Zibby speaks to debut author Alice Carrière about Everything, Nothing, Someone, a mesmerizing, intense, and breathtakingly honest coming-of-age story about identity, family, trauma, survival, mental illness, and psychiatric malpractice. Alice describes her life as the daughter of two self-destructive artists in the bohemian 90s and how that led to a dissociative disorder and ten years of gross overmedication. She also describes how writing has saved her life countless times and how this memoir has turned her anger into compassion and made “little Alice” very proud.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Alice. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Thanks for coming.

Alice Carrière: Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here.

Zibby: Yay.

Alice: Congratulations on your novel. How fabulous and scary. I might be projecting with that last adjective.

Zibby: It is scary. I was just doing copyedits this morning. I’m like, I don’t think this is very good. I don’t know. Now I want to rewrite the whole thing. I just started changing everything. I know I have to stop.

Alice: I totally get it. I’m in the process of recording my audiobook right now. I can’t change it, but I want to. I’m resisting every urge to text my editor. What have we done? I’m told it’s very good, so I’ll just trust everyone else.

Zibby: You don’t need to change anything for your book. I promise. As I reader, I can stand by that. Why don’t you tell listeners what your book is about, when and why you decided to write the memoir? We’ll go from there.

Alice: First of all, I like to think of it as a coming-of-age story about identity and human connection and family, a survival thriller about dissociative disorder and psychiatric malpractice, and an unlikely love story. I think the title is super helpful. It kind of lets me take you on a tour of the whole book. Everything. I was the daughter of two deeply self-destructive, self-absorbed artists who believed they kind of lived in an alternate universe where the power of their minds could shape reality. Everything was abstracted, turned into art, including me. My mother was a renown painter. She was a victim of an overzealous clinician who implanted memories of ritualized child sex abuse and murder. That really caused her to hide in her work and be unable to connect with the people around her. My father was a European film star who really treated parenthood as this radical philosophical experiment in the total annihilation of boundaries. Given this context and these —

Zibby: — I’m sorry to laugh. I love how you describe that. Anyway, go on.

Alice: It is the only appropriate reaction. We might be crying by the end. We’ll get through all of the emotions. Basically, with these outsized characters in my life — they really felt like characters instead of people. I was really flooded by their desires, their deficits. I became everything, an idea, a wife, a daughter, a mother. Then when I hit adolescence, a dissociative disorder arrived. It wiped out my identity. I couldn’t recognize my face in the mirror. I didn’t know where the words I spoke were coming from. I had no connection to my history, my body. I really believed I didn’t exist, so I became nothing. Responding to this, psychiatrists kept prescribing more and more and more medications and convincing me that the few feelings that did manage to arise were pathological. Then coupled with a mother who didn’t like to feel, that became the norm. I was medicated farther and farther away from myself. Then writing was really the only tether to reality. Then when I met my now husband, my partner of fifteen years, it was really his — he’s also a recovering addict and alcoholic. His compassion, his kindness — he’s virtuosic in loving. It’s really incredible to see. He really taught me to turn outward and connect with people. That helped me connect with my mother when she was diagnosed with dementia, with my father from whom I’d been estranged. I became someone. That’s the book.

Zibby: What a beautiful description. Oh, my gosh, even the way you talk, it’s the way you write. Everything has so much feeling and energy and turn of phrase that’s really interesting and powerful.

Alice: Thank you.

Zibby: I was so taken with the details of your childhood and growing up. You described the way you grew up in such vivid detail. Your childhood was so unique. Everybody feels their childhood was unique and this, that, or the other, but yours, for sure. When you talk about creeping through these hallways and setting off alarms trying to get to your dad — meanwhile, I have to still sleep next to my son two feet away. I’m like, “How about I sleep down –” “No, no, no, sleep right there.” Your trips to Germany with your grandparents and the conversations with your dad and the stuff he would tell you about the sexual relationships with your mom, oh, my gosh. You try as a reader to put yourself in the shoes of you as a young girl. How does someone cope with all of that? What happens next? How does that person grow up?

Alice: What’s so funny is that I actually, while I was writing it — I’ve been writing it for fifteen years. While I was writing it and working with my editor, I kept thinking that it was boring and not unique.

Zibby: What?

Alice: It’d been so normalized for me. This chaos had been so normalized. My editor, her jaw would be on the floor as I just said, “Should I add this other thing about him trying to bring my pet rat back to life?”

Zibby: That scene with the tin foil and the freezer, oh, my god. I could not believe that scene, actually. I’m glad you brought it up.

Alice: It’s so funny, the anecdotes I would tell casually and thinking they were either endearing or funny. They just go, “Oh, my god, Alice.” It’s been funny becoming reacquainted with my own history through the writing of this book. I’m kind of meeting myself for the first time in a lot of ways. That’s been really fascinating, to find out ways in which my experience has been really universal. I think there are a lot of things in the book people can relate to, but there are a lot of really crazy stories that, at the bare minimum, will keep people entertained. To answer how I got through it, it was really writing. First of all, I would think in the third person when I was little. I would metabolize that chaos through storytelling. I would say, she is walking down the street. The rain falls on her jacket. Then I would be sitting on a gurney scribbling in a notebook. Writing really saved my life in a big, big way, and audiobooks too. I would populate my life with all of these characters. It made me feel like I was in control. It made me feel not so alone.

Zibby: Tell me more about the feeling you get from writing. When you would tell the stories and when you would write, paint some pictures for me of you writing now, you writing then, the fifteen years to writing this book. What does a writing session for you look like?

Alice: What a great question. It really feels like I’m dropping into myself from a dizzying height. The air thickens enough for me to be able to breathe. It’s the place I feel safest. It’s the place I feel competent. It’s the place I feel that I have agency. It’s the place that I can make decisions. I hate decisions, from what to eat every night to what to wear to what to do with my life. I just hate decisions.

Zibby: I’m better with big decisions than small decisions. For a while, I would stand on a street corner and be like, should I go this way? Should I go that way? No, I think I’m going to go this way. No, actually, maybe I’ll go to this store. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try this. Then it’s like, should I move to LA? Yes, I should. Should I do this? Sure, yeah. It’s bizarre.

Alice: I totally get that. Do you regret your decisions at all?

Zibby: I rethink every decision all the time. Should I have done that back then? Then I try to change most of my decisions, so now I’m only buying refundable tickets at this point.

Alice: Then you’re sort of flabbergasted when you can’t change the decision. You’re like, is this life?

Zibby: To be honest — I was just saying this to somebody. Because I’m so used to changing everything and feeling like, if I just do this, I’ll get to perfection, with loss, you can’t go back and change a thing, illness and loss, anything. You’re like, oh, yeah? Turns out, this is all a joke. I’m not in control of anything.

Alice: Exactly. The good old life, that joke that we all love. That’s interesting because the book is a great deal about self-doubt. It’s about all of the stories I was told about myself or told myself and not knowing what the truth is and spending thirty-seven years and 288 pages to not necessarily get to the truth, but to get to a moment where so many things, so many truths can exist simultaneously, and I can remain whole in the center of that realization. I can honor other people’s reality too. I was estranged from my father for thirteen years for many of the reasons that you mentioned of his inappropriateness, but also because of embellishments and lies that were told about him. This book helped me find my way back to him and gave me back a relationship to my father. That’s also what writing does for me. It connects me with other people. I feel like I raised this book, and now the book is raising me. It continues to connect me with people. Us sitting right here and talking about it, it’s so exciting, the power of storytelling.

Zibby: It’s so true. I know. Without these books, I would never have met the most interesting people in the world. It’s amazing.

Alice: Without this book, I wouldn’t have met myself too.

Zibby: Which is even better. Amazing. When you summarized the therapeutic reimmersion into childhood abuse of your mom, when I read that section, I was like, did this happen, or did this not happen? You gave us evidence of some things and family friends who were involved and all of that. Then I’m like, how do you even know? Maybe that’s the question overall. How do we know what happened? How does she know? What do you think?

Alice: Exactly right. Also, how do we differentiate between instinct and fear or instinct and trauma, residual trauma? I almost said it doesn’t matter what I think because it was her experience. I think something happened. I think she was deeply, deeply, deeply hurt. I think the experience of being deeply hurt was not loveable for her, was not tolerable, so she had to create these elaborate, outlandish, unbelievable stories about, essentially, a satanic sex cult that she was forced to participate in as a child. Because they were so enormous, the fact that she couldn’t move beyond it made her less culpable for not being able to move beyond it. Because it’s so enormous, how can anyone contend with a history of being forced to bury the body of a seven-year-old on a beach? How can anyone get over that? The fact that she continued to hide, continued to drink, continued to protect herself in destructive ways, that made it more understandable, in a way, to herself. I think she was just so afraid. Writing this book, I wrote myself into a place of deep, deep empathy for her. I can’t imagine. I’m proud of her in a lot of ways. The anger I felt has transformed into compassion. I wish I could tell her all of that. Next month will be the year anniversary of her death. I was able to share the book with her before she died, and the cover and all of that, but I really wish that we could have been peers and we could’ve spoken about everything I’ve learned from writing this book.

Zibby: I’m sorry.

Alice: Thank you.

Zibby: Now that the book is out — in the book, you talk about not just seeing yourself again, but also the people surrounding this whole operation. The image you have with the fire department being called and the flames going up when there’s a party, it was not just you and your parents and your nanny and whatever. There were a lot of bystanders who were going to the bathroom in front of you. Who were all these people and the sick people who would come and recover and addicts and whatever? Where are they now? Do they see themselves in this book? Are you still in touch? The whole extended scene.

Alice: Some of them have died, unfortunately. I am in touch with many of them. They’re super proud of me, so that feels really good. I was grossly, grossly overmedicated by the psychiatrist community for over a decade to the point where being on so many stimulants and downers and everything else in between, it was like a personality growing on top of my personality. I couldn’t listen. I could be a good friend. I was hostile. It was terrible. I wasn’t able to connect with people the way I wanted to. Now I’m friends with all of my mom’s friends. I’m friends with almost everyone who’s mentioned in the book, the nice people. It feels really good to have these relationships with them on my own terms when I’m healthy or in the process of getting healthier and healthier. I’m never really fully cured from the human condition. It’s been one of the great joys of my life to rediscover these relationships and have it have a happy ending. That’s why the acknowledgment section is so long. There are so many wonderful people in my life. I love them all. I’m so grateful and lucky.

Zibby: That is amazing. Wonderful.

Alice: I’m also so proud of my dad because he’s been so wonderful with facing this book being out in the world. It’s not easy to have something like this written about you. He’s been so supportive and so wonderful. I’m really proud of him.

Zibby: Did you worry that it was too much?

Alice: Too much? That’s my family crest motto, too much.

Zibby: Sorry.

Alice: No. It’s interesting. It’s a great question. In terms of the honesty level, you’ve read it, you know the things I reveal and in what graphic detail. It’s really funny because it never occurred to me while I was writing it that I could say anything but everything. It didn’t occur to me that I could scale it back until it was too late. Now that the book is going to be out in the world, I’m kind of like, oh, my god, what have I done?

Zibby: As a read, it’s great, as a reader. This is you and your life. You have to bop along and keep going after I put the book down.

Alice: Exactly right. In terms of my father and it being too much, the answer is no. I never really thought of that. In the middle of all of the uncomfortable stuff, there was that kernel of trust because we are all artists in my family. It kind of never occurred to me that I couldn’t pour everything of who I am and everything I have into my work. It’s what my mother did. It’s what my father did. I trusted that. I trusted that intrinsic part of us that understands that need to divulge, that need to figure it out. I really tried in the book for it not to be an indictment. The only time it’s an indictment is of the American psychiatric complex. That’s really my lingering anger. Nothing against my father. Nothing against my mother. I’m really glad I went all the way. I think it was only — I say this in the book. It was only because we could say anything to each other that we would say everything we needed to. That’s part of it.

Zibby: After all your experiences with the psychiatric association and medication and all of this, where are you now with medication? Are you medicated? You don’t have to answer this. How do you feel about it in general?

Alice: I think responsible medicating can save lives. Good therapy saves lives. Also, getting well, it’s a collaborative effort. It’s a developing story. I think what happened with me — I can’t speculate about what motivated, let’s call him Dr. , as I call him in the book. What motivated him, I hope it wasn’t just paid by the pharmaceutical industry. I don’t know. I can’t speculate. I think there was a rigidity. He told me I’d have to be on medication the rest of my life and told me that I was bipolar. I have not been on medication for bipolar disorder for almost a decade, and I’ve been completely symptom free. That’s scary to realize. When I started going off of the Adderall, it scared me how easy it was. It scared me how much I liked myself off of it because I was just doing what I was told. What I was told was to take so much medication that it gave me a psychotic episode, and it made me overdose. I continue to work on myself. I’m never going to be done. All I know is that I feel really good. Even when I don’t feel well, I’m doing well. I think that’s an important distinction.

Zibby: Yes, it is.

Alice: I have an incredible partner.

Zibby: Tell me more about the state of affairs there.

Alice: The state of affairs. After fifteen years, I’m still in pinch-me mode. He’s so kind. He’s so supportive. He’s so creative. He’s so handsome, blah, blah, blah, all the adjectives. The story I love is, the editing process involves me reading the manuscript out loud to him seven times. He will pace back and forth. He’ll go, “Wait, what are you trying to say?” Then we shout words at each other until one of us goes, “That’s it!” Then we high-five. We are so enmeshed in so many ways. We like the same things. Now we collaborate. We work together. He helps me in that most intimate sphere, which is my work. I’m so grateful. I’m really lucky. I’m really grateful for him. His name is Gregory. I don’t know if I mentioned that. He’s a real live person, not just a character in a book. He is that great. I don’t exaggerate in the book. That’s really helped. He’s in recovery. He’s in the program. I’m sober too. I’m not in the program. I get sort of a contact high, for lack of a better term in this context, from his work in the program. Also, he was really patient with me while I was getting sober. I wasn’t sober for a long time. That’s been really helpful, having someone who has that patience, has that insight, and can commiserate with me about how freaking weird being alive is. I feel like that’s an important part.

Zibby: It is all completely bizarre, crazy, and also — I won’t even go to the meaning of life with you, but I agree.

Alice: Want to hear more about that on the next installment. Zibby gets weird about life.

Zibby: Tune in next week on our discussion on the meaning of life. That’s all so wonderful. After this whole thing, how was the publication process for you and going through that and selling the book and marketing the book? How has this all been?

Alice: Oh, my goodness. It’s out August 29th, so it’s not even out yet.

Zibby: Still, there’s still stuff.

Alice: There’s so much stuff. I love every moment of it. My fetish is the minutia, is the paperwork. I’m like, give me more questionnaires to fill out. I wanted to go and see the book being printed. This has been my dream since I was six years old. I wanted to be a writer since I was six. I feel so honored, so privileged, so lucky, all the words, all the synonyms, just to be in this position. I can’t believe it. It took a long time. My incredible agent, Kim Witherspoon, scooped me up four years ago. She gave me some tips. I rewrote. I rewrote. I rewrote. Then my incredible goddess of an editor and publisher, Julie Grau at Spiegel & Grau, she saw me. She got it. She’s a genius and the biggest delight to work with. We worked on Thanksgiving. We worked on Sundays. This has been the best moments of my life. I am so happy that I get to sit here and talk about what I wrote and what I experienced. I’m so grateful. I can’t wait. I’m scared. I’m scared out of my mind. My heart right now is pounding out of my chest. Sometimes I’m scared I’m going to forget my own name. It’s been great. I’m learning. I did a panel, and I said some pretty bonkers stuff. I don’t know if you saw the panel. It was about some sex stuff. I’m learning what’s an overshare and what’s an overshare. I still can’t believe that my dream has come true. Little Alice is just in tears of joy every minute. In fact, Gregory, if he — I’m not a big crier. Gregory, if he wants to help me ground myself in the moment and acknowledge all the beautiful things happening, he’ll just start talking about little Alice. He goes, “What do you think little Alice would –” I’m getting a little choked up. Little Alice gets me every time because she’s living her dream. She almost gave up a bunch of times. I’m really glad she didn’t.

Zibby: I’m really glad she didn’t too. I’m really excited for you and proud of little Alice, what you’ve shared with the reader, that we know of you. It’s really wonderful and a huge accomplishment. I’m really rooting for you. I’m very excited for you.

Alice: Thank you so much, Zibby. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This was also — pinch me. Thank you. Thank you so much. I loved talking to you.

Zibby: I loved talking to you too. I know. More to come on the meaning of life.

Alice: From the experts who know nothing. That’s how I feel.

Zibby: Exactly. Yes, from the completely oblivious to everyone else. Keep me posted on stuff. Stay in touch. Good luck.

Alice: Amazing. Thank you. Awesome. It was so great to meet you.

Zibby: You too.

Alice: Have a great day.

Zibby: You too. Bye.

Alice: Bye.


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