Saturday, August 11, 2018

My First Sober Festival

What a bunch of awesomeness!So much love for the Lizards.
The 15th July was a landmark date for me - I had 6 months of sobriety under my belt. For someone who has used one drug or another almost every day for 15 years, it felt like quite an achievement, and something I couldn’t have imagined a year ago. In this time I’ve discovered that there’s so much more to my identity than being a smoker, that I haven’t just vanished into thin air because I don’t spend all my time stoned, and I’ve started to deal with the issues that caused me to use drugs in the first place. I’ve realised that recovery of any kind isn’t a straight line from fucked to fixed - that line goes up and down, round and round, forwards and backwards. But eventually, if you keep on truckin’, you’ll get to where you need to be. 

So, six months in, plenty of new knowledge and a whole lot more to learn. What better way to celebrate and feel awesome about sobriety than going to spend 10 days in the desert at a massive psychedelic festival?! “None!” I hear you cry! So off I flew to Portugal to work at Boom. 

Before I even left my anxiety was in total overdrive. As well as a constant low-level fear about spending so much time in a party environment sober, there were more immediate worries. I had a specific time I had to arrive so I could register for my crew wristband, and only one train that would get me there from Lisbon on time. And that train left half an hour after my flight landed. I spent the whole week before panicking that I wouldn’t make it on time, that I would be stranded outside the festival, that I would have spent hundreds of pounds on a flight for nothing…I worked myself into a frenzy of epic proportions and totally failed to deal with any of the stress in a healthy or constructive way. (See what I mean about that whole forwards backwards up and down thing?!) My day of travel was long, stressful and ultimately totally fine - I made it on time (thanks to a septuagenarian taxi driver who drove like a champ and nearly killed us all a hundred times), got signed in and made it to The Lizard, the chai shop I work for, with no problems or dramas. 

At this point, having arrived after a whole day of anxious travelling, I would have rewarded myself with a great big joint, and then just kept on smoking. Instead, I had a delicious cup of chai, caught up with old friends and met the new crew. People I’ve known for a few years were supportive of my new sobriety, I met another woman working there who was completely sober at 25, and there was a lot of positive conversation on the subject. The next morning I woke up and realised my lungs weren’t burning, I didn’t feel like crap, but was full of energy and ready to work - not how I usually felt at a festival! 

One of the things I had most been looking forward to about Boom was what I would learn at the talks and workshops that are held throughout the week. I’’m usually too tired or out partying somewhere to make it to anything like that, but most of the music at Boom wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, and apart from night shifts in the chai tent I wasn’t staying out late, so during the day I found myself at all sorts of interesting events. I went to a panel discussion entitled ‘Party like a Feminist’, about inclusion and consent in a party environment. I heard a woman from Standing Rock, the North Dakota pipeline protest camp, speak about activism. I did yoga classes, crystal healing meditations, and had a gong bath. Things that inspired, educated and pushed me outside of my comfort zone. 

Most importantly, I met incredible, like-minded and motivated people (who it turns out were also sober - we always find each other!) with whom I had so much in common. We talked, shared ideas and information, and it was amazing to connect with people and enjoy every moment without the distraction of drugs. This was what I had been looking for when I first started thinking about sobriety - the idea that I could reach those states, and feel that connection unassisted. The ability is there within us already - all drugs are doing is providing a shortcut. And that’s all well and good, for a while, but for me taking the easy way started to feel less fulfilling, less satisfying and less real. 

Of course, the week had its tricky moments. I’d forgotten how controlled my home environment is - living in our little van bubble, just the two of us, most often in the middle of nowhere. To go from that to Boom, which felt like a completely different planet, was a challenge. Everywhere I looked people were rolling joints, hanging out in groups and smoking in the sunshine. At times I felt quite isolated and alone, because sitting with a group of strangers and sharing a joint was how I used to meet people at festivals. Now I just have myself, and I find it hard to talk to new people without an ice-breaker. But then something would happen to remind me that I am enough, that I don’t need drugs to make friends. Like when I sat down alone after one set had finished, and within minutes I had 3 new friends who I spent the next hour with, walking around and dancing, and the only thing that got offered around was a bag of fresh figs! 

Boom was an education in so many ways - a reminder to be kind to myself, to feel ok with who I am and to embrace everything that life throws my way. I feel inspired by the things I heard and the people I met, and have more clarity about what I want to be doing in the future. I feel focused, energised, and excited about what’s coming next. It’s great to know that I can make new amazing friends, learn new skills and still have a damn good time all without ingesting anything more mood-altering than a mug of tea. 

So much love to everyone who made my first sober festival the incredible experience that is was. Now let’s get cracking and change the world! 

-Ems-

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