Ask Andrew W.K.: Can I Be Straight-Edge and Still Party Hard?
Photo by Dustin Ashcraft
[Editor's note: Every Wednesday, New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
I've been dealing with some major substance abuse problems for a long time, and without going into too much detail, I've finally given up and decided to enter a recovery program and go straight-edge. The only thing is, it's really hard for me to imagine my life without drugs and partying. It's something I've done every day for so long and has become my whole life. Leaving that behind is the scariest part of all this. You are an expert on partying. Can I be straight-edge and still party hard?
Fear of Not Partying
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Dear Fear of Not Partying,
I don't claim to have the answers to anything — and I'm certainly not a qualified expert on addiction or recovery — but I definitely commend you on your decision to make a new version of your life, because it sounds like you really want to. And I appreciate you writing to me about this particular idea of change and partying. When you want to change your life more badly than you don't want to change your life, you will change your life. And that counts as partying.
I think there's a common misconception that true partying must always involve drugs and alcohol. In reality, the only thing that true partying must involve is partying. How each of us decides to party within that partying is up to the individual, but true partying doesn't necessarily require drugs any more than it necessarily requires skydiving — to each their own. As long as it doesn't blatantly hinder someone else's ability to party, all forms of partying are permitted. Alcohol and drugs can be amazing, and when used in a dynamic way, they can offer us genuine life-changing insights and experiences. Drugs are not necessary requirements for all, and for some, they may be completely detrimental to reaching true party perfection.
Drugs are ultimately just another piece of equipment in the toolbox of life. And like any tool, some are better at achieving certain results than others, and some aren't useful to some people at all. Certain tools are also extremely dangerous, like chainsaws or nail guns, and they must be used with the utmost care by someone with the necessary experience and fortitude. In keeping with this, we understand that using the same tool over and over to work on the same aspect of our existence will eventually wear down both the tool and us. At some point, there's not much result or dynamic contrast to the experience, just a blur of sickeningly bland predictability — what was once stimulating and new becomes routine, boring, and, at worst, confining. Using a screwdriver to remove and reset a screw over and over and over will eventually strip everything away and rub you raw. And using a jackhammer to try and fix the stripped-down screw certainly won't help. What's needed is a total and complete abandonment and change of the tool and the screw. Moving on. Breaking up. Not walking away, but walking forward.
That's what's so great about changing things up. The point isn't so much to change you, it's to change the stuff you're doing — change the stuff that's happening. You're not giving up or giving in — you're just giving yourself to yourself, and not giving yourself to drugs anymore. The person you are remains at your core, and your true self just does different things instead of drugs.
There can be a big fear of making radical changes because it feels scary to think, "I can't imagine not ever doing drugs again" or "I can't imagine not getting to feel that way ever again." But if we think about it, we are constantly going through life without doing the same stuff over again. It's actually what makes life an interesting adventure. We have many eras and phases that add up to a whole life — not just one long era, but many lives in one. And while we go through those eras, it can seem like we are changing, but it's really us that doesn't change while the things we are doing and experiencing constantly shift. We don't need to constantly repeat those things in order to appreciate or enjoy them.
For example, when we went to elementary school, it was a daily ongoing time in our life — but that was just an era — a phase of our life — even if we really enjoyed it, we don't really worry about not getting to relive third grade for the rest of our lives. That part of our life is done. The things we learned during that time will stay with us, and the most valuable parts remain relevant inside us. I really loved the first few jobs I had as a teenager, but I don't go deliver newspapers every Sunday just to stay connected to that time.
At some point, we get enough perspective to realize that certain things in life are simply things we've already done. Some of the greatest times are great specifically because they're something that we don't need to keep doing in order to appreciate. This enables us to do new things and more things. And we realize that all the goodness and value we extracted from all the stuff we've already done becomes part of the person we take into our next era. That is how we grow — like a tree always getting taller and developing more branches and offshoots, our trunk and our roots remain, but we don't need to keep cutting ourselves back down to our previous small size just so we can keep reliving what it was like to first sprout and blossom.
So maybe don't think of this as giving something up. Think of this as gaining something more. Realize how great it is to be able to have a new phase — the continuation of a long journey — an adventure called being alive. And you have a very familiar friend to go through all the new stuff with: yourself. You've done what you've done, so now what will you do? Stay strong and keep moving forward. Be excited that you have this chance to be alive at all. Be excited that you've gotten to do so many things already and are still alive to do more. Celebrate this. That's what partying is all about. I believe in you, no matter what you decide to do. Just keep the party going.
Doing drugs isn't bad. Not doing drugs isn't bad. The only thing that's bad is not doing what you really truly want to do. Follow your inner truth and you'll automatically be partying as hard as you ever could.
Your friend, Andrew W.K.
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