I’ve just finished reading a book that was recently donated to the Mifsa library, called The Flock by Joan Francis Casey with Lynn Wilson. I will definitely be adding the book to my own library, it was an excellent read. I was expecting another really dated, sensational, riddled with graphic abuse accounts biography but instead found a really lovely depiction of the challenges and joys of multiplicity and integration. I’ve read so much about this topic now that it is really difficult for me to put myself in the shoes of someone who is new to it all. I’ve been trying to think about the book from that perspective to work out if it is one I would recommend as a place to start reading. At the moment my suggestions are First Person Plural by Cameron West, The DID Sourcebook, Got Parts, and Trauma and Recovery for those who can get something out a fairly dense book that is fantastic but written in more clinical language. These all have good descriptions of multiplicity and dissociation and, aside from the last, are reasonably easy to read. Some of the books out there are painfully technical and difficult to read, some have clearly been written by and for clinicians and are filled with terms like ‘dissociated identity is a failure to achieve crucial developmental goals’ which is a perfectly valid and interesting perspective but worded in a way that makes my teeth ache. I don’t think we need to throw around terms like failure when there’s less painful ways of describing the same process.
The biographies, particularly the early ones, are very interesting to read and I’ve found them very useful to inform and provide background to the current understandings of trauma and dissociation but can be pretty hard going. A couple of them have such graphic accounts of abuse that I nearly vomited reading them. Most are sensational, and rely on the severity of the abuse to try to help a disbelieving public wrap their minds around the idea of multiplicity – I know it sounds way out there but look what I’ve come through, it was so extreme that multiplicity makes sense really. I have a certain sympathy for this approach and it certainly does make sense but it also leaves people with the unfortunate idea that multiplicity is only ever the result of the most extreme and sadistic child abuse imaginable.
When I started reading and gathering information, it was incredibly hard work. Everything had problems. Most of the information was overly simplistic, most of it contradicted everything else I read, some of it contradicted itself, the rest of it was so dense and clinical it was like being beaten to death with a brick. There are squabbles about how to tell ‘real multiples’ from ‘fakers’, horror stories about therapists coercing suggestible people into becoming multiples, things that say hypnosis is useful, things that say hypnosis is incredibly dangerous and totally contraindicated, books that list the ‘types’ of parts every multiple must have (the protector, the inner self-helper, the abused child), sensational descriptions of multiples that seemed to reduce them to circus freaks (not that I have anything against circus freaks!) and ego-massaging depictions of therapists intelligent, courageous, dedicated, and gifted enough to save them. It was a minefield, very difficult to work my through and start to piece together my own framework. Often the books and research left me really drained and depleted, it would take a few days to process them and start to get my head back to (my version of) normal. Fortunately, I’m persistent, and I’m good at working out the underlying principles and themes of books, and linking together information from different books or even different areas of life to build theories and develop frameworks. There’s nothing quite like living a highly dissociative life to make you good at linking up disconnected concepts people don’t usually put together. 🙂
I think I would recommend The Flock, with a couple of caveats. There are some descriptions of abuse – not many, but they are there. They tend to be very contained, you can skip the paragraph and jump past them without too much trouble. The same thing goes for First Person Plural. It is very interesting in that the book is composed of Renee’s memories (one member of the Flock) and the journal entries of her therapist Lynn. It’s great to get an insight into both processes. The most obvious concern I can see that people might have is that the type of therapy that is depicted in it, called re-parenting, is extremely time intensive and not very common. Considering that most of the literature out there subscribes to the idea that multiplicity is always an extremely dysfunctional state and requires many years of intensive therapy, most multiples and their families are already very anxious about their prospects when they can’t find a therapist or afford one. I’ll write more about the role – and limitations – of therapy in my experience shortly, (edit: What’s the point of therapy?) but the short version is that the therapy depicted in The Flock is certainly helpful for them but that doesn’t make it the only way forwards. 🙂
The Flock is essentially focused on the ‘recovery journey’ which is refreshing, and also depicts integration very sensitively. There’s a number of books out there that describe integration as getting rid of all the parts except one. The Flock has an approach I feel is far more ethical – the description of integration as all the dissociative barriers coming down so that all the parts are united – “from that moment on, all of the personalities had all the time, all of the time.” The other biography I’ve read that depicts this understanding of integration is Leah Peah’s Not otherwise specified. Lynn describes herself as “surprised at how comfortable I am with seeing ‘only’ Joan. I don’t miss the separate personalities. Joan’s right. In some miraculous way, they are all there.” Having said that, many multiples feel under a lot of pressure to integrate, often from overzealous therapists who make integration rather than improved quality of life the goal. It’s perfectly possible to create (or at least, simulate) integration without improving quality of life at all. I see no value whatsoever in swapping the diagnosis of multiplicity for diagnoses of bipolar, depression, borderline personality disorder, and so on.
When talking to folks who come for the first time to Sound Minds, the voice hearers group I help facilitate, I often talk about how individual and unique recovery is. Not only is what helps unique to each individual, but what ‘well’ looks like is different too. Some people have no voices when they are well. Some people’s wellness looks like voices with whom they have a positive relationship. Some people still have dreadfully abusive voices even on their best days, but they have learned excellent strategies and coping skills and are not limited by them. There’s not one road out, or one end goal in mind. Sometimes working towards a specific end goal isn’t even all that helpful, just putting one foot in front of the next working to reduce suffering, improve your functioning, find hope, and create a life you can love will take you to goals you could never have imagined or anticipated that are truly wonderful. That’s certainly how I feel about my peer work. 🙂 The same lack of obsessed focus is probably useful when it comes to thinking about ideas like integration.
The last thing I noticed that I’d disagree with or feel concerned about leaving unchallenged is an assertion in the book that DID is always and only ever caused by abuse. Abuse is highly implicated in the formation of DID, but so is neglect, chronic pain, and all kinds of trauma. There’s a lot of people who are afraid that what they went through wasn’t bad enough for them to be DID, or that a diagnosis of DID means some other terrible things must have happened that they are going to remember later. These fears add a lot of unnecessary stress to the situation.
Caveats aside, I’d recommend this book. I found it a beautiful depiction of the Flock’s experience of multiplicity and Lynn’s love and exasperation throughout a challenging but profoundly healing relationship.