A week before the festival I was all up for selling my tickets online and saying sod it, I’m not going.
Since becoming sober, my anxiety has been so much better. I don’t feel the twisting of my insides and the accompanying black cloud that tells me – this is who you are, and you’ll never escape from anxiety and blackness. I was on such an emotional roller coaster when I drank that every little thing was a cause for anxiety and then an excuse to drink.
When I stopped drinking, I also stopped putting myself in situations I didn’t want to be in. I thoroughly used ‘could’ instead of ‘should’ and questioned everything I was doing. Socially, if it made me uncomfortable and I didn’t want to do it, then usually I didn’t. I was fiercely protective of my newfound sobriety and I was not going to let anything shake that.
So why did I feel my anxiety rearing its head before the festival? It was something I really, really wanted to do, but also something I had never done before, so I only had hearsay on what to expect. One of the things you hear most about are the portaloos – was I really going to spend a week taking the – newly potty trained – Baby to disgusting, stinky, blocked loos? Then the weather forecast, rain all week! I am not good with cold and wet unless I know I have a nice warm shower to get to. I am especially not good at being responsible for 3 cold and wet small people. Where would I dry the clothes? What were the showers like? Where would I dry the towels? How could I pack enough clothes for rain every day? What if their raincoats and wellies didn’t dry for the next day?
I had packed up and gone home a week into a two-week caravan holiday in Wales two years before, due to my anxiety, and felt completely crap about it. Did I want to do that to myself again?
My head went into overdrive and panic mode. I didn’t want my panic to tip me over the edge into drinking again, especially as I had heard festivals were basically giant piss ups with music.
My Love said we could sell the tickets if I wanted to, but on the flip side I did not want alcohol to define me. Could I really say to myself that I was never going to go to a festival just ‘in case’ I wanted to drink? Surely, at 15 months sober, without cravings I would be OK?
So, we packed up the car on the Monday morning and headed to beautiful, rainy Wales.
If you haven’t been to Wales, I recommend it, it is quite literally beautiful. At times you are clearly in the UK, at other times you could be in the Mediterranean. The emerald hills roll down to crystal clear rivers or turquoise sea waters. I have to be grateful for the rain, as without it, the verdant nature of Wales would not be as it is.
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We were camped in a huge site in the middle of the Brecon Beacons. On arrival, thinking we were early, we were surprised by the number of cars. We came on settler’s passes, meaning we camped Monday to Monday, rather than just for the festival. But it seemed like every parking space and every pitch site was already full! Little did we know then that 25,000 people would be attending this festival – I had thought about 5,000!!
We picked the first reasonable looking pitch I came to, albeit on a massive incline! As luck would have it, we had a clear view of both the mountains and the main stage. In the evenings, when it was dark, I loved looking up at the odd houses dotted across the mountainside, with their lights brightly glowing against the dark and the car lights making their way up the mountain. It felt insanely cosy. I am sure that those houses don’t have open fires, AGA cookers, the smell of baking bread and simmering stews but it was lovely to imagine.
It rained on and off during the first day but was mostly warm. I kicked everyone out while I got organised inside – needing control somewhere! By the evening we realised that the boys tent had a leak and wasn’t habitable. I moved them into the big tent for the night – no sleep for My Love and I sharing an airbed with an overactive, head kicking toddler – but hey, at least the boys were dry! Next day we made it to Abergavenny where they had an Argos. We bought a cheapy new tent and a cheapy pushchair. I was amazed by the set up of regular festival goers with children. They have pull along trolleys decked out with bedding, lights and waterproof covers! I loved them! But The Baby would have to have a pushchair this time, and even that, pushed through inches of thick mud, was a God send for later nights!
I realised, after setting up, that I was doing OK. We were on the main path into the campsite, so we saw everyone coming in and out. Lots of people were walking around with cans of various alcoholic drinks, even first thing in the morning, but it wasn’t making me want to drink. Bizarrely, I did have a cigarette craving – I haven’t smoked in 7 years – but thankfully that passed pretty quickly! The atmosphere on the settler’s camps was relaxed, friendly and family orientated. Down at the settler’s evening shenanigans, there was a tent with a bar and a stage, and a tent next to it with teas, coffees and cakes. Each was equally full at all hours of the day and night. I was impressed by programme, which had a whole page saying, we know more and more people are choosing not to drink alcohol so here is a page of alcohol-free drinks we are serving. This boded well for the actual festival!
When the festival started, on Thursday, it was a beautiful sunny day with no rain forecast, so we took that day to explore. I was feeling pretty proud of myself by this stage for not freaking out, not panicking and not wanting to drink. I had a little system going. Give children breakfast then find coffee stall. I find buying myself a coffee in the morning is a self-care treat that immediately relaxes me. We discovered early on that unless you want to queue for hours to have a cold shower that morning showers are a no go. We therefore set off early each day, came back in the late afternoon for quick and warm showers, ate supper, and headed out again for the evening. Obviously, I got the boys to wash their hands with soap in the morning as the portaloos really are revolting! Better than I imagined but OMG the smell!! Didn’t help that The Baby thought the flushing lever was the best toy at the whole festival – ugh! But even that, which would have had me freaking big time in my drinking days, was not so bad.
Funnily enough, with me not freaking out all the time, I realised that My Love is not the completely calm person I always thought he was. He was constantly worried about the logistics, the tent, the tarpaulins to keep stuff dry and spider free. I realised how much we both do but in totally different ways. I manage the activities, the clothes, the cleaning and the fun, he manages the car, the tents, the cooking and the maintenance. Both essential! Although I would have liked to gel better while we were away, it was lovely that my freaking out had not taken over, and I had been able to give some of his concerns the attention they deserved.
Having had the few days extra build up, realising that I was actually having fun, when the rain – light and first, torrential later, and constant all day – came on Friday, I was ready and feeling strong. We were properly kitted up and warm. We ate food in the rain, listened to music in the rain, did science experiments in the rain, danced in the rain and charged our phones in the rain! In front of the main stage were four small hills all leading on from one and other. The Bear and The Baby had the most fun rolling down those wet muddy hills – repeatedly! At one stage, The Bear accidentally pushed The Baby into a stream so water overflowed his wellies and socks. I scooped The Baby up, took him back to the tent and changed him into dry clothes before heading back out. I realised, my panic and anxiety is all my own doing. The children don’t care if they are wet and muddy, they are having a lovely time! As long as I catch it before they all get cold then everyone is happy. My worry is creating issues that aren’t really there. However at 6 hours, the rain was getting through all of our waterproof clothes and I called it a day. Everyone had a shower, changed into dry clothes, and we set the inside of the tent up with chairs, games and books – no need for music, that was coming loud and strong from the festival site!
I was seriously proud of myself. Had it rained like that for the whole time, I may have freaked out, but luckily, things never seem as long lasting or dramatic as you convince yourself they are.
Saturday was wonderful. Sunny, warm and teeming with people and activity. We set out ready to get a full day in. The little folk area was fantastic for small people. We did family yoga together first thing, then heard a lot of activity from across the way so went to investigate. It was a charity called the Flying Seagull Project who do amazing work bringing fun and laughter to children in pretty crappy situations. Their energy and enthusiasm was unceasing. Parents had to join in with the children, firstly singing and dancing to the Greatest Showman and then joining in with playground games. 50 parents and children all playing Bull Dog, What’s the time Mr Wolf and the Big Dipper was amazing to see. I laughed so hard and so much, it felt wonderful. It made me aware of how little we properly laugh in day to day life. If playing playground games with my children made me laugh so much, why is it so much harder to do day to day? I don’t have the answer and I am still reflecting on this!
Throughout the day, I laughed more and more. I laughed at the man in a kilt and bomber jacket making children and adults play musical chairs; I laughed at the guys in insane costumes playing a music quiz where you had to sing and dance the answers; I laughed with the couple singing songs for children about protecting animals; I laughed at the incredible science experiments they were putting on which made things I had found difficult to understand at school seem so easy!
I was laughing and having so much fun without alcohol. It made me wonder if all those who were drinking during these activities, realised that the activities themselves were hilarious or if they believed, as I used to, that they needed to alcohol to enjoy it.
I was constantly drawn to the beauty of my surroundings but at one point, when the boys were playing in a bubble shop that had a constant stream of bubbles coming out of it, I was staggered by the magic that something as simple as bubbles could create. It was twilight, the air was full of bubbles that glowed pink and purple as they floated off, some popping to release little puffs of smoke and hundreds of children laughing and playing underneath. It filled me with wonder.
I can only imagine this is what is meant by mindfulness. I was so aware of everything that was happening: my feelings, my reactions and my surroundings.
I did not manage to do or see everything I wanted to see or do. Often it was too expensive, there was simply too much to see or we were just too tired. On Saturday night, all completely exhausted at 11.30pm, we headed back to the tent to sleep. Once in bed DJ Four Tet started up on the main stage. The music was celestial and hypnotic, the beats pulsed through the floor of my tent, all I wanted to do was jump out of bed and run to the main stage to dance. The children were asleep so I couldn’t but I did have a little boogie in my tent, imagining that I’ll dance there with the boys one day! I had almost forgotten that music could overtake you in that way.
Even though we didn’t do everything, we saw music, science, dancing, circus acts, fire shows and comedy. Pretty wonderful!
There were obviously downsides, I am not so unrealistic as to say it was all perfect. I found My Love and I bickering more than we ever usually do. The Baby was an absolute monkey – loving the freedom but screaming when he didn’t get complete freedom! The Bot was a totally ungracious nearly teenager and had a strop every time he couldn’t get what he wanted. The loos were grim and it was an absolute mud bath but the upsides far outweighed the downsides. I’ll give it to the Bear, he was fab!
I truly believe that I would not have enjoyed it as much as I did if I had been drinking. I might have laughed and danced but I would also have cried and panicked. I would have been in my head the whole time and I wouldn’t remember the wonder and magic of it all, or the feeling of experiencing it with the people I love. When I came home, I felt a weight descend on me again. Funny because I thought that I had made the home and the life I wanted. I will spend some time trying to work out what’s going on there. Maybe the festival is escapism, or maybe there are parts of the festival that I could bring home to lessen some of the weight. I’m not sure yet.
So if you are wondering if sober you can manage a festival or just a holiday, please don’t let drinking or not drinking ruin your enjoyment of what is really on offer. There were as many people not drinking at the festival as drinking so you will not be alone. Times are changing and it is easier too not drink now than it has ever been.
So just one last word before I sign off for today. If you have never been to a festival – GO! (and bring soap!)