Booze, drugs and sexual escapism, Brian O’Sullivan on surviving a violent childhood


Abandoned with someone who couldn’t possibly raise him, he was eventually sent to his father’s relatives in Kerry (his dad placed a sticker on his little coat so they could identify him at Cork Airport). 

“I lived there for a year. I never knew what was going on with my mother and father and no one told me anything,” says O’Sullivan.

For O’Sullivan, life in America was a back and forth of sober and off the wagon. Bad shocks always threatened to send him reeling back toward the life of drugs and anonymous sex he was trying to escape. 

When he found he couldn’t cope with his feelings he finally turned to the controversial electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as electroshock therapy. 

“My last shock therapy was in 2010,” he says. “I regressed, I got depressed and I thought I’d give it a shot. It wasn’t as big as success as it was the first time.”

Afterwards O’Sullivan found himself having a particularly hard night. 

“I was at home in bed and I couldn’t breathe,” he says. 

In his mind he kept returning to a scene form his childhood. 

“When I was about eight I had this collie dog. The neighbors accused the dog of killing sheep. That wasn’t true, I’d tie him up and night. We lived near the sea and there was no sheep within five miles of us.”

A man arrived in a dumper truck. He came into the yard, threw his dog in a bag and drove off up the road. It was a moment of savagery. 

“This was the biggest trauma of my life,” says O’Sullivan. “I don’t know if I was hallucinating from the ECT, but in my mind I felt like the dog in the bag. I crawled into the living room. I couldn’t walk. I was crying uncontrollably.” 

It was an image of inexplicable cruelty that seemed to be a linchpin of his own life experience. But instead of cracking up he flipped open the laptop and started writing his debut memoir.

“Something was telling me pick it up and start writing. I didn’t know how to type. I just started,” O’Sullivan recalls. 

“Within 10 minutes everything shifted. The next morning I took the laptop to the coffee shop. That’s how this book began. It wasn’t writing, it was real. It was a conversation.”

A lot of Irish people suffer from depression but they medicate it with booze rather than Xanax, with often less effective results. 

“I feel optimistic now. I knew from the day that I started writing that book that it would find people who would understand it and enjoy it, and it is,” he said.