“As a child, I was convinced that my life was not long for this earth.
As far as I can remember, this conviction didn’t spring from any great traumatic event, more just a grim and unfounded resignation: you’re going to die, my brain would tell me, and probably soon. Real soon. At this I would simply agree, thinking that if I couldn’t do anything to avert this early onset death, I may as well just accept it. It was much more dignified, that way.
My fears were confirmed towards the end of my eighth year on this earth, as I punched through a window and was rushed off to hospital. Lying in the back of the next-door neighbour’s Holden Barina, my arm covered in a hot compress to try and fight the bleeding, some part of me was bitterly vindicated: See? Told you so. You’re going to die.
I have subsequently tackled my death numerous times since age eight; always returning to it with a strange inevitability.
In my early teens I overate to the point of pain, so that sometimes I believed that my stomach would burst. Though I never thought anything so lucid at the time, I believe now this was something linked to, as it classically seems to be, the desire to fill some great hole inside of me; something deep and existential.
In my early twenties, I developed increasing problems with alcohol: drinking to the point of oblivion, and often substituting food and groceries for alcohol. In my mid twenties, this only increased, to the point that it began to affect my memory, so life began to feel like an old doily: filled with holes, and parts unknown, only presumed.
These problems culminated in my second near-death experience at 25: a car this time, not a window, and a resulting brain injury and PTSD. This experience has redefined my life in my late twenties, and is an experience I keep returning to, all the while telling myself I don’t need to.
I’m starting to realise that in creating and performing Intoxication, I’ve mythologised my own history, and my personal trauma.
While I was always aware on some level that I was spinning a convenient narrative for myself out of what has happened, it’s only as I’ve returned to it multiple times across multiple cities that I’ve become truly aware how easily everything shifts. Certainly, it’s the nature of fiction and creation and theatre especially that pieces will twist and form and grow as they go. But the root of this – of Intoxication – isn’t fiction, but true life.
I recently read a piece on Hannah Gadsby and the continued success of her show Nanette. (Let me say now, I’m not at all comparing myself to Hannah or her show, the likes and strength of which I only hope to one day approach in something I create). In this interview, she says: “I am basically reliving trauma every night.” And, later: “it’s never easy to perform.”
I’m incredibly lucky to have brought this work to life in a post-Nanette world. Audiences across the country have been much more ready to support me than I’d originally expected, each taking a tiny part of my story and holding it with them, offering parts of themselves back.
Still, I find myself caught on this one thing, this one event that happened to me four years ago, repeating and returning to it and not letting it define me – never letting it define me, dear god, swearing so hard it would never define me – so that … in a way, it’s definitely defined me.
But then, what?
Should somebody else take up my story, tell it, explore it – find depth in it?
Should I just set it down and walk away?
As Gadsby says, it’s not acting so much as reliving: to prime myself for performance, I listen to the songs I listened to obsessively that year, and then I’m ready. Who needs a professional warm-up when you’ve got the emotion conjured by tracks by Beach House or The xx?
At the end of Trauma and Recovery, author Judith Hermann writes, “bearing witness is an act of solidarity,” and I think that’s the Gordian knot solution. “Commonality with other people carries with it … a feeling of familiarity, of being known, of communion.”
Being able to share this story, to give it to an audience, even just a little bit, helps to lighten the load, and rob it of its power over me.
It will always be with me, I think, only one day I won’t need it to be anymore. When this time comes, I’ll get to set it down, and part of me will be really, really thankful. The time isn’t just yet, though.
Where are you left in a story, in a body, when it’s no longer yours? Where are you left when you’re no longer sure what’s left to be said?”