Where to Turn for a Clean and Sober Burn

Burning Man is often referred to as ‘the biggest party in the world’ and a ‘giant hippie festival.’ It is not really a secret that drugs and alcohol are prevalent on playa. For some Burning Man attendees, being under the influence makes up a large part of their experience at the festival. Burning Man participants may feel some form of pressure to imbibe, so it’s important to know that there are options.

This year, there will be at least three clean and sober camps: Anonymous Village, Camp Stella, and Run Free Camp. Each of these camps hold meetings multiple times a day so that you can find support for your sobriety on playa. Though you may be the only one among your friends who feels better when sober, know that you are not the only person out of 53,000 who is not getting high or drunk in Black Rock City.

Run Free Camp is new to the Playa this year, though all camp members have previously participated in Burning Man. Run Free Camp is branching from Camp Stella, in hopes of creating a more spiritual clean and sober community. 12-step literature says you need to keep enlarging your spiritual life. It helps you recognize that your addiction had more power over you, than you over it, and that turning to a higher power can restore you to sanity. Before excusing yourself from this by saying that you don’t have a God or a higher power, recognize that a higher power can be the unknown power from within, or an unknown enlightenment that connects you with your true self – your mind, body, and spirit. This higher power can be the inner self, including your values and beliefs on identity, peace, love and restoration. It does not have to be outside of your self – it is just a power you must surrender to in hopes of creating a better self.

I got in touch with an anonymous member of Run Free Camp with a number of questions in hopes of learning who and what is available as a resource for sobriety at the Burn. I learned much more than that in the process….

What first led you to Burning Man?
I was sober and active in 12 steps. In the literature it says you need to keep enlarging your spiritual life, and to me, that meant living more life, doing things you always had excuses for not doing. It also says in the literature you can do anything you want, go anywhere you want so long as you’re in fit spiritual condition. At its core, this to me means fully accepting these facts: it totally sucked when I was drinking and using (pot mostly) and it’s amazing being clean and sober.
I also met some folks I liked and felt were authentic who did Burning Man, and when I was younger I was really into the community at the Grateful Dead shows I used to go to.
All of these were factors that said ‘do it’. You can totally do it – just keep your sobriety as Number 1; have an escape plan if necessary.

What year was your first Burn?

Did you always camp with a sober camp?
Yes – I think it’s really helpful to have a base camp with alcohol and drug free boundaries, and helpful to be sober and normal in at least one guaranteed location.

I have heard some people say that they have been sober for many years, meaning that they have not used narcotics, but they still drink. Is everyone in your camp completely sober? Are there some who use narcotics or psychedelics, but not alcohol or vice versa?
I have never heard that – I have heard folks claim one or the other – if off drugs but still drinking, they say they’re ‘clean’. If not drinking but using drugs they may claim ‘sober’. However, both AA and NA are pretty clear in their literature. NA states specifically that alcohol is a drug. AA literature advises against any mind-altering substances, and stories and general practice is that mind-altering drugs are a slip. The point behind this, from my own experience, is that when an alcoholic or addict relapses on either drugs or alcohol, their whole deportment changes. For me it was like my spirit left, and my spiritual connection became immediately remote or disappeared. When an alcoholic or addict uses, it sets in motion the phenomena of craving, and if you are lucky enough not to go on a run, you’ll still find yourself back at step one, holding on against the compulsion to use.
Everyone in Stella was, and in the new camp, Run Free, will be committed to a clean and sober burn – no drugs or alcohol at all – for the duration of the event. Every member knows that if they do drink or use, they will likely be asked to relocate for the welfare of the group.
If you’re getting a high or altered consciousness, then you’re not sober, under anyone I know’s definition. Prescription or no prescription, legal, illegal, or herbal. If you get a high, you’re not sober. No one at our camp gets high.

What do you recommend for someone who has been before, but is experiencing his/her first sober burn?
I highly recommend camping with a sober camp. It’s too important to risk it, and you’re likely to have better balance and be happier and more available for your friends who are not clean and sober. For me, the chances to get clean and sober were few and far between. One slip and I’m off for a while – very tragic. This is not uncommon. Our sobriety is too important, but folks can lose sight of its importance when surrounded by those who are not sober. There’s a saying, too: if you keep hanging at the barbershop, you’re eventually gonna get your hair cut.

How many group meetings do you recommend attending over the course of the week?
It depends upon how long you’ve been sober, how many burns you’ve been to, and so on. It’s a good idea to state your objective to begin with, before the burn, based upon your spiritual condition going in. If I’m pretty balanced going in, I normally do 3 or 4 during the course of the week. If more grabby, graspy, I make a plan for daily meeting. In either instance, I commit to the meetings I will be attending and do it. Also, meetings for me are a chance to be helpful, which is at the core of 12-step ideology. I don’t go [to meetings] in the default world because I want to drink, but because it’s my community and I want to help the next guy.

Have you experienced more temptation on playa than in the default world?
I generally do not experience any temptation anymore. If I had to to pick, though, I’d say more temptation in the default world than on playa.

Has anyone complained about a lack of ‘radical inclusion’ in regards to not being allowed to camp with Stella/Run Free if someone’s partner is not sober?
No – never has anyone complained. Instead they end up stating, “I’d like to be a part of your camp, but will be camping elsewhere because boyfriend is not sober and will be partying.” They ask how they can be helpful without camping with us.
While not exactly the question, I have had an issue with only having events for clean and sober community at our camp, and never any ‘radical inclusion’ events for all of Burning Man. This is why Run Free will be having an open to all daily morning meditation this year. Unlike Stella, Run Free will be welcoming sober refugees (for lack of a better term…help me out if you can – its folks who want to camp in a sober and clean environment but didn’t start out the Burn in one).

What is your best Burn memory?
Sex aside, I would have to say a Forgiveness Meditation experience I had a few Burns ago. I was doing a really long Buddhist forgiveness meditation at the temple in the midday sun, there was a lone drum beat, and ‘tourists’ everywhere but I tuned them out. When I was done an hour and 20 minutes later, a very distinct woman’s voice in my mind’s ear said “and now its time to let go of your hurt little boy” – I was floored, but agreed, and proceeded to mindfully let my 7-year-old-self ascend to the spirits of the universe, to the unconditional love of my deceased great aunts. It was incredibly moving and life changing.

What are you most looking forward to about Fertility 2.0?
The new camp and its openness, and the facilitation of spirits running free. It will bring fresh eyes to many, including myself, I think.


Remember, you do not have to go it alone. There are on-playa support systems that can help you every step of the way.

One Response to “Where to Turn for a Clean and Sober Burn”
  1. susan brody aka chi-chao

    staying at faux mirage in the zendo village … will want to make a couple of meetings. so grateful.


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