At first it's disconcerting to hear this pleasant woman use the pronoun "we" as she talks. Sometimes her long nails, polished a pretty pink, drum frantically on the table. Occasionally, she squeezes her eyes shut, as though she's trying to talk and listen at the same time.
And that's what Truddi Chase is doing. Chase is the public persona shared by 90 other personalities, "born" as the result of hideous abuse. When she - or they - are interviewed, a personality she calls the Frontrunner answers the questions, receiving information from three or four others.
The multiple personalities call themselves "The Troops," and together they wrote the surprise best-seller "When Rabbit Howls," a testimony to the resiliency of the human mind and the story of six years of therapy with Dr. Robert A. Phillips Jr., a specialist in treating victims of sexual abuse.
Unlike other people with multiple personalities about whom books have been written - Sybil, Eve and Billy Milligan - Chase's Troops refused to be integrated into one person. Their story is so unusual it was the basis of a television miniseries that aired last spring, with Shelley Long playing Chase and Tom Conti as Dr. Phillips.
"We're out of therapy now, and we're still together, never to be separated," says Chase, who was in the Twin Cities last week.
"The feeling among therapists is that to be 'healed' you had to be one integrated person. We said no. That went against the grain of the therapeutic community. We were so happy to have Stanley as a therapist. He taught us to trust ourselves, to replace our fear."
Fear there was among the Troops, as well as "enough rage to fuel a rocket." And no wonder. In "When Rabbit Howls" the Troops show how they came into being at each stage of abuse by Chase's stepfather, who raped her when she was 2 years old and continued to molest and emotionally torture her until she left home in her early teens. Throw in a mother who pretended to ignore what was going on, and you understand why the child's mind simply shut down, to be replaced periodically by another personality.
Mean Joe, for instance, is 11 feet tall and protects the personalities who are children. Catherine is a charming partygoer and Black Katherine, her mirror image, is always in a rage. Sewer Mouth speaks only in obscenities and Ten-Four is an business woman who created a successful real-estate firm. Ean is an Irishman who speaks several languages, the Weaver is responsible for keeping painful memories away from some of the Troops, and Rabbit - Rabbit is so hurt she cannot speak, only howl.
Chase says that although "not all people will accept this book," that's OK, because it has already lessened public skepticism about multiple personalities and encouraged abused people to go into therapy.
"There are some estimates that 50 percent of the population is being abused," she says. "In general, all abused people need some kind of therapy for some period. There is no way you can sort this out by yourself. You'll find yourself alone, screaming your guts out at night."
Chase's personalities finally sought therapy because life was unbearable, even though she seemed, to her friends, to be an average woman who made a good living.
"It's like a jackhammer going off inside you," she recalls of multiplicity. "It was so scary. We had trouble with time, directions, dates. We always felt like a misfit. Each of us felt something was wrong, but couldn't pin it down. Yet, we are completely sane."
Therapy was long and difficult. As each personality gave up his or her share of the pain and learned what the others endured, "we felt crazy, like we were eating garbage 24 hours a day," Chase says.
"But it was worth it because we got our self-esteem back. The bottom line is that the fault is with the abuser. Only this year, we are finally accepting that. The common denominator of abuse, the way you are kept in thrall by the abuser, is to tell you that you are worthless. From the moment it begins, your sense of reality is distorted, especially if there is a silent partner (like her mother), ignoring the abuse or saying you are not telling the truth."
For a long time before therapy, Chase says, the Troops were so traumatized that words like "love" and "family" meant nothing to them. Even when Truddi gave birth to a daughter, they didn't know how to react to the baby. (Some of the personalities didn't remember being married and becoming pregnant).
"We looked at our daughter, and this feeling rose up, but we didn't have a name for it," she says. "We were in such a rage, so filled with confusion, and we were afraid that what happened to us would happen to her. We were just scared, we left her with her father. Now, she's 21 and we have a marvelous relationship."
The Troops are working on a new book about the potential of the human mind and are thinking of moving to Ireland. Until then, Truddi Chase will continue to make public appearances and consult with Dr. Phillips about other "multiples."
"I was on the radio the other day, and a man called to say he would be more comfortable if I used the pronoun 'I' instead of 'we,' " Chase says. "What he really meant was that 'we' reminded him of abuse, and I don't want anybody to forget that."
Copyright (c) 1990 St. Paul Pioneer Press
When Rabbit Howls: New York Times Chris Lehmann-Haupt's review, disbelieving and unflattering to the subject.
Inside the Mind of a Multiple Psychology Today review, she finds the idea of living multiple "disturbing".
When Rabbit Howls: Astraea review Jay Young and Andy Temple take a good look at what the Troops are really saying.
Muster the Troops Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 1987
Truddi Chase Introducing People to Her 92 Personalities Washington Post, July 1987
Brief Chicago Tribune interview with Truddi&, August 30, 1987.
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