The journey into straight edge

By Neil Thomason

I’ve been asked to talk about straight edge by Culture Bomb, which is cool, but I guess I should preface this first: I am not immersed in the straight edge culture – I don’t listen to a lot of ‘edge’ bands as they tend to suck and be pretty one note in my opinion – and my word isn’t gospel, I just enjoy living a clean lifestyle. This article has no message, no agenda, it’s just my personal opinions and experiences.

I discovered straight edge at a really important point in my life. I was 22 and had completely bottomed out emotionally – I’d previously quit university, split up with my first long-term girlfriend and just had nothing going for me. As a consequence I was boozing too much because it seemed like the only way to make any kind of human contact and I was under the illusion it gave me confidence.

Luckily I’ve never smoked or touched drugs due to hanging around with an older crowd growing up and seeing the effect it had on them, so I didn’t have that crux around my neck as well. If I had I don’t know how different my story might be.

Looking back at journals from that time is kind of gut-wrenching as it’s really apparent I was desperate for change and wasn’t happy with my life. That Christmas my sister bought me Get In The Van by Henry Rollins. I can’t overstate how much of an impact Rollins had on my early twenties and this book was pretty much my bible as it documented not only his life on the road with Black Flag, and the insane DIY work ethic the band had, but also all the great bands from the beginnings of hardcore music – this resulted in my discovery of Minor Threat. I didn’t suddenly adopt the straight edge lifestyle after listening to Minor Threat, I let it sink in, and if the music hadn’t been so awesome I think the message might have been lost on me to be honest. But I really paid attention and it started to make more and more sense. Because of this combination of Henry Rollins’ work ethic and Ian Mackaye’s (Minor Threat) message I realised there was so much more to life than what I was doing and I needed to squeeze every second out of it.

I gave up drinking, started weightlifting, and generally just became very intense. I’ve chilled out a lot since then. I also started writing more regularly – short stories, articles, reviews – and decided I wanted to pursue a career in journalism. It has been nearly six years since this whole process began and I’ve only just come to the end of that journey. I have never looked back once.

Throughout these years I’ve noticed the idea grow more and more popular (due in part to the wide exposure of WWE wrestler CM Punk no doubt) which has been both a blessing and a curse as more people have adopted the lifestyle but also flake out so easily and treat it like a gimmick.

The term ‘straight edge’ has also almost become a catch-all term somehow. It’s a lifestyle that walks hand-in-hand with the punk and hardcore movement so isn’t someone who isn’t into that music and doesn’t drink or do drugs just teetotal? I guess that kinda shows how bullshit a term ‘straight edge’ is but dammit it’s our term!

I’ve not had many problems with other people in regards to living this way. University was hard going in the first year; meeting new people, socialising and constantly having to explain myself, but if anything I dare say people were more impressed or intrigued about me by the fact I didn’t drink. People would always buy me shots of cranberry juice when they were all doing Sambucca so I didn’t feel left out, which was always pretty funny!

I guess the only major backlash I’ve had is from other straight edgers believe it or not – I’m not a vegetarian or vegan like a lot of others and so I occasionally get shit from them, which to me is kind of hilarious as these are also the people who say they hate those who preach about the straight edge lifestyle or rub it in peoples faces… but then gladly do those exact things with that aspect of their lives. It’s absurdly contradictory and laughable at times.

When I think about it, straight edge to me is counter-culture. Because to me the culture of society, in Britain especially, is to go out and drink and get messed up.

I’m not much of a scenester, I don’t roll with a crew and as much as I love it I don’t just listen specifically to hardcore music – I discovered the lifestyle on my own and I live it on my own. It allows me to get the best from myself as I have nothing hindering me – I don’t think I would be where I am now if I hadn’t given up drinking, as it focused my attention from being a bit of a waster to wanting to do something I love for a living.

As Toby Morse says: “One life, one chance”.

You can follow Neil on Twitter and find his personal blog here.

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