When I hit rock bottom, my twin sister saved me

Cork singer Lynda Cullen battled alcohol addiction, but it was her sister’s love that helped her through, writes Shamim Malekmian
When I hit rock bottom, my twin sister saved me
Lynda Cullen (right) and her twin sister Suzi O'Neill

FOR many years, Cork singer Lynda Cullen felt like a claustrophobic person trapped in an elevator every time she went out to perform in front of a crowd.

“I used to shake a lot before I went on stage. I was always worried about making mistakes,” recollects Lynda.

Unsure of herself, she would down several beers to overcome her self-doubts. When alcohol dependency brought her to her knees, it was the tender love of her twin sister, Suzi that turned her life around.

Lynda has now dedicated her newest song, Sister, to Suzi and her children.

The story of this Cork sisterly love has gone viral as Lynda has received hundreds of photos from sisters all over the world who share a special bond with their sibling.

“I asked through social media if people could send me pictures of themselves with their sisters. In the end, I had over 150 photos from all over the world, and I decided to make a photo album in the song’s music video in which many of these sisters can be seen,” says Lynda.

As little girls, Lynda and her twin sister were inseparable.

Lynda Cullen (right) and her twin sister Suzi O'Neill.
Lynda Cullen (right) and her twin sister Suzi O'Neill.

“We did everything together and ended each day snuggling and giggling together. When we got to our teenage years we had different circles and drifted apart,” Suzi says.

Lynda grew up listening to the music of Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, and Donovan. She started playing the guitar in her mid-teens.

From early on, Lynda decided not to allow her shyness get in the way of pursuing what she was passionate about. Turning to alcohol seemed like an easy solution to solve her problem.

“Alcohol made me the centre of the party. I was still quite shy but could act like I wasn’t.

“In giving up alcohol, I learned to have real confidence, instead of a confidence that came from a bottle.”

Lynda Cullen. Picture: Eddie Hennessy
Lynda Cullen. Picture: Eddie Hennessy

Lynda decided to keep her addiction a secret, hidden from everybody, including her twin.

“Believe it or not, I didn’t know Lynda had a drinking problem. We had lived apart since we were 18, so she could always hide what was going on,” says Suzi.

By 2012, Lynda was struggling. When she finally reached out for help, it was Suzi’s unconditional love that gave her a compelling reason to fight the disease.

“I was heavily pregnant with my second daughter when Lynda opened up about her alcohol addiction. It was a very difficult time, and it was so hard to accept, but I was a part of her recovery from day one.

“It has made me very aware of the dangers of drinking, and my biggest wish for my daughters is that they don’t inherit the illness.”

Lynda’s problems with addiction and self-confidence never had any impact on her musical abilities, as the singer has represented Cork and Ireland all over the world since the early 2000s. She was invited to collaborate with leading South Korean singer and songwriter Hahn Dae-soo and South Korean Ethnic Fusion band The Second Moon and released an album with them in 2005. She has recently finished touring in the Czech Republic.

“This time, I had the chance to play outside of Prague — in smaller towns. I really like that because you get to connect more with people that way,” says Lynda of her latest touring experience.

Lynda can’t stop smiling as she talks about the story of Czech twins who were touched by her ballad of sibling appreciation.

“I met these twin Czech brothers, one of them was blind, and the other took care of him. The brother who spoke English translated the lyrics for his sibling; it was very touching,” Lynda recalls.

The singer’s European tour will continue, with a stop in Belgium in November. She is also planning on an American tour in 2018.

Lynda Cullen with South Korean band The Second Moon
Lynda Cullen with South Korean band The Second Moon

Suzi says she couldn’t ask for a better gift than the song Lynda has written for her.

“I bawled when I first listened to Sister, it brought back our childhood innocence. It’s the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me and such a special birthday present.”

As a musician who has struggled with self-confidence issues, Lynda has a strong message for young Cork girls who would like to pursue a career in music but are dealing with insecurity and shyness.

“If you really love music, keep doing it because as long as you’re doing something you are passionate about, you are going to be successful.

“If you’re feeling shy before going on stage, remember that the audience is not waiting for you to make a mistake. They do not want to see you fail.”

Focusing on self-improvement and avoiding negativity are Lynda’s other pieces of advice for young Cork musicians.

“When you come up against competition and negativity you just have to let it go. You have to accept that not everybody is going to like what you do and the earlier you accept that, the happier you will be,” adds the Cork woman.

In February, 2018, Lynda will celebrate her fifth anniversary of sobriety. Right now, distance is both sisters’ only complaint, as Suzi lives in Gorey.

“I wish Cork and Gorey were closer, but I have the government building a massive bypass on the N25 to sort that out! I am so proud of all she has achieved and know she is proud of me too,” adds Suzi.

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