I’ve never made a purchase from the Painful Lives section at Waterstones. Like self-help books, all you need to know is generally contained in the title: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway say, or Daddy’s Little Earner. Who needs to read 50,000 words?
But when Amazon invited me to take a look at Today I’m Alice, by Alice Jamieson I was intrigued. As you’ll have guessed from the title, Alice suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder.
Co-written with Clifford Thurlow, this is an incredibly readable memoir despite its exceptionally tough subject matter. Sufferers of DID exclusively develop the disorder as the result of severe sexual, physical and emotional abuse. It is a defence mechanism. It becomes necessary at times to reveal some of the details of that abuse and that must inevitably raise concerns that some may use it as porn, but this memoir is never voyeuristic.
What’s interesting is that we’re nearly halfway through the book before Alice – or we – really know what’s going on. She suffers lost time, like blackouts, sometimes emerging to find her homework done, say, or that her money’s been spent on something she doesn’t actually like. While she sees various mental health professionals from a young age it is not until her early twenties that she realises what’s been going on.
So did it really happen? A Brimstone and Treacle moment with her father pretty much confirms that it did and lets it all out; as do medical records that reveal physical signs of abuse, misinterpreted by medical professionals who now appear to be negligent. For reasons not revealed to the reader, Alice Jamieson is remarkably generous to her mother and elder brother.
Surviving to write Today I’m Alice is a remarkable achievement, that clearly provides its author with a sense of final victory over her father. But what does sharing all of this trauma offer the reader? Alice succeeds in providing us with an insight into how those for whom the family is a hellish place cope with the horrors that exist behind respectable looking front doors. We learn a little of how memories and personalities are formed and most intriguingly how they may be split apart.