How to Survive a Festival If You’re Sober

Article by: Marcus Barnes|@mgoldenbarnes

Fri June 01, 2018 | 11:30 AM

It’s been almost four months now since I decided that I wanted to stop drinking. I can’t tell you if it will be forever, but I’m taking it a day at a time and will continue with this experiment for as long as it feels good (which it really does, every day). My reason for stopping was simply because I wanted to, perhaps some awareness around health. I know that my body is never very happy when I’m drinking – there’s something in me that just doesn’t take very kindly to alcohol. So I’ve stopped, although I continue in my role as European adventurer for Everfest, which means a summer diary full of festival antics. 

How does one survive the festival environment, where most people are in a celebratory mood and getting inebriated to the fullest? Well, now I’ve got a few sober festival experiences under my belt, here are some of key lessons I’ve learned so far…

Prepare Yourself Mentally

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Photo by: Jake Lewis

Staying sober at a festival is a big challenge, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Temptation lies at every turn and you will have to say no to a lot of things, as well as telling your story and explaining your sobriety several times over. This may wear a little thin after a while but preparation will help to alleviate any stress or flashpoints. Just remind yourself why you’re sober and be ready to explain it to people. 

Almost every person you speak to will be fascinated by your decision and, usually, have a grudging respect, especially if you’re speaking to them at 10 am after they've been up for 24 hours straight. You must also prepare to encounter people who are inebriated, and possibly quite annoying or at least less aware of themselves than they would be if they were also sober. Steel your nerves, take some deep breaths and maintain a zen-like patience with everything that happens around you. Remember: your experience is all within your own control.

Fake It 'Til You Make It

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I’m never usually one to tell anyone to be fake, but this is a proven psychological exercise that can help to form new neural pathways in the brain. Keep making yourself do something until it becomes second nature. As I said above, you are in control of your own experience and the way that you engage with people and react to situations. So if you’re struggling to keep up, for example, or worried that your energy is going to be low at any point, just pretend you’re sozzled and that can be your lifeline. Keep pushing yourself to be sociable, stay up through the night if that helps, do everything you would normally do if you were partying. It sounds crazy but it really helps. 

Just because you’re sober it doesn’t mean you have to go to bed early (if you don’t want to) but it does mean that you need to be the master of your own destiny and find that energy from somewhere. I found that wearing silly clothes and acting like a clown really helped to keep me buoyant; other people can be a good source of energy, too. Learning to throw yourself into a situation and tap into your inner energy store is a big lesson. Dig deep if you have to.

Take Time Out When You Really Need It

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Photo by: Electric Forest
As much as pushing yourself and faking it is useful in surviving the festival experience sober, taking time out is also intrinsic to making it through to the other side. The last thing you want to is be a drag or to put yourself through unnecessary suffering because you want to keep up with everyone else. So be aware of how you’re feeling and how that may affect the people around you and, most importantly, your own experience. Sometimes a disco nap can be enough to give you the boost you need or, if you’re an introvert, perhaps some time alone just to breathe and escape the hubbub of the festival will help.

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Photo by: Douglas Mason

There’s nothing wrong with this at all, it’s not a sign of weakness, in fact it takes a lot of strength to acknowledge your feelings and to remove yourself from the festival fun times. When you’re alone it’s good to rest up but it’s also important to look within and see if you can identify any feelings of anxiety or anything that’s proving particularly challenging or anything that’s raising your vibration. Being able to have some perspective on your experience and approach it consciously is crucial to making it the best it can be.

Communication is Key

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First step, tell people you’re sober and explain why (if you want to, but don’t feel pressured to go over your story again and again if you’re tired of doing so). Second step, keep people in the loop as to how you’re feeling. A big mistake I made at Glastonbury recently was allowing myself to get into a low mood without communicating it to those around me until it was almost too late. I’d been up for almost 24 hours with my partner in crime and began to tell myself I wanted to go to bed. When I told her it threw a spanner in the works and there was a slight push and pull as to what would happen next, since she was in full flight and not ready to leave. 

In the end a couple of friends were enlisted to bring me back up and encourage me to stay. I ended up staying out for another 10 hours or more and had one of my best ever Glastonbury experiences, so it did the trick. Had I communicated my feelings earlier, though, we could have avoided the sudden change in atmosphere. So, if you do start to feel low speak to your friends about it as soon as you can rather than letting it fester.

Learn to Say No Politely

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Photo by: Adrian Spinelli

Being at a festival will undoubtedly lead to offers of all kinds of substances. The primary test here is to have the ability to say no. This is way easier said than done, believe me.Learning to say no with confidence and in a polite manner is essential to getting through this. 

You must say it like you mean it. Don’t be rude because you don’t want to create an atmosphere; simply shake your head, say "No, thank you," and most of the time that’s all you will need to do because people are usually polite enough not to ask again or continue trying to ply you with whatever they’re offering. If they do persist, simply continue with the polite refusal and if it gets too much, remove yourself from the situation completely.

Don’t Judge Others

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When you’re sober, no matter what the situation is but especially at festival, it is imperative that you avoid judging others for their behaviour. DO NOT attempt to take the moral high ground. Unfortunately part of being human is that we can fall into "judgey mode" whereby we look down on people who aren’t able to exert the same self-control. 

This is an ego-driven reaction that can be used as a crutch to justify being sober, but do your utmost to avoid this way of thinking because it is poisonous and will not only taint your own experience but will also inhibit those around you. It’s a toxic attitude to take so be aware of yourself and shake it off if you feel yourself falling into those thought patterns. It will help no one.

It’s All in the Mind

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Photo by: Electric Forest

As I’ve already explained, you are the master of your own happiness. This is no more evident than in the experience of being sober at a festival. I found that every situation required me to react in a positive way to make it easier to contend with and my experience could get very tough at times if I allowed it. I was at an after-party where everyone seemed to be inebriated, some worse than others. I felt like I was the only one who was sober and the more I thought about this and the more I could see people swaying around, getting loose and enjoying themselves, the more my energy was sapped. Of course, this was nobody’s fault but my own. 

As they say, "Comparison is the enemy of joy" and by comparing my sober self to the wasted individuals around me I was neutralising my own enjoyment of the party. Later, though, I was able to bounce off the energy of those same intoxicated people to keep myself buoyant. It’s all about your own mental approach. A positive mental attitude is key to making it all work, perhaps above all else, your internal dialogue should be encouraging and uplifting, full of awareness and self love.

This article was originally published in July 2017.