One Show at a Time

A Guide to Seeing Live Music in Early Sobriety

One Show at a Time Live music has always been an enriching and eclectic part of my life. One of the first things I was told as a condition to my sobriety was that I would be unable to listen to live music due to its relation to my addiction. Professionals explained to me it would conjure far too many memories and instigations to be healthy, least of all enjoyed. One of my favorite bands, The Grateful Dead, was immediately targeted as ill advised. Initially, I closed my mind to such advice, labeling it as ludicrous and that the removal of this long-loved passion would be a consistent constraint on my happiness. I realize now why I was forewarned. However, I was determined to find a solution, and through personal experiences (and a massive failure) I have put together a system that works for me. Some pieces of our past must be accepted as what they are and let go of. Others pieces, such as a love for music delivered in its purest form should not be. As always, spiritual fitness, planning, and a healthy level of commitment can facilitate most any endeavor.

At most live shows today, there is an overwhelming atmosphere that can quickly consume a newcomer if they are not properly prepared. The first time I got sober, I made the mistake of putting myself in this environment alone and vulnerable. I went to see my favorite band play a show in Austin, TX with a couple of old college buddies. I had about 6 months of sobriety but as soon as the lights dimmed and the band walked on stage, I lost connection with my program. The crowd roared and started to move and I felt that I wasn’t a part of the energy and before I knew it, I was drunk and high on MDMA/LSD. It took me two years of heavy using after that night to stumble back to recovery. Because of these events, I’ve decided to put together a “How-to” list on the methods I take in preparing myself to go into the live music scene regardless of what type of genre of music it is.

1. Power in Numbers

This is an obvious one. Sobriety is synergetic, so a group of sober people is stronger than the sum of the individuals when put together. Typically, I surround myself with people that are having a good time sober and that provide a little bubble of security. It also provides accountability. If someone offers me a quick puff off of a joint then I know I have my fellowship next to me looking out for any fleeting moments of weakness. This should be the foundation of your show-going experience in early sobriety. Also, some bands and most music festivals have meetings on location if you don’t necessarily have people to go with (look for the yellow balloons if it’s a jam band you’re seeing).

2. Pay the extra money for the closest seating possible

Now that I’m sober, going to concerts is more about the music than the scene. Because of this, I like to get in what I call “the Sweet Spot”, the area with the best acoustics and the closest proximity to the band. More Specifically, I prefer to be at the very front of the venue in order to keep my attention on the band, the music, and more importantly, keep the party behind me. Although some might argue that placement in the venue is irrelevant, for me, it just seems to make me feel comfortable. If there is General admission, I get against the very front rail and then the entire party is behind me.

3. Avoid the Pre-Party/Tailgate

If you’re a 12-stepper, the basic text tells us that we should only be in alcoholic environments if we have a good reason to be there. In my opinion, there is no great reason to show up to an event absurdly early for the tailgate that happens in proximity of the venue. Get there on time, dance your heart out, and get out. It’s as simple as that.

4. Be honest with yourself, and have an exit plan if things go south

This is really important. Step work incorporates a foundation in honesty. Take an honest look at where you are in recovery and decide if going to an event like this is something you are ready for. If you feel like you are, make sure you have reliable transportation so you can leave at a moment’s notice if you get the sudden urge that you are in over your head. The last music festival I went to I was in proximity to an addict friend that had recently relapsed and it was overwhelmingly uncomfortable. I excused myself, left the area and sat in the lawn until my sober friends arrived for support. We processed the discomfort, and found a different area to enjoy ourselves for the rest of the evening.

5. Enjoy yourself!

Music is an incredibly therapeutic release of stress. Remind yourself that the reason you came to the event was to celebrate your new life, have a ball, and have a couple hours of relief from the everyday stress of life.


Overall, there are things you should and should not do in early recovery. If you decide that you are honestly ready to be around people drinking and using, then plan accordingly. In addition, talk to a mentor or sponsor and ask for their advice. In my experience, doing everything for the first time sober is slightly uncomfortable, but once you get that first show under your belt, it will be like nothing ever changed.

An Op-Ed article by guest author Nash H.

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