What compels seventy thousand cult-like radical's to go live in a dusty vacant desert for an entire week, year after year with little to no resources? Black Rock City, home to these crazy people is an isolated, hot, dirty, windy, breezy, chilly, miserably beautiful plot of land that is transformed into an actual city for one week a year. A fantasy playground for adults built by the mass only to be burned down one week later, leaving no trace behind.
For myself and the hundreds of thousands of others who have experienced the magic of the playa, it is this magic that is precisely what lure's us burners back in from all over the world, year after year into the middle of the Nevada desert. I can only describe Burning Man is a week of pure radical expression of one's life.
Those who have experienced what Burning Man is always says; "the playa will provide," a week of bucket-list type experience's; conversation's waiting to be had with soon to be friends from all over the world. Yes, Burning Man is a week of radical self-reflection and expression. For me, what I wished out of my first burn was the ability to live in a judge-free environment offering me the unique opportunity to do a genuine self-reflection, one that I find difficult to do in the default world. No money, no entitlement. Burning Man is a live in the moment, be who you are social environment.
As a mid-western/southern kid that grew up in the bible belt, the idea of one day attending something Burning Man was somewhat unrealistic. Black Rock City is home to a cult of atheist, an actual hell on earth; the city built with devil's own bare hands. Well, if that is true, I didn't ride my bike far enough into deep playa because I found Black Rock City to be entirely different than what most would think it is, or at least what I am sure my parents thought Burning Man was.
From what you may have read on the internet, watched on Youtube, or searched for on Instagram, hell on earth might be a reasonably accurate description to the outsider that has never lived inside the gates of Black Rock City. For us burners, we know differently.
I first learned about Burning Man years after my last drink when I was attending my first camping rave, Electric Forest. It was a fellow burner who shared his experiences of the playa, ranting on and on about how it helped to shape his outlook on life, all for the better. It was at that very moment that I knew I wanted to one day lose my burner virginity, without ever having a drink in my hand.
From my lowest of lows when I hit rock bottom on April 16th, 2014 to my highest of highs when I took the initiative to regain my life back from alcohol I've been on a mission to live out my life to the fullest, one day at a time.
My story is littered with nights of darkness, I once used alcohol to escape from this world. Drinking became my excuse to hide from my past. A way to deal with my insecurities. At my lowest of lows, I drank because I didn't know how to live my life without a drink in my hand. Now in active recovery, I am staying dry because I am living my life in a way that I never thought was possible, to the fullest.
One may wonder how I ever thought attending Burning Man while in recovery was ever a good idea, but to be honest, for all I knew, Burning Man was no different than any of the other music festivals that I had previously attended. This notion of me attending a music festival became quickly dismissed from a friend of a friend and longtime burner named Rezz who wrote the following;
“Hi, Jesse. So many people skip over reading what Burning Man is the first time you want to attend and end up making easily avoidable mistakes! Also, make sure you understand the Ten Principles, especially “decommodification.” A lot of first-time Burners assume Burning Man is a music festival, and it’s not. It’s our opportunity to spend eight days with no commercialization, advertising, or promotion.”
Rezz wasn’t kidding; she was serious. Although Burning Man offers 24/7 music for eight straight days, it is far from a music festival. I took her emai1 to heart, reading over the ten principles time and time again which allowed me to think about what I really wanted to find during my first burn. My goal during my first burn was to do a radical-self reflection on who Jesse was, currently is and who I am still trying to become while in recovery.
I will admit, attending Burning Man for my first time was a challenge, especially being sober, but not for the reasons I initially thought. The things you see on Youtube and Instagram are very real. Is it the devil's playground, NO. Burning Man is an anomaly of unique like-minded, loving, caring, beautiful people who are there to accommodate to your every need. Would I recommend attending Burning Man if you don't work a good program, NO! Would I recommend you walking into your local bar in your home if you didn't work a good program, NO!
What I am happy to report is the fact that I never had a drink, nor did I even think about having a drink. Little to my knowledge at the time, Black Rock City had several A.A. meetings right there on the playa, but why wouldn’t they? Burning Man has a bit of everything for everyone, and it was a neat experience to participate in a meeting while at my first burn.
During my seven days on the playa, I pushed my virgin burner boundaries to my best abilities. I am walking away from my first burn with a better understanding of who I want to be in life, how far I have come in my recovery and a better understanding of what I would like to work on in the default world.
For whoever is reading this post and is currently in recovery or wondering my takeaways on how you can attend Burning Man sober this is my thoughts.
1) Bring a personal cup everywhere you go and never willingly drink from another persons drink. (Always ask: You would be amazed at how accommodating most camps are for the non-drinker)
2) Find a meeting; Not only is it a great experience but there are a ton of sober friend's on the playa.
3) Search for burners who will be attending your burn before arriving at the gates of Black Rock City. I thought I was entering this experience alone but little did I know I know I already knew someone else who was going. Even if they are not a close friend at the time like my buddy Dylan was at the time, it was nice to see a familiar face. Trust me, no matter how you enter Burning Man you will exit with an unforgettable bond with that person.
4) If you are wondering, although cell service is limited, understand that it is ok to call a friend, sponsor, or family member. You are there to live, not escape.
5) Lastly, enjoy it. There is nothing like the magic of the Playa. I found myself spending my morning's just as I would in the default world, sipping freshly brewed coffee reflecting on why I choose not to drink. The only difference while on the playa, I was sharing conversations with friends from all over the world at the French Bakery, watching the magic of the playa being lived out in real time. It was a great daily reminder of why I was choose to live my life in recovery.
Burning Man offers anyone who is willing to enter the gates of Black Rock City the unique ability to reflect on your own story like no other place on this planet. I highly encourage you to do just that, REFLECT! Find a yoga camp, meditate, engage, talk, go live. I can only speak for myself, but I drank to escape and like so many others who fall back into your drink or drug of choice, it is because we are isolating ourselves. Black Rock City is the only place that in one week you will come with a few old friends and leave with 70,000 new ones.
Some individuals have only lived in the default world, and then there are burners. My suggestion to you, take a leap of faith, find a fun friend and experience the magic of Burning Man for yourself. To all the burners which I shared a hug with, laugh, dance, I can't wait to play in the dust once more in 2018. Much love, your friend, Orpheus.