In my hiatus over the past two months, I’ve made some incredible discoveries in my master’s program – and also careened into some of the most difficult obstacles. Detached supervisors. A high volume of faculty turnover. Recurrent and complex grief. But one book in particular has helped raised me out of my nadir, and that is When Rabbit Howls.
This spring semester pulled no punches. I was interning at a behavioral mental health hospital, and from day one I felt the sting of a supervisor who was mentally checked out and ready to take on a higher-end job. I felt bereft at times, struggling to get my weekly supervision and elicit feedback from those whom I had entrusted with my naivete. Burnout was at an extreme, and one day I sent the email to the hospital director and my supervisor that liberated me. I was done, ready to stop letting the countertransference of my father’s death and my supervisors’ impending departure beat me down.
One case worker there, a sweet woman who seemed more invested in that hospital than anyone else, gave me a parting gift: When Rabbit Howls. She always recognized my willingness to grow and engage in my own self-teaching, and when we admitted a woman with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder), this case worker immediately told me, “Read this.”
This story has, frankly, bowled me over with about as much of a wallop as the rest of my life stressors, but in a different way. Whereas my struggles with grief, uncommunicative professors, and a graduate program in which faculty seem to be absconding left and right have left me bent over, When Rabbit Howls has forced the air back into my lungs.
Truddi Chase was sexually abused beginning at age 2. Her stepfather carried out these monstrous and inhumane acts upon her. Truddi found solace in her stepbrother, who shielded her from as much of the abuse as he could. Still, she found very little reprieve: her stepfather drilled an eye-sized hole in her bedroom door, and slaughtered the baby rabbits that her and her stepbrother tried to save from his sadism. For years Truddi was also raised by a puritanical mother who tried to beat and shame the sin out of her, which only compounded Truddi’s sense of self-loathing.
Out of her years of petrifying hell, there arose an army, a cavalcade of defenders who hid Truddi’s two-year-old essence in the deepest recess of her mind: a place no sexual or physical pain could reach. Ninety-two men, women, and beings took watch over Truddi, insulating her and allowing her to carry on some semblance of a normal life. She became a successful real estate agent. Married and had a daughter whom she loved very much. No one suspected that she was one person on the outside, but almost a hundred different entities within.
Truddi sought help, too, and her call was answered by Dr. Robert Phillips, a psychotherapist who was working for Protective Services in Maryland when their paths crossed. In over his head, Dr. Phillips, or Stanley, as the Troops came to know him, delved headlong into Truddi’s teeming multiplicity. Where other psychotherapists had failed, Stanley picked up with only unconditional acceptance of Truddi’s mind-bending realities. And he fostered self-acceptance in her. “Baloney,” Stanley told her in one session right after Truddi wondered aloud how she could have become so immoral towards her real father and grandmother.
Internship 1 was hell. A maelstrom of burnout and piss-poor behavioral health politics. But I’ve found the voice in me to say “Thank You” to those who tried, who granted me the patience and peaceful guidance that I have sought for these past few months. Like Truddi, I grappled with my own negative self-talk and thoughts of worthlessness. Unlike me, though, Truddi braved dozens of unique entities within herself, all of them vying to protect her with a panoply of sterilized memories and an interminable fighting spirit.
I press on, reading her story by the light of my bedside lamp. I see what she overcame, and I hope to see where she went by the final page.