about heavy metal shows) was unbearable and I had to keep running outside to the smoking area to breathe. I’d have another cigarette and for the first time, aged 24, I felt OLD. I was struggling to breathe and I was outside trying to stop my head from spinning, when I should have been in there thrashing like a maniac to the bands I’d paid to see. I don’t remember anything about the festival, other than feeling a bit sick during one of the bands.
I went home and fell asleep and when I woke up, I felt like I’d been beaten up. I felt like I had the flu. I had a hangover that lasted 3 days. I had spent £60 on booze and takeaway and I felt terrible for it. I spent 3 days looking at myself hard in the mirror. I didn’t want this. Not like this. I was aware of straight edge as a movement. I didn’t want to feel sick anymore. I didn’t want to feel powerless and out of control anymore. I wanted to take my fucked up life in my fucked up hands and do productive things with it. I wanted to move mountains and do great things, and none of those things were going to be done unless I flushed the negativity out of my life. I needed to find positivity in everything. It seemed to me that at a weak point, I could find strength. Ditching cigarettes was a no-brainer, but why stop there? I stepped up and outright said “No, I will not do this shit anymore”. When all the evidence is telling you that you should make the change and take your life in your hands, it’s hard to say no.
Since then I’ve never looked back. I haven’t had even the slightest urge to drink, smoke or take drugs. I went cold turkey but every single step of the way has been an affirmation that I have made the right decision. I go to gigs, I get sweaty, I come home and I feel great. Binge eating and purging has pretty much stopped altogether. I go out, have a great time and the very next day I am up early, feeling great, cooking breakfast and planning what I want to do with my life that day. I don’t regret it for a single second.
Why straight edge? Why didn’t I just ‘stop drinking’? Why take on the culture as well?
It seemed like a natural choice. I was rejecting the hedonistic culture of my time. I was rejecting that lifestyle whilst eschewing values that I felt were important. Like having respect for yourself, like understanding your impact on the world around you. Like always working towards self-improvement.
The role models of the Straight Edge movement appealed to me. Henry Rollins and Ian Mackaye. I liked those guys, and I liked their output. I agreed with what they said. It gave me a feeling of unity, so instead of having to feel like I was one guy against a world of drinkers, I felt like I was part of a good thing. A movement with a positive message behind it. The music has helped too. Straight edge bands make up a part of my gym playlist, because their overwhelmingly positive message is exactly the sort of thing I want to hear when I am getting my shit together. I really dig the origins of the ‘X’ on the hands too. I’ve always been a big fan of getting music to the people that want to hear it. Plus I think it’s good to have such a powerful support structure when the social influence of alcohol is all around you.
Straight Edge made sense, and the longer I’ve been clean, the more attached I become to the movement. Other people have tried to twist it into something that they want it to be, but to me it’s about staying positive, having hope, having heart, taking care of yourself and other people and being true.
For the friends who’ve stuck by me for the last few years, I’m hoping you’ve seen the change too. I feel a lot happier now. I feel stronger than ever. I feel more capable than ever. I feel like a guy that gets shit done now. I’m still passionate about my beliefs. I’m still a fan of loud and angry music. I’m still myself, more so than ever, and I’m really, really happy that way.
I hope you think of this article if you’re thinking about giving somebody a hard time for not drinking. I hope you do the right thing and just be cool about it. Don’t take it personally. Don’t pressure them to drink because it’d make you feel better, just be cool. They’re exactly the person they want to be.
UPDATE: 3 years on and this article is more true and more relevant than ever. Never have I faltered. Never have I slipped. I have inked the X into my skin forever to remind me of this strength. I have found compassion and love in the movement. I have been vegan for 1 year. My choices save animal lives. The straight edge is strong. In over 1000 days, not a single regret for this choice has been felt. Others have found strength in this message also. Love and passion and support has grown from a place that used to be poisoned and broken. Stay strong. Head high.
Straight – fucking – Edge