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Staying Sober At Burning Man

by jenny sansouci on September 8, 2014

I got back from Burning Man a week ago. I’ve taken the week to decompress in San Diego and gather my thoughts about it so I could write this recap for you guys. I stayed totally sober from all drugs and alcohol the whole time. I even stayed away from all sugar and caffeine too. (I’m extreme)! When I said I was going to Burning Man, a lot of people said “Isn’t it just a huge party with a ton of drugs? Why are you going? Doesn’t sound like your thing.” But I knew there was more to it. And I’m not afraid of a challenging experience that’ll blow my mind and change my life and make me grow. I live for those experiences. And Burning Man is intense. I keep telling people I’m really glad I went, but I’m also glad it’s over. For now.

What Is Burning Man?

Everyone explains Burning Man differently. Burning Man is a temporary city in the middle of the desert in Nevada, that’s built, inhabited by 70,000 people celebrating art, music, community, self-expression and radical self-reliance — and then destroyed in a week, leaving no trace of its existence. I describe it as a fantasy city where people dream up any reality they want and then they create it and live in it.

The Burning Man site says, “Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind. To truly understand this event, one must participate.”

burning-man-the-man

I also have this vision of people saying “What would be the coolest and most wild things you’d want to see or do if you were on drugs? Insane art installations that you can climb on? Crazy fluorescent flashing lights covering an entire city? Colorful, bizarre costumes everywhere? Endless electronic dance music and dance floors that go all night? A space to experience every fantasy you can dream up? A place where money is useless and people just give each other gifts? Ok, let’s create that, in the most harsh environment possible so we all have to work to survive, too.”

Every person needs to bring into the city whatever they need to survive for a whole week. This means food, water, shelter, protection from the elements of the desert, etc.

Why I Went To Burning Man

The whole thing sounded insane to me, so I knew I had to see it for myself. The only thing I had ever heard about Burning Man is that “it’s one of those things you can’t actually understand until you experience it.”

A friend of mine said this after he went last year:

“Burning man really shook me up. Not going to label it good or bad –  it was fun, it was sad, it was scary, it was joyful. Still not sure what everyone is getting there, but they get something. The learning is happening after the fact. There is a lot of drug use, loud loud music, nudity/sex etc…but there’s also a deeply spiritual aspect. I think it’s a place to let the freak flag in everyone fly high and manifest without judgement. Very unique place, very little sleep, lots and lots of dust.”

insanity
When I heard that, I knew I needed to go. It would be out of my comfort zone but I had a feeling opening that door would change my life. I had to do it.

My roommate Ali felt the same way, so when tickets went on sale about 6 months before the event we sat at home refreshing our browsers until we scored tickets. We had NO idea what we were doing, but we were doing it.

Why I Decided To Stay Sober

I’m gonna be totally honest with you. I didn’t entirely plan on staying sober at Burning Man. I had heard that there were a lot of drugs there and that it’s a “sexually charged environment” where “pretty much anything goes.” I knew I didn’t want to drink alcohol there for several reasons (the main one being that it’s the middle of the desert and I felt dehydrated just thinking about it). I knew alcohol was totally off the table for me. But I haven’t touched drugs at all in over 7 years, and I kind of had this idea in my head that if I were going to do any drugs ever again, Burning Man would be the place to do it. When I bought the ticket, I decided I’d just go with whatever happened, and would be open to any and all experiences, and I would deal with the consequences of my experimenting. I was also single at the time, so nobody else was really going to be affected majorly by my actions.

But then…I started dating a new guy. I hadn’t expected to go into Burning Man being in a relationship, so now there was something new to consider. I started to read articles online about how tough it can be for relationships to “survive” Burning Man…and since he wasn’t going with me, one day I found myself having the Burning Man “talk” with him.

“I’m just not sure what’s going to happen there,” I said. “I don’t know what would happen if I did any drugs, especially in that environment…so I just wanted to talk to you about it.” As the words came out of my mouth, it felt so weak and powerless. Like I have NO control over my actions just because I’ll be at Burning Man? What kind of integrity is that? 

He didn’t tell me what to do, he just let me talk and come to my own conclusions about it. Which was a good thing. Just by looking at his face, I knew I would be insane to even potentially mess around with drugs. I realized how shitty I’d feel if I were on the receiving end of that conversation. I didn’t plan to have this relationship in my life when I got my ticket to Burning Man, but it had become an unexpected priority. It wasn’t just me who would be affected by my actions anymore. The truth is, maybe I would be totally fine on drugs, who knows — but I do know myself well enough to know it would be Russian roulette for me. It could go so many ways, and I realized I wasn’t willing to knowingly put myself in a situation that could damage my integrity – with myself, or with this person.

burning man love

A lightbulb went off in my head and I felt relief immediately. (My mom always tells me that when I feel relief, it means I’m making the right decision).

“Oh. I know what I need to do. I’ll stay sober at Burning Man and write a recap of what it’s like for my blog. Of course that’s what I need to do.” As I said, it, energy poured back into my body. I actually felt excited. He smiled. “I’m not gonna tell you what to do, but I think that sounds great.”

Wow. Making powerful decisions is SO much cooler than being a leaf in the wind to your circumstances. So it was settled, and it felt right. I’d be a journalist for the week and stay sober in a place most people would never think of as a sober environment. I like a good challenge…and I think guidance most often comes in the form of other people.

When I told my best friends about my decision, most of them were like “Obviously that’s what you should do. You nutcase.” 🙂

So I headed out to Black Rock City — to the “playa” — and experienced my first burn…on zero substances.

The Toughest Part — The Elements

Turns out, the toughest part of Burning Man wasn’t avoiding drugs and alcohol. It was battling the elements. You’re out in the middle of the hot desert, and if you’re staying in a tent (which I was), your sleeping quarters double as a sauna during the day. People talk a lot about the dust on the playa — and the dust becomes your second skin. It covers everything. There are white-out dust storms throughout the day, so you always need to be prepared with goggles and a dusk mask/bandana to cover your face. If a dust storm comes along, you can’t see 5 feet in front of you. You just have to hunker down and wait until the dust storm passes. ALL your stuff will be completely covered in dust. Your hair, your body, all of your clothes, your tent, your bags, everything. The days are sunburn hot, and the nights can get really cold as soon as the sun goes down. As soon as the sun comes up you’re sweating again.

burning-man-dust

There really is no sleep. Like, none. There is constant loud music and thousands of people dancing all throughout the night, throughout the entire city. Most likely, you won’t find a place to camp that will be quiet. Our tent happened to be right next to one of the dance stages that was pumping electronic trance dance music until 7am. Earplugs don’t help. Lots of people stay up all night dancing, and then try to nap during the day on a pillow somewhere around the playa.

burningman-dust-mask

The challenging part is that you really just can’t get comfortable, unless you surrender to being comfortable feeling dirty and sweaty and exhausted with none of your usual creature comforts. There were a few mornings when I was laying in my tent wishing for a shower, air conditioner, a clean room. Any clean room. I had so much appreciation for the things I usually take for granted.

You have to drink A LOT of water. I drank about 8 liters a day and still felt dehydrated sometimes. It’s survival mode out there.

While I didn’t feel tempted to actually do any drugs or drink any alcohol, I did start to get resentful of people who could “check out” of the circumstances of the desert using substances, instead of having to experience every sensation and discomfort of the elements. I felt a little jealous of people who could “pass out” at night after drinking. Anything that could numb the sharp edges of the experience seemed like it would be a welcome relief. But I powered through instead, realizing that the ups and downs of the experience were temporary and impermanent…just like Black Rock City.

On the flip side, there was something completely magical about the desert. The sky was so clear at night, the stars were incredible, and you could ride out on your bike for miles. The sunrises and sunsets were breathtaking. Something about the solitude I experienced riding out in the desert alone felt really healing and beautiful. The fact that everyone is experiencing the desert together – feeling so many challenges and simultaneously filled with so much freedom and self-expression and aliveness – is really wild and special.

The Drug Scene

I didn’t do any drugs at Burning Man, but here’s what I could gather — there were a couple of different ways people were experiencing drugs there. One was the hallucinogens — people taking acid and mushrooms and looking at the insane, lit up art installations that were all over the desert. A lot of the art was interactive — things to climb, flowers you could touch and they’d change color, countless art cars driving around the desert with lights and fur and anything you could possibly imagine. And things burned down. There were wooden art installations that would be set on fire at different intervals, and people would take acid or mushrooms to go watch those things happen. I imagined it was probably pretty incredible to watch while on drugs, because it was incredible to watch sober.

burning-man-temple

 

burning-man-night

 

Aside from the hallucinogens, there was the dance/party scene — insanely loud music, DJs and dance floors all over the city that were open throughout the entire night. A lot of people were doing drugs like ecstasy and molly and getting into the whole raver scene.

burn

 

The thing is, though – there are also a lot of cops at Burning Man. Undercover cops. People aren’t exactly passing out drugs like Halloween candy, as I had originally pictured. It sounded like the majority of people either brought their own drugs or got them from friends they knew. I wasn’t offered drugs even once.  I spoke to friends there who had drugs and could have easily found them if I wanted them, but I wasn’t turning drugs down left and right or anything like that. It was pretty easy to avoid.

Alcohol was served all over the place, and some people were hanging around smoking pot, but I didn’t really see anyone who seemed wasted or out of control. Granted, I didn’t stay out super late or go to crazy parties, so my experience was very different from someone who was deep into the Burning Man night time party scene. A lot of people said they preferred to stay away from alcohol because of how dehydrating the desert was, and how awful a hangover would feel. What I heard from a guy who’s been going to Burning Man for 15 years — “Burning Man isn’t the type of place to do drugs for the first time. Most of the people here are experienced with drugs and can handle their shit.” Kinda made sense to me. I would honestly be terrified to be on drugs for the first time in that environment.

The Sober Scene

Believe it or not, there are actually hundreds of people (probably more) who stay totally clean and sober at Burning Man. How do I know this? Well, by Friday of the week (I had been there for 4 days), I was having a particularly difficult time. The day before, which happened to be my birthday, I had an amazing day — such is the bipolar nature of Burning Man. I felt like I was really struggling and the fact that I had to survive 2 more days there was making me feel like a mental patient. I needed to get out of my head and help someone else. I knew other people had to be struggling too, and I wanted to connect with them.

anonymous village

 

I remembered reading about sober camps at Burning Man and had heard there were 12-step meetings every day, all day long. I thought it would be helpful to me and to other people there to show up at a meeting and share how I was feeling about the whole experience. I know it helps others just to show your face and be supportive. So I jumped on my bike and found the 12-step recovery village. As soon as I pulled up and saw the sign that said “Happy Destiny,” my heart warmed up. I went to the first meeting that was going on there, which was an NA meeting (narcotics anonymous), and then I went to a women’s general addiction meeting the next day. It was really cool to sit around and listen to all the people there who were experiencing Burning Man without drugs and alcohol, hearing their struggles and their gratitude. Most people were so incredibly happy to not be on drugs there. I found out that the sober camp had 250 sober people camping in it, and there were other sober camps too. There were 12-step meetings pretty much every hour, and lots of support. How cool is that? I realized that there is definitely something for everyone at Burning Man. I hugged a lot of people and thanked them for showing up. It was a really beautiful experience.

Other Things To Do That Don’t Involve Alcohol + Drugs

I went to 5 great yoga classes over the course of the week – vinyasa yoga and kundalini yoga. I took meditation and breathwork classes and workshops. I rode my bike for hours a day and stopped by various camps for watermelon slices, cucumber water, and conversation. One day I went to a 90’s dance party during the day. At night, I rode my bike through the dust and danced on dance floors to trancey music (and some nights, just listened to the music from my air mattress in the tent). The camp I was camping with with, Sacred Spaces, had a huge amount of workshops and classes throughout the day every day. I also had work shifts I was signed up for with my camp, so I helped make food in the kitchen and helped welcome people into the camp at night. I had meals at my camp and met new friends. Ali and I brought sparkly tattoos and gifted them to everyone in our camp.

There was even an ultramarathon at Burning Man! Seriously. People got up and ran 50k (31 miles) around the desert. WHAT!

burning-man-yoga

 

burning-man-playa

 

The Nudity/Sex Scene

I expected there to be a lot of open sexuality happening at Burning Man, but at least in my experience, it seemed like you really had to seek that stuff out. Yes, there was a lot of nudity there, people riding their bikes topless or walking around naked, but that didn’t really feel sexual. It was more of a freeing thing. The sex stuff? There were certain tents/camps dedicated to sex — a swinger’s camp, an orgy dome, and multiple other camps where the purpose was for couples or people you meet on the playa to be able to have sex openly. I didn’t go into any of these tents (nor could you really see into them without being inside) so I can’t comment on what was really going on in there. But I will say that it’s something you do have to seek outand you can absolutely experience Burning Man without participating in any sexual experiences. You won’t, however, be able to experience it without seeing any naked people. 😉

I found myself being naked at Burning Man in a group setting twice. Both on my birthday. Neither of them were sexual. The first was at the “foam camp” – where people go to get a shower. They let 50 naked people in at once, cover you in peppermint Dr. Bronner’s soap while fun music is playing, let you lather yourself up and then they spray you down with cold water. It’s kind of uncomfortable at first (especially because Ali and I did it together – points for friendship intimacy!) but it actually ends up being super fun and the most refreshing moment of the week. You have to wait in line for HOURS there because everyone wants a shower. After that, I took a naked yoga class. That part was fine for me as I’d already been to one in NYC. Again, not the most comfortable thing in the world, but really not that big of a deal either. Being naked at Burning Man is kinda like whatevs. At least that was my experience with it. You can be as naked or as clothed as you want to be there.

The Art/Music

One of the most incredible things about Burning Man is that it’s not just a big party in the desert. People work on their art for the entire year before the event and it’s the most beautiful thing when you really realize how much went into it. You are constantly surrounded by incredible art and music.

burning man - embrace
So even if you’re not into the drugs/alcohol/sex at Burning Man, you can dance, you can check out art (which feels really special because it’s all so temporary), you can enjoy music at all hours of the day and night, you can meet all kinds of people, you can ride your bike around, you can wear whatever you want…you can party hard. 🙂 The burning of the “embrace” (above) at sunrise was my favorite moment of the burn, hands down. Thousands of people gathered to watch.

burning-man-tattoo


My Favorite Things About Burning Man

Surprisingly, the detox from technology was one of my favorite things about the entire experience. After a week of living in the desert with no phone service, it was a bit jarring to turn my phone back on (especially since my birthday was during Burning Man, so there were more messages and notifications than usual). I’ve needed some time to decompress and ease back into all the digital correspondence, and I haven’t really even been able to open my laptop let alone actually go through my inbox. It made me realize how much of my energy is usually taken up just by RESPONDING to people. Without the constant texting, emails and notifications, I was able to just…be with myself and my own thoughts and my own life. Pretty radical and awesome. I’m trying to remain a little more unplugged now (aside from instagram, obviously), and just be with people I love, but who knows how long that’ll last. I’ve done it before. A week after Burning Man, I still haven’t taken my email auto-responder off because for some reason having it on makes me feel a little less available. I might just keep it there forever.

burningman

 

Other than that, my absolute favorite thing was the bike riding. You have to rent or bring a bike to get around Black Rock City, and riding out into the desert for miles solo or with friends was the most freeing feeling. Sometimes when you get out into the “deep playa,” you find art that someone has left there. It’s really cool. One night I was riding with 2 friends and we had gone really far out into the desert, we couldn’t really see much around us – but we found this little heart made out of white lights, shining alone under the stars. It was seriously the coolest, and made me want to cry for some reason. Because someone took the time to light up that little heart and bring it out into the desert, hoping someone would find it. Seriously beautiful. Those moments of finding secret art make Burning Man really special.

burning-man-bike

 

Will I Go Back To Burning Man?  

If you asked me if I’d go back as we were driving away from the playa, I’d probably laugh your face off and say “just keep driving.”

The last night there, our ride was supposed to pick us up at sunrise — Ali and I stayed up all night waiting for the sun to come up, like it was Christmas morning. Check out how happy Ali was when our friend Shane came to pick us up to leave. 🙂

ali and shane

But then I think a lot of the processing and realizations about Burning Man do come after the fact, especially after your first time. I listened to this song a bunch of times after I got back, and I knew, yes…I’ll go back. Of course I’ll go back. There’s something about it that’s just completely otherworldly. You feel like you’re living on another planet for a week. There’s nothing like it. 

I’ll do it differently next time, though. Being sober wasn’t the hard part. Now I know what to expect, and I’d go in an RV instead of a tent. I hear that makes a huge difference in your experience.

burning-man-watching-the-burn

 

Burning Man is a community, but it’s ultimately a personal journey for every burner. Throughout the week, people kept saying to me, “have a great burn.” When they said that, I’d think about how radically different the burn is for every person. There’s no doubt that the experience bleeds into the rest of your life.

Burning Man is a difficult, challenging, insane, beautiful thing. Yes, there are drugs but there’s also EVERYTHING else. Burning Man is every adjective and you experience every emotion. Whatever you want to experience there, you can. I’m happy I experienced it sober and really got into the grittiness how I felt there. I journaled daily, took photos, laughed, cried a few times…and I made it through.

I realized how incredibly creative and generous people are.

How beautiful our dreams and fantasies are. How insanely resilient we are as humans. How deeply we love and need each other, how raw and fierce our emotions can be. How much we all actually have in common when we strip away all the constructs of “the default world.”

How truly, we can create anything we want in our lives. That when we come together anything is possible.

And that no matter how difficult or how wonderful each moment is…it’s going to end, it’s going to change.

Impermanence is the whole essence of Burning Man. Think about it. An entire elaborate fantasy city is constructed in the middle of the desert, inhabited by 70,000 people for a week, and then completely destroyed, leaving no trace. The burn is a reminder that everything is fleeting. Our circumstances, moods, relationships, the earth, this life. All we really have is now.

burning-man-now

It reminds me of  Jason Silva’s Existential Bummer video. “How do we respond to this transience? Do we love harder? Do we squeeze tighter?”

I say yes. 

“Covered in dust, sweat and paint

We are sparkles in the desert

We are rainbows in the night

We are ever-changing shadows who’ve just been set alight

And it’ll end soon

This holiday from time

But tonight…we ride.”

-Missy Higgins, We Ride

 

I’d love to hear your personal experiences with Burning Man in the comments if you want to share. And if you have any questions about it, definitely let me know! So many people/angels helped me prepare and get through the experience, and I’m happy to do the same.

desert ride

“On the edge of the world where the light never dies…we ride.”

Lots of awesome Burning Man songs here. Various Artists – Spark: A Burning Man Story – Day + Night (Music from & Inspired by Film)

The end.




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{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Brogan September 8, 2014 at 7:37 pm

I’ve never been, but I really loved the write-up. I can tell you that you covered all the questions I ever would have had.

More importantly, I love that you chose to own your path, that you made up your own mind, and that you led from within. It makes the experience seem a lot more worth it.

Not sure I’ll ever go, but I loved reading your take. 🙂

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jenny sansouci September 8, 2014 at 8:37 pm

Hey Chris! Yeah, it’s definitely an experiment in listening to what you really need for yourself and honoring that. Thanks so much for reading. 🙂

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Alice September 8, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Thank you for an organized description of your experiences.

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jenny sansouci September 8, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Thanks for reading!

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Lizzie May September 8, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Amazing, beautifully written recap and thanks for being the best sober Burning Man journalist ever! I’ve always been so curious about Burning Man and I finally feel like I “a little bit get it” after reading this, to the extent that someone can “get it” without actually going to Burning Man.It’s also good to know that there are accepting, sober communities of people there-I had no idea! p.s. Your man sounds amazing and I love how he just listened to you and let you come to your own conclusions re. sobriety 🙂 p.p.s. Yay to keeping vacation email autoresponders on FOREVER (totally my style) 🙂

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jenny sansouci September 9, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Thank you Lizzie!! I appreciate you saying that, I tried to write a post that I would have wanted to read pre-burning man, and answer some of the questions I had myself. It was super cool to see that there’s something for everyone there. And yes…he’s the coolest, and his listening opened up the door for the right answer to just flow in for me naturally. It was the right move. 🙂 xo

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MagicPeaceLove September 8, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Beautiful writeup. I think you’ll find that your next visit to Black Rock City will be completely different than the first. Every Burn is different because the city is a mirror and we are different every time.

Pro-tip: camp farther out of the city (on I or J) for a good night’s sleep (with earplugs).

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jenny sansouci September 8, 2014 at 9:55 pm

Thank you!! Good tip. I’ll keep that in mind for sure. I can imagine every Burn is totally different…endless possibilities. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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Lily September 8, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Did you find it to be difficult to be around so many people who were indulging in a lot of low vibe activities? I went to music festival and felt really sad to see so many impaired people. It was like I could feel everybody searching for a way to feel better, to escape from themselves and it took me a while to shake that cloud even after I came home.

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jenny sansouci September 9, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Hey Lily,
I actually didn’t see a lot of people who were visibly trashed – I *knew* people were on drugs, but it wasn’t happening right in my face. There was so much other stuff going on, that the drugs didn’t feel like the main focus to me. It was very different from being out at a bar where people are getting wasted, or being at a party where the only focus is drugs. Hope that answers your question. 🙂

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Carolyn Salvato September 8, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Wow Jenny, your description of your experience was so very interesting. It made me feel like I was there. I understand the emotional ups and downs and the life and heart-changing feelings you described which I have felt during my medical mission trips in Guatemala. Very different than this experience but the emotional roller coaster you feel living several days without the luxuries of home and the internal turmoil you feel when helping others who have little to nothing definitely alter the way you look at life permanently. I’m too old to do the burning man thing but very much enjoyed reading your article.

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jenny sansouci September 9, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Carolyn – thank you so much for sharing that. Yes, sounds like a similar feeling as your trips even though I know your actual experience was much different. It’s crazy how just a few days without a shower and clean surroundings can make you realize how much we take for granted and how lucky and blessed we are to have basic things. Thank you so much for reading. 🙂

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Monica September 8, 2014 at 10:54 pm

J! Oh girl, so damn proud of you. I am sooooo stoked to know of your epic authentic experience. I grew up in Tahoe and never thought about seriously going until last year. Now with 2 best friends that are “pros”, I am finally thinking of going next year. (Can stop and say hi to the parents on the way, heyyy) Can’t promise I’ll be sober, but I know I can promise to be me. Maybe (hopefully) I’ll get a chance to finnnnnaly meet you on the playa :::: cheers to us and a beautiful Pisces supermoon tonight- love u, xoxo

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jenny sansouci September 9, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Awesome! I hope you go. It’s worth it no matter what kind of experience you have. 🙂

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Monica September 8, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Oooohhh, a few last thoughts/questions: were you able not to judge others who weren’t sober? Did you hang with anyone for more than a few hours that was “high” and if so was it still fun for you to hang with people partying? I’m so so curious… Xxoo

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jenny sansouci September 9, 2014 at 1:50 pm

I definitely don’t judge people who didn’t stay sober — I’m totally cool with people doing whatever they feel called to do. Hey, I understand the appeal of drugs and alcohol, and if it enhances their experience, awesome. 🙂 I’m definitely not preaching sobriety in any way, I just knew what was right for me in this particular experience.

As far as hanging out with people who are drunk or high, I’m fine with it. If people can’t hold a conversation or I’m getting bored, I leave. 🙂

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Julia September 8, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Great post, Jenny 🙂
I admit I got a bit emotional reading it…I love your perspective on the experience.

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Linda Mandelbaum September 9, 2014 at 11:34 am

Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I have always wanted an inside understanding of burning man. Thank you :*

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jenny sansouci September 9, 2014 at 1:51 pm

You’re welcome, glad you found it helpful! Thanks for reading. 🙂

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Mike September 9, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Wow, too cool! So glad you two made the trip, and thanks so much for sharing your experience. One of these days…

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jenny sansouci September 9, 2014 at 1:52 pm

Thanks for reading! Hope you make it out to the playa.

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Maria September 9, 2014 at 2:07 pm

Jenny thanks so much for writing about Burning man. I have always wanted to go. I felt that I have experience the whole burning man thing by reading this. You are the coolest. I really hope to meet you one day!!

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jenny sansouci September 9, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Awesome, Maria! I hope you do get the chance to go. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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Julie September 9, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Amazing, amazing post Jenny!!! I have never been to Burning Man, but your recap of it is just so lovely and it paints a very different perspective then the usual drugged out rap it has. Your photos are also gorgeous! Even your pictures look surreal!

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jenny sansouci September 9, 2014 at 5:18 pm

Thanks Julie! It was surreal…

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Kathryn September 9, 2014 at 10:14 pm

Wow! Your gift for storytelling really shined in this! So many parts struck me, but what I loved the most: “Making powerful decisions is SO much cooler than being a leaf in the wind to your circumstances.” I feel like you just summed up in one sentence my struggle/journey/lesson out of co-dependency and into a healthy adulthood! Thank you for your truth and authenticity!

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jenny sansouci September 24, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Thanks, Kathryn! So glad it resonated with you. I really appreciate you reading it. 🙂

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Angie Potter September 10, 2014 at 12:29 am

Jenny– Great recap! You are amazing, brave and wonderful…I (obviously) will never go to this event, so thanks for the great description of what I will be missing. Very cool!
Love,
Angie

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jenny sansouci September 24, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Thanks, Angie!! Hugs.

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Jeanne September 10, 2014 at 2:34 am

I totally second Chris’ comments! You answered everything I wanted to know about this “place”. Thank you for being such a bold, adventurous and generous journalist…I feel like I got a taste without the dust! Love you! xx

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jenny sansouci September 24, 2014 at 3:53 pm

Love you, Jeanne! Yes..much cleaner reading about it here. 😉

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Sloan September 10, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Just wow to the magic and pain, and significant adapt and persevere points. Insert ninja judo chop. The fact that everyone is figuratively in the weeds (surviving) and in the light (celebrating) together, all the more reason to experince a platform where humanity really shows you what it’s made of in its purest, uninhibited, and perhaps most supportive form.

I feel your note on integrity, the light bulb moment, and the weightlessness that comes with the liberation of making the right decision – I felt that in spades yesterday on something I have been struggling with for months (which should not have been a struggle in the first place, but – life is life and sometimes it’s cloudy). Thank you for helping a moment “click”, and for beautifully and candidly sharing your experience.

Question: everyone contributes to create and maintain the city, yes, though for someone who isn’t ‘crafty’ per se, or a teacher, what would some ideas be on gifting (and exchange, etc)? Some share their gifts via art, music, teaching (yoga, etc), others with produce and harvest. I would never show up and be one to take more than I give, it’s not me – though I would want to come prepared. What is of greatest value aside from love and tools for survival within the community? Tough question, I know – and I’m sure there is no simple answer, though I thought I would ask.

To wrap – the rawness, freedom and challenge speak volumes to my soul in thirst to experience all that this is ~ 2015 – for better or worse, I am in!

Love + light from Canada. X

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Nancy Earl Harrison September 15, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Sloan – one of the most awesome gifts I received was an impromptu upon-request performance of the Hawaiian genesis story by a beautiful Hawaiian man who had been voice-trained by Laurence Olivier’s voice teacher! It was amazing. There is no end to what you can gift! I’d suggest thinking about what you love and going from there.

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jenny sansouci September 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Sloan — thank you for your comment and for being on the journey with me. 🙂

To answer your question, your gift can be anything — definitely things that help with “survival” are so appreciated, but your gift can simply be kindness. You’ll have an “aha” moment about what you can offer either before you get there, or maybe once you’re there. Stay open!

Hopefully I’ll see you on the playa in 2015!

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Valerie Martin September 12, 2014 at 8:04 am

Jenny, I loved your description of the experience. It sounds CRAZY and like something that would be completely out of my comfort zone. But also, like you said, it’s *impermanent* and fleeting, and makes me think about how my perspective might expand if I experienced life in a temporary magical gypsy society. 😀 The technology detox does sound pretty amazing, too.

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Steph September 15, 2014 at 4:43 am

Jenny – You and your roommate continue to inspire me on a daily basis. Thanks so much for the thorough re-cap!
My sister and I jokingly talked about going to Burning Man 4 years ago, and then she and her husband got pregnant, which in hindsight was for the absolute best! It’s still something I’d like to do someday, but now I can be more mentally prepared.
Big love,
Stephanie

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Nancy Earl Harrison September 15, 2014 at 3:04 pm

Jenny – what a nice write up! I was there and maybe we crossed paths. So much of what you wrote really resonated with me. I was with the healing foot wash camp on I at 9 and happen to be alcohol- and drug-free on- and off-playa, just fyi. This article is one of the more informative and comprehensive I’ve seen – thanks so much for sharing your experience!

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Jennifer September 16, 2014 at 5:45 pm

This was so, so awesome. So much detail, I don’t think you missed a beat. Also, I think its pretty cool of you to be so honest about your personal experiences (staying sober/being nude etc). Great post!!

Jennifer

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jenny sansouci September 24, 2014 at 3:58 pm

thanks, jennifer! and yes…comfort zones be gone! 🙂

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Kate September 16, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Awesome recap Jenny! Congrats on going through with it, and congrats on your new relationship 🙂

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jenny sansouci September 24, 2014 at 3:59 pm

Thanks, Kate! And yes – relationships can teach us a lot about ourselves, huh? xx

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Ritu September 17, 2014 at 9:21 am

You’re dating!!! Yay! lucky lad. This festival sounds like tons of fun! I’d want to do it sober too 🙂 love you Jenny! xx Ritu

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jenny sansouci September 24, 2014 at 4:02 pm

Ritu! Haha! You should totally go sometime. I bet you would have fun coming up with costume ideas. Love you too. 🙂

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Kerry September 19, 2014 at 9:15 am

Awesome … so happy it was a good experience. After the grit of burning man you’re ready for the next frontier … travel to India!!! Can’t wait to hear more about your man too 🙂

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jenny sansouci September 24, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Kerry! Yes – I would love to go to India and I’ll definitely be coming to you with questions when I do. 🙂 Yes…hope to see you soon and catch up. Hugs!

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The Kokopelli Dude September 27, 2014 at 11:14 pm

Jenny,
Props to your openness and willingness to write this article. It so hits home on so many fronts and I believe it to be spot on!
This year was my 4th year to the Playa and it’s definitely a struggle for me describing it to people, because they most always think it’s just a naked/sex drug fest. We both know, it’s so much more!!!
One thing I found, that makes sunrises easier to stay up for, is little or no alcohol…you’re not alone (Embrace was awesome!).
The three things I tell people I love the most are that the creations/costumes/energy-spent are absolutely mind boggling, I love the sense of community (what can I do for my neighbor) and finally, I love that no one cares what kind of car you are driving, what kind of watch you are wearing or any of those other status symbols that are plentiful at home.
The bumper sticker I’ve thought of making to put on the back of my Burning Man trailer: Assault On Sleep, Surrender To The Dust, Welcome Home…
Thanks again for your wiliness to share your experience and skillful writing ability.
Maybe we’ll see each other during next year’s burn? Either way, keep shining!
Fellow drug free Burner that hasn’t experienced the wild side of the Playa yet.
The Kokopelli Dude (or as someone said this year, The “KokoPlaya” Dude)

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Jude Lives October 13, 2014 at 12:53 am

Thanks for sharing your Burn Experience! Your an eloquent writer and I can wait for my first Burn! Namaste

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Katie November 15, 2014 at 6:01 pm

This was so insightful to read! I’ve only heard about Burning Man but didn’t even know what it was until recently. Hearing your account of the trip was so interesting – I don’t know if I could have made it, I hate the heat! Haha.

So cool of you to go out of your comfort zone and do something totally wild like this. I REALLY liked this post!

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Peter April 6, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Wow! I can’t believe how similar our experiences were! I went last year for the first time, stayed with an awesome camp, but wanted a different experience this year, which is how I found this article. I’ve been sober for a long time, and everyone thinks I’m lying when I say I stayed sober there. I’m starting to feel like I didn’t have an original experience now after reading your story =P Thank you for writing this, hopefully you’re going back this year… I know I am!!!

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alma June 18, 2015 at 11:51 am

Omg, i love it, i think you described it pretty good. i’ve been wanting to go. but i seriously don’t know what to expect. the drug scene in raves really scared me because i overdosed twice and i’ve been sober for almost 3 years. i’m really scared to use again and that’s what keeps me from this festivals. After reading this, burning man will definitely be something i would love to experience in life.

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