Despite the fact that Austin’s infamous SXSW is known for partying, drinking, and massive hangovers, it’s entirely possible to attend and have a great time without alcohol and drugs. In fact, being sober is the best and safest way to get as much out of the annual festival as possible.
With so much to do and explore at SXSW, it’s not surprising that many people in recovery still want to attend. If you’ve recently completed a drug rehab program or you’re enrolled in a sober living program and you’ve found yourself wondering how you’re going to survive SXSW sober (of if it’s even possible), here are a few tips for how to make it work without compromising your sobriety.
1. Be aware of what you’re getting into.
If you’ve never been to SXSW before, it may be wise to hold off for a year and attend 2023’s festivities instead. The annual event can be overwhelming, sober or not, and there will certainly be a lot of alcohol and partying. For those who regularly attend SXSW, it may be less of a shock to attend while sober since you’ve experienced it before. Whether you’ve been sober for two weeks or two years, it’s a good idea to ask yourself questions like:
- “Why do I want to go?”
- “What do I hope to get out of this experience?”
- “How am I doing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually regarding my sobriety?”
- “How could this decision negatively impact the progress I’ve made in my sober living/aftercare program?”
You may also want to talk to your sober coach, sponsor, or therapist about your desire to attend SXSW before you actually make a decision. Getting an outside opinion on it might provide a more objective reflection of where you are in your sobriety journey.
2. Attend 12-step meetings while you’re in town.
If you decide to attend SXSW and you’ll be traveling from a different city or state to get to Austin, research local 12-step recovery meetings and make a plan to attend them while you’re in the city. It’s important to prioritize your recovery even while vacationing and attending 12-step groups is a great way to stay focused on your sobriety, regardless of where you are or what’s going on around you. You may even make some new sober friends who are also planning on attending SXSW.
3. Attend SXSW with a trusted sober friend or group of friends.
Doing SXSW alone may not be a wise idea, even if you’ve been sober for several months. Find a trusted sober friend or group of sober friends to go with you and you may even find that the experience is more fun and fulfilling that way. If you’re enrolled in a sober living program in Austin, there may already be several men or women who also have plans to attend SXSW. Ask around and form a solid group of sober individuals you can feel comfortable attending with. It’s always a great idea to keep your sober friends close by, especially if you feel like you might be tempted to use drugs or alcohol.
4. Make a plan.
Check out the SXSW website to get an overall idea of what kinds of events are scheduled and when they’re taking place. Before you head out, write out a detailed plan of which events you plan on attending. This may help decrease any feelings of stress and anxiety once you get there. You’ll also be less likely to wander into any events that make you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. You may also want to communicate with your sober coach or sponsor and let them know what your plans are, just in case you need some backup. Make a plan for what time you’ll leave, return home, and what exactly you intend to do while you’re at SXSW.
5. Consider riding a bike instead of driving.
Let’s face it—any large public event in the city can get really stressful really fast when you’re trying to find parking. And we all know that stress is a major factor in relapse.1 To avoid becoming unnecessarily stressed out and anxious, consider riding your bike to SXSW. This will eliminate the whole parking issue completely and you’ll also avoid driving in the heavy traffic too! Just make sure to be extra careful while riding through the streets. Austin is a very bike-friendly city but you should always wear a helmet and be aware of what’s going on around you.
6. If you start feeling overwhelmed, don’t feel bad about leaving.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with throwing in the towel and heading home if you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious. You can always try again next year. Or not! In the past, you may have attended SXSW purely as an excuse to party. But now, as a newly sober person, your definition of fun may be changing and SXSW may not be in the mix anymore.
If you’re currently in recovery or enrolled in a transitional living program and you decide to attend SXSW this year, we hope these tips will be helpful for you! Share them with your sober living roommates or bookmark them for later reference if you decide to hold off this year and attend SXSW next year instead.