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May 16, 2021

Interview with Fiona O’Loughlin

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Fiona O’Loughin presents Gap Year at the Byron Services Club on Saturday 3 November at 7pm.

Fiona O’laoghlin: Gap Year

Byron Services Club  |  Saturday  |  8pm  | $30

They say that adversity makes the best comedy. Comedian Fiona O’Loughlin has a knack for reframing the hardest stuff life throws at her. Australians fell in love with this mother of five from Alice Springs, with her knack for disarming honesty and story telling. Her latest show is Gap Year and it chronicles her addiction and her harrowing road to recovery. She tells the story in her classic self-effacing style. It’s powerful.

She starts the conversation with ‘Before the coma…’, I laugh and go ‘Wow, that’s a heavy way to start a sentence.’

Fiona’s straight back with ‘The kids hate me doing it. But that’s how life is now; before the coma, and after the coma!’

I had forgotten that this story all started with Fiona’s coma.

‘I was in a coma for two and a half weeks’ says Fiona. ‘By day four they said there is a 14 per cent chance of life, and a seven per cent chance of me not having brain damage.’

The coma was a result of a slow carbon monoxide leak in Fiona’s house.

‘If I’d been sober, I would have realised. I woke up out of the coma and they treated it as an attempted suicide. I tried to tell them that it wasn’t, but I’m hardly a reliable witness.’ She starts laughing. Really laughing. I’m laughing too. At her coma, at her alcoholism and the fact the doctors thought she was suicidal.

How does this woman do it? She takes her humour into the darkest places and finds the light.

So Gap Year is about Fiona’s two week coma and ‘waking up.’ But wait, there’s more. After the coma, Fiona ends up homeless. Her battle with addiction at this point is closing in.

‘I hadn’t dealt with anything. I hadn’t dealt with the end of my marriage. Or anything in my life. I woke up out of the coma and I was so angry. I was livid!’

Fiona reflects on waking up in hospital surrounded by her family, who in dark times are as funny as her. ‘Oddly there was a lot of laughter at the hospital. My sisters are so funny. When I came out of the coma, two of them pretended to be on their phone, but they were talking to their wrists. I said “what are you doing?” And my sister said “It’s the new Samsung implant – everyone has got one. You’ve been in a coma for 7 years”.’

After leaving hospital Fiona returned to Adelaide – her home town.

‘I had no home. I had no hope. I had been white-knuckling it for ages. I could go for periods of not drinking, but when I did start – I couldn’t stop. I would go unconscious every time.

I had so much shame. I went underground – I didn’t want anyone to see me like that. I lived in a drug den. It was horrific. Some friend said “This guy’s a healer.” He was actually an ice dealer. I guess that rhymes with healer… I lived in this world of people that other people try not to see. I was one of them. I see them now – because that was me. I still can’t believe where I got to. Everyone has safety nets and I have a lot more than most people. I fell through all of them.’

They say for an addict there’s only three endings to the story if you don’t get to recovery: institutions, jail or death. Fiona had almost died in a coma. Now she was homeless. She knew that things had to change, so she went home to live with her parents.

‘That was even more painful – to be living at home. Great days out, like riding in the back seat to go 50 kilometres to sign up for Centrelink.’

Fiona was still struggling with staying clean. One of the problems was that programs have such long waiting lists.

‘I tried to get into a psych ward where I could wait safely for a rehab bed. I went in and said “I am going to die out there – put me in handcuffs.” They said “You are not sick enough”. So I went back out there for another 2 months.’

This is the tragic story of so many people who desperately want help, but have to wait for a place.

Eventually one did come up at a Rehab unit in Canberra. It was the hardest place Fiona had ever been, but it changed her life.

‘I stayed 7 months. I was stripped to the bone. I started coming alive again. I found out who I was before all this started.’

She then went on to be crowned Queen of the African Jungle in 2018, on Ten’s hit show – which she says was a piece of cake after surviving a coma, being homeless and then being in rehab.

This is Fiona O’Loughlin at her best; she has survived the shame, she has survived her addiction, and she is generously sharing her remarkable story in the best way she knows how – through comedy. Gap Year is an inspiration. It’s heartbreaking, and real, and funny and everyone should see it.

Fiona O’Loughin presents Gap Year at the Byron Services Club on Saturday 3 November at 7pm. Tickets $30 at the club, or from trybooking.com.


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