By almost any measure, Alice Carrier had an extraordinary childhood.
She is the daughter of Jennifer Bartlett, a world-renowned artist who also happens to be an emotionally distant mother. Her father is a famous German actor, Mathieu Carrier, who displayed inappropriate behavior during Carrier’s childhood.
As Carrier entered her teenage years, her brain began to spiral into dissociative disorder, which she describes as losing touch with her mind, body, and history: “I was convinced I wasn’t there. I was writing to keep myself from completely breaking down.” It was lost, and that was my only bond to myself and to reality.”
All that writing has led up to This Moment, a new memoir called everything/nothing/someone.
All things considered Elsa Chang spoke with Carrier about everything from Carrier’s struggles with mental health, to her relationship with her parents, and how the two continue to influence her life and work.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity. It includes discussion of topics related to sexual assault.
Highlights of the interview
Alice Carrier: Doubt is very intrinsic to the dissociative experience.
Elsa Chang: right.
Carrier: So this suspicion often seems more real than anything else. The process of doubting is just a process of living for me. And I think it was precisely this uncertainty that not only broke me apart, but also gave me the ability to connect in a way I never thought possible. It gave me the opportunity to listen to my father’s story, to humanize my mother in a way I never thought she could, and to recognize the humanity in myself even when I couldn’t recognize my own face in the mirror.
Chang: Well, I just want to be on top. Your book raises serious questions about whether your father sexually abused you. When you started writing, how much did you share with him what you intended to say?
Carrier: Well, I’ve been estranged from him for 12 years because he’s transgressive in so many ways. There was an exaggeration in sharing information that was often tainted by sex, and it put me in dangerous situations.
But then I went through a similar indoctrination to my mother. An overzealous doctor implanted false memories of ritual sexual abuse and murder in her. I went to a treatment center where I was told my father had molested me, that he was a monster and that I should never speak to him again.
And I haven’t spoken to him for 12 years. And then, after a massive breakup incident in 2018 that dissolved my entire identity again, I needed to rebuild myself from the raw materials of my life. And my mother was suffering from dementia. The nanny who raised me is dead.
He was the only one left. And I went and confronted my father. And I told him everything. I told him all the ways I felt he had crossed boundaries. It was an extraordinary encounter that helped me understand how many things can be real and how to humanize them. So I told him everything.
Chang: You know, your book made me think about how much we were shaped by our parents and all of us who grapple with our parents’ influence, whether it be through therapy or medicine or spirituality, whatever it is. We believe in the ability to be something different than our parents were. And I think there’s something really optimistic about that. There is something really optimistic about your story because through your struggles, there was hope.
Carrier: Yes exactly. Even when it was challenging, say, to find the right words for what I was experiencing, it was precisely this challenge that kept me from getting lost. And I really hope, with this book, that I can help people who are inside the dissociative experience express it, and I can help those who are outside the dissociative experience — I can help them understand it. And that’s really because of my partner, Gregory, because this book is an unexpected love story, too.
Chang: And may I ask how, if it helped you, this book helped you deepen your relationship with your mother, who has since passed away? But I imagine you have reconsidered and re-remembered your relationship with her.
Carrier: So, yeah, she passed away a year ago in July. Which is interesting because when she was diagnosed with dementia, it was clearly a disease that takes a lot of things. But what you removed was a truly profound opportunity. The dementia freed her from those implanted false memories of ritual sexual abuse and murder that kept her hidden in her work and distanced her from the people she tried to love.
And it freed her from this overwhelming ambition. This allowed her to be affectionate and inquisitive. And what it did for me was it liberated me from this story that had defined me for so long, that I was just a mentally ill embezzler. And this allowed me to be her only daughter. And in writing this book, not only did I write myself into a place of deep sympathy for her, but the only advice she gave me was to just do the work. And just doing the work is how I can mimic it in a way that isn’t destructive or alienating. And just by doing the work, that’s how I keep in touch with her.
Chang: Yes. When I think about your relationship with your mother, it amazes me how much that means to you or how much she wanted at some point to see you as a great person and also a great artist in some way. I mean by writing. I wanted to discuss your work with her, to be her match. But in the end, you wrote, you became the daughter who wanted to hold her hand. How does he sit with you?
Carrier: I mean, she was so touched and conveyed a kind of greatness to me. You know, she was as famous for her workload as she was for her ambition. Towards the end of her life – now that I could share the story with the world, this was an interesting inflection point because I settled on just seeing her.
Carrier: I am very grateful for this downsizing. And one of the things I realized during my dementia is that after everything was taken away, whatever made it what it was, what was stuck was me. And that’s really powerful for me.
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