(This story was submitted to Dance and Rave as part of our first giveaway.)

It was February 2011. I was 23 years old. Me and three other friends were in a car in downtown Chicago, on our way to a warehouse for a rave party. I had already pretty much convinced myself that this wouldn’t be my thing – that I wouldn’t enjoy it. I was not into the music and I was not someone who enjoyed dancing in public. But my best friend Carl reassured me it would be fun and to approach it with an open mind. He had never steered me wrong before, and I figured I had nothing to lose. We walked up to the warehouse and were greeted with the sound of blasting bass. We opened the door, and realizing it was too late to back out now, I shrugged my shoulders and walked inside with my friends, not realizing my life would be forever changed.

For most of my childhood and nearly all of my adult life until this point, I struggled with insecurity and self-consciousness. My lack of self-esteem held me back constantly from achieving my goals and from forming relationships with many people. I had only known Carl for about a year since we met in college, but from the beginning his personality and charisma made an immediate impression on me. He encouraged me to be myself and be proud of it. Carl had only been to a couple of raves in Chicago where his sister attended college, but he was simply made for this scene. He lived PLUR in his daily life. He wanted me to get to a rave because he knew it would encourage me to come out of my shell.

And so February came, and the crew of me, Carl, and two of our friends made the ten-hour journey from Buffalo to Chicago where we stayed with his sister. She was a regular in the scene out there and assured us that this place puts on some good parties. I did not know too much about raves at that point other than the basics – that it was a party with electronic music. Whatever impression I had at that point was about to be shattered by the night’s experience. After we got inside, the first thing I noticed was how the music reached my soul. It was not just the thumping bass that traveled in waves up my body, but the soulfulness of Chicago house music and how it made me feel. It put me in the zone. It made me feel lose and free of any worries. It made me want to dance, even though I had never really danced before. The music created an atmosphere that encourages people to be themselves and be free from confines and the walls we often put up in society. For me, it was liberating. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could be myself and not me judged. By the end of the night I was dancing like crazy, laughing, and having the time of my life.

But even more than the music, what will stay with me about that night forever was the people we met. I simply had never been to anything in my life to this point where people were more open, friendly, and warm. We were total strangers from ten hours away, yet so many people there came up to us and bonded with us throughout the night, dancing with us, giving light shows, and just talking. Judgment was purely absent. There was no pressure to conform or fit in with the mold that is considered “normal.” There were people from all walks of life there. Different races, ethnicities, personalities, all united with the music creating an environment of pure happiness, celebrating being merely being alive and being human. The lack of social pressure and anxiety made it easy to let loose and enjoy myself. I had never been one to open up about my emotions to even my closest of friends at the point, but there in the warehouse, having what still might be the most memorable night of my life, feeling free from the self-consciousness that crippled me for so much of my 23 years, I told Carl how much I appreciated him for giving me that experience, and how much I loved him as a friend for doing this for me. When we left four hours later I knew this wouldn’t be my last go-round. I had to experience this again somehow. I felt as though I was part of something and that it was part of my identity and that I had an obligation to play a part in this subculture. I had to find out if this scene existed in Buffalo.

As I returned to my daily routine of being a graduate student in Buffalo, It didn’t take long for me to realize my life and thought processes had been impacted by that experience in the warehouse. I found myself becoming more at ease with myself and less self-conscious. I began to not care as much what judgmental and closed-minded people thought about me. I realized over time that I felt this way because I felt accepted by the ravers in Chicago, and the feeling of being accepted purely for being me lifted my spirit and made me feel better about myself than at any other point in my life that I could remember. Over the next few months, Carl and I began to use what connections we had to try to find events locally. Although we still had not really found the true Buffalo scene yet, we made it to a few parties and even had our own rave at his house in the summer with a lot of people there. Our friendship grew into an incredible bond. We were so excited at the prospect of being part of this community and meeting new people. Nothing could have compared me with what happened next.

In July of that year, just a month after the party at his house on his 26th birthday, Carl passed away suddenly. I lost my best friend. I lost the guy who gave me the best gift any friend has ever given me. This was the guy who helped me forever change how I viewed myself as a person. His death left me with months of heartache, guilt, and regret that took quite a bit of healing to recover from. Eventually after some time, I discovered that Carl had been dealing with serious health problems that were not well-known to many of us. Looking back on his last few months with this in mind, he probably knew there was a good chance his time was going to be cut-short. He spent his final months with me – using the rave experience to help me grow and feel better about myself as a person. I felt an obligation to finish what he started and let the rave movement continue my evolution as a person.

I began to attend events locally and made my way deeper into the Buffalo scene. I made new friends along the way who I have bonded with so much that I would trust them with my life. They accept me totally for being me, not the person I used to wish I was. I felt fully and completely accepted, and the impact on my character was not hard to see. I developed even more self-worth and self-esteem which in turn caused me to reach for my goals and believe in myself. I also found myself dealing with disappointing events in my life much better now, with a much healthier perspective. Knowing there are a group of friends waiting to pick me up at any moment makes me feel so much better about life. This sense of security is something I did not think previously was possible for me attain.

I still miss my friend dearly. I think of him often, especially at shows that I know he would enjoy as much as me. I would do anything to have one more experience at a show with him, especially now that I have become a more experienced raver with a festival experience under my belt. But I also feel a sense of fulfillment now, knowing that the transformation he began with me that night in that warehouse has come full circle. That night in Chicago was probably the most pivotal moment in my life in terms of the shaping of my identity. I sometimes wonder what would have happened had I not decided to make that leap out of my comfort zone and go to that rave. What if I had backed out from fear or social anxiety as I usually did from these opportunities? What if I had stayed home? I kept an open-mind and that is what allowed this experience to happen. That’s probably the best lesson I have learned from being in this community – is that an open mind is limitless in terms of where it can take you. I never imagined that by age 27 I would have this many friends who care so deeply about me. But when you are willing to take leaps, step out of your comfort zone, and be open-minded, anything is possible.

Inevitably there are many young people out there that are just like I was at age 23. They are insecure, self-conscious, and full of doubt, not realizing their potential. Hopefully we as members of the rave moment can find these young men and women and point them in the direction that Carl pointed me in. My rave experience has compelled me to help as many people as possible feel what I did in that Chicago warehouse four years ago. I look forward to many more experiences with the wonderful members of this community.

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