StraightEdge at BurningMan
The next day when we headed out to the center of the festivities where the Man was to burn, I sat shooting the shit with a Scotsman about 30 minutes before his whiskey kicked in. Being a Scot he had no concept of a life without drinking. Partying without alcohol was unheard of and the StraighEdge movement even less. But there was no love lost, we had a great conversation. He's a good man and an interesting person.
How do you do it?
If you had asked me a decade ago I would have naively said, "Simple: Don't drink. Don't poor yourself a drink. When the joint comes around, pass it along without hitting it. When The mushroom tea is poured don't drink it." But that is a foolish response. Now, 2 decades into the clean life, after going to college at the top party school in the country (as rated by RollingStone my sophomore year), after many trips to Vegas, after 4 Mans burned, after over a decade in LaLa Land I can see that it is not so easy.
I knew this but sitting there with my Scottish friend trying to explain it cold, I had to admit that it takes practice and a lot of confrontation with yourself.
The first thing you have to do is confront yourself and admit and embrace all the things that people think they are too good to do... when they're sober. Laugh at dumb jokes, talk too loudly, get in fights, have sex with people your friends will make fun of you for later. I love a well toned sculpted ass; the beauty of a finely tuned female physical form can start and stop my heart, but damn I've had some good love from big women. We all have. But I have to stand up and say, "That was me, not the booze." When the cops pick me up for doing drive by shooting with waterguns I have to stand up and say, "No, Officer, I just thought it'd be fun." When I get sucked into a brawl or jump into the pit and hit in the jaw I have to look myself in the mirror and say, "You asked for that."
And I think it's fucking great... But it ain't easy. Our natural inclination as social animals is to protect ourselves. Not to stand out; don't break the line. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down, and believe me, SXErs feel the hammer. All the pain and embarrassment that others drink themselves through sober people have to take on the chin. The only thing we get out of is hang-overs.
But once you confront the world face first, taking the punch to the jaw, you next have to practice listening to the world. Drugs and drinking, especially drugs, are very good at turning up the volume on things that are very sublime. Drugs are chemicals. They carry no message, no information, no jokes, no inspiration. All they can do is turn up the funny, the exciting, the inspiring, the art, the fascination, the joy, the ecstasy, the chill, the energy in you. That stuff, in one form or another, has to be there for the drugs to bring out. They adjust the volume on different things in your head; some things get turned up, some things get turned down.