Catharsis, Therapy and LARP

(Content Warning: I am going to be frank about how I managed my reactions upon being confronted by an unexpected assault in a LARP, my having been raped, being queer as a teen in the nineties – don’t read if you’re not up for it)

Why am I writing this? Mostly to get it out and in some sort of order in my mind. That’s fair right? There are some thoughts about how it might be useful for others to read but I don’t honestly know.

When I first heard the phrase “Don’t use LARP as therapy” I frankly baulked because LARP at that point was really useful for making me feel my own feelings. However, I had also just seen a complete clusterfuck of a player trying to use the fact that they had mental health problems to excuse some really quite bad behaviours in LARP in the name of ‘therapy’ and spoiling other player’s game as a result. What I actually agree with is “Don’t use other LARPers as your therapists”, I have had issues in my past which means that sometimes I will have reactions that aren’t really to do with what is actually in front of me. I find LARP really quite helpful at times to process some of those reactions but I always try and do so reflexively and to be mindful of what I’m actually putting on the other players. I don’t always get it right.

I find it difficult not to be astoundingly and needlessly frank in the next description because honestly, it happened a long time ago and I don’t really think about it that much, it’s now just, a thing that happened in my life. It comes up sometimes as relevant but not that often, well, not until this year’s pretty solid actual therapy anyway.

One day when I was a teenager I came home and climbed into the bath for about two days. In terms of practicality I had already washd off most of the blood and semen from between my thighs however I did hurt a bit and I was trying to work out how I felt about what had happened. I’ve written about this quite a lot over the years, I am most proud of the anger in something I wrote only a few months ago. Due to this being the nineties my sex education was mostly focussed on ‘Just say no’ – to drugs, to sex, to… well anything we weren’t supposed to do. So my thought process in that bath, and later when talking to my girlfriends, was; had I actually said no? With that sex education and coming to the conclusion that I probably hadn’t, meant that the guy in question had clearly not done anything wrong and I had just been irresponsible. The fact that I was basically passed out drunk throughout much of the experience didn’t really enter the equation until years later and the concept of enthusiastic consent actual decades later.

Once upon a time when I was very young the radio news playing over lunch explained that a scout leader had been arrested for pedophilia and my Dad went off on one about this. He equated gay men with pedophiles, and preteen Mish very angrily corrected him. I remember the look of shock on his face. I was quite surprised and utterly unaware of quite why it mattered so much to me that he knew gay people weren’t pedophiles. I have no idea how that conversation ended. I do know that I had no conscious notion that I was queer but I do remember feeling like it was not solely my sense of justice that motivated me.

“We don’t want to know, Mish” was said to me three times to my recollection, likely it was said more than that but of the three incidents that stick out only one predates that first rape. That was the first time I attempted to come out to my Mum. I don’t remember what it was that I was saying, only that I’d got my courage up to tell her that I liked girls, and it was very clearly communicated that this wasn’t something she wanted to hear.

I was in that bath for two days. Sure I got out, went to bed, had meals, and then I ran the hot water and spent two days in the family bathroom. The Princess sure as shit noticed. Excuse me whilst I make a political point, Section 28 baked in to us queer kids the idea that there was a part of us that we couldn’t talk about. Not necessarily that we should be ashamed of it but I was the daughter of teachers, I was hyper-aware that things I did and felt and said could come back and bite other people in the arse.

Don’t talk about yourself because other people will get into trouble. Add some sense of doing something wrong, of getting to drunk to say no, thus making it your fault, and there’s a recipe for silence unless someone asks. The Princess asked but she was two years younger than I was and what was there really to do about any of it?

In therapy this year we covered very heavily my problems dissociating from my emotions and the fact that that’s been impacting my ability to write, paint, create, do anything really. We’ve talked about some of the places that that’s come from and some thing’s I’ve managed to address and other things I haven’t. Of the things that I haven’t, my therapist encouraged me to do one of two very specific things; one, imagine my Mum had asked me what was wrong and what the conversation would have been; two, imagine the conversation as it could have been with me taking the perspective of my Mum. Couldn’t do either of them, it was just too much.

I can do very good Mum energy in LARPs. I did it in this particular one. And my IC daughter walked into the bar after her date and I very quickly exited not wanting to crowd her. Then out of character I found out that she had had sex, that she hadn’t exactly wanted to, and her Mum, played by me, had vanished on her, hadn’t even offered to talk to her.

The first thing I did was ask myself if I could do this. I was on my own, no immediate support physically there. Could I play with this or did I need to make a swift exit? Don’t make other players your therapists after all. There is always a question of fairness, afterall there’s a level of honesty/dishonesty that I feel if I am reacting and the other players don’t know that I’m dealing with my own personal minefield. I like playing with both friends and strangers for this reason. Friends know that they’re touching potential painful areas and can check in, strangers don’t know and don’t hold back. Don’t make other players your therapists, but could I let the ref know that I might be a bit sensitive, except that if I wanted to play with this then I didn’t want her to make anyone else back off. Luckily there was one player who knew about my history in the game. I messaged them to see if they were aware of the plotline with my IC daughter, they were and they immediately knew why I was asking. Ok, I’ve set up support if I need it, I don’t need anything right away, lets see if I can work with this without screwing up anyone elses game.

The thing is about mostly having dealt with your shit, is that suddenly finding the very specific edges that you haven’t are an often annoying suprise. This year I’ve been very raw because therapy is like that, I’m not raw exactly at the moment but I am feeling things much more than I have been doing (which is good, because disassociation is apparently not actually a superpower) and I’m still navigating this. If you make the decision to play with something that could really set you off then the first question is absolutely – how much is this going to impact another player, can you make it so it doesn’t? The second question is what do I do to look after myself?
Well my problems are dissociative and I absolutely can rock a professional headspace so ok, I can pull this back if it gets too much so that it doesn’t fuck with another player and I’d got my emergency back up support.

And so we played. And someone told my character that her daughter hadn’t been able to talk to her. And I felt that.

And so we played. And my character laid out that she hoped her daughter felt like she could talk to her. And she didn’t. And I felt that.

And so we played.

At some point my supportive friend ended up not playing for a period due to things that were going on in their storyline. I got a message asking if I needed anything and I really didn’t. I said not at the moment but I appreciated the check in.

And then, my character’s daughter told her Mum. And her Mum told her it shouldn’t have been like that. And her Mum offered to pay for therapy. And her daughter was so relieved. Honestly at that point I was crying, and sent an email to my therapist that basically read “I did it.”

I don’t know if what I did was in anyway fair. I don’t know if the fact that I was playing so close to the ground with that made it too much or dampened other people’s games. I hope it didn’t. I hope it was fair to keep playing and not exit the game. I’m glad I kept playing for entirely selfish reasons.

Of course after the game I was faced with the rush of dealing with something and the urge to explain quite what the other players had enabled me to do, which really does contravene “Other LARPers are not your therapists” I nearly explained everything to the poor woman who’d been playing my daughter but I managed to not be too explicit in what I was actually thanking her for. Considering she’s offered to play with me again I feel like I was ok enough. Of course if she reads this then she may well want to change her mind, and that honestly seems reasonable. I think my overly loud labrador puppy energy was fairly obvious in that post LARP bit, but the why I do hope I kept to myself, everyone else had had a very different experience to mine.

I think it’s ok to play for catharsis in LARP. I like crying because I have a lot of tears that haven’t really managed to come out. Sometimes though, you’ve cried enough and you need the comfort of happiness after the drama, managed to do that too this time around.
I know that some people really believe that LARP shouldn’t ever be therapy and I think that I got closer to doing that than I ever have before. I wouldn’t have engineered that situation under any circumstances but it was suddenly there, right in front of me. I decided to take the chance rather than leave it undone. I think I avoided using other LARPers as my therapists, even my friend who knew exactly what was going on with me.
I don’t think I was entirely fair, but I think I was as fair as I could’ve been with the utter sideswipe that this situation was. It’s funny, if it had been planned out then I think that’s more responsible from a LARP perspective but if it had been planned out, workshopped, I’d have avoided the conversation because it would have felt like too far over that line beyond catharsis and into therapy territory.

Maybe I wasn’t completely fair to the others but I’m pretty sure no one noticed what was going on and they all managed to have a decent game, which is really what the rules are about.

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