I Went to a Music Festival Sober (and This Is What I Learned)
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I Went to a Music Festival Sober (and This Is What I Learned)

Abstaining from drugs and alcohol at a music festival was never my norm, but I am all the better for having done it.

Being sober at a music festival is not a groundbreaking notion. Plenty of people consider it the norm. I've never been one of those people. As someone who used to refer to the weekend as "Facetival" because it's the time of year to go face-down in a pile of everything, sobriety was about as appealing as going to a Top 40 club with bottle service wearing stilettos. On nights out, it wasn't uncommon for my pinky to be covered knuckle-deep in various powders before the needle even made contact with a record.


Photo by jpavulso

Earlier this year, however, an encounter with law enforcement left me no choice other than to eliminate all engagement with illicit substances––festivals, concerts, family functions, you name it––there would be no intoxicants inside of me. Although the idea of maintaining sobriety at a music festival was daunting, the alternative would be far worse.

All in all, the experience wasn't entirely unpleasant, but it certainly had its moments of discomfort and frustration. There were a number of unexpected lessons gleaned by abstaining from drugs and alcohol for the weekend and most were for the better. Here's what I learned:

Good Music Doesn't Need Any Enhancement

It might seem silly, but I was genuinely worried that I wouldn't be able to enjoy the music as much without some sort of concoction coursing through my bloodstream. I was pleasantly surprised to find this far from the case. If anything, it was nice to know that when I was moved by the music it was thanks to a genuine, unadulterated enjoyment. On the flip-side, sets that less-than-impressed had no veil to hide behind.

People Are Generally Supportive

Declarations of my sobriety were mostly met with encouragement and often an offer for soda or bottled water. My friends went out of their way to keep their own extracurricular activities out of my sight and continuously commended me throughout the weekend. There were those unfortunate few who made it seem as if I was somehow missing out because I couldn't get high with them, but they're obviously not real friends or worth my time.

It Will Be Assumed You're High

Despite the festival ending on Monday night, I wasn't done dancing yet. So on Tuesday morning a friend and I set out in search of one final hoorah. Multiple people have since implied that surely I must have been pumped full of uppers to last so long. Apparently, for some, it's difficult to believe anyone could be so authentically enthusiastic all the time. Oh, and rubbing your nose at a party looks shady no matter what.

The Nighttime Is Not the Right Time

Keeping my spirits up was easy in the daylight—with the sunshine warming both the skin on my face and the cement beneath my feet, dancing came effortlessly. Packed in tight on a club's patio around 3 AM, I became agonizingly aware of my very sober status. It was the toughest hurdle I faced all weekend long.

You Will Rise to the Occasion

There are few other instances where I have exhibited more resolve than when turning down the myriad toots, tabs, and dabs at my disposal. It would have been easy to give in to the temptation, but saying no was more rewarding and empowering. For the most part, the further into the festival I traversed, the more at peace and ease I became with my restrictions.

Adrenaline and Caffeine Can Work Wonders

Knowing caffeine was all I could ingest to chemically assist me through the marathon weekend, I stocked up in advance on Yerba Mate. Coupled with my already excessive levels of adrenaline and excitement, I was still able to keep up with the best of them. Bonus: No dopamine-induced depression!

You Will be Better for it

Sure it can be fun to enhance the experience and have your weekend sponsored (safely) by letters like C, E, K, and LSD, but if a festival without them seems worthless, perhaps it's time to take a step back. All relationships require a tune-up from time to time. Facing a festival weekend sober was an opportunity to make healthier my bond with the music and, more importantly, with myself.