This year, I turn 38, making it 20 years since I chose to be drug & alcohol-free. So that means I was only 18 when I made this choice – at this young age I wasn’t exactly a seasoned drinker, but 2 years into trying it all out, I decided it wasn’t the lifestyle for me.
I was born in Dublin, Ireland, where the stereotypes are known throughout the entire world – the Irish are drinkers. But if you take stereotypes seriously, were all small and green too, living at the bottom of rainbows. At 15/16 years old, I started to try out drinking, cheap 6 packs of cans in fields with my friends, stashing bottles of vodka in our school bags and sneaking about at weekends, trying our best to creep home without waking our ever-vigilant mothers. I had my fun experimenting, and this was years before I even knew what straightedge was.
The soundtrack to my early teenage years was punk; I spent hours in Tower Records searching for obscure American bands, finding Operation Ivy, Black Flag, Rancid & NOFX, then heading off to an independent record shop to find Irish bands like Striknein DC, Runnin’ Riot & Blood or Whiskey. A lot of punk songs reference drinking and even though I like to think I wasn’t influenced by lyrics, with hindsight I can see that I was. I was also hanging out in squats, going to gigs in pubs, as most venues wouldn’t allow under 18’s, and hanging out with older teenagers, all of which impacted my decisions. Although I was never pressured by peers, I see now that it is social pressure, and an expectation within society that I would just start drinking, learn to enjoy it, and carry on with it all through life. Major events are linked with certain drinks; weddings and champagne, festivals and beer etc.
My music tastes were heavily influenced by my older brothers, who were both metal heads, and my skater friends who listened to a lot of pop punk and hip-hop. I found my own tastes with bands like Madball & Sick Of It All, Life of Agony etc., and then discovered Henry Rollins. I listened intently to his lyrics and became a huge fan pretty quickly. The day I decided to stop drinking was when I was out in the city centre one evening and noticed a girl, about my age, passed out in a side street, vodka bottle still in her hand – and I suddenly saw how vulnerable she was. Her friends were nearby in similar states, and just walking past looking at them, I re-evaluated and couldn’t do it anymore. I could allow myself to lose control & self-respect. I decided then and there that I wasn’t going to drink anymore.
I lost friends, but I wasn’t that bothered, as they were more drinking buddies that real friends, but I noticed quickly how easy it was to be left out due to the assumption that if you’re not drinking, you won’t be fun. I had started getting tattooed at that time too, having just turned 18, and had a friend who was an apprentice who needed to practice. We drew up some X’s for my calves and without thinking too much about the straightedge connection, I had them done. I still didn’t call myself edge, I hadn’t even heard of Earth Crisis yet!
I was never one for putting a label onto anyone, especially not myself, so it took quite a few years for me to realize that I actually was living a straightedge lifestyle – and enjoying it, but most of all, I didn’t mind being labeled this way. It was positive and seen as such, so I began to embrace it. I researched it, to find out the origins of X’ed up hands etc., and in doing this; I discovered the bands associated with the scene. I was now living in London and this brought a whole new way of living for me – I struggled with veganism in Dublin as it was still hugely unheard of, and very unpopular. In London, I found so many more options and it was suddenly a lot easier to live the way I wanted.
I saw how others viewed the Irish as drinkers though and this angered me somewhat. I was always met with shock and skepticism when I mentioned being teetotal or edge. “But you’re Irish!” was always the reaction, which was usually met by me rolling my eyes. I made some new friends, started to go looking for shows, and found the London hardcore scene, where I realized I would be welcomed, drinker or not, which was great. As social media wasn’t quite as heavily used then as it is now, I had to collect flyers to know when gigs were happening, and soon enough I had found my way and finally found my lifestyle choices were not sneered at or questioned, but just accepted. I still have those same friends now, and will always be grateful for them.
My taste in music didn’t shift over exclusively to straightedge bands, but I was introduced to so much more variety, and obviously a lot of it resonated with me. As I’ve gotten older and had children, I can see how important my choice to stop drinking was, I hear from other parents about the guilt of being hungover with small kids about, demanding attention or spending a fortune on cocktails and prosecco. It makes me proud that I can see things from both sides, so when my children hit the teens and start to experiment, I can at least guide or advise them with experience from both sides.