As a child, I was convinced that my life was not long for this earth.
Insofar 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, perhaps nodding sagely and thinking, even at age seven, that if I couldn’t do anything to avert this early onset death, I may as well simply accept it. It was much more dignified, that way.
My fears were confirmed, of course, 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.
This conviction faded away as I found other things to fuel my childhood obsessions; namely video games and reading, in particular Stephen King novels. Both outlets provided plenty of fictional death for my young brain, and though it wasn’t that I’d ever idolised death, it certainly lost its apparent inevitability around the hundredth time a block of pixels resembling a human form got shot to bits, or a plucky protagonist got swallowed up by one of King’s unmentionable creatures.
This feeling of imminent death was almost entirely gone by the time I’d hit double digits, and was instead replaced with a quiet and animalistic fear that would occasionally overtake my whole being, usually in the dead of night as I would imagine, as a concept, NOTHING. This NOTHING gave the then twelve-year-old-me the beginnings of what I’d now define as existential dread; a spinning awareness of both how large the world, the universe was, and comparatively how insignificant and miniscule I was.
I’d lie in the pitch black of midnight, slowing my breathing down to as close to nothing as I could stand, imagining myself dropping endlessly through darkness, before some part of me would undercut even this: that’s not NOTHING. That’s blackness. Blackness is SOMETHING.
This is how I would drift to sleep most nights, from age ten to age twelve – a game of existential chicken, filled with hallucinatory thought as I chased after the strange seduction of one day being able to embrace a total NOTHINGNESS.
I have tackled my death numerous times since age seven; rarely in such direct ways, but returning to it all the same with a strange sense of inevitability.
In my late 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, an intrinsic desire to fill some great hole inside of me; some deep existential uncomfortability.
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 to late twenties, this only increased, to the point it began to affect my memory, so that life began to feel like an old doily: filled with holes, and parts unknown, only presumed.
Of course, this all culminates in my second near-death experience, which I keep returning to, while telling myself I don’t need to. Through this I’ve been thinking a lot about the way that I interact with the world around me; what it all means. What does it all mean, right?
I’ve become acutely aware of the manner in which I have mythologised my own history – some events worth mythologizing, others less so. While I was always aware on some level that I was spinning a narrative for myself out of my life, it’s only as I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of returning to it multiple times across multiple cities that I’ve become truly aware how easily everything shifts.
I recently came to a hiatus in an intermittent two-year touring schedule of my play/love letter to Brené Brown and Nicola Gunn/overall trauma expose, Intoxication. 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 don’t know. 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?
When you keep running over the same events, time and again, over and over, things shift, they naturally alter. Moreso when you open something up to a crowd of thirty, forty, fifty a night. You’re playing Chinese Whispers with yourself and your own past.
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?
Since the start of this year the relationship I’m in has opened up, which has given me the opportunity to meet and connect with a bunch of new and exciting and sometimes terrible people. It has also given me back a modicum of this control: allowed me to actively choose which parts of myself I share and which I don’t, reminded me that I do actually have control in all of this. Given the intense introversion of the past couple of years; the intense disconnection from friends, family, the queer community at large, partly brought on by my own fear and partly brought on by my sobriety, this has been a welcome change.
I’ve developed another addiction – first through my psych sessions, and now through the gift being able to see myself through the eyes of others once again: “learning more about myself through the brains and bodies of others.” Or maybe, “discovering that nothing is as simple as it seems and everyone has multitudes including you, you big gay dickhead.”
Or maybe, “endless navel-gazing with no apparent endpoint or justification or sense of productivity.”
I recently read that conviction towards your own death, particularly at such a young age, is a hallmark of PTSD. This makes a brutal and wry kind of sense to me.
I think that my addictions of the past – alcohol, food, cigarettes, more alcohol – were an attempt to find anchor in something; something to properly hold on to. The trick is that none of these things have offered anything to hold onto, rather have slipped through my fingers as I’ve begun to use them with greater intensity and greater desperation.
There’s a particular meme at the moment I relate to. The meme isn’t particularly funny, as far as memes go, nor particularly prescient, but I enjoy it just the same. The meme is this: GAY PEOPLE CAN’T DRIVE.
That’s all. It’s not even really a joke, just an observation, and a fairly banal one at that. I suppose I like it because as someone who is gay and who can’t drive, it feels encouraging to see yourself in the media once every while. It tickles me doubly so because although I can’t drive, I do have – or had – a particularly overactive death drive. Fooled you, Tumblr. I can drive – towards my own Freudian destruction. Of course, that’s all in the past now, yeah? So why keep returning to it?
I think, perhaps, the truth is that I’m stumped.
I’m stumped as to the actions of the past and I’ve felt, somehow, if I can make them make sense to myself – if I can work them out – I’ll be able to avoid repeating them.
I also like the idea of controlling my own story, more than I’d like to admit. In the fight against these aspects of my life – these things that have happened to me – I’ve come out swinging, attacked them head-on and shared them with the world so that nobody else could.
I begun this particular essay during my Wheeler Centre Hot Desk toward the end of last year, and never managed to finish or fix it, mostly because I didn’t know how. I reached a point in the Hot Desk period – tasked of my own accord to write "a series of essays about the ways my near-death and resultant trauma affected my life and those around me" – where I very suddenly gave up, some five essays in. Something in my head just stood up and said: “this is enough. There's nothing more to say on the issue. Let it go.” So, I did.
I’m still unsure how to finish or fix this, but maybe it’ll have to do. Maybe it needs nothing beyond my sudden out-of-the-blue desire to return and finish it some six months later; tap some words into the ether.
I thought of the name for this essay before I wrote it, and I don’t know that what I have written really justifies said name. Maybe that’s just a part of the stories we tell each other: that we’re perfect, or we’re messy, or we’re intelligent or witty or desirable or anything else.
Where are you left in a story, in a body, when your control has broken down?