Dark Blue;

Shane Carthy wants to help other young people who suffer from this inner sickness but who are too ashamed to speak about it to anyone.  His honesty and integrity shine through on every page.  His fundamental message is “don’t be afraid to talk about it”! 

In his book “Dark Blue”, Shane Carthy is a man on a mission.  Carthy is a young, gifted sportsman yet he tells the story of a psychological battle with depression.  The sub-title of the book makes this clear; “The Despair behind the Glory, my journey back from the Edge”. 

Shane Carthy wants to help other young people who suffer from this inner sickness but who are too ashamed to speak about it to anyone.  His honesty and integrity shine through on every page.  His fundamental message is “don’t be afraid to talk about it”!  The dedication at the beginning of the book emphasises this point clearly, “To all of those who are suffering in silence in the hope that these words might help the light to shine”.  

Shane Carthy grew up in Portmarnock village, on the North side of Dublin City, where my own mother and sister’s family are now living.  My nephew and nieces attend the same primary school that he attended.  My nieces are in the same club of the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA).  It is clear that the Carthy family was a happy one and Shane and his sisters, Stephanie, Mairead and Michelle were loved and cared for by their parents, Gerry and Angela.

They were a “sporty” family and Shane was encouraged to try different sports. He was good at them all.  He had to choose between soccer and Gaelic football.  After he chose Gaelic he played for his local club. Later he was selected for the Dublin Minor Team and then for the Dublin Senior Team.  This all happened while he was still at secondary school, so he became a hero and a legend to many other young people.  He followed the advice of his Dad; “anything you do, do to the best of your ability” but not that of his Mum; “you’ve got to broaden your horizons.  Open your mind and see what life has to offer outside of football”.

Even while enjoying this success, Shane began to notice that his mood changed dramatically and suddenly from time to time.  “Dark clouds” would come causing him to feel desperately sad and disconnected.  For a long time, he held back his tears.  He found it increasingly difficult to live up to the image that people had of him.  His grandparents died just at the time that he had decided to tell his parents so he delayed telling them.  The panic attacks got worse.  Sometimes he felt like his “inner demons” were telling him to end his life.  Later he would learn the words “suicide ideation”.  He wept more and more often.  He tried to harm himself. He never harmed anyone else.

Eventually, after a climatic two weeks of psychological chaos amidst sporting success, he told his mum about his sickness.  Then his parents and sisters and friends rallied around to help him.  He needed to receive psychiatric care in St. Patrick’s Mental Hospital.  He stayed there for eleven weeks. He was on the “secure ward” twice.  He slowly recovered his mental balance and perspective but now he was shy and reserved in meeting people whereas before he had pretended to be confident.

He explains how “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” (CBT) and the “Young Adult Program” (YAP) were used in his treatment.  The Psychologists and Nurses helped him acquire more tools to deal with the depression when he felt his mood changing and the dark clouds coming.  It was interesting to hear Shane describe his feelings as he started the YAP program.  “Will they judge me, will they think I’m weird, will they think I’m different”?

While Shane does not really share much about the content of his conversations with the Psychologists and Psychiatrists, it seems that he began to listen to his mother’s advice which he had previously ignored.  At one moment during his recovery, he interrupted his father who was chatting on about sport.  He asked his Dad about growing up in East Wall.  (East Wall is an old working class community of Dublin which used to be home to dockers and railway workers). His dad, surprised at first, responded.

Even after he left the hospital to return to “normal life”, Shane was not afraid to seek further help when he felt he needed it.  He added more time to his “Mindfulness” meditation periods.   When he travelled to meet the Psychologist again, he called this his “top-up”!

I am left wondering what would happen if Shane Carthy met with Scotsman, Eric Liddell, whose story was represented in the film “Chariots of Fire”.  (Liddell refused to run his 100 metres heat in the 1924 Olympic games as it took place on a Sunday, which was the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day.  Another British athlete let him run the 400 metres race instead).  Would a conversation with Liddell remind Shane Carthy of what his ancestors may have whispered to him long ago about God who loves and redeems him.  

If he heard Eric Liddell talk about his baptism, about his dying and rising to a new life, would Shane Carthy hear this as a new message or would he remember it as an old truth that he has not yet paid attention to? Could his life journey become more meaningful and his resolve to help others broaden, if he developed a personal relationship with God?

a million little pieces

He does not spare us the gory details. There is plenty of blood, urine and vomit each day. His aggression and humour ensure that we are led on a roller-coaster journey of pathos, violence, serenity and fear both inside his head and in the clinic. Frey wants us to understand the mind of an addict. Perhaps he succeeds.

In this novel, James Frey, describes the inner experience of a twenty-three year old alcoholic and drug addict who is brought by his parents to a rehabilitation clinic in Minnesota.  James tells his story of withdrawal, encounters with the other inmates and care staff. He recounts his progress through the 12 step recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  He does not spare us the gory details.  There is plenty of blood, urine and vomit each day.  His aggression and humour ensure that we are led on a roller-coaster journey of pathos, violence, serenity and fear both inside his head and in the clinic.  Frey wants us to understand the mind of an addict.  Perhaps he succeeds. 

During the story he makes new friends, especially with Leonard, the crime boss, who rescues him from self-destruction but also with Joanne, the one social worker who seems to understand and trust him. The clinic arranges for the addicts to meet the parents and guardians and James bravely tries to reconnect with the parents whom he abandoned so long ago.  The ambiguity of these encounters is not glossed over and we are left wondering if the reconciliation is real and long-lasting.

Perhaps the most poignant relationship in the novel, is the friendship between James and Lilly, a pretty crack addict, brought to the clinic by her grandmother.  The two addicts learn to support and respect each other.  After Lilly hears that her grandmother has cancer, she breaks down and flees.  In one of the most dramatic moments of the novel, James defies all the odds to run after and rescue her from a “crack-house”.  This act of love saved Lilly once but the real tragedy of the novel is that it is not enough to save her twice.

All through his recovery, James furiously resists the 12 step program as he refuses to believe in a “Higher Power”.   Nonetheless, by having to formulate his arguments against the program he enters into real communication with other human beings who are different from him.  He learns to appreciate the beauty and silence of nature in the park around the Clinic.  He drinks in silence and peace from it.  Somebody gives him a book of Taoist sayings.  He ponders the deeper meaning behind the apparent paradoxes.  It seems that Taoism offers him a sort of Emptiness that functions like the Higher Power in the 12 step recovery program.  James insists that only his decisions will heal him and bring him recovery.  As soon as he is released, he asks his brother to give him money to buy a drink which he inhales and pours down the sink.  He is able to say no.

At the end of the novel it is clear that James Frey is no longer an alcoholic or drug addict.  However it is not yet clear if James has become an “other-centred” person or not.

There was significant controversy about this book in the States about fifteen years ago where is was originally marketed as a “memoir” rather than a novel.  Many people blamed James Frey for dishonesty since he made up some details and added them into his story as if they really happened.  Once you read this novel as he first intended, you do not need to worry about the details.  It is still a wonderful story about addiction and recovery!