The year was 1993, and I was sitting next to the waterfall at The Gorge, part of the Summit County Metro Parks. It’s a huge waterfall that’s 420 feet wide, and 60 feet tall. The sound of the rushing water drowns out everything. If you’re talking to somebody, you have to scream. The waterfall is/was intimidating, majestic and I had a deep connection to it because I lived very close by and had walked to it innumerable times. On that day, I was 17 years old and at the time it was the largest waterfall I’d ever seen. To this day, it’s one of my favorites.
On that day, I had been staring at the waterfall for about an hour, when I made the decision. I’d been contemplating this decision for months, but today was the day to make it explicit. To cross the threshold into a different world, with different rules. That day, I decided to be Strait Edge – a lifetime commitment not to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or do drugs.
I walked back to my house, and before I knew it, I was staring into a medicine cabinet mirror, and watched the hair fall from my head. I watched my scalp emerge. I’d never seen it before. It was so tender and pale. It was exhilarating. I shaved my head as a symbol of my dedication to this new philosophy. From now on, I could not partake of earthly pleasures. I could not hide from my emotions and logic by dulling my senses with drugs or alcohol. I had to take responsibility for every sober decision that I made henceforth.
The experience was akin to the Japanese movie Heaven and Earth where Nagao Kagetora, a skillful warrior and provincial administrator, dedicates himself to the god of war to give him the strength to defeat his brother in battle and protect his province Echigo. He was a dedicated warrior, and they called him The Tiger of Echigo.
Kagetora was already a warrior when he dedicated himself to the god of war. Not unlike Kagetora, I was already a sober individual that had only drank a couple of times, only ever tried one drag of a cigarette at a friends begging behest, and had never tried a single drug. Kagetora was already a warrior, but he knew he needed an edge if he was going to succeed. The same was true for me. I knew that if I was going to build an uncommon life and achieve my goals, I needed an edge. I needed something that would protect me from the temptations of the world. I knew I needed to make a sacrifice to achieve greatness.
I was inspired to write this article because a friend recently posted an old newspaper article which talked about the strait edge movement in North East Ohio where I live. For some, the strait edge movement was cultural and social in nature. It was about being part of something. Not for me. When I saw other strait edge kids on the campus at the University of Akron, I’d stare at them from afar, and look upon them with distrust, perhaps even a bit of disdain. For me, it was never about camaraderie or dedication to a group. To me that always felt like silly reason to be strait edge. Camaraderie is what skinheads and white power types looked for (who we commonly saw at punk rock shows in those days). They wore a uniform, and rolled around together as a group.
Not me, I rejected this notion of being part of a group. Before our band would play a show, I would still draw large X’s on the backs of my hands with black permanent marker. It was an outward symbol of being strait edge, but not about converting people. I was happy to talk to anybody about the strait edge philosophy, but it was more akin to monks dedicated to the god of war building their temple on the highest mountain. It was a symbol, a calling, but I did not believe in proselytizing to people, and attempting to convert them.
Fast-forwarding to 2020, I am no longer Strait Edge. I don’t draw X’s on my hands. Those were signs of younger days, but I am still attracted to the idea of sacrificing to learn and achieve. With that, I’ll leave you with what I’m into now days. In September 2019, I decided to do a GoRuck Challenge. Think of it on the level of difficulty of a Marathon, but with way less running and a lot more fear involved. Basically, they give you a starting time and a location and nothing else. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know how long it will take. But, you’re sure to suffer and do things you didn’t train for.
Mine started at 10 PM at night at Edgewater Park in Cleveland, OH on the water. It was about 40 degrees out, and the rain was blowing so hard that it was perpendicular to the ground. Suffice to say I was scared. I was 44 years old, and I’d trained for about six months. It involved barbell training, carrying heavy sand bags, two a day workouts in the driveway at night after my daughter went to bed, and training on four continents as I traveled heavily for work (Columbia, Bolivia, South Korea, Czech Republic, France, just to name a few). I can’t tell you what happened during the event because the first rule of GoRuck is that you don’t talk about GoRuck, but suffice to say 11 hours and 13 miles of carrying heavy stuff later, the event was over. It was a life changing.
My friend’s article got me thinking deeply about what Strait Edge meant to me and how I think it was different than what it meant to other people. Being Strait Edge for seven years changed my life. It gave me a personal discipline that is difficult to explain to people. It’s paid dividends all of my life and allowed me to get through really tough times (some volunteer like the GoRuck). I think each person has to find their own path, but my commitment to Strait Edge, even though it ended before a full lifetime, protected me during a time in life when people are the most vulnerable to outside influences. For me, it was a long and positive experience. Anyway, that’s what Strait Edge meant to me.