Tales From The Other Side (Thoughts Of A Girl Who Fell Off The Edge, But Not The Wagon) by fightclubsandwich

So the last time I drank alcohol was about two months ago. I did reach a certain degree of intoxication. I did remember everything that happened to me whilst drunk the next day. I did not throw up at all. I do not feel that I can identify myself as being, in the strictest sense, straight edge any longer.

I don’t know if I feel bad about not being straight edge anymore. I don’t know what I mean by the word “bad” in that last sentence, actually. Do I feel guilty? Like I’ve let anyone down? Like I’ve let myself down? Not at all. I mean, I know that my life is not going to transform into some mad bacchanalian orgy just because I’ve decided that complete and total temperance isn’t really for me. But it is definitely strange to change your mind about any aspect of your lifestyle when you’ve already aligned yourself with some movement or idea, because suddenly you’re swamped with other people’s ideas, and every movement you make could turn you into a hypothetical situation. Its hard to turn away from straight edge when people already have their own ideas about what that move means.

The figure of the ex-straight edge kid who becomes a raging alcoholic as soon as they can legally do so is a familiar caricature in the dell’arte of the punk scene. There are certainly many potential reasons for this, for example, straight edgers are often perceived as a group with an inflated sense of their own moral superiority and very little in the way of a sense of humour, so the irony of their fall from temperance has elements of humour and schadenfreude, (although obviously the humour vanishes when you over-analyse it like that). Sometimes the “fallen” straight-edger has even gone so far as to get triple-X tattoos advertising their temperance, which acts as a physical manifestation of the moral that is invariably implicitly attached to the character: i.e. pride comes before a fall, if you attach yourself to these codes too zealously then you are setting yourself up to be made into a fool.

Alternatively, you could argue that punks are inherently cynical due to the subculture being all about rejection of social norms and mainstream politics, with the posi-core kids as the sole idealistic exception. Therefore they become instant and obvious targets for their peers with a strain of humour that they aren’t really interested in.

The metaphor fixed in everyone’s minds is of a dam that’s straining under the pressure of suppressed rebellious urges. Imagine that the dam is holding back whisky instead of water. Then when it breaks, the unpractised individual is thrown into a sandbox of intoxicated possibilities and has no idea how to organise them all. So they just give in to everything and to excess.

Oh yeah, and that’s another potential reason for the possibility of the popularity of the fallen straight edge character. The exaggeration of the fallibility of the abstinent can make the “normal person” who does engage in some moderately unwholesome practices seem worldly and knowledgeable in comparison. It subverts the idea of self-control on its head, (especially self-control as the Gorilla Biscuits fan would understand it) and says instead that you can’t control the way you deal with something you’ve never tried. Complete temperance is only ever a set-up that is going to get knocked down.

So the fallen straight-edger is – like most stereotyped caricatures – backed up by a lot of reasoning, even if it’s not real. I’m not saying that this character doesn’t exist in real life – there’s no reason that they shouldn’t – but it really only tells one part of the story, and the whole point of this article is to go beyond that. I think one of the scary parts of letting go of straight edge is that people will assume that you’re not letting go, that you’re falling off. There is a difference between choice and self control in the same way that there’s a difference between leaving a movement and running away, high speed, on rocket-powered roller-skates.

My own decision to leave the straight edge thing behind parallels my reasons for being interested in the idea to begin with. One of the first things that appealed to me about straight edge culture was that it was an excellent source of defiance and anger. Here was a group that was feisty and even ready to defend itself from a huge chunk of the counter-culture, so surely they’d never be afraid of the mainstream? As a teenager, I always felt kind of weird and angry about everyone being out of their skulls all the time because I was scared that people did it as an excuse and an escape. I wanted to be alert and informed and productive and the sheer excess to which people get hammered – Wikipedia describes binge-drinking as “the modern definition of alcoholic beverages with the primary intention of getting intoxicated” – made me feel like I was living in a world that just didn’t care. It was as if everyone was more than happy to drop out of the present and the now, and just sit in the swill of their own dying thoughts. How could drinking to excess ever be rebellious and different when everyone does it? Drunkenness seemed to be the preferred state of mind of the accountants and office workers that I dreaded someday growing up to become.

So I’m pretty sure that my decision to drink again – from time to time, and if I want to – is based upon several different strands of reasoning, but for the sake of the cohesion of this article, I’m going to assert that most of all, it comes from outside forces. From watching the people around me having too much fun while they drink and feeling like an outsider, from the greater need for a distraction from my own inner cynicism, from everyone else making it look so cool. Stuff like that. I think the way that I’ve changed as a person over the last few years – especially since being at university – has left me no longer feeling that same connection to the whole straight edge thing that I once felt. And I don’t think that this is altogether a change to get pessimistic about, I think its just a shift in areas of concentration and what’s important to me. One of the things that I loved – and still love – about bands like Gorilla Biscuits and 7 Seconds was the way they got me so excited and inspired. I felt young and energised and like I could do anything and it didn’t suck to be a teenager after all. On the other hand, I am now nearing twenty and scared, and cynical enough that I want to scoff at that last sentence. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, we all just want to be the same person we’ve always been on the inside, but so long as we’re all looking for validation and inspiration from the world around us, everyone’s taste in music and literature and everything is going to keep changing.

So is there a right and wrong way to quit straight edge? While it can be sad to put a movement that was once so important to you behind yourself, the trick is to do so in the knowledge that in the future you’ll be able to look back on it with the right kind of nostalgia, and that you can still admire the rules that someone else lives by, even if you can’t connect with them yourself. And what’s sadder is the idea in the minds of some people that the only way to change as a person is through disillusionment and quitting. The idea of someone plunging straight into the thing they’ve always hated, and the use of black humour as the only response to that is the kind of dark thinking that’s perfectly valid but can breed narrow-mindedness. If you’re a cynical person, or just turning into one by default because time is stealing your idealism, well, that’s okay, that’s just what happens sometimes. Just be aware that there are still people out there who think differently to you, and that you’re going to have to find a way to interact with them other than just as the butt of your jokes.

What the heck is straight edge?

Picture this. Stood in the middle of the room, there’s a poor boy or girl frozen stiff while a circle of drunks are asking them “Hey, why aren’t you drinking?” What do they offer as an explanation? There’s the classic “uh, I just don’t want to, I don’t drink”, which is then followed by more protestation from the others, or if they’re so inclined, “I’m straight edge.” This is definitely the more complicated one. Because a good majority of the time, a resounding chorus of “What the fuck is that?” comes up.

So, what the heck is straight edge?

By definition, it’s a movement which originated in Washington DC in the glorious scene that was the hardcore scene. At the time, clubs didn’t originally allow under-21’s into gigs. The Teen Idles, Ian McKaye’s first prominent band, were due to play a gig, but the entire band was under the drinking age. Therefore, the club marked their hands with an ‘x’ to make sure that they weren’t served alcohol. When the band returned to DC, they suggested the same thing, and soon, some clubs began using the same practise to let underage fans in. Meanwhile, an idea was spreading throughout the punk scene of a clean lifestyle. The band who would be Minor Threat adopted this lifestyle of no drinking, no smoking and no drugs, and defined the term in their song ‘Straight Edge’. The straight edge movement then became a thriving subculture, with several hardcore punk bands (including the notable Youth Crew movement) devoting their lyrics and their lives to it.

But if we’re being perfectly honest, how many people are going to take that in?

Not to mention, so much more has been added over the years, and it’s difficult to define exactly what straight edge is. If you’re really straight edge, then you have to be vegan, abstain from promiscuity, abstain from caffeine, be completely drug free and not take any medication at all, be atheist, campaign actively for animal/human/vegetable rights…

It’s hard to know where to draw the line and determine what is straight edge and what isn’t. One issue is whether you’re straight edge if you follow the lifestyle under the legal drinking age. Some say yes, some say no. However, take a look at society. We are living in a society where teenage drinking is higher than it has been in a long time and the number of underage smokers and teenage drug users is rising. Therefore, it makes more sense for people to take on the straight edge lifestyle (if they so choose) earlier. Of course, it’s more of a challenge to resist peer pressure at a younger age, but if a strong enough will and self-confidence is in place, there’s no reason why being under the drinking age should discount someone from becoming straight edge.

Of course, then the boundaries must be chosen. Should straight edge just be the three core rules, as demonstrated in the 80s? Or should straight edgers also be vegetarian? Anti-promiscuity? Atheist? The truth is that any one of these is right. The heart of straight edge lies in the core three beliefs – no drinking alcohol, no smoking and no drugs (presumably the illegal variety) – and thus, these rules must be followed. However, anything else can be optional, even though many are taken to be just as important as the main three. It merely depends on the individual and their beliefs. It must be said though that anti-promiscuity has been accepted as a core belief by many of the straight edge community, more so than any of the other beliefs often attributed to straight edge.

Then there comes the age old question – should straight edgers be proud of their lifestyle? There’s being subtle, and then there’s being hardline. Nobody likes a hardliner. Hardliners are the extremists of straight edge – militant about their beliefs and can be violent to those who don’t follow straight edge. On the one hand, hardliners are extremely proud of what they believe, and hey, shouldn’t everyone be? On the other hand, they’re more likely to punch you if you say you think straight edge is a ton of shit. Due to hardliners (amongst other things), a lot of stigma has been associated with straight edge, and a lot of the time, straight edgers are afraid to talk about their lifestyle. Again, it’s all down to choice. Do you risk being alienated or do you just keep your mouth shut? Then again, isn’t straight edge some kind of crazy stand against peer pressure? Although our generation has no idea about what it was like in the 80s, it’s been said that a lot of straight edgers back then took it up as a way of standing up against peer pressure to do things they didn’t want to do. This is even more relevant now, living in the ‘binge drinking’ culture that we seem to be at the moment.

So, stood at that party, poor boy/girl is wondering what to say… what is straight edge? Straight edge is a subculture. Straight edge is a term created by Minor Threat. Straight edge is a punk thing. But above all else, straight edge is a choice.

Why I am still straight edge

Straight edge is a big thing in my life. It’s a big theme running throughout this site – four out of six contributors are in fact straight edge. I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this, you know what straight edge is. Hell, I wrote the explanatory article for here in the first place. As I write this article, it’s what the stoner community knows as “4/20”, an excuse to go and smoke as much pot as they can, because of a stupid slang term. If that’s what you like to do, then I’m not going to stop you. I have my vices, but the difference is, none of them are chemical substances that are likely to destroy various aspects of my body. Either way, I know straight edge is not for everyone and it would not be anywhere near as effective if it were. So, after seeing Christopher Gutierrez, my favourite independent writer, post a tumblr blog about why he’s still straight edge, I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and explain that this is why I live the life I do.

I first became straight edge when I was thirteen years old. I had been drunk before. My actions when I was drunk caused me to fall out with pretty much all my friends, all because I decided to get a little too close to this boy they all liked. Nothing even happened, but they all got jealous anyway. After coming back from a New Found Glory show, I couldn’t sleep, so I started reading a couple of threads on a forum I frequented. And I started to see the value in this lifestyle called ‘straight edge’. No smoking, no drinking, no drugs. A clean slate. Davey Havok was straight edge and he was cool. I thought ‘why not?’. What did I have to lose? I announced myself as straight edge to this online community and they laughed at me, saying that as I wasn’t legal drinking age, I’d sure change my mind. Six years later and I haven’t. And I can guarantee that ten, twenty years later, I still won’t have.

I thought that maybe, going to university would change it. I didn’t want to change who I was, but I thought that it could happen – after all, new situation, new fears. Peer pressure. I’d never given into it before – I know some people who quit edge when commencing sixth form – but I didn’t know what could happen. First night in, they were all playing drinking games. I respectfully declined. Nobody bit my head off, they all just said ‘okay’. I’ve been pulled up on it by others there, but I forgot that people at universities are generally more accepting and liberal than other places. I’m glad that I never gave in, because I would have been betraying myself.

Through being straight edge, I have apparently missed out on a lot. I don’t get invited to anywhere near as many parties as I would do otherwise. I find clubbing irritating because all my friends are drunk and I’m not. I actually have to deal with problems instead of drinking to make them all go away. In some respects, I feel left out. I missed out on a lot of the typical formative activities of my peers. However, I realise that it’s all worth it. Without straight edge, I wouldn’t be as strong a person. I wouldn’t have learned as many lessons as I have. It’s not a cross to bear, as a lot of people believe, but it’s something I’m proud of. I am proud that I have the strength to say no. I am proud that I can see things clearly. I am proud that I do not have to depend upon a chemical high in order to have a good time. Do I need to be like everybody else? No. I haven’t been like everybody else all my life, so why should I start now?

I’ve never “x’d” up. I’ve never worn any straight edge affiliated clothing. I don’t have a straight edge tattoo… yet. I barely ever say that I am straight edge, I just say I don’t drink. The pride I feel from being straight edge is kind of an inner pride – I don’t feel I have to flaunt it. It’s not because I’m afraid, it’s because I like to think that I’m more accepting of other people’s lifestyle choices and if I’m not militant about it, they might be of mine. That’s another thing that being straight edge has taught me – everybody has a choice. We can all choose to live one way or another and nobody is exactly right, but some people do end up making better choices than others. Who’s to say mine is better? Nobody. Although, I do think that I chose a better life than some of my high school companions. At least three of my old friends are now habitual drug users and I don’t believe that they’re better off than me, but they’ll have learned different lessons in their lives due to that choice. That’s their route and I don’t know if they’d change it. They probably wouldn’t. Just like I wouldn’t change mine.

I guess that part of the reason why I became straight edge was because I wanted to be different. I have to admit, I don’t like fitting in with the vast majority and I don’t think I should behave in a certain way or act like a dick to do it. I think it’s a waste of time. I think we should celebrate our differences because let’s face it, everyone is awesome in their own way. Unless they’re racist or a clown. But still, the world would be a much better place if everyone wasn’t afraid to hide who they really were and that’s part of what straight edge is – having the guts to admit that you are different and you’re happy with that. As HeyChris pointed out, straight edge is one of the biggest ‘fuck you’s’ in the scene. It’s rebellion in a rebellious scene. Straight edge is courage. And you know what? I like having that courage.