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Fiona O'Loughlin's battle with the booze: "I've been given a second chance"

Funny lady Fiona O’Loughlin has battled wild beasts in the jungle and her own inner demons, and now the thoroughly besotted new grandmother is finally sober.

By Jenny Brown
Cradling her first grandchild, comedian Fiona O'Loughlin can only marvel that she survived to meet the beautiful baby who is "like this magical happy ending" to her large and loving family's troubled times.
"I'm in such a good place now that this second chance has been given to me," reflects Fiona, proudly introducing the O'Loughlin clan's newest member, tiny Úna Mary Dunne, born on September 7, 2018.
"I find I have more gratitude, I listen more. I laugh like I did before I ever had a drink. And the joy of waking up and not having to ask what happened last night, wondering if you have to apologise for anything… It's a freedom."
Throughout Fiona's long, intimate and anguished relationship with alcohol, grog gave her confidence, made her hilarious, fuelled the international comedy career that took off (much to her own surprise) when she was in her mid-thirties.
There was, however, a dark underbelly to her boozing and a stark price to be paid, via an ever-escalating cycle of blackouts, anxiety, agoraphobia, depression, fear and self-loathing. Not to mention the blinding hangovers.
For years, Fiona concealed the problem from her family, opting not to drink at home between tours, but "deep, deep, deep down" lurked the unwelcome awareness that she was an alcoholic.
Fiona, her daughter Tess and her granddaughter Una. (Image: Julian Kingma/AWW)
Fiona is relishing her role as a grandmother. (Image: Julian Kingma/AWW)
Finally there was no hiding place when Fiona fell down drunk on stage in front of 300 people at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre in 2009, days before she was due to compete on Dancing With The Stars. Embarrassed and ashamed, the Northern Territory Australian of the Year owned up to her addiction and joined Alcoholics Anonymous.
"As soon as I went public and told everyone I was an alcoholic, I thought that would solve everything," she recalls, laughing uproariously at the sheer folly of the idea.
"How could I drink after that?"
She could and she did, but every relapse intensified her despair and self-hatred.
Drinking was ultimately responsible for her separation from dental technician Chris O'Loughlin in 2012, after 27 years together.
"I let it go so far and so long that it ended my marriage, ultimately," she says, stressing that the couple have never divorced and remain friends.
"I almost died of shame. I woke up in bed with a stranger and I'm literally incapable of that behaviour sober."
The happy family at home. (Image: Julian Kingma/AWW)
The following year, Fiona booked into a motel under an assumed name with the intention of killing herself – one of three suicide attempts – but was saved after youngest daughter Mary-Agnes tracked her down.
Death came knocking again, more insistently, in 2015 when alcohol, a dental injection and a faulty heater leaking carbon monoxide poisonously combined to put her in a coma for four weeks.
Doctors gave Fiona a 14 per cent chance of life, with the odds on waking unscathed and "normal" halving to a slender seven per cent.
"Normal? They'll never know, will they?" she quips, that familiar, skewering wit belying the pain in her bright blue eyes.
"For some of the kids, and I totally get it, there was so little chance I was going to survive… a couple of them had the feeling that, although it was heartbreaking, if I died I would be released from it [alcoholism]. And then, for some reason, I did recover."
Fiona is now completely sober, here drinking a tea with her daughter Tess. (Image: Julian Kingma/AWW)
Still, Fiona kept drinking. Hopeless, she lived rough for months in her native South Australia, relying on the kindness of fans and strangers to give her a bed, or even a blanket on the floor.
"I could not bear to have my children, my brothers and my sisters or my parents see me like that," she says, lighting a cigarette as she confronts those searing memories.
"I was guilty and ashamed and sad. I had made such a mess, I didn't know how to clean it up. I was the walking dead and without getting sober, there were only three possible endings: death, jail or an institution."
WATCH BELOW: Fiona O'Loughlin wins I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!
The turning point proved to be five months' intensive residential rehabilitation at Karralika Therapeutic Community in Canberra.
Digging deep at Karralika gave Fiona new insight and new tools to fight the addiction that had "f*ed up" a decade of her life.
Two days after being discharged, she was back on stage, and then I'm A Celebrity came calling.
"Hell, I had nothing to lose," she whoops.
"At the very worst I might make a fool of myself but I would earn a nice pay packet. In the jungle we had no phones and nothing to eat, only 600 calories a day, but I had done all that before for free, when I was homeless!"
She pauses to snuggle Una in her pram, dappled with sunshine.
"You know, I think the reason I won that show is because I am in such a happy place now, this second chance has been given to me."
To read more of our exclusive interview with Fiona, pick up a copy of our February issue, on sale now.

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