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Musings for the Modern Mystic

Sobriety has long had a bad rap as 'uncool'. Yet obvious rebels such as Henry Rollins, Ian MacKay & CM Punk champion something known as 'straight edge'...

Riding The Straight Edge: Why Choosing Sobriety In Our Society Makes You A True Rebel

It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard drinking people. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald Share on X

Let’s face it. In a world dominated by widespread drinking and drug use, choosing to stay sober just isn’t ‘cool.’ But what if I told you that there’s a hardcore punk movement that has managed to transform the very act of sobriety into a captivating lifestyle that has garnered a cult-like following?

Meet the Straight Edge (abbreviated as sXe). These individuals identify under their collective decision of choosing sobriety as a lifestyle that opposes the rampant substance abuse of traditional, hardcore punk. Rather than indulging in the hedonistic pleasures of drugs and alcohol, straight edge enthusiasts are instead committed to the lifelong abstinence of recreational drug use.

Mainstream society, and much of the traditional punk movement, labels straight edge punkers as ‘outcasts’ because of their divergent, countercultural values. But it is precisely because they are outcasts that they’re cool.

Straight Edge’s Inception

The roots of the straight edge subculture emerged in the 1980s around hardcore punk circles. The short-lived 80’s band Minor Threat, led by Ian Mackaye, wrote the song “Straight Edge,” which eventually gave rise to the movement itself. The identifying symbol of straight edge punk is denoted by an “X,” often marked on the back of the hand — a practice still used today to separate those below the legal drinking age from those above it. 

However, it was adopted by straight edge devotees who willingly chose to mark their own hands. They leveraged their marked hands as a source of pride for defying the conventional norms of society, and by re-labelling sobriety as desirable and cool. Instead of succumbing to the negative connotations of being marked with an X indicating that they couldn’t drink, straight edge youth embraced the label and transformed it into an alluring ideology that helped to unite other like-minded people.

What Does The Straight Edge Philosophy Entail?

The heart of the straight edge movement lies in clean living. It is about shifting the societal paradigm of drug use and reshaping it into an alternative belief system that encourages self-positivity. Straight edge supporters believe that lifetime abstinence from recreational drugs is the key to respecting oneself and living a positive life that can fuel tangible social change within the rest of society.

The definition of ‘clean living’ can vary from one person to another, but the fundamental principle is that one should respect the body by choosing sobriety and not subjecting it to intoxicants. Some straight edge diehards may even decide to completely remove all caffeine consumption, or withhold from the use of medicinal drugs.

Ultimately, however, straight edgers are free to interpret their own unique definitions of what it means to identify as straight edge. The flexibility of straight edge’s values make the subculture a progressive belief system where mainstream society’s ideals of drinking and drug use are subversively challenged.

“In schools or any arena, the kids who were the rebellious ones were the ones who were hurting themselves. And that just seemed counterproductive to me. If you wanted to rebel against society, don’t dull the blade.”

~ Ian MacKaye

CM Punk: Rebelling Through Sobriety

Phil Brooks, known more commonly as CM Punk, is perhaps the most notable example of a straight edge figure that has transcended into mainstream culture. CM Punk was a professional wrestler for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) where he was known for his brash, unfiltered trash-talk and anti-establishment beliefs. He has spent his lifetime dedicated to the abstinence of alcohol and recreational drug use, citing his alcoholic father as a pivotal reason for adopting the straight edge lifestyle.

Now, CM Punk is rebelling in a different way as he sets his sights on establishing a career in mixed martial arts (MMA) following his retirement from professional wrestling in 2014. Punk has spoken openly about his aversion to society pressuring youth into conforming to expectations of recreational drug experimentation, and hopes that the straight edge movement will allow more non-conformists to see themselves as ‘normal’.

On September 10, 2016, he made his long-awaited MMA debut against young upstart, Mickey Gall, at the UFC 203 pay-per-view event in Cleveland, Ohio in a welterweight bout. Gall’s grappling experience proved to be too much for Punk, with Gall winning the fight in quick fashion as he submitted Punk with a rear-naked choke in the first round. Despite the outcome, Punk expressed his desire to continue competing during his post-fight speech, saying:

Sometimes, the outcome isn't what you desire it to be. But the true failure in life is not trying at all. ~ CM Punk Share on X

Certainly some motivational words to live by.

Being labelled straight edge makes CM Punk a rebel. He reshaped choosing sobriety into a lifestyle that was not only positive, but one with an inspiring message. During his decade and a half tenure as a professional wrestler, Punk believed that being straight edge meant that he was “better than you,” and he would defy every one of his critics that thought otherwise. How’s that for cool?

Hutton Ho
Hutton Ho


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