On not drinking

I remember when I first decided that I wouldn't drink again. I was seventeen, and it was after a night at Liberty's (previously The Fridge), Shrewsbury's only alternative night club at the time. I'd been moshing to Rage Against The Machine, Nine Inch Nails, and whatever else was dance floor-worthy at the time. I came away sweating, and had a sip of someone's pint. Even back then I remember thinking This sucks, why do people drink this stuff? Throughout my carefully spent teenage years I had never gotten drunk once, therefore not done anything regrettable whilst under the influence. I saw fellow school friends who were pissed a lot on whatever they could buy or steal, or off their face on cheap speed, and I never, ever related to it and never wanted to be part of it. And these people were still my friends, but what they did looked kind of scary, and absolutely not cool to do, from how I could see it.

It wasn't necessarily the fact they were doing it that made me not want to partake (even after offer after offer, and a fair amount of peer pressure) but it was the moments when they would be inebriated, but nobody would be looking; what I mean is, when people are pissed in group, they will act according in that group. They will laugh/fight/kiss/grope/vomit, and it's all documented as part of the group experience. But it's when someone has this look on their face, someone who peels away from the group just for a moment, and has this look of What exactly am I doing and what exactly do I think of this? That moment was the only time I really saw the effect of getting wasted on people's faces. In an instant it's all gone, the magic, the coolness, because the individual feels lost in it - and then pow!, you're back in the group, back in the room, and laughing along with everyone all over again.

I was only interested in my friends at those fleeting moments of complete self-awareness, and from what I could see, it looked like they were coming along once in a while to come up for air. The school I went to wasn't shit; it was one of the most respected secondary schools in Shropshire. Over the road, though, you had Meole Brace school - twice as big therefore twice as much shit going on - and I think that Priory kids felt that they had to compete (cue the drink, drugs and general experimentation). I for one never even met many people from Meole Brace, let alone got wasted to show them how hard I was. But when my fellows were not wasted, they were my friends. When they got wasted, I walked away.

So, after this one night at Liberty's, I'm walking back to my friend's house and he's telling me about this movement in the USA where there are loads if bands that promote a drink free/drug free lifestyle, and the positive existence available to you therein. I instantly, calmly and with a sense of relief, a sense of At last, something that suits me and my choices, took up the Straight Edge lifestyle, got into the bands, and felt invincible. At that time, there was maybe a dozen or so of us that adopted the SXE existence, and we formed bands, and we worked hard at them, and we were a formidable presence on the town's music scene (if the word formidable can be used for anything to do with Shrewsbury). And, yeah, at first, we took it all pretty seriously, pretty intense. Persons of a certain disposition run the risk of militaristic tendencies when they adopt what some would consider extreme life choices, and I think that I might have been that guy back then (I speak for myself only, because no one made me turn SXE - or, The Lifestyle).

I was with a girl when I chose abstiance, and she had problems, and she drank a lot and she got into weed and I didn't know what to do about, so I would challenge her about it. I would repeatedly challenge her choices, not noticing the fact that she wasn't questioning my choices. So that was all quite intense (as first serious relationships often are anyway). Anyway, eventually we broke up, and I carried on with The Lifestyle. I found that the main area where I could 'talk about' my unusual decision at the age of seventeen onwards to give up all forms of inebriation was in the bands I was in. At first, it was all quite aggressive, angst-ridden stuff (from my point of view, although people seemed to seriously dig it) but after time, although I was quite an angry man for whatever reasons, the lyrics I began to write for the bands (for the front man, was I) began to seem very positive and inspirational; I dropped all the swearing, sustained the screaming, but wrote lyrics about self-discovery, beating your own path, and generally just looking for the best way to spend your days. The bands I was listening to evolved towards more mature, less aggro hardcore, and more towards a groovier, approachable style. The whole band was into it, and although we weren't all SXE, this was a very good thing, because how exactly can you get four or five people in a band together all with the exact same beliefs and extreme lifestyle choices, and not have at least one of them once in an a while thinking to themselves
What exactly am I doing and what exactly do I think of this? I was in a band as a front man, and I led The Lifestyle, but I would never have used the band as a platform for the intricacies of exactly what it meant to be SXE; I did, however, use it for a voice about what I saw as positive in life, and yeah, obviously avoiding artificial stimulation was important to me, but it never came through in the lyrics other than Go forth and be positive to yourself, all the time.

The band at the time became pretty popular, and we would do shows up and down England, often getting amazing responses from people who hadn't seen us before, and getting repeat responses from people who had seen us previously. Promoters would tell us that we were such fun to put on because, although we were heavy, we were so approachable (Lee, Matt and I even had ridiculous little dance routines to some of our songs. It was bliss), signed bands took us under their wing, and the audience just wanted to talk to us. As just a guy from Shrewsbury who just worked at KFC, this was intensely rewarding. I'd written lyrics and guitar riffs in my bedroom, and here we were playing this music to a happily listening crowd. The scene was, as you probably know, full of elitist types - sticking to their group of friends, their own bands, etc - and we had none of that, not when we got on the road as the four of us and got out there. Local shows became rarer, unfortunately, due to other bands disintegrating and people inevitably going off to university, but we carried on out of town, to give it a proper shot.

Eventually, it all came to a sudden end when I quite one winter night. I would have been about twenty-one/twenty-two. I just felt a serious dip in my confidence, and I look back now and see it as being a bad year in many ways; my parents broke up, my girlfriend of the time and I broke up (tried to stay friends, but it was bleak for a while) and I knew that I hated my job but didn't know what to do next. I quit the band, and the band therefore collapsed in the form it was, because I wrote such a huge proportion of the music and all the lyrics. I felt so bad for the other guys, but I knew they had the determination to carry on with something new, and they did. I, however, withdrew for some time. I got a new job (the projection job), but wasn't it a band for a long time.

I lived with some friends in a couple of different houses during my early twenties, and even though we had parties and all that, I still never drank or partook in anything at all. Any girlfriend I was with, she obviously drank (some a lot more than others) but all the time I never did - and I know it probably sounds odd to keep mentioning abstinence in this way, but to me it was the most solid thing in my life; the one thing I knew was true and solid, that I did not drink alcohol, that I rejected that most predictable and nasty of hedonistic pursuits, and I was there, always, quite simply , Rich. So much around me could be lost at any time (through my own doing or just because that is the nature of things) but my choice to abstain defined me, if only simply to me.

I got into reading a great deal at the same time as I formed a couple more bands, which is something I still greatly enjoy now. My job allowed me to read and do nothing else, day after day. I felt like I discovered a lot more about anything from so much reading, but I withdrew even more from pretty much everything social (even if I attended social events, I would excuse myself early or just feel uncomfortable being there). As years went by, my friends obviously began to mature, so if any of them started out as massive drinkers, this inevitably calmed down a bit as they calmed down also. My friends are a civilised, fun-loving bunch, and this is a decent set-up for any social scene. The drugs pretty much vanished (not that there had been much anyway) and people began to settle down and find their adult selves. It seems I, on the other hand, got somewhat lost in time.

The thing about that projectionist job was that, firstly, I was good at it ,and my boss/es downstairs didn't know a single thing about how the projectors worked, so they left me the fuck alone. I worked under four general managers in that place (typical place like that, where a manager came and went each year), and all of them left me alone and respected my team of projectionists (even though all we essentially did was drink tea, read books and talk about books, and get really good at table tennis - but this was because we were efficient with the job first, then we could muck about). Secondly, the job gave me enough money to do what I wanted with my holiday time, so I went to Japan, and I went to Iceland, and I went to Greece. I never did the whole year away-thing; I preferred short, intensive holidays, and still do.

Eventually, the repetition (and unforeseen social limitations) of my job, combined with my still somewhat pariah-like lifestyle choices lead me to depression. I never saw it coming, but I was starving for something in my life. Every time I had a girlfriend, I felt intimidated and not at all into their nocturnal social habits (just going to the pub with friends) and, yes, there was probably some form of anxiety going on in their anyway, but relationships ended and friends drifted, and it took its toll. I became sadder than I have ever known, and it eventually took me to see somebody.

One of the first things they said was Why did you never go to university?, and I said that I had done for one year (just commuting to the local one) but that I saw university as an excuse for hedonism, full of young , irresponsible idiots, and I didn't want to be round that. At this time, I sounded like a frustrated extremist,and I knew it, and it was killing me. But I considered university after it was brought up this time, perhaps because the prospect of life in this town and in that job, whilst I watched my friends beat their own path, made me feel distinctly low. A few months later, I applied to university much to the delight, relief and respect of my family and friends.

So, I came to university, and my first year took some time getting used to. I was, indeed, surrounded my hedonistic youth, but if I'd just wanted to see all of that as bad and pointless, I could do that, but part of me also noticed that I was making friends and proving to myself that this was a massively good idea, and that came through. Joining a student society, working with people, and getting a job have helped prove to me that I can do this. But there was still something, some barrier between me and my experience here.

I guess things came to a head around winter time this year. I had my doubts about myself in the course; was I too old to be here? Wasn't it a young person's game and I was an impostor? Things made me question myself, and also getting a part time job at another cinema made me afraid that I had taken a massive step backwards. The speed at which people came and left my life was intense, and I'm someone who naturally makes a connection, gets involved. By March, the society I'm treasurer for hadn't managed to organise the seven-date tour of clubs we had hoped for (sad really, I was sincerely looking forward to being on the road again, just like the old days) so we instead went to Barcelona; that is,the five of us who had shown any interest in the tour.

The exhaustion of the first two terms of the year so far, and the impromptu excitement of this holiday made me feel relieved, and I was intensely glad at that moment of these four people being here, with me, in my life, in, as it happens, Barcelona. So, that first night out there, in a not very good tapas bar, with the fireworks and crowds of a successfully-won Barcelona FC streaming past the doors, I drank Sangria. Nobody gave that much of a shit, including myself. The next night, I got quite drunk on red wine (as I did for the next few nights) but I had a great time, and I was with people I trusted to look after me (although I was fine anyway). Put it like this, if I had started drinking in some student bar (or god forbid, The Venue) then the whole transition might not have worked for the sheer bleakness of it all. As you learn in an English (and also an art degree) context is, therefore, all.

The time away in Spain, and the time back now, has made me want to embrace things a lot more, rather than just dismiss that which I cannot understand, cannot ever know, or might somewhere along the line possibly cause me harm. That is living in fear, and that is something that rules much of many people's lives. I've seen it in people, wanted to save them from fear, from deciding to stay in when they should go out and embrace things, and I have felt like a failure when I haven't helped them, and in fact possibly hindered them. And I look back at the lyrics I used to write when I was in bands - lyrics about self-discovery, and embracing life for the brief, golden, perpetual celebration it really can be if you sculpt it so - and I try to remember. It's important that I remember.

I began writing years ago - a diary, poetry, short stories - as if leaving bands was one thing, but leaving writing of lyrics or anything like that was impossible to do. And I can do it with confidence. When you embrace things in life, you feel new things. Senses find the right gear, and if they don't, you move on to the next thing. I wrote in Barcelona about the place, about how I feel, about what I think of my companions, and I've written since, and I will continue to write, and take pictures. Whatever neurosis and paranoias I brought with my to university, if I thought they would shake off as soon as I stepped foot onto campus, I was wrong - these things take time, and when you're in your early thirties and certain (perhaps subconscious) hard-earned habits are highly adhesive, it can take longer to shake them. But I'm trying, and I'm attempting to put myself on the right path, otherwise I'm going to spoil a lot of this university experience for myself.

Sometimes things just don't work, and other times things are fluid and move at a befitting pace. But life goes on no matter which path you choose, so fuck common sense, and fuck abstinence, and embrace and care for those around you, and listen hard to what they say. Oh god, just listen hard, even if you're too dumb to understand. And listen to yourself, and what you would like to try this evening, in a bad tapas bar, or in a pub in town, or at the beach, on at a hardcore metal show.

Give me some time, but I'm learning to not say no.


  1. More cheese less mice

  2. Hello Rich FoxToSaveTheInternet.

    Post more things for me to read.


  3. Hey Rich, I remember talking with you in Costa once regarding university's and reasons for not going and going and dropping out.

    I relish the moments now, looking back at the evenings of going to the pub and just said "no thanks, juice please"

    It all seems so long ago, how we move on from those days.