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January 11, 2024 52 mins

Alice’s upbringing is one of simultaneous excess and absence, and in the deep canyon between the two, she loses herself entirely. In order to finally find herself and heal, she must confront the complicated truths and lies told by her artist parents.

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
Family Secrets is a production of iHeartRadio. This episode contains
discussion of sexual abuse, substance abuse, and self harm. Listener
discretion is advised. I went to sleep that night, hoping
unconsciousness would reverse the horrifying depletion that had taken place.

(00:24):
But I awoke the next morning and fell breathless into
a room I could barely recognize, a body I could
barely feel, and a mind I could barely follow into perception.
The unmistakable arrhythmia of the disconnect, as I had begun
to call it, that had been disrupting my life was

(00:44):
now louder, more insistent, A second heart that beat along
with my original heart. Out of time, out of body.
That's Alice Carrier, author of the recent memo Are Everything
Nothing Someone. Alice's is a story of a childhood of

(01:06):
profound extremes. Her mother, the painter Jennifer Bartlett, was one
of the most famous and critically acclaimed artists of her time.
Alice grew up in a world filled with access an
enormous privilege. But access and privilege mean nothing to a child.
A child wants only love, safety, boundaries, support, protection. A

(01:32):
child wants to be seen. I'm Danny Shapiro, and this
is family secrets, the secrets that are kept from us,
the secrets we keep from others, and the secrets we

(01:54):
keep from ourselves. Tell me about the land of your childhood.
You have two different landscapes. Do you remember anything about
Paris before you were four? Yes? The Paris apartment is
still in my life. It's a time capsule. It's been
preserved exactly as it was when my parents lived there.

(02:17):
So I do have a lot of memories there, and
I get to inhabit those memories physically whenever I visit,
which is really powerful because it was the only location
where my parents were truly together. I'm grateful to have
that place because every time I go there, it readheres

(02:38):
me to myself in a really powerful way. And you know,
these places, the houses that my mom created, were like characters,
were like family members. They were just as grandiose and
outlandish and sometimes sinister as the people who populated them.

(03:00):
Me about one thirty four Charles Street, which was the
backdrop to most of your childhood and teenage years. So
one thirty four Charles Street started out as a place
not intended to be lived in. It was a factory
for manufacturing train parts. It was a seventeen thousand square

(03:21):
foot building in downtown Manhattan in the West Village, and
my mom purchased it and turned it into a fortress.
She added an indoor swimming pool next to which she
put her bed. She loved to sleep next to water.
She was a California girl, lived by the ocean. She

(03:44):
added two floors of gardens. She loved to be surrounded
by things that were growing, because she always felt like
she was killing things, that anything she touched would die.
She loved to nurture her spaces. She loved to gardens.
She loved to create these spectacular spaces. So that's I

(04:07):
think where a lot of the intimacy that was lacking
in most of her other aspects of her life. That's
where it went. This massive building. She had two floors
of studios where she painted from seven o'clock in the
morning until seven o'clock at night, with a two hour
and after day. And that's where we lived from when
I was about five years old to when I was

(04:29):
about twenty three. I remember the glowing exit signs, you know,
all of these remnants from when it was a factory
and had industrial The toilets would flush with this ferocity
that would make you jump every time. It had its
own rhythms and rules. The taps were marked with C

(04:49):
and F, which is show and fought, which is hot
and cold and French, so of course people would scald
themselves when they tried to wash their hands. It was
an extraordinary extra in a place. I was raised by
a British nanny named Dennis. Her real name was Eileen
Dennis Maynard, but we only ever called her nanny, and

(05:12):
she was my constant. She read to me at night,
she brought me to school. She was hired before I
was born for her quote unquote ability to handle unconventional problems,
which was some impressive self diagnosis and self awareness on

(05:32):
my parents' part that they identified our problems as unconventional.
So she lived in Charles Street. I just remember it
being nanny and I on the second floor, and my
mom up in the pool room, drinking her white wine,
smoking her cigarettes and reading her books, and then summoning
me on the intercom that bodilessly connected us through the

(05:56):
seventeen thousand square feet so I would be in my
room and sometimes the only contact I'd had with my
mom throughout the day would be her disembodied voice calling
me over the intercom, and then I would go to
pick it up, and she would sometimes be really impatient
to hang up, and then I couldn't call her back
because she'd have her phone on privacy setting. So it

(06:18):
was this sort of surreal way we moved through each
other's lives. As a girl, as she tried to fall
asleep at night, Alice would imagine the swimming pool directly
above her bed. She would picture the ceiling caving and
tons and tons of water crashing over her. It was

(06:40):
both a reality there really was a massive swimming pool
above her, and a metaphor for the vast and consuming
chaos surrounding her. The word I used to describe my
mother is the process by which mountains are made, origenic,
and that four that's captured in the threat of tons

(07:03):
of water collapsing over your head, my head, or the
process by which mountains are made. That's what I think
of when I think of my mom. And she was
known for the scale of her work, the scale of
her grandiosity, but in equal measure was the scale of
her remoteness, of her fear, the threat of what she

(07:28):
imagined had happened to her, loomed so large over her
life and of course mine. I think of natural forces
that are so monumental, they change the landscape, they're so massive,
and I think that metaphor extends to the way she

(07:49):
lived her life to She was also she was very funny.
She was a ravenous reader. She had these sort of
enormous appetites. She loved good food, she loved good boothe
she loved to smoke, she loved good books, she loved
expensive clothing. She loved having confrontational conversations. She was very glamorous.

(08:14):
My father was this German film star and intellectual. He
had grown up in a mental institution in Germany, so
you know a very gothic tale. His babysitters were the
patients of a hospital at which his father, a psychiatrist, worked,

(08:36):
and one of them had attempted to burn her two
children alive. One of them believed that God was transforming
him into a woman so he could have a child
with him. So my father lived in these mental institutions,
and dad experience created this porousness of boundaries that extended

(08:57):
throughout my life. He couldn't really tell who was sick
and who was saying what the difference between those two
things was. And after that experience he never really found
anything in human nature strange. Then he was discovered at
the age of thirteen by a German film director and
started making movies, and then he moved to Paris in

(09:20):
his twenties, where he fell in with the Gille de
Laus crowd. He was a famous philosopher who was known
for his rather anarcic thinking, and my father was his potage.
So he started to espouse these pretty radical theories and
this approach to life as a grand experiment. And he

(09:43):
met my mother, I think the first week he moved
to New York and they were at a dinner party
together and she was chainsmoking cigarettes and eating smoked salmon,
and he approached her and she was with another man
named Matthew. His name is matt and he announced at
the table, who's it going to be? Which Matthew are

(10:04):
you going to take home him or me? And she
picked him, so that's how they met. They moved to
Paris when I was born, and he spent his time
making films, playing speed chess and doing cocaine, and my
mom would just work and drink and to hear him
categorize it. She was completely in her own world. She

(10:26):
dictated all the rules, and he felt kind of like
a puppy dog, and I think he felt rather unmoored. So,
in keeping with the self mythologizing tactic of my family,
he made an autobiographical film about a pianist, a German

(10:47):
pianist married to a successful American architect who is addicted
to cocaine and speed chess and ruins his life. So
he kind of used art, I think, as an act
of defiance, but also as a prophylactic, which I found
very interesting. And it's exactly how my mom negotiated what
had happened to her and her life. So they had

(11:09):
a very intense relationship. It started out as sort of
always being in crisis in the sense, and then he
in this movie, he cast the woman he was having
an affair with as the woman the main character has
an affair in the film. My mom was doing the
costumes and she had to dress his mistress in the

(11:29):
movie and in real life. So this kind of musing
life in an almost careless, reckless, callous way in the
service always of art and intellectualizing the softest, most delicate
parts of ourselves was an established pattern in my family.

(11:58):
We'll be right back. Alice's mother begins to see a
renowned psychiatrist named doctor Viola Bernard. At first, she discusses

(12:18):
relatively mundane issues, but doctor Bernard begins introducing other methods,
including hypnosis, as a way of probing deeper into her
psyche for what might be buried there. Eventually, Alice's mother
comes away from therapy with the belief that she has
recovered memories from her childhood that reveal that she'd been
used in a Satanic sex cult. I discovered her story

(12:45):
when I was eleven years old, and my father had
given me the mission of looking through my mom's things
to find out who was being called as a witness
in their very acrimonious divorce that lasted seven years. And
I was snooping her stuff and I found these journals

(13:05):
and I read them, and one of the entries described
how she was giving my father a blowjob and had
a flashback, and that the flashback was of her on
a boat having her head held underwater while she vomited
while a man said, you're feeding the fishes. And I

(13:26):
confronted her about what I had found. She was on
her way from the studio up to the pool room
where she was going to take her nap, and she
sat in my room and very matter of factly told
me the following story. She told me that a married couple,
Bertie and Russell, who were friends of the family, had

(13:48):
used her and her one and a half year old
sibling in a sex cult. That they recruited the children
of all of the maids in the neighborhood, and you
then and ritualize sex games. And that she had witnessed
the murder of a seven year old black boy that
had murdered him through erotic asphyxiation and had made my

(14:12):
mother bury the body on the beach and told her
never to tell or she would go to prison forever.
And she told me this, I could detect no emotion.
She didn't tell me how she felt about it. She
didn't ask me how I felt. It was the equivalent
of listening to an audiobook, one of the many audiobooks

(14:32):
that I listened to all of the time. And then
she left to take her nap, leaving me wondering how
to spell erotic asshixiation and picturing my dad getting a blowjob.
I would later find out that she was most likely
a victim of the Satanic panic, which was a moral

(14:53):
hysteria that swept the nation in the eighties and nineties,
where one aspect of it was that overzelle therapists and
psychiatrists would implant false memories of ritualized sexual abuse and
murder into their patients. I don't think it was nefarious.
It was motivated by a genuine desire to help people.

(15:17):
I think that trauma was starting to be understood and
credence was starting to be given to let's say, trauma
beyond the trauma of war or you know, for instance,
sexual trauma. So I think there was a genuine desire
to help people and to learn and be curious about

(15:39):
very real emotion states of being. The way that trauma
reverberates through a life is very complicated. So I struggle
with speculating what these doctors were thinking. But maybe it's
the allure of a story. But until the end of

(15:59):
her life, she believed with her whole heart that this
had happened, and because of that, she really felt that
she would do irreparable harm to me that I think
if she showed affection or tried to be tender or
intimate with me, it would somehow damage me as irrevocably

(16:23):
as she had been damaged. So in a way, her
remoteness was an act of tremendous love. But that distortion
came from this imaginary secret that her mind had allegedly
been keeping from herself. From her I think my mom
found having this outrageous story it excused the fact that

(16:48):
she couldn't move beyond it. Once the villain is Satan,
then you know, I think that can't be topped. She
also created massive oil paintings in response to these recovered memories.
Her reaction was to make one hundred and eight versions

(17:11):
of these scenes of abuse. So in her paintings, there's
a naked person wielding an axe, and they were hanging
in the hallways of my home. So as she went
off to take her nap and she left me behind
to kind of process everything she had told me, I
wandered out into the hallway and just stared at these

(17:33):
scenes of abuse. And I would get very confused because
I started not knowing where I ended and she began.
I started getting confused about what had happened to whom,
and I almost believed that what she had endured had
also happened to me, which made the confusing things that
were happening in my life almost secondary, and they kind

(17:58):
of evaporated and des and were supplanted by these extreme
scenes that she had fabricated. So it's another example of
how my parents turned their damage into beautiful stories. And

(18:18):
I learned at a young age that what we experienced
and how we felt about those experiences were meant to
be thought about and spectated. Part of the spectacle is
the six year custody battle that follows Alice's parents divorce.

(18:39):
For some of this time, Alice's father remains living at
one three four Charles Street, and eventually he moves out.
As Alice moves between her parents' two worlds, her own
world is fraught and fractured as she oscillates between slippery landscapes,
one where her relationship with her father is exceedingly blurry
and without boundaries, and the other in the shadowy corners

(19:03):
of her mother's presence. With the huge and notable exception
of Nanny, there isn't an adult in Alice's life who
isn't somehow spiraling. So my father treated parenthood as a
radical experiment in the annihilation of boundaries. He was also
during the divorce very lonely, very desperate, So that combination

(19:31):
resulted in this erosion of boundaries and this confusion of
roles where I didn't know what or who I was
to him. I didn't know if I was his daughter,
his wife, his mother, his confidant, his collaborator, and I'm
just going back to Charles Street. There were no locks

(19:53):
on the doors. There were no locks emotionally either. When
I'm seven years old, he told that one of his
girlfriends could only orgasm on her own with a showerhead.
And later on he would take my underwear with him
on trips to remember me by he would ask the

(20:13):
premiere pimp of Hamburg how much he would charge for me.
He had this idea to revolutionize the world of cinema
by starring in the first film to star a father
and daughter in the role of the lovers and have
them have a sex scene. And he presented this idea

(20:34):
to me as if we were going to do that together.
So there was repeatedly this sense that the things that
should have remained secret, or at least the things that
should have been treated with the delicacy or the apprehension,

(20:54):
or the reverence or the protectiveness of a secret, not
they were shared. So it was this diffusion of roles
and boundaries that led to this profound diffusion of identity
for me. My father was also He loved to play games.

(21:17):
He taught me about philosophy, he taught me about history,
He made up stories, he told me about Greek mythology.
He was very interactive, and that contrasted with my mother,
who couldn't play games with me because, according to her,
she was too competitive. So my father rushed in to

(21:37):
fill this vacuum. So this sense of excitement and almost
titillation from parental engagement got very confused and tumbled around
with the salacious tamera of the information he was sharing
with me. So it was hard to differentiate or to

(21:58):
even notice that some that shouldn't be shared, something that
should have been kept to himself, was being shared. There
was a transmission that was happening that shouldn't have happened,
but I didn't notice. I thought it was normal. And
I also thought that it was almost like a calling
that I had to be the perfect confidant. I had

(22:19):
to be someone who could be the receptacle for my
mother's story about burying a child on the beach, or
the sexual exploits of my father. Herein we have the
difference between secrecy and privacy between parents and children. There

(22:41):
certainly can be secrets that are destructive, and we spend
a lot of time on this show talking about those
kinds of secrets. But here are matters that have to
do with two adults, internal lives. No one's business, most
certainly not their child. What happens when there are no boundaries,
no can, no edges. Secrets are about borders and edges,

(23:04):
but in Alice's family there are none, So where is
a secret when you need one? This undifferentiated quality was
unbelievably destructive, and I think also another thing that was
obscured or concealed were the basic sort of physics of living.

(23:25):
There was this one incident where I had seven pet rats.
My father gave me a pet rat and it was
pregnant and it had a bunch of babies. So I
had seven pet rats, and he sat on one accidentally
and it died. But he assured me he could bring
it back to life by putting it in the freezer

(23:45):
next to the pop tarts, and then when it didn't
come back to life, he promised me that it would
reanimate if you just put it on the heater. And
that's what it was like being the child of my parents,
This denial of reality, this belief that the power of
our minds could shape reality and could defy even the

(24:08):
laws of death. So it's sort of this obfuscation of
the rules and the borders define reality, and it's almost
like reality was its own secret that we were all
trying to We didn't want to know. That's the secret
we were keeping from ourselves, that we were just a
couple of human beings moving through the world and moving

(24:31):
through time, but we wanted to deny that as long
as we could. Alice's behavior begins to feed into this
notion of defying the laws of death. She finds herself
exiting reality, secreting herself, as it were, by cutting and
self harming at a very young age. Such practices reinforce

(24:53):
the fragmentation she feels up against the backdrop of her
fragmented family life. At some point, reality is obstructed even
further when Alice begins to believe that surely everyone must
live like this with so much pain, and secrecy. How
could they not? And yet not all families do. Not

(25:13):
all seven year old girls cut themselves while also trying
to fulfill all the basic milestones of growing up. And
even when Alice tries to unsecret herself and show her
mom how she's been hurting herself, her mom's reply is
not one of distress, but one of unsettling advice to
use makeup to cover the scars. So in one three

(25:38):
fourth trial street, my mom upstairs drinking and reading her
downstairs painting. I'm by myself, listening to audiobooks constantly, NonStop stories,
other people's stories, and I'm also thinking about myself and
the third person. So I would walk down the street

(25:59):
and I would say, she is walking down the street,
the rainfalls on her jacket, turning myself into a story,
narrating myself into existence, turning myself into a character. And
those were the first signs of me distancing from myself,
this sort of abstraction that would get more and more visceral.

(26:20):
And then I started cutting when I was seven years old,
and I don't know how I knew to do it.
It was in a moment where I was unbelievably overwhelmed
I couldn't tell the difference between anger and sadness. I
couldn't safely fit any of those emotions inside of me,
so I cut. It was sort of this orienting horizon

(26:42):
that kind of folded me into these clean origami lines.
Just made me feel better, and it worked, and I
continued to do that through adolescence, and in adolescence I
developed what I'd later learned was a dissociative just order
called depersonalization derealization. I couldn't recognize my face in the mirror.

(27:07):
I didn't know where my voice was coming from. I
felt no connection to my body, my feelings, my history.
I was convinced I didn't exist. It was like my
identity was an alka seltzer tab dipped in water and
it had sort of dissolved into the unnameable, unending nothingness.

(27:29):
It was the most terrifying thing I'd ever experienced, and
I would cut and then later burn, first of all
to mark time because time stopped making sense, because every
single moment felt like the first moment in history. But
also there was this perpetual sense of deja vu. So
I had no sense of consequences or like I was

(27:53):
a body moving through time, So every time I cut,
it reinstated causality. I would cut, and the next day
I would heal, and then the next day I would
heal more. So it gave me this sense that one
I had a body, because I really didn't think I
had a body. I was outside of myself watching myself,
but that thing that was outside was also outside of itself,

(28:15):
watching itself. So cutting made me feel like time existed
and that I existed. And I also used it to
punish myself. I used it to reward myself, so I
never kept it a secret. I would even intentionally wear
a short sleeve shirt with a huge gash down my

(28:37):
arm to see how long it would take for my
mom to notice or comment on it. And the cutting
really felt like a communication with my body. And your
mother doesn't notice, your mother doesn't comment on it only
reinforces your feeling of not being real because you're not
being seen right exactly. And also I think the cutting

(29:00):
was also a way to try and get my body
to reveal its secrets to me. And as I said before,
the things that were kept secret from us were reality consequences,
and that was obscured by dissociation. Dissociation was like I
was being kept secret from myself because I could no

(29:22):
longer access who I was, how I felt that view
of myself was completely obscured. So by cutting, it was
a revelatory act, or an attempt at revelation, an attempt
to sort of dig myself out of myself. It works

(29:44):
until it doesn't. Alice valiantly tries to hit all the marks,
check all the boxes. She goes on college tours. She
begins college at Vassar, but once there she falls apart
in a deeper way. The unreality really takes hold, and
she reaches a point where she can't stop cutting. I

(30:05):
admitted myself to the hospital, and I was there for
one week, and I would have these terrifying dissociative episodes.
One of them found me hiding under the sink, banging
my head against the wall, screaming my name and address

(30:25):
over and over again, trying to remind myself at least
of the semantic information of who I was. And it
ended by me just screaming my own name over and
over again. So the nurse comes in or the tech
comes in and says, what's happening or frightening on the
other patients, and I told her what I was experiencing,

(30:49):
and dissociation is notoriously difficult to describe, which is also
why it felt so alienating, Because I had been seeing
a therapist, and the more I described what I was experiencing,
the more she thought I was schizophrenic. The more ineffective
the treatment became, the therapy became. So I tell this
nurse what I'm experiencing, and she very casually says, oh,

(31:12):
it sounds like you're associating. And I had never heard
that word before, and I immediately did all the research
I could, and I started reading the scant literature about it,
which was The Passion according to gh by Clarice the Specter.
Many people call it a mystical book, but it's actually
a very realistic rendering of the dissociative experience. It's just

(31:35):
this woman thinking about her own thinking, thinking about killing
a cockroach, and then Saltla's Nausea, Octavia Butler's short story
about a dissociative disorder in the context of speculative fiction.
So I read everything I could, and having that word
for one second made me feel like I wasn't falling

(31:55):
through infinite space. So that was a turning point for me,
and he was essentially had to diagnose yourself, the nurse
said the word. But then there you are valiantly trying
to like, you know, sort of do your research, and
you know, name what's going on with you, because the
people who are treating you aren't getting it right. And

(32:17):
all of the research that I'm turning to is fiction, right,
you know, it's not even a medical text. It's just
the art based on the pathology. We'll be back in
a moment with more family secrets. Alice stays on the

(32:49):
psych word for a week, but when she returns home,
the cutting resumes and only grows worse. One night, Nanny
walks in on her cutting. Nanny witnesses Alice in a
way she's never been witnessed before, in a way that
she's wanted for her pain to be seen, known, understood.

(33:12):
She refuses to leave me alone, and she sits with
me all night. And by the time I wake up,
my cutting kit the razor blades that i'd pried, you know,
the blades i'd pried out of shaving razors, my lighter,
my Swiss army knife. My dad had given me. The

(33:34):
blades of exact ownives from my mom's studio. All of
that had been removed. And after that experience, I'm floating
around one through before Charles Street, I have no purpose
I'm writing. I had known since I was five years
old that I wanted to be a writer, and I
was writing all the time. But the two jobs I

(33:54):
looked up were stripping jobs or writing death row convicts.
And for some reason, I thought the only things I
was qualified to do was to essentially entertain dying men,
whether you know, on a semen's like sofa or in
a prison cell. So I was looking for this specialness

(34:15):
that I could only access through it seemed pathology. And
this was the beginning of kind of my career as
a patient, as a professional sick person, as a virtuosic
infirm mentally infirmed like a virtuosic patient. So this was

(34:36):
really the beginning where I started constructing what little identity
I had around my madness. I was reading all of
this fiction about my disorder, and I ended up taking
my dead uncle's hydromorphone pills, drinking vodka, and cutting a

(35:00):
in my arm four times, and I almost killed myself
in three different ways, and my psychiatrist at the time,
said that she would convince them to release me if
I agreed to admit myself to a residential treatment center
called Austin Riggs in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. And Austin Riggs had

(35:21):
this illustrious pedigree. Judy Garland had had installed a pink
sink in her room. James Taylor had written fire and
rain while he was there, so I agreed. I showed
up there with my mom and it was this bizarre place.
It was this white mansion in the middle of Stockbridge,

(35:43):
Massachusetts that was sort of its glory was faded, and
it was a bunch of really rich people. The recommended
stay was indefinite, or at least until your money ran out,
and there were no rules. There was a bridge full

(36:03):
of smoothies and yogurts, and we had fireplaces in our room,
and there were no consequences. The only requirement, which was
not even a requirement, was to sit in community meeting
and talk about whatever conflicts or whatever, even illegal behavior happened.
And while I was there, I one evening was in

(36:29):
the bathroom and I was wiping myself and I thought, wait,
what's happening down there? And I pulled my hand away
to reveal a very long, still alive worm. And I
walked to the sink and I very neatly folded it

(36:51):
into a paper towel and put it into my pocket.
I checked my reflection in the mirror, and I walked
to the nurses station. They didn't believe me, so I
withdrew it from my pocket and laid it on the
partition between us and unwrapped it and presented them with
my worm and asked to go to the hospital. And

(37:13):
they said, we've never seen anything like this before, but
this is not an emergency. And it was this extraordinary
moment where it was like being told a secret. It
was a secret my body was keeping for me, and
that secret was that I had a body, that there
was something alive in me still, even though I thought

(37:39):
I was dead or I thought there was no difference
between me and name any inanimate object around you. And
it was this moment of corporeal physical crisis that for
a second made me feel alive and made me feel
more sane than I had ever felt. So that was
the stand up moment at Riggs, where, amongst all of

(38:02):
this kind of just hanging out, this introspective luxury, this
kind of glorious, gluttonous psychological lethargy. Suddenly my body is
doing these very real things. Secrets are coming out of it,

(38:23):
provable secrets that I can literally say, Look, something isn't right. Look,
and it just happened to be in the shape of
a six inch worm. It's at RIGS where you first
encounter the term depersonalization. Yes, and again you look it
up and one of the things that you learn is

(38:45):
that it's a condition brought on by trauma. Right, But
at that point I was convinced that I was having
a reaction to my mom's traumatic history, and I sort
of denied the idea that anything traumatic had ever happened
to me. So basically, I get out of BRIGS and

(39:05):
they refer me to a psychopharmacologist, who, upon meeting me
for forty five minutes, sends me home with ninety adderall,
which is a stimulant for add and ninety klonipin, which
is a highly addictive anti anxiety medication similar to xanax vallium,
And the only instruction he gives me is adderall wears

(39:28):
off every four hours and take the clonipin whenever you're
feeling anxious. Or to go to sleep. I take this
adderall and within forty five minutes, my heart is pounding,
I'm sweating through my shirt, telling stories about my childhood
and chain smoking cigarettes. And then you know, a bit
anxious too. So I'm taking the klonipin, which I can't

(39:51):
even feel because I'm on so much adderall because I
was instructed. It wears off every four hours. So this
medication completely hijacks my personality, and the combination of this
medication is causing these side effects that mimic other disorders.
So I gradually get diagnosed with new disorders that require

(40:13):
more medication. So in the span of three years, I'm
on eight different medications, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, axiolytics, stimulants, and
of course other medication who treat the side effects of
all of the medication, So whether it's a thyroid medication,
whether it's a weight loss medication, because the side effects

(40:35):
are extreme. And I'm also starting to learn that feelings
are pathologies that need to be medicated away. There is
no such thing as joy, there is only hypomania. There
is no such thing as sadness, there is only clinical depression.
And I had switched psychopharmacologists, and I had found another
one who had just read my file and continued to

(40:56):
prescribe more and more medications. And this psychopharmacologist assured me
that this trial and error was how it was supposed
to go, and that I'd need to be on medication
the rest of my life. And it was so casual,
this prescribing that I even would be able to leave
a message on his voicemail requesting, let's say lithium, and

(41:21):
the next day a prescription would be called in for me.
So I truly believe that I was basically like an
appliance or a machine that ran on pharmaceuticals, and any
discomfort I had, I thought was just my stupid, dumb body,

(41:41):
and not this barrage of medication. So it was again
this kind of secret. The medication obscured who I was,
and who I was sort of became very like a
secret that I would only hear whispers of because I

(42:02):
was so hostile. I was the completely different person than
I had been before on these medications. In two thousand
and nine, the medications trigger a psychotic break, and I
believed I had delusions of persecution. I had delusions of surveillance.

(42:23):
I thought people were following me. I thought I had
been hacked. I thought people were breaking into my apartment,
chloroforming me and gang raping me. In my sleep, I
would tape bed sheets to my windows so people couldn't
surveil me. I would get in a cab and then
realize that that cab had been put there by these invisible,

(42:47):
unknowable assailants to track me, and I would just get
out of the cab and run through the streets. So
this is sounding awfully like your mother's quote unquote recovered memories,
exactly right. So basically, my life became this war. I
was having to defend myself against these invisible forces, and
as horrifying as it was, it gave me this bizarre

(43:11):
sense of purpose and significance, because if I'm someone who's
being followed and being persecuted in this way, I must
be important, I must be special, and I have a calling.
That calling is to defend myself. So, in this strange way,

(43:36):
this delusion became the only true thing in my life,
and no one else believed for me. The psychosis lasted
a year. How old were you? I was twenty three,
and I finally went to my psychopharmacologist, and he said,

(43:57):
take these three extra medications or I'm going to send
you to a lockdoord. But he kept me on all
the other medications too, and the new medications made my
hair fall out, they made my hands go numb. I
gained forty or fifty pounds in a couple of months,
and again I thought it was just my stupid mind

(44:19):
and body. So I agreed to go to a treatment center,
but I was admitted into a trauma group, where, on
the one hand, I could accurately identify the transgressions that
had been taken place, but it went too far. I
had this over zealous counselor who convinced me that my

(44:42):
mind was keeping secrets from me and that much more
had happened and I just wasn't remembering. And she told
me that she took a long time to get me
to say the words I was molested by my father,
So she convinced me never to talk to him again
and never to see him again. And I was so desperate,

(45:04):
like my mother, for something big and dramatic, to explain everything,
to exonerate me, to make me not feel like such
a fuck up, that I welcomed the simplicity and the
straightforwardness of that story, and I made it my new identity.

(45:25):
And I didn't talk to my father for twelve years.
Twelve years. A lot happens in those twelve years. Alice
reconnects with a man named Gregory, who she had met earlier.
They'd had a tenuous but beautiful relationship early on, but
neither had been to put it mildly ready. Each had

(45:48):
been in the throes of their own addiction and despair.
But when they find each other again, they're each in
a very different place. Gregory is extraordinarily optimistic and compassionate.
He supports Alice through myriad stages of pain and self discovery.
He's there for her when her mother develops dementia, then

(46:11):
Nanny starts to decline, then Nanny dies. Alice and Gregory
moved to Nashville, far from one three to four Charles Street,
far from the city that held so many difficult memories
for them both. But Alice can't outrun her history. She
still struggles with all the medication she's on, and at

(46:32):
one point, the clinical flux, paired with all that's gone
on in her life, leads to a massive dissociative break
as Alice calls it the most gone she's ever been.
The touchstones of my life are not there anymore. My
mother has dementia. She no longer houses our history. Nanny
is dead. She was the holder of all of our memories.

(46:54):
She was the witness. The only person left is my father.
So in order to build myself from the raw materials
of my life, I decide I'm going to confront him,
and Gregory and I decide to go to Paris. We
have no idea what to expect. Is he going to
be furious at me? Is he going to deny everything

(47:16):
I couldn't live with no one inside? And we arrive,
Gregory announces rules no drinking, which is directed at my dad.
If anybody wants to stop at any time, you can.
The first person presents their version of events for half
an hour with no interruption, then the other person can respond.

(47:37):
And then he said, I will be outside monitoring for
signs of distress, and I will come in if I
hear yelling. So I tell my dad every single incident
where I felt violated, whether it was him organizing naked
photos of me on a horse galloping through the Germany toplet, Yes,

(48:00):
while I was quote unquote still a lolida before I
turned eighteen, or whether it was the pimp. I told
him everything, and he responded with such humility, with such shame.
He didn't deny any of it, he didn't remember some
of it, but he believed me. He apologized. He not

(48:23):
only apologized, but I watched him embody my experiences and
what I was telling him in a way that was
so powerful. He understood and he felt totally awful, and
he embraced, for lack of a better word, my reality.

(48:44):
And that was a plot twist I was not expecting,
and I allowed him to share his version of events,
and I conceded places where maybe I had misunderstood, or
maybe it was a collaborative effort to construct this new
reality that we could both inhabit, both being wholly ourselves

(49:06):
and belonging wholly to ourselves. And what was so special
was that it was exactly because we could say anything
to each other, that we could say everything we needed to.
It was exactly the oversharing, the intellectualizing that had caused

(49:29):
so much harm was exactly what allowed us to heal together.
That's really beautiful. I'm very touched by your incredible eloquence
about things that can have the opposite effect on people.
What I realized was, you know, the dissociation, the thing

(49:52):
that had almost killed me, was what allowed me to
embody his truth and understand that so many things could
be true at the same time. And that's what inevitably
gave me back my family and gave me back to myself.
And I think, you know, maybe things he did were
some of them were inexcusable, but I think that it's

(50:15):
not a zero sum game. Exercising empathy for him only
fortifies the empathy I feel for myself. So believing in
him and believing that he was a damaged person who
tried his best doesn't diminish what I experienced. It was

(50:36):
just a powerful, a powerful exchange. Here's Alice reading one
last passage from her magnificent memoir Everything Nothing Someone. In
this scene, Alice is in effect saying goodbye to her brilliant,

(50:57):
complicated force of a mother, scattering her ashes in the
Atlantic Ocean. The clouds split open, the gaudy guts of
a shamelessly showy sunset, spilling across the horizon. A thick
golden light spread over our faces, which were all turned

(51:18):
toward the sun's extravagance sinking. It looked exactly like an endless,
excessive oil painting. It looked, in its extreme, bragging beauty,
almost insolent. I recognized it. Gregory tears and light in
his eyes, said, Jennifer looks good up there. We laughed.

(51:41):
I stripped down to my swimsuit and I lowered myself
into the Atlantic. I swam out, holding my mother's ashes aloft.
We were as far out as we could go. I
didn't want to leave her, but she needed to be alone.

(52:03):
Family Secrets is a production of iHeartRadio. Molly Zaccur is
the story editor and Dylan Fagan is the executive producer.
If you have a family secret you'd like to share,
please leave us a voicemail and your story could appear
on an upcoming episode. Our number is one eight eight
eight Secret zero. That's the number zero. You can also

(52:24):
find me on Instagram at Danny Ryder. And if you'd
like to know more about the story that inspired this podcast,
check out my memoir Inheritance. For more podcasts from iHeartRadio.

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