So, I got this really sweet letter in response to my column two issues back about my car breaking down on the Jersey Turnpike. It was from a guy who’s in the process of quitting drinking and he wrote to me about his own struggle, because I’d mentioned in that column that I had quit drinking around 3 years ago.
I was just starting to write him back, when I realized that maybe some of his questions/some of my experience might prove valuable or useful to people besides just the two of us. I know when I was first getting off booze, reading people’s accounts of what was hard for them/what they struggled with/how they got through it, was really helpful for me, so maybe this can be like that for you? Anyway, here’s a segment of his letter:
“one thing i am really apprehensive about, though, is going to gigs and not drinking. where i live in ________ and the surrounding areas, the punk scene is pretty much exclusively populated by mad speedfreaks that stay up for weeks on end drinkin rum. while i used to be able to dip in and out of this when i wanted (im a newly qualified nurse in hospital, so don't havent so much time for partying as i once did) i cant imagine it being so easy while i'm not boozing, and i'm half scared, cos it feels like alcohol is such a big part of my personality. and half cos i'm concerned that people will think its weird or not cool or something that i'm sober. ain't that awful?
so while im finding more time to play drums in my band, read books, cook tasty food for my non-punk/9-5 kinda friends, and write emails to total strangers (HI!) it almost feels like im sellin out not seeing so much of my punk buddies. i think this idea that theyre gonna judge me is all in my head, but it's still affecting me. punk is love, and i need to rectify how i feel about this situation (while staying sober). i'm writing to ask, did you feel a similar way about social situations, gigs etc? have you encountered any negative responses from friends? how did you find the best way to deal with the practicalities of hanging out with a load of drunk punx lifestyle while not wanting to be a fuckhead anymore (okay, i might be putting this on you a bit, but i hope you get what i mean?)”
When I quit drinking I was a neurotic mess about going to shows for a long time. So much of my conception of punk and my punk identity was tied to this sense of nihilism and like, getting fucking wasted and it’s hard to disentangle those things because sober people are racist white straight edge jock straight dude goons who fucking suck, right? Or like, Dharma Punx, which I’m sure is cool to lots of people (and is even cool for people I know) but to me just seems hella corny and kinda dumb (sorry, y’all, no offense). Also for me, I realized I was medicating a bunch of mental health shit—gender anxiety, social anxiety, anxiety anxiety, et cetera, et cetera, foreva and eva—with booze and that in the absence of booze all human interaction was fraught with hypertense bullshit. It didn’t help that I was drinking 900 cups of coffee, smoking 8000 cigarettes, eating one million candy bars (quitting booze makes you crave sugar LIKE WOAH), and never sleeping, so I was a Fucking Wreck.
But that’s not what you’re talking about necessarily. I think what you’re talking about is that thing where you have all these friendships that were centered heavily on drinking and drug use, and when you stop doing those things you wonder if there’s anything left to hang the friendship on. I had so many fears about judgment when I quit drinking. I was afraid people would think I was a wimp. I was afraid people would think I was judging them for still drinking so they would preemptively judge me. I was afraid that me and the people I thought I cared about would just have nothing to say to each other.
In some cases I was right. There were some people I felt super close with as a booze hound who I realized when I gave it up I had very little in common with beyond a proclivity for getting super fucked up. And that was for sure a drag, but more often then not I realized that there was way more to my friendships than I had pessimistically imagined and that I wasn’t giving myself or my friends enough credit for being full three-dimensional human beings.
This one time like six months into “sobriety” (I am not actually sober, I def fuck with some weed tincture every now and again and occasionally still use Other Drugs, but we’ll use “sober” as shorthand for “not drinking”) I found out this friend of mine from Seattle was coming to town with his band. I got really stressed out and worried because every time he and I hung out we would rage so hard. The last time I’d seen him we’d drank a gallon of cooking wine from the Food Bank because the beer store was closed. It was nasty and tasted like soy sauce and we both puked but it was hella funny and fun and definitely one of those Picturesquely Haggard Times I still talk about when I reminisce about what a Lovable Scamp I used to be. Anyway, he was coming to town and his band was playing a show at this punk house and I knew I couldn’t handle the show without getting wasted, so I asked him if he wanted to get lunch that afternoon. We ended up walking around for hours shooting the shit and he never told me I was a wuss and didn’t seem the least bit concerned about my not drinking and in fact, he was just stoked for me!
And that sort of thing happened again and again. It was all about finding alternatives to typical punk hangs and doing daytime stuff for a while. It took me a couple years to get the hang of sobriety enough to feel like I could handle partying again without booze, but I think I spent that time well, and now that I’m back I feel like I’m so much better at being around people. Because I took the time to deal with my shit and instead of showing up to the gig with a bunch of baggage that I have to slowly shed with each sip of whiskey, I just go out excited to see bands and catch up with people and have a good time.
So, one of the things that you need to do is be patient. Maybe you don’t feel ready to go to shows yet. It totally seems like not going to shows for a while is the end of the world, but actually it’s not because when you’re ready to go to shows again, they’ll still be happening. Some of the people will be different and that’ll be cool because they’ll know you for the first time as a person who doesn’t drink and you won’t have to do any re-branding (har har). Also, like, I know punk stuff happens really fast so maybe you’ll miss some stuff, but who cares?! Like, I missed out on that band Ice Age entirely. But, fucking, WHATEVER. Like, if the worst thing that happened because I quit going to shows for a while is that I didn’t get to see some handsome Scandinavian boys do hardcore (were they even a hardcore band? I still haven’t heard them) then I got off pretty easy.
More practically, I found I really like to drink things out of glass, beer or liquor sized bottles. Specifically fancy ginger beers and seltzers. There’s something about holding on to a glass bottle at house shows that’s super comforting. If you’re at a bar and you can’t bring in a fancy seltzer of your own you can have them make you a seltzer with bitters, which is a delicious drink and looks like a cocktail of some sort so people don’t really ask what it is. ALSO there’s this stuff called Milky Oat Seed tincture that Caroline told me curtails booze cravings and I don’t know if it actually works or I just trust Caroline, but it seemed to work for me.
And then it’s also good to remember that if people start bumming you out or you get stressed, you can just leave! It’s not the end of the world to just dip out and in fact it makes you seem super mysterious and romantic. Who knows what you’re up to?! You do, obviously, but no one else does. They probably think you’re doing something really cool. In my experience most people don’t even think about it at all because they’re so busy partying even if they notice for a second that you’re gone pretty soon they forget about it because they have to do Jaeger shots with the drummer of the touring band from Tokyo.
Mostly the key to not drinking and still hanging out is not putting too much pressure on yourself to do it until you’re ready. Also go to therapy. I lucked out and found an awesome therapist before I quit drinking to deal with some other shit, but I’ve been seeing her for like 4 or 5 years now and it’s pretty rad having someone to talk to. And like, I didn’t go to AA or any meetings, but that’s because I work in a diner that a bunch of AA folks hang out in and would just talk to them about stuff. But it’s nice to get a crew of sober friends too. Lots of punks are “in recovery” or whatever.
Okay! I hope that helped! If anyone else wants to ask me something or thinks I’m totally wrong and wants to call me names for insulting Dharma Punx, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Colin Atrophy / 442-D Lorimer St #230 / Brooklyn, NY 11206.
And remember: Fuck Billy Joel. Fuck Your Negative Attitude. We. Are. THE PUNX.