Australian comedian Fiona O’Loughlin was the first person I ever heard talk openly honestly – I mean really honestly – about alcoholism.
I was a teenager watching the Melbourne Comedy Festival on television in my parent’s living room and I knew what it was. I’d been around alcoholics before. But I’d never, ever heard someone speak so candidly about an addiction that’s so difficult to pin down.
It’s a disease that seemingly has no boundaries in who it affects, and – as O’Loughlin was explaining to that Melbourne crowd – starts off disguised as something fun, before turning into something dark without warning.
She spoke about dinner parties and telling funny stories and finally, waking up on the kitchen table. The skit was powerful. Filled with humorous self-awareness and piercing realness. It forged itself in my mind as a warning, and I’ve not forgotten it yet.
Last night, O’Loughlin did a similar thing.
This time she wasn’t talking to a Melbourne crowd, but instead sitting in the jungle with her fellow contestants on Channel 10’s reality TV show I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here.
Speaking on Wednesday night’s episode, she explained that she was originally scheduled to appear on I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here two years ago, had to pull out after “screwing it all up and going on a bender”. Her health was a priority, she wasn’t deemed “mentally stable”, and she had to work through it away from the spotlight.
She drew on her near death experience in 2016 when she fell into a coma from carbon monoxide poisoning and was given a seven per cent chance of survival, the now 54-year-old said she “can never drink again”.
“I had a dodgy heater in my apartment, it was leaking carbon monoxide,” O’Loughlin told her fellow jungle-dwellers.
She explained her youngest daughter Mary (O’Loughlin has five children) had been complaining about the faulty heater, but that she hadn’t done anything about it.
The last thing O’Loughlin remembers is going to the dentist where the medication she was given, plus the carbon monoxide poisoning, led to organ failure.
“Apparently, they had given me painkillers for the tooth,” she said. “They were all gone. I mean complete organ failure.”
“I don’t remember anything.”
O’Loughlin was in a coma for several weeks and, speaking recently to Now To Love, the mum-of-five said the experience was life changing.
“My life feels like it was split into before and after [the coma],” she said. “This is a new life for me and everything feels really exciting.”
After the coma, O’Loughlin spent five months in a rehabilitation clinic.
She says now appearing on the reality TV show – where she’s been forced to eat bulls’ testicals and sleep outdoors – is part of her pathway to long-term sobriety.
“The disease is shrouded in shame,” she told the show’s contestants. “It is particularly shameful being a mother. When you’re a chronic alcoholic like I am, there are only three endings. There is death, jail or institution. That is it.”
As the nation watched O’Loughlin talk, there were surely other people – like myself as a teenager – watching and thinking and realising: This woman is fearless.
She uses searing honesty to share the realities of an addiction that too many people treat with denial and a shoulder shrug thinking: ‘It won’t happen to me’.
And she knows it’s only with stories like her own, that others might see alcoholism for what it really is. Might seek help, instead of pretending. And might avoid a similar, life-threatening, pattern.
That is why she’s sitting on a camp bed in a remote jungle talking about one of the darkest moments in her life. Goodness knows, she’s not doing it for the bulls’ testicals.
LISTEN: Are you watching Married at First Sight? The Twins debrief on the biggest talking points from the latest episode. Post continues after audio.