Lightning in a Bottle: My Trauma Emancipator
The first thing I did at Lightning in a Bottle (LIB) was step outside of my comfort zone. My crew and I were unfamiliar with most of the music on the first night, so we decided to explore without an agenda and take advantage of activities that might be too crowded in the forthcoming days. Naturally, we stumbled upon a roller disco.
I do not like rollerskating. I am painfully uncoordinated and awkward. I hate feeling off-balance, and I can't stand that sensation you get from shifting your body weight. But I decided to try it anyway.
It was scary and uncomfortable. I never really understood the trick to it, but I instantly understood one of my themes for the weekend: letting go of control and getting in touch with my inner flow.
Everyone was patient and compassionate—both my group and strangers. My favorite moment was when a complete stranger picked up on my trepidation, took my hand, and led me around the rink at my embarrassingly slow pace. My partner patiently tried to take me around the rink, but I was overthinking everything and desperate to maintain control. I couldn't just let my body make mistakes, recover, and learn. I was especially impressed with his ability to intuitively respect my boundaries. It was a nice learning experience for our relationship.
I was even able to return the favor at a later point during the weekend. Ramona and I took the boys to a yoga class that was more intermediate than we expected. It was fine for us, but the boys are inexperienced when it comes to yoga. It ended up being wonderful because I was able to help my partner the way he had helped me at the roller rink. I gave him adjustments and helped him improve his form, which in turn helped me become more confident in my own practice. Between the rollerskating and yoga, I think we grew a lot as a couple.
LIB is considered to be a "transformational festival," a term that is admittedly a bit pretentious. When I try to explain this concept to people who haven't been lucky enough to experience it yet, the first thing I usually talk about is all of the workshops and seminars that LIB offers. I'm pretty sure there are more workshops at LIB than musical acts. I find that this encourages me to hold off on party favors until the evening in favor of being sober and present during the day.
Besides some of the yoga classes, nearly all of the workshops are introductory. I think this offers the most potential for transformation because the workshops can introduce patrons to new passions that we can foster outside of the festival. My favorite classes from my first year were a yin yoga class and a sound healing workshop. I had never done yin before, and now it's the kind of yoga I practice the most. There's even a learning kitchen where you can learn how to pickle, make mead, sprouted nut milk, and so much more.
This year, I was thrilled to take the MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) seminar called "Psychedelic State of the Union," as I have admired their work for a long time. It was led by Ismail Lourido Ali, MAPS' policy and advocacy counsel, and Shannon Clare Carlin, the manager of MAPS' MDMA training program. I found the seminar very empowering because I realized I was part of this progressive movement, and I feel inspired to share what I learned.
It made me think about things that seem obvious now, but that hadn't occurred to me previously. For example, the relationship between prohibition, colonialism, and immigration. The panelists were talking about how many non-Western cultures have a social structure for psychedelic integration, but the West does not. Colonizers have historically suppressed this aspect of indigenous cultures because it was unfamiliar, and the panelists suggested that the subsequent prohibition was a reaction to immigration.
One corollary to this, the panelists suggested, is the current state of the union: isolation feelings resulting in high "despair deaths" (from addiction, suicide, overdose, etc.) because the West lacks the social context for psychedelics. In this moment, I realized one of LIB's intentions: to create and foster a social context for psychedelic integration themselves. Many people will say that music festivals are generally designed with psychedelics in mind. LIB takes this to the next level by having several seminars on psychedelics. LIB clearly wants to educate its patrons (who tend to be open-minded as it is) so that they can share this information with credibility with the world to which they return. LIB also hosts The Zendo Project, which "provides a supportive environment and specialized care designed to transform difficult psychedelic experiences into valuable learning opportunities."
This does not happen at regular festivals. In fact, The Bunk Police, an organization that makes test kits available at music festivals and attempts to identify and remove harmful synthetic substances, was banned from Electric Forest last year as the festival has become more corporate. At other festivals, I have witnessed people experiencing "bad trips" (bad drugs more often than not) being strapped to a stretcher and taken away by the police to jail. It is a traumatizing experience not only for that person, but also for the witnesses (especially if they are on a psychedelic themselves). I truly feel that LIB is leading the way in fostering the ideal environment for responsible psychedelic use and care if it were to be legalized for recreational use. Perhaps the outside world would feel more like LIB if we can successfully destigmatize psychedelics.
My favorite thing that I took away from the MAPS seminar was the aphorism: "what you resist, persists," which was said within the context of using psychedelics to heal from trauma. This resonated with me because I just recently had my first experience with using psychedelics to confront and heal from trauma.
I was raped when I was 17, and I resisted acknowledging it until earlier this year (nearly eight years after the incident). And it indeed persisted and manifested in the form of chronic and debilitating menstrual cramps that confounded my doctors.
I was on acid the first time I verbally articulated it. I had only been able to write it down in the past. This revelation didn't transmogrify my trip into a "bad" one as I had feared. I was surrounded by a supportive group of women and they held me and wept with me as we listened to Emancipator. I was overcome with compassion and forgiveness for my former self. This was the first time I had ever used acid outside of a recreational context. This experience inspired me to start going to therapy. Ever since I started speaking about my trauma more regularly and "coming out" to my partner and friends, my chronic pelvic pain has transformed and nearly disappeared.
The MAPS seminar gave me more of a framework for this transformative experience. The panelists used the analogy of a hammer to suggest that psychedelics are a tool rather than the solution. A hammer alone doesn't build a bench, but it helps. Furthermore, the panelists suggested that there are no "bad trips," only challenging experiences, and that it's important to sit with the discomfort instead of pushing it away.
I had an incredible epiphany during Emancipator's set while I was on acid and MDMA. (Can you believe it took me this long to bring up the "music" part of this music festival?) They played "The Key," which was playing the first time I had spoken about being raped since it happened. My partner held me during the whole song, and I realized how much personal growth I have made during this year. This wasn't even the epiphany, though. The epiphany came when they played "Minor Cause," which my partner played for me the first time we were intimate. Intimacy was challenging and confusing for me after being raped. I remember noticing and appreciating how my partner took it slow with me at the beginning, and I remember specifically falling in love with that song. I realized that Emancipator's music has played a huge part in my healing process because I associate their music with intimacy. And I desperately needed a new association with intimacy that wasn't rape and that didn't require words.
Everything came together for me during Emancipator's set at LIB. I finally saw a narrative for a story that was vague to me for so long. I realized how far I've come since the incident and that I should be proud of that and share my story. It's a god damn miracle that I am pain free these days. It was a long journey (which I'll get into another time), but there is no doubt in my mind that there was a connection between the pain and the trauma. It is no coincidence that the pain started transforming once I started speaking about the trauma.
Everything I learned throughout the weekend informed that moment. I'm not sure I would have had this epiphany if I hadn't taken that MAPS seminar which helped me start to think about acid as a tool for working through trauma. Acid was clearly a key tool in connecting all these dots for myself. I can't tell you how many times I've heard Minor Cause live--probably every time I've seen Emancipator. But having so many opportunities to grow outside the music at LIB made the music that much more profound.
When they played Minor Cause, it became clear to me that Emancipator's music has played an instrumental role in literally emancipating me from my trauma. I truly understood how this festival was transformational.
Believe it or not, that wasn't even my favorite part of the weekend. I think my favorite experience was re-connecting with a couple that we had briefly encountered the previous year. I didn't think I'd get another opportunity at this missed connection, but LIB had other plans.
This story needs some context. Last year (2017), one of our favorite DJs, Mark Farina, had missed his scheduled set time and was re-scheduled to a late night set at a much more intimate stage with lots of pillows. Best case scenario already. Once my partner and I found the stage, we hung out in the nearby gong sanctuary to pass time before the set. We overheard a group debating whether they were going to see Nic Fanciulli or Pete Tong. My partner and I debated whether we should admit to eavesdropping and insert ourselves into their conversation to only further complicate their decision by revealing that Mark Farina would soon be playing only a stone's throw away.
I am so glad that we did. The group, which included the couple we would reconnect with, was absolutely ecstatic and had no idea that he had been rescheduled. We bonded over our love for Mark Farina and got to know each other a bit, but neglected to exchange contact information. I am positive that we would not have encountered them had Mark Farina played during his scheduled slot at a much larger stage. The intimacy of this set was uncanny. I remember the people that I met and the conversations that I had more than the music itself, which is highly unusual for me.
The chances of crossing paths again at a 30K + person festival have to be extremely small. There have been times where I can't even manage to cross paths with my own friends over the course of a festival weekend. But I guess I have to thank my trademark long curly hair as that is how Madeleine recognized us. This year, she and her fiancé approached us at Anton Tumas' set at the Favela Stage and asked if we had been at the Mark Farina set the year before. I remember being overcome with shock and joy. It was clear to me that LIB wanted us to be friends. I made sure to get Madeleine's number this time because it's not often that the universe gives you a second chance at a missed connection.
They managed to find us later that night at Be Svendsen's set at the Crossroads, which ended up being my favorite stage. I love any stage that has pillows. What was truly remarkable was just how close me and Madeleine's circles really were. Like Ramona, Madeleine was also born in upstate New York, and like me and my partner, she attended college upstate. We talked about our mutual love for Bassnectar, and discovered that she and I unknowingly shared our first Bassnectar experience in 2013 at The Armory in Rochester, NY, and that we were both going to Freestyle Sessions in Colorado the following weekend. We had been attending the same festivals for years; it was only a matter of time before we ran into each other.
When we parted ways for the evening, Madeleine admitted that they almost didn't approach us earlier in the day because they weren't sure that we would remember them after a rather brief initial encounter. I know I would have felt the same way had the roles been reversed. In fact, I probably wouldn't have approached them because sometimes I let my social anxiety get the best of me. I told her that of course we did. That Mark Farina set was truly unforgettable. I was so happy from that experience that I was almost crying. We have kept in touch since LIB ended and plan to visit each other and attend future festivals together.
Another thing I love about LIB is that it always somehow provides you with exactly what you need, and intuitively knows how to push you in that direction. On the last night, we wanted to party at the Favela because Trevor Moontribe (one half of the electronic music act Desert Dwellers) was playing a house set. It was understandably packed and we could not find a good place to stand, so we decided to cut our losses and head to The Grand Artique. We managed to get front row seats in one of the treehouses (which is what we wanted at the Favela stage anyway) for Con Brio, a psychedelic soul/funk band whose name translates to "With Energy." One moment that stood out to me was when they asked the audience to make noise for the gun victims of the Santa Fe High School shooting. It had a different feeling than a moment of silence. Of course they weren't asking us to cheer for the tragedy, and I wonder if their intention had something to do with transferring energy. I think we should know by now that silence doesn't do any good. Of course, making noise for the victims doesn't concretely achieve anything either. It's just something that stood out to me.
After that set, we stumbled upon an electronic artist named Devin Bews, who wasn't even on the lineup, playing on an unofficial stage. And I mean stumble literally: he was playing as soon as we got down the treehouse ladder at The Grand Artique. He was using only drums and an Ableton setup (correct me if I'm wrong?), and it was one of the most unique musical performances I had ever seen.
I think it's worth considering how well the name of the festival reflects the experience. Abbreviated research suggests that the expression "Lightning in a Bottle" refers to capturing something elusive. Music festivals are ephemeral in nature, and it's nice that LIB acknowledges that. I always see posts in festival groups on Facebook about "post-festival blues," but I was glowing after LIB. I could not stop smiling. Even though the euphoria inevitably fades, internalizing the feelings and realizations that we experience during the festival can make a huge difference outside of the festival. These experiences precipitate transformation in everyday life, and I think that's part of what makes LIB transformational: the opportunities for growth outside the music--and it's not just because of the workshops. I experienced transformation in relation to confronting discomforting new experiences, fostering friendships, cultivating new interests and passions, and reframing trauma. My experience inspired me to start this blog project that has been ruminating in my mind for ages. Lightning in a Bottle is so much more than a music festival: it's an experience.