By Keith Capstick
Sitting on my friends’ couches drinking Wiser’s out of the bottle at high school parties, I never thought I’d become so reliant on alcohol.
By the time I was 12 I was well aware my father was an alcoholic, and that the tomato juice he brought along while we played football in the park outside his apartment wasn’t 100 per cent made from concentrate. Later on in my teenage years I noticed aunts and uncles looking to red wine and drunken mumbling, but never looked inward to assess my own relationship with substance abuse.
During my senior years of high school and my first year of university I needed alcohol. I felt cornered by the difficulty of building a social group without it and I didn’t think I was unique enough to stick out from the crowd sober. I didn’t feel like myself if I went out without a drink.
I talked myself into believing I was some misunderstood teenage-writer kid, like if Kerouac could do it I could too. But I lied to myself just like my addict family members did.
I’ve since found Straight Edge and everything’s changed, but not without a complicated battle with one specific instance of irony that it took more than a year for me to sift through.
Straight Edge was largely popularized as the ideological brainchild of a 1981 Minor Threat song and has since been the reasoning for countless punks rockin’ out with sharpie’d X’s on their hands all in the name of rejecting society’s substance-infused vices.
Punk bands throughout the 80’s like Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits united their fans and their friends under the mantra of unity, mental stability, and a conscious rejection of addiction. The breadth of the mindset eventually grew into an association with other subjects associated with liberalism like Veganism and racial equality.
I became obsessed with Straight Edge but doubted the prospect of it ever becoming my reality. Additionally, I had some issues with the way the scene seemed to look down on others, it felt like an impossible mountain to climb while X’d up moshers stood at the top throwing your empty whiskey bottles down at you. As I became more obsessed, with every show I felt more intimidated.
I couldn’t get over the fact that by giving up my friends and the parties and the careless “I’m young and fucked up” attitude I’d just be subjecting myself to the cold grip of another vice. Straight Edge, and the people associated with it, seemed like a collection of people who used the concept of “rejecting vices” as their own warped and ironic vice. I didn’t want to be part of their “movement” because it all just felt so counter-intuitive.
They’d wear old band shirts with positive messages and X’s all over them, they’d climb on each others backs to get to the mic and sing about how “unbreakable” they were. I felt like they clung to those “it’s okay not to drink” T-Shirts just like the drugs they hated so much.
After my first year of university, I experimented with brief stints of abstinence to little success. I knew that I liked myself better without liquor in my life, but each time I tried to put distance between myself and brown bottles I saw the friends that I usually partied with disappear one after another. Without a support group my eventual sobriety felt far away, and I felt as though I was too young and publically healthy to talk to my family about my problems with alcohol.
The breaking point was during my third year, where I felt buried beneath those lonely nights where you drink so much that your head spins and you sit up in bed wondering about the consequences of that girl who looked really nice but you really shouldn’t have been talking to, or that extra ten bucks you couldn’t afford to spend.
The morning after one of those nights I decided I was Straight Edge, and I didn’t care who I pushed away or how many friends I lost.
It didn’t take long for me to understand why Straight Edge felt so tight nit and divisive before. I remember the first time I “X’d” up at a concert that I had gone to alone. I stood outside the venue around the corner waiting for my hands to dry, and felt strangely soothed by the shear publicity of the the action.
There was no hiding, those X’s showed the bond I now shared with myself, the commitment to mental stability and positive outlook that I owed it to myself to keep, and I was about to walk into a place filled with others like me. I wanted them to hold me accountable for the commitment I made.
The unity that bands like Have Heart and Carry On, have written lyrics about for so long is simply the result of hundreds of kids making these difficult individual choices, and receiving support from those of a similar mindset. This world can suffocate the nonconforming unless we stick together, and that’s why the scene used to feel so elitist to me.
I still believe that some use The Edge as a substitute for their vices, and I’m well aware that my new weekends spent drinking root beers and being “that sober guy” when I do revert to my old social circles could just be another vice for me. But it’s a risk well worth the feeling of no longer being trapped under the alcohol’s grip.
I am Straight Edge, and I accept the label to support everyone like me who was willing to give up relationships they spent years building in order to stay true to themselves. I stand tall and am proud of leaving that wasted kid behind. I draw X’s on my hands to continue to say no to every drug that helps others drown out their problems, the same reason I watched so many family members drink.
Now I spend my weekends fist held high, surrounded by my screaming peers who are fighting their own wars. United in our mindset, true till death.
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