Drink with a Chimp by Lynsey Jones

Lynsey Jones, a Leeds based actor, talks about her work on an exciting new show, Drink with a Chimp.

“Once you are free from addiction, you are free from everything.” Spacious Places Client

For the past year I have been working on and off at Spacious Places – a day treatment centre in Leeds for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts.  Writer, Daniel Ingram-Brown, Director, Simon Brewis and I have listened to the stories of those in recovery and thought creatively about how their harrowing yet often hopeful ‘journeys’ could be brought to the stage.

Dan (Writer), Simon (Director) and Graeme (Leader of Spacious Places)

Dan (Writer), Simon (Director) and Graeme (Leader of Spacious Places)

In June 2014, we trialled a small theatrical piece, Project Hope, to a local Leeds audience who enjoyed it so much that Simon went away and wrote a mountain of funding applications.  Unexpectedly, (cue round of applause for Simon) most of them came through and (cue sparkly dancers) we’re getting paid!

So, since January 2015, we have begun the second phase – a longer version that can be toured called  Drink with a Chimp.

FullSizeRenderThe writing process begins with us spending time with those in recovery and allowing them to talk openly about their struggle to stay clean and dry.  They talk a lot about recovery being more than simply the giving up of something – that it is essentially about finding a pathway to inner peace and learning to cope with the knocks of life without the need for drink or drugs.  The sessions are powerful and it is disarming and humbling to be around such vulnerability.

The idea of the chimp came from a book called The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters, a Professor in Psychiatry at Sheffield University.  He says that our ‘chimp’ or ‘limbic lobe’ is the part of the brain that is responsible for ‘fight, flight and freeze’ responses – so we need it to survive BUT the paradox being that it can often let us down.  It can falsely sense danger where there is none.  A badly managed chimp can cause a person to be overly aggressive, to fear rejection, to be sensitive to changes – caring about the pecking order etc etc.

Clients at Spacious Places are taught the discipline of ‘chimp management’ – alongside and in harmony with the 12-step programme.

When Graeme (leader of Spacious Places) first introduced the idea of the ‘inner chimp’ to me I felt slightly uncomfortable.  I was concerned that reducing behaviours down to either ‘chimp’ or ‘non-chimp’ might leave no room for a spiritual dimension; might leave no room for love / God / spirit to affect the way we think and be part of someone’s recovery story.

Drink with a Chimp image - square copyI was much more familiar with the 12-step programme, having done it myself in 2005 as part of a church course where the space for a ‘higher power’ is really obvious.  Step 2 says “I come to believe that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity.”  For some who attend Spacious Places this ‘higher power’ is simply ‘the group’ – and I can see why.  Being confronted with the remarkable honesty of the clients is divinely good – watching them share their struggles openly is powerfully freeing, so powerful in fact that many clients go on to lead thoroughly fulfilling lives.

As the months have gone on, I have relaxed into the idea of the chimp more and more, realising that it explains so much!  Personally, I can also see an enormous overlap between what Steve Peters has called ‘the chimp’ and what other thinkers might call ‘the ego,’ ‘the shadow self,’ and ‘the flesh.’ Whatever the label – recovery programmes are about freedom.  Come and be affected by the thought provoking stories of growing release that you will hear.

Yes, there will be someone dressed in a chimp suit.  Yes, it might be me.

You can follow Lynsey @LynseyAnnaJ

You can see Drink with a Chimp: 

Scratch performance:  Friday 24th April 2015 at Theatre in the Mill, Bradford.

Opening nights:  Thursday 4th & 5th June 2015 as part of the Big Bookend festival, Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds.  

Fiona Gell

Fiona is a lifelong reading enthusiast and book lover. Her career started as a bookseller and has never really veered away from the written and spoken word. It was a dream for her to be a founder member of The Leeds Big Bookend and the Northern Short Story Festival. She continues to be its Director.

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