Each year, as the city grows, so does its sober community. The following is a compilation of suggestions some have found helpful in experiencing Burning Man clean and sober.
Before You Go
If you follow the 12-step program, review pages 100-102 in “the Big Book,” Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you have a sponsor, talk to them. It’s recommended that you have a serious dialogue with your sponsor before buying your ticket. You will see (or smell) people partying and drinking. The conditions are harsh and daily life can, at times, be overwhelming. Be honest with your sponsor about these things. Additionally, your sponsor should also know that there is much MUCH more to Burning Man than they’ve heard from the media. Learn as much as you can about the event so that you can describe the elements of the experience that have drawn you to it. Your decision to participate is between you, your sponsor, and your higher power.
Read the Survival Guide.
Fill Up Your Tank
When we don’t have time for meetings is usually when we need them the most. You will no doubt be very busy in those countdown days before the event. It’s easy to underestimate how long it will take to finish projects, pack, shop, and do all the things that people do before leaving town (and work) for 7–10 days. This would not be the ideal time to cut back on meetings. In fact, we suggest making time to work in an extra meeting wherever possible.
Planning Your Camp
Just because your friends may party or drink alcohol in moderation outside of Burning Man, don’t expect them to be moderate while camping with you in the Black Rock Desert. Consider having a discussion with them early in the planning process. Or, consider camping in a clean and sober community like Anonymous Village and Run Free Camp / Camp Stella*. If you feel you can no longer camp with your friends, you’re welcome to move into these camps. This option has saved people’s sobriety in past years.
*Please note: Camp Stella and Camp Run Free combined forces back in 2018.
While Living in Black Rock City
Find a Home Meeting
In the “real world” Home Groups help us stay sane and sober for many different reasons. There are now more than 10 12-step meetings daily in Black Rock City. Pick a time and place that works for you and return to the same meeting regularly. Burning Man only lasts eight days, but seeing and hearing the same people even just a few times can be really helpful. Some Burners find it helpful to ask a new friend at an on-playa meeting to be their “Playa Sponsor” for the duration of that year’s Burn.
HUNGRY: Many people report a loss of appetite while in Black Rock City. Don’t forget to eat! You don’t want to be miles away from camp when you remember that you forgot to eat lunch. Some of us have found protein bars handy for instant hunger relief. Pay attention to the clock and eat regularly.
ANGRY: Remember, there are now about half a dozen meetings each day in Black Rock City, and “program people” are nearly always available if you need to talk.
LONELY: Ironically, some participants report that the one moment where virtually all 70,000+ citizens come together, the night the Man burns, can be the single loneliest moment of the week. Be careful not to have unrealistic expectations for this event. It is a spectacular performance by any measure, but it’s rarely anyone’s single favorite moment of the week. Usually, participants’ most-revered experiences are random unplanned personal encounters. We suggest that you go to the burn with people that you trust will be sober and stick close. Once the Man falls, it’s very easy to become separated. Every year a group of sober people from Camp Anonymous attend the Man Burn together. Listen for announcements at meetings towards the end of the week.
TIRED: Do not go to Burning Man expecting to ever get a full 8 hours of deep restful sleep. It’s possible, but unlikely. After the sun disappears over the mountains each evening is when the real magic begins. There are only 8 nights of Burning Man a year and you’ll want to get the most out of them. This means staying up as late as you can. Unfortunately, sleeping in late isn’t so easy. The unforgiving sun illuminates your tent, the temperature rises, and neighbors will be noisy as they start their day (or end it). Before you go to bed each night, put on a pair of eye shades (available at most drug stores). This will trick your body into thinking it’s still dark outside. Bring a couple pairs of ear plugs to muffle the thumping of distant rave parties. Finally, if you are hydrating properly, you will need to pee in the morning while it’s still cold outside. Women may choose to make a funnel or a jug for this purpose; guys, designate an empty water jug. Sorry to be graphic, but a quick pee in (or near) your tent may enable you to get back to bed quickly and squeeze out a few extra hours of sleep. You’ll be less likely to fall back to sleep if you have to get dressed and take a bike ride to the nearest porta-potties when it’s bright and sunny but freezing cold outside.
Allow yourself to head home early if that’s what your body is telling you to do. We are only human and there’s only so much we can do. No matter how hard you try, you will only see a fraction of all there is to see at Burning Man. Make it an early night and you might be able to stay out later the next night.
Develop a Routine
Addicts sometimes do better when we have a daily routine. This can help give us a sense of stability in a world where nothing seems normal. Here are a few ideas.
- Go to Center Camp to read the paper each morning.
- Have breakfast with your campmates while reviewing the days possibilities in the WhatWhereWhen Guide or while listening to Black Rock Radio.
- Find a workshop or class to attend on a daily basis.
- Make a daily commitment to a regular volunteer gig such as the Lamp Lighters or Recycle Camp.
- Go to the same meeting at the same time each day.
- Plan on having dinner with your campmates each night.
- Remember your 11th step. There are spiritual experiences and workshops all over the playa, many of which are specifically chemical-free. But also whatever your daily practice may be at home, bring it to the playa! Add to it! Evolve it! But don’t leave it at home. The things that ground you elsewhere will also ground you in the dust.
These are just a few ideas. Having a daily routine can be really helpful, but be careful not to over commit or stretch yourself too thin.
As you probably already know, nothing helps us get “out of ourselves” better than service work. We recommend making a formal commitment to volunteer, even if it’s just one shift. Informally, there are many opportunities to help out your fellow citizens. Maybe you could help a neighbor pitch their tent help or help a stranger by carrying a bag of ice.
While some see Burning Man as a big party, many see as an opportunity for growth. Going to meetings may help you get the most out of your experience. Besides, where else can you go to a meeting where people are wearing costumes or perhaps nothing at all? Black Rock City is one of the few places where baskets are not passed around during meetings. In fact, with the exception of ice and coffee in center camp, cash transactions are not permitted at Burning Man.
Following is a tentative schedule for daily 12-step meetings. Be sure to check the WhatWhereWhen Guide or visit sober camps to confirm these times.
Run Free Camp hosts a variety of 12-step meetings. Anonymous Village hosts several large “Any A” meetings, where AA, NA, OA, SLAA, and any other fellowships can support one another’s recovery together, as well as that are fellowship specific. AV also maintains a space available for non-12 step recovery programs if that is how you recover. Also, if you need a meeting, you can start one at time! Grab a friend.
|7:00am||Open AA||Anonymous Village|
|9:00am||Women’s AnyA||Anonymous Village|
|Noon||Open AA||Run Free|
|4pm MWFSa||Open NA||Run Free|
|4pm TTh||MA||Run Free|
|4:30pm||AnyS – SLAA/SAA/SA||Anonymous Village|
|7:30pm MWF||MA||Anonymous Village|
|7:30pm TTh||GayA AnyA||Anonymous Village|
|8pm||Open AA||Run Free|
… And there are even more meetings that meet once or twice during the Burn! Check your WWW or, better, yet, drop by the sober camps when you arrive!
Be wary of food and drink offered to you. Know what you are eating and drinking. Burning Man thrives on a Gift Economy. You will probably be offered food or beverages by well-intentioned burners. Always ask if what you are about to ingest contains alcohol or any other substances. Consider the source and use good judgment based on the answer you get. The medical tent gets cases every year of people who were dosed without their knowledge.
The Roots of AA at Burning Man
An account by Anonymous Camp co-founder Dan A.
In 1997, there was one meeting at noon next to the Center Camp Cafe on the day of the Burn. We found each other through a small ad that someone who wanted a meeting put in the Black Rock Gazette. We called ourselves the Burning Desires group. Twelve of us sat on straw bales in the blazing sun near a generator that was supposed to cover our voices. I’m not sure how successful that theory was as we had to raise our voices above the generator. From the shade of the Cafe, one would have seen a dozen people in a tight circle cooking in the sun and yelling “Hi Dan” in unison. It was probably obvious what was going on. Anyway, we talked about getting a theme camp together for the next year. We collected a list of e-mail addresses at the end of the meeting and stayed in contact.
The Clean & Sober Camp was a registered theme camp that didn’t make it to the playa in 1997 because of cascading last minute problems. The next spring, I contacted the Burning Man office and asked if they had a contact name and phone number for the Clean & Sober Camp people. Within minutes, Steve in San Francisco got a call from some guy in Minneapolis who he’d never heard of before. Soon we were talking about registering a theme camp and combined the on-playa list with a list Steve had collected of people who inquired about his camp. Thus was born Anonymous Camp.
We made our first appearance on-playa in 1998. Although most came to meetings as a result of our listing in the What Where When, many just happened to be walking by and recognized, much to their surprise, that a meeting was going on. Of all the strange things I saw and did on the playa that year, the strangest was signing someone’s court card. We’re everywhere!
You can find out more about Anonymous Village over on their website.
Many thanks to the members of the sober Burning Man community for writing this helpful guide and advice.