I Confess… I Am Afraid of the Dark

By Emma Durbin

I Confess… is a juicy revealing column where our writers will divulge their deepest secrets and most embarrassing moments in aim to deconstruct biases and modern-day-theatre-folklore.

I confess… I am afraid of the dark. I like to see everything around me, and when my vision is impaired, my imagination takes over. While an active imagination is essential to my artistic practice, it isn’t always productive. I have a longstanding tendency toward imagining dubious creatures and worst-case scenarios. My imagination devolves into fear when it’s dark and I am alone.

In my childhood home I would have to run all the way down the hallway to my bedroom before I could turn on the lights and save myself from impending death. I begged my parents to accompany me up the stairs because I knew they could protect me. Without them, I would be terrified of the monsters and goblins that came to me in my dreams. Every night until I was about eleven or twelve, I’d run into my mom’s bedroom after waking up in the middle night. Once in her bed, I’d still think about the monsters that lurked in her closet, but I knew I would make it through the night: I was only afraid of the dark if I was alone.

When I got older, the fears changed. I still closed my closet door at night, but for different reasons. We’d moved from our large three-story home in Washington to a small two-bedroom rental in Southern Oregon. The grief of losing my childhood home brought me back to the loss of my father from when I was six. I was processing his death all over again.

I developed various ticks. If I touched certain things, and even some people, I’d have to wipe my hand that had been contaminated off on the corner of a desk or the arm of a specific couch. Accompanying this, I had a mantra that would fill and take over my mind when I didn’t have anything else to think about. Ghosts do not exist, I would tell myself. Ghosts will not exist if I stop the microwave before it dings. Ghosts will not exit if I get to the hallway and turn the light on in the next five seconds. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.

As an adult, I often find myself alone. Despite my fear of the dark, I have always prided myself on being an independent person, valuing my “me time.” In the ideal world of my imagination, this involves hiking in the woods, reading a good book, riding my bike around town, or taking myself out for meals. While I do enjoy these activities, the reality is that the majority of my “me time” is spent shut up in my bedroom, with the occasional visit from my cat, streaming Netflix.

Netflix was never a social activity for me. My mom was never one for watching film and TV, likely because she wanted to avoid the same addiction that I experience. Of course, there are healthy ways to watch Netflix, but they require self-control–something that I never learned. Netflix is comfortable. It’s safe. It fills the emptiness and the silence. It’s a bright screen in a dark city… So bright that it has the power to take away all my interest in the outside world. I turn on my computer and open Netflix to fill the empty space.

Our lives are filled with silences, and at times this can be absolutely terrifying. Netflix always gives me this false sense of comfort–of control. I can turn it on whenever I want, choose to watch whatever I want, and turn it off whenever I want. And yet no matter how much I say I will stop and read a book, I can never resist the infinite binge.

Theatre is my passion. I have almost no artistic interest in writing for film or television. So why would I rather spend the night curled sideways on my bed watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer than making the three-block-walk to see Rightlynd at Victory Gardens?

Here’s the thing, I believe that live performance has the power to change the world, but theatre is not my happy place. When I walk into a theatre, I confront my lifetime of anxiety. In the anonymous crowd I can’t help but imagine all the possible ways I could die. I visualize a shooter entering from the back of the theatre the same way I used to see ghosts creeping their way out of my bedroom closet. I imagine escaping. I want nothing more than to flee from my seat and run out of the theatre, but I keep my calm because I know it would disturb everyone around me. I don’t run. I sit still, and in those dramatic silences and rambling monologues, I am forced to accept that I am alone.

Theatre is hard. It is for the brave. You have to live in the silence. Obsess over it. Theatre is not produced to be easy. I never feel safe in a seat in the audience. I’ll often worry more about becoming scared than I’ll worry about something actually going wrong. At a play, I’ll daydream about going back to my bed and opening up my computer. I’ll imagine being comfortable again. I’ll wish I could be in control of my surroundings.

Plays scare the crap out of me; the theatre is one of the few places that I am ever forced to confront my discomfort. Without the silence and the dark of the theatre, I wouldn’t have the chance to learn about myself. I wouldn’t know that I fear silence, or that my heartbeat picks up when I imagine escape routes, or that I am not as comfortable when I am on my own as I often claim. This is the very reason why theatre is so important.

The truth is that I am never in control of the world around me, even at home. Without sitting in a theatre next to my fear, I would never have a chance to learn from the dark. I wouldn’t have the time to stop and listen to the silence. With each trip to the theatre my fear grants me two options. To run or to sit still: to love myself. I choose the latter.

 

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