Category: Essays

Roar: Why I choose not to drink and why I choose to dance.

‘Dancin’ through the fire, ’cause I am the champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar!’ – Katy Perry, “Roar”, (Roar).

There’s a punk scene called ‘straight edge’. It emphasizes a clean lifestyle: abstaining from alcohol and illicit drug use, sometimes extending to promiscuous sex, pharmaceutical drugs, meat and caffeine. It was born out of a reaction against the perception of ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’ being part of the punk subculture. It developed into a reaction against those things in more mainstream culture, and so spread to other ‘socially endorsed addictions’ such as caffeine. Most people would point to the song “Straight Edge” by Minor Threat as an expression of straight edge values.

I’m a person just like you
But I’ve got better things to do
Than sit around and fuck my head
Hang out with the living dead
Snort white shit up my nose
Pass out at the shows
I don’t even think about speed
That’s something I just don’t need

I’ve got the straight edge

I’m a person just like you
But I’ve got better things to do
Than sit around and smoke dope
‘Cause I know I can cope
Laugh at the thought of eating ludes
Laugh at the thought of sniffing glue
Always gonna keep in touch
Never want to use a crutch

I’ve got the straight edge
I’ve got the straight edge
I’ve got the straight edge
I’ve got the straight edge

(Source)

These lyrics do accurately present a definition of straight edge culture, and reveal the attitude behind these values. Referring to people who participate in those activities as ‘the living dead’ and laughing at the thought of activities they engage in is a hostile rejection of their behavior. Telling those people ‘I’ve got better things to do’ is equally confrontational. The opposition comes from the fact that these are strongly held feelings, with a sense of commitment to abstinence. However, the song remains negative, both towards substance use and the people who participate in it.

Someone who shares these feelings might find something reassuring in the lyrics, or at least recognizable. I had a moment, hearing the song for the first time, where I thought: ‘Oh, I don’t do those things. I guess that makes me straight edge.’ It wasn’t a euphoric revelation, it was only a recognition of familiarity. I made those decisions and choices to abstain from similar things, and continue to uphold those values. I didn’t arrive at those conclusions through negation. It wasn’t a reaction against anything or anyone. It was about fulfillment of my own potential.

I wanted to be in control, alert, safe, and healthy. So I stopped drinking when I started driving. I never did try illicit drugs. I enjoy sport and felt that substances would affect my performance. I don’t like the idea of casual relationships, and so casual sex was equally unappealing for me. I did drink coffee for a short time. After three weeks in Japan, I had detoxified and my body rejected the taste. So I stopped drinking it.

I made these choices as a response to my own experiences, and in order to achieve my own goals. It was not about disrespecting the choices of others, or out of disagreement with the availability of those substances. I was asserting my individual freedom to choose, and my ability to do so requires that the alternative path exists. I can’t abstain when there is no such thing as alcohol. As such, I would not deny anyone the freedom to choose for themselves. I do not actively recommend my lifestyle to anyone else, as that would be an imposition.

‘I can’t handle no liquor, But these bitches can’t handle me. I can’t control my niggas, And my niggas they can’t control me.’ – Kanye West, “Hold My Liquor”, (Yeezus).

The context of my decisions is a social one. I exist in a community. As such, that community has default positions relating to substances, and while tolerances are made for exceptions and alternatives, for the most part people are encouraged to participate in the behaviors of their social culture. You aren’t forced to drink because everyone else does. You are invited to share in the fun, to belong, to participate, to be a part of the community (your friends, family, company, society, etc.). The bar is the center of American social life. As such, and even before moving here, I have become comfortable around alcohol and people consuming it.

However, despite those default positions, people are almost always respectful of my decision not to drink. When I tell people I don’t drink, they usually respond with ‘That’s cool. Good for you. It’s smart and healthy. I bet you’re saving a ton of money.’ They don’t push the issue, or strongly encourage me to drink. I’m sure it would be the same with other substances. They can probably sense the strength of my opposition as well. After abstaining for so long, I have developed a confidence which backs up my ability to say ‘No, thank you, I don’t drink.’ I think that firmly ends any attempt to change my behavior. If someone did push the issue, they would receive a lyric from that well known Rage Against the Machine song: ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’.

The straight edge lifestyle cannot sustain itself solely on reasons to say no. It cannot simply be a negation, a rejection or a rebellion. It must find positive and encouraging reasons to say ‘yes’. Not to drugs, alcohol and promiscuity, but to the healthy, aware, and incredibly fun way of life that abstinence allows individuals to discover. I have discovered a love of dancing: the physical exertion, the release from stress, nervousness, and self-conscious modes of thought that inhabit everyday life. One of my friends even said ‘Ben has more fun sober, than we do when we’re drunk.’ That’s a hell of an achievement for someone who values sobriety so highly. That’s my ideal of being straight edge: to party harder than anyone, and remember everything. I live this way because it feels right for me, and I know that it’s necessary for me to achieve the high standards of greatness I’ve set for myself. Not just at parties, but in life.

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