A Transformative Alternative to a Negative Experience

*Editor’s note: this is by no means an advocacy post for substance use. This is intended to be a helpful and necessary resource for the safety and wellbeing of communities. If the topic of substance use is uncomfortable, triggering, or offensive, this may not be the post for you. Kindly read with caution and understanding as you proceed.* <3

Man in foreground sitting with arms party way up in a sort of yoga pose. In the silhouetted background are others in the same pose.
Photo by: Foster Snell / @FosterTheExplorer

When you google harm reduction, the first thing that pops up is a government website offering resources and information aimed at fighting the ongoing opioid crisis.

But harm reduction in a festival setting goes so much deeper than that, due to the various types of medicines and remedies widely embraced at festivals. Your reaction to challenging moments can be the difference between a good and bad overall experience. There’s nothing like a bad trip to completely upheave the overall satisfaction of someone’s journey. 

At Burning man and other festivals, the Zendo Project has been an integral part of helping attendees guide themselves and others through mentally and physically difficult situations.

There are four principles

  1. Setting a foundation of safety: offering confidentiality, respect, kindness, and a comforting space.
  2. Sitting, not guiding: Just being there and not needing to ‘do’ anything besides a supportive presence.
  3. Talk through, not down:  Allow the experience to lead your support, listen, be curious, and persuade the person not to resist. 
  4. Difficult is not necessarily bad: Present the difficult situation as something valuable towards personal growth, do not fear, instead embrace.
Man crying in the arms of another man with many hands entering frame also touching the crying man. Holding him. Being with him.
Photo by Harrison Weinberg

You can apply these principles to yourself and others when presented with one of these ‘bad trip’ situations. 

Get to a safe space, this means somewhere relatively quiet, calm, and comfortable.

Back at your own tent is always good, or even at a nearby yoga hub or under a tree away from the crowd. Try to de-escalate the person’s heightened emotional state to a more calm and relaxed state of mind. You can ask them to take deep and long breaths, close their eyes, repeat affirmations, etc. 

Be there.

Simply just being with a person, can make all the difference in getting through that difficult moment. Listen, offer physical support if they feel comfortable in the form of a hug or a held hand. You don’t always need to take any action, just be, and remind them to just be.

Embracing the experience

Reflection photo of people in the hot air balloon installation cross legged, likely in a yoga workshop.
Photo by: Foster Snell / @FosterTheExplorer

A ‘bad trip’ can be viewed as an important and transformative experience. Many factors can contribute to someone starting on a negative downward spiral.

Overdose, overuse, laced substances, mental depression, and negative environments are just a few things that can trigger a bad trip. But anyone can reimagine this challenge into something to overcome and grow from. 

Getting Help

Most festivals have a special staff on hand aimed at harm reduction. If you feel you or someone else requires medical attention, seek the help of staff immediately. No shame here, most festival staff is used to helping people in these situations and won’t get them in any trouble.

If you find someone in need of assistance, first assess if they need medical attention. If they are unresponsive or deeply confused, you may want to grab someone from the medical team, or any close by staff member.

Ask them what they took, if it’s something that is in pill or powder form, consider getting medical help as many times there can be a risk of fentanyl contamination.

If it’s a psychedelic, they’re probably OK to stay with you for guidance. Just make sure you don’t see any signs of physical distress such as fever, escalated pulse, etc, as the person may be overheating and needs medical attention. If they are lucid and alert, but just having a bad time or struggling mentally, you can follow the previously mentioned steps to help them out. 

Grim reaper looking statue from scavenger hunt at 2023 Lucidity next to a sign that reads: "I will face my fear...I will permit it to pass through me."
Photo by: Foster Snell / @FosterTheExplorer

Fentanyl – A Worthy Opponent.

Plan ahead and order some fentanyl test strips online to keep with you. DanceSafe offers these resources online, and some festivals even have booths on site at festivals where you can get test strips. This serves as a helpful way to keep communities safe from harmful substances.

Avoiding substances altogether is of course best practice. Remember to be safe out there. Openly help out friends or strangers in need, and never be afraid to seek professional assistance.

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