In fact, according to Recovery.org, Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festivals alone generate over $6 billion a year in global revenue. Factor in the mega productions like Coachella, which had more than 250,000 attendees in 2017, and you’re talking major dollars and major turnouts. While festivals are a great place to spend time with friends, check out your favorite bands, and absorb a sense of community and common interest, they’ve also become known for their strong drug culture. From beer tents, to marijuana, to designer drugs, it’s virtually a given that a good portion of people you encounter will be under the influence (and sometimes heavily intoxicated). So what does that mean for those who are in recovery? Should you avoid festivals altogether? Pass on what might be the opportunity of a lifetime and a great weekend vacation, just because you’re sober and afraid there might be drugs there? Not necessarily. There’s a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous, “Assuming we are spiritually fit, we can do all sorts of things alcoholics are not supposed to do.” Even though this saying dates all the way back to 1939, it can still be applied today. Below are some tips for attending music festivals in sobriety (#5 is the most important).
You might be saying “duh” but there’s actually more to it than you’d think. It can be hard to maintain sobriety, especially in your early days, if everyone around you is drinking or using drugs. It’s practically a recipe for disaster. Attending a music festival with the same group of old friends you used to party with doesn’t set you up for success. Instead, go with others that are in recovery. Try to find people that have a solid amount of sober time. Another friend with 90 days sober may not be as strong a companion as someone with several years, who has likely been through this scenario before. Those people are also more likely to have an even larger group of sober friends to attend with, and there is actually a strong culture of sober individuals who meet and travel to festivals together.
If you’re going to be away for several days camping out at a festival it’s important to have a plan. Just as you would attend meetings and focus on your recovery if you were home, the same should go for while you’re away. Most major festivals have “sober zones” where people that are in recovery can come together and find common ground. Burning Man, for example, has three sober camping grounds on the property, so your neighbors won’t be crushing beer cans and offering you hits of molly while you’re trying to enjoy the experience sober. Bonnaro has “Soberoo,” a huge tented area where AA/NA meetings are held several times a day, so you can still keep up with your program while you’re there. This year Banyan Treatment Centers teamed up with Warped Tour, where we have a table that is staffed with recovery specialists to provide anyone who is interested with information and resources. You can meet our amazing representative, Jordan, at the events. Sober zones are a great place to meet other people in recovery who love the festival culture just as much as you do, and form lasting relationships for future events.
While there aren’t any national, sober mega-festivals (yet), many local AA/NA chapters and organizations host their own events. SoberFest, Clean & Sober Music Festival, and Recovery Fest are a few examples. A quick Google search will show you events that are in your area. Or, if you’re looking for a getaway it can be cool to check out an out of town event.
Oftentimes when we’re using we aren’t aware of the way we present to those around us. While you may think that you’re cool, calm, and collected when you’re under the influence, chances are that isn’t the case. Being sober at an event where many are using offers a unique perspective. You may realize that people who are partying don’t look as composed as you once thought you were. Or, you may notice that many of them do not appear as intoxicated as you were at these events, giving you the ability to reflect on the seriousness of your use. Either way, it can be a good thing to see those who are drinking and using drugs in a clear light and realize that you never have to go back to that lifestyle. You’ll also notice how much more present you are in the moment and be able to truly appreciate the performances on stage.
Remember that sentence in the first paragraph that said as long as we are spiritually fit? This is the key to the entire experience. Before attending a music festival, especially if you used to drink or get high at the events, you need to take an honest and thorough inventory of yourself. Ask, “What are my motives?” Are you going because you truly enjoy the music, or did you used to go for the sole purpose of being in a party environment? If it’s the latter…it’s probably better to stay away. Then ask yourself, “How have I been doing with my recovery lately?” If you’ve been off-track, experiencing cravings or thoughts of using, not attending meetings, etc., you should also probably stay away. If the answers are, “I really enjoy seeing my favorite musicians live,” and “My recovery is strong right now, I’m on track,” then you’re in a good place. Most importantly, if you do end up going, know when it’s time to leave. If you begin to feel uncomfortable, pressured into using, or experience cravings, it’s okay to excuse yourself.
Music festivals are one of the best parts of summer, and are even better when you’re sober and able to enjoy them while being present in the moment. Many people in recovery are apprehensive about returning to an environment where they used, and rightfully so. You don’t have to give up your passions though. Follow these five tips for having a positive sober experience at these events, and continue to enjoy your summer in recovery.