The Unlikely Connection Between Punk Rock, Sobriety, and Eating Disorders

Currently Reading: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi
Currently Listening: Minor Threat’s Complete Discography

Along with people being surprised that I used to have an eating disorder (“Really? You?”), I also get surprised reactions when I tell people I don’t drink.

“Really? Never?”

Nope. When I was 15, some of my friends started experimenting with drugs and sneaking downtown to parties to drink with older friends. I didn’t share their intrinsic interest in trying these things, but eventually went along and participated a few times because I was starting to feel left out. My lack of interest in substance use often translated into not being invited to hang out, because people knew I didn’t want to be around it.

After a few times giving it a shot, I decided I really had no desire to ever partake in any of it. I didn’t like not feeling like myself, and I didn’t like the way people acted when they were intoxicated. For a little while, this made me feel like an outcast. I think some of my friends felt judged by my decision, which wasn’t intentional but was sort of unavoidable.

Then I discovered straight edge. Turns out that in the early 80s, there were a few bands in the punk/hardcore scene that were sick and tired of how overrun the scene was with out of control drug use and drinking. DC-based hardcore band Minor Threat coined the term ‘straight edge’ with a song by the same name, inadvertently starting a rebellion within the community against all the destructive and unsafe behavior people were engaging in ‘just because’. Straight edge challenged people to think for themselves and be responsible with their bodies and minds.


(lyrics here)

In just 47 seconds, Minor Threat set off a chain reaction of a new way of thinking.  Realizing there was a whole sub-culture philosophy of punk that went against the grain of the party scene was huge for me. It just made sense, and knowing there were other people who felt the same way validated that interest in being sober instead of feeling like an outcast among my other friends.

When I developed an eating disorder in college, I believe now that if I hadn’t been disinterested in drinking or doing drugs that I would have been a lot worse off, as I would have had one more way to numb myself from how horrible I felt. When anorexia was in control, I hated myself and the entire world. I don’t think I would have found the motivation and will to seek recovery if I had been open to drinking, and I’m eternally grateful for the factors and people in my life that led me to being able to verbalize something I had always felt but never felt welcomed to express among my peers, that I just had no interest in using intoxicants.

Within punk and radical communities, especially nowadays, is a real sense of acceptance for people and whatever way they choose to present and identify themselves. Because people are imperfect, over the years a lot of misogyny, homophobia, and other nonsense has been dragged into punk scenes because the people that make up those scenes have been brought up in a patriarchal culture that is inherently misogynistic, sexist, and homophobic.

The difference, though, is that at its core, punk rejects those things and really does challenge you to question where those attitudes come from and to objectively evaluate them (a lot like feminism and Buddhism!). To that end, there’s no room for things like body shaming or weightism. This idea of universal acceptance of people was also something that resonated with me early on and helped shaped the way I regarded myself and my body when I began recovery.

I got to talking about all this stuff earlier this week with a friend, and I decided to do a post about it. Much like the bands and individuals that followed Minor Threat over the past 30 years and passed on the idea that it’s okay not to drink and it’s okay to be yourself, I thought I’d pass it on too. If not for those who came before me, I honestly don’t know if I’d be around to be writing this now. For those of you who have ever felt the same way but never knew how to put it into words, here it is.

What do you think? Substance use, peer pressure, and societal acceptance/encouragement of things like drinking and dieting can make your head spin and I always think about how they impact recovery. How have these issues affected your life or recovery?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Unlikely Connection Between Punk Rock, Sobriety, and Eating Disorders

  1. I can certainly identify with the awkwardness of it – I’ve never been interested in drinking, for similar reasons to you, plus I hate the idea of losing control and maybe something bad happening – after all, environments where people are drinking a lot are not the safest.

    I also have felt like people feel I’m making a judgement or taking the moral high ground by not drinking, and it frustrates me. My decision isn’t about you, it’s about me!

    • It’s true, many people become reflexively defensive just upon hearing that someone else doesn’t live the same way. We’re probably all guilty of it sometimes, but I think too often people mistake statements about what’s true for one person (drinking sucks!) and mistake it for some kind of evaluative statement on everyone/thing and then feel the need to offer a counter-point in some odd attempt to exonerate themselves.

      But, it’s like you said – you can’t spell personal without person, meaning that personal choices (like abstaining from alcohol) don’t necessarily mean or say anything about anyone except for the person making that choice!

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