For a very long time I had a serious issue with drugs and alcohol. My addiction started off with party drugs like acid and ecstasy but eventually turned into a full blown IV heroin habit. I was one of the lucky ones to be given a second chance on life. I have been sober for a few years now. Since getting clean I have attended about 25 festivals or so, and I stayed sober through them all. The question I get asked most frequently is, “how the hell do you stay sober at a festival?” I know it can seem daunting to reenter the scene and start to attend events in recovery so I laid down a little guide with suggestions that helped me get through the beginning.
1. Go With Other Sober People Who Have Time In The Beginning
The first piece of advice I have is one of the more obvious ones. In early recovery accountability is the name of the game. So to help increase your chances of staying sober and having a good time you need to bring someone with you who has more time under their belt. This will in turn help you stay accountable. It also gives you someone to talk to about how your feeling, and even someone to leave with if you are overwhelmed. As much as we want to say that our friends who still choose to indulge in party favors will keep us accountable it is sadly just not the same as someone else in recovery. So do not let the old narrative of ‘my friends wouldn't let me get high' creep in, because once they start partying all bets are off. Bring a sober buddy!
2. Give It Time – Sometimes A Lot Of Time
I have a lot of friends in early recovery that see me constantly going to events for the site. Obviously their first instinct is to try and tag along. While I do believe that when you are firmly comfortable in recovery you can do anything (except drugs or alcohol obviously) and go anywhere, I also side with the idea that you need to get your head back on straight before hitting festivals. It is definitely not something you want to be doing in your first 6 months or so of sobriety (many will say even your first year). When you first get sober distance yourself from the idea of festivals for a bit, get to know yourself without the drugs, and work on correcting you past. If you run to a festival in your first 6 months than you need to realize that you are most likely avoiding working on yourself and/or trying to make yourself feel good to fill the void left by drugs/alcohol. Do not let your primary motivation for attending an event be the fear of missing out. Give yourself time to become content with your life, so festivals are not just a escape from responsibility but an experience to remember for years.
3. Dancing Anxiety Is Normal – But Also A Silly Fear
This one I have heard probably most often as a reason why people are scared to go to a music festival sober. They say that it would be too awkward to dance sober. I would totally agree with this if you were in a room full of sober adults, but you are part of a festival crowd consisting of 20 somethings, most of whom are intoxicated in some way. Absolutely nobody is watching you or judging you on how you dance. So just go for it, move to the rhythm and don't take yourself so seriously. It is okay to look kind of dumb, everyone around you certainty does and they don't care, so why should you?
4. Plan Ahead – Look Into In Festival Support Systems
Recovery is becoming more and more popular each year. So much so that many festivals have specific sober camping areas. Shambala and Electric Forest are two festivals which not only have sober camping areas complete with sober activities but also booths in the festival grounds where you can attend non denominational 12 step meetings. See if the event you have your eye on has any options for those in recovery.
5. Focus On The Music – Not On The Crowd
If you find yourself still uneasy at the festival the best piece of advice I can give is to try to entirely focus on the music. See if you can ID tracks, listen for transitions, feel the bass and rhythm move throughout your body. When you are clear and level headed being able to just relax and entirely pay attention to the music something profound happens. You are able to connect on a deeper level than you would if you were intoxicated.
6. Stay Hydrated, Healthy and Aware Of Your Emotions
In treatment, a phrase which is thrown around often is HALT. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These four states of being are when someone in recovery will be most likely to throw in the towel and relapse. So it is important to stay balanced and if you have sudden urges to use, consider that you may be experiencing one of the states of HALT. If you are then take a breather and center yourself before pushing on. That leads to my next point.
7. Be Honest and Patient With Yourself
Humility is a huge principle of anyone in recovery. Maybe not in the traditional sense that you would expect though. Humility is being true to yourself – being entirely honest. Sometimes you might just get overwhelmed, and when this happens do not beat yourself up. Just take a step back and relax. Leave the crowd/set for a little bit and just chill out in the grass. Talk to someone about how you are feeling. If things don't get better, just leave. There will always be more festivals, and it is not worth staying if you are hanging on the edge of a relapse.
8. DO NOT Be A Creepy Sober Predator
I wish this went without saying but if you are stone cold sober and the person who is catching your eye is high or drunk. Just stop – you have the upper hand in the situation and that makes it entirely not fair and assault. Do not try to hook up with anyone who is under the influence.
9. Drive Yourself Or Have An Escape Plan
If you are going to a show or festival sober, it is a wise choice to drive yourself or have a sober friend with you. This way if you decide that you want to leave – you can. You are not at the mercy of someone who is intoxicated. It make life so much more simple and will give you a sense of control that is calming.
So there you have it. While it is far from a complete guide on attending a music festival in recovery successfully, it is the perfect starter kit to help you weigh your motivations and create a plan. The first few events can be nerve wracking but as you continue to get more time under your belt and stay sober through difficult situations, you will be amazed at how little the thought of using comes. I was at Electric Forest for 5 days this past weekend, I even found 3 free hits of acid in the woods on a tree, but not once did I ever even consider falling off the wagon. The music and experiences alone are enough to make any festival a beautiful memory. So stay safe and take care of yourself. If you have any more questions please just shoot me an email and we can chat further.
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