CW: Child abuse, self-harm, suicide.
I did this interview for Access Hollywood that aired yesterday. In this interview, I told my whole truth, like I have before, about the things I have survived. When Access Hollywood told me they’d have to reach out to my parents to get a comment, I told them I understood and respected their journalistic integrity. I also told them that my parents would lie, that my mom would say “I’m shocked! I had no idea!” and that she’d claim we were such a close family it’s all just a huge surprise. Also she would say something about how angry I am.
That’s exactly what she did. They are nothing if not predictable.
I was thinking about this huge lie my mother tells herself and the world, last night. The big lie that she didn’t force me to become a child actor when I was seven, that it was all my idea. The last few weeks have been challenging for me, while I promote and talk about Still Just A Geek, surviving abuse and neglect, and constantly revisiting painful, traumatic parts of my life. It’s kind of like picking at a wound that’s doing its best to heal, right? You don’t rip the scab all the way off, but you’re still poking at it. So I was just kind of unwinding things in my head, like I do, and I remembered that when my mom took me to my first audition, it was actually her audition. She brought me along to be her scene partner. I CLEARLY recall feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be there, and that she was springing me on casting at the last minute. “This is my son and we can do it together” or something like that. I was a sweet kid, full of energy and enthusiasm. I wanted everyone to be proud of me, so I took direction extremely well. I don’t know if it’s true, but I recall being told over the years by the casting people that I crushed that audition, that day. Those same casting people loved this kid, who they were going to bring in all the time. My mom and I booked the commercial, together.
Relatively soon after we shot that commercial, she made me to go her commercial agency and tell the children’s agent, “I want to do what mommy does,” which she has lied to herself about for 40 years. I clearly remember sitting at the kitchen table at our house in Sunland, while she coached me on how the meeting was going to go. She played the agent and I was me. She gave me commercial copy to practice. She coached and prepped me and I went along with it because I WAS SEVEN. (I had lunch with my childhood agent about three years ago. I asked her specifically about that day, and she remembered that I was very good at reading the copy, I had clearly been coached and prepared, and she told my mom that she’d send me on a couple auditions to see how it went. After that, I rarely talked to the agent directly.)
I can’t remember specifically when I first said “I just want to be a kid,” but I can still see the late 70s smog, and smell the exhaust all around us as I begged her for what feels like years to stop making me do this, while we sat in traffic on the freeway after school, going to and from auditions, day after day after day. Once, in my teens, I was trying to talk with her about that, trying to understand why she didn’t hear me, and she said “I always let you book out when you wanted to take a break,” which is a weird choice of language if it was all my idea and something I really wanted to do so much. Also, I never once — never once — asked to go back and audition again. But after some period of time, she ALWAYS pressured me to go on auditions again until I gave in.
None of that supports her lie that it was all my idea. I mean, that’s unsurprising because it’s a lie, but she was so good at manipulating and gaslighting me, I spent some considerable time in my life trying to convince myself that it was true. I did EVERYTHING I could to make myself believe it was true, because I wanted to be seen and loved and accepted in my family and that was the only way I knew how.
The other big lie she tells herself is that we were this extremely close, tight-knit family. I know she desperately wants to believe that. I know she worked harder than anything else at presenting that image to the world. It just is not true. I know from relatives and people who were part of my childhood that other adults could not stand my parents. They saw exactly who and what they were, especially how manipulative my mother was. Our family was not close. We were cloistered. There’s a huge difference, but to a self-absorbed, controlling, narcissist, it’s the same thing.
The thing about this particular lie is that, if we were this tight-knit family, how could she be shocked and have no idea that her husband was relentlessly bullying me? How could it be a shock to her, after she made me apologize to him the few times I stood up for myself? How could she be shocked and have no idea that I didn’t want to be an actor, when I literally BEGGED HER FOR YEARS after she forced me to start, to just let me be a kid? She’s only shocked because she was so self-absorbed she chose to ignore the pain she was inflicting on her son. On her child. On me. When I was 7 years-old. She has no idea because she deliberately looked the other way whenever I was in pain or I needed her to show up for me as my mother. She’s shocked and had no idea because she chose to replace what was actually happening in my life and our family with a giant lie.
I know she needs these lies she tells herself to be true, because they are the foundation she built her entire life upon. If she has to accept that she traded her child away so she could be popular, or at least be close to popularity, if she has to accept that she heard her seven year-old child BEGGING, “Mommy, please let me be a kid. I just want to go home and play with my friends,” and dismissed that because it got in the way of what she wanted for herself, I don’t think she could handle it.
Here is the saddest part of all: I told all of my truth to Access Hollywood. I told the same truth I’ve been telling for years. The part my mom got upset about and pushed back on is her big lie that she didn’t force me to be an actor. Not the abuse I endured. Not their theft of the money I earned. Not the exploitation they allowed. Not the physical and psychological abuse she witnessed firsthand when she made me and my sister do The Curse. The thing she was REALLY upset about is having to answer for the fundamental choice she made when she forced me to become a child actor. Just that one thing. The lie she built her whole life on. That’s the thing she lost her shit about. Not that she was so unavailable, and my dad was so cruel to me, that I seriously contemplated killing myself more than once when I was in my teens. She didn’t care about that. And he had no comment. Because that’s about me and my pain, not something they can make about themselves where they are the victims or whatever.
It’s been clear for as long as I can remember that my mom and my dad don’t feel bad or anything about how much they hurt me, or how much their choices affected my life. My dad doesn’t care at all, and never did. My mom is just embarrassed that her lies are being exposed, and that the story she’s told people about herself is threatened. Well, if you don’t like the true story … maybe you could have written it differently.
In Still Just A Geek, I directly address my mom. I try, once more, to somehow get her to hear my truth, but “the woman I knew for 46 years is probably working hard on her victim narrative right now,” and that seems to be accurate. And ultimately, what choice does she have? If my mom admits to herself that she forced me to do all of this, even when I literally BEGGED her to stop, she would have to take an honest look at her entire life. When I told her “I want you to be my mom and not my manager,” she said, “I can’t believe you would take that away from me.” Again, not exactly the sort of thing you say when you’re supporting your son who really wants to do this because it’s his idea.
She stole my childhood from me, so she could feel popular. To be honest, I’m relieved she feels embarrassed and maybe even some shame, because at least it means that, somewhere in her alcoholic brain, she knows what she did to me. She knows that I put up with all of it, silently and alone, for my whole life. And when I couldn’t endure that any longer, when I tried as hard as I could to work through all of this with her and my dad, all they had were excuses, deflections, accusations, and absolutely no interest in actually participating in my recovery. So I made the choice to live the rest of my life without her and my dad and my brother in it. They can be who they are and live the lie they need to believe about me, without my presence inconveniently reminding them that none of it is true. (Sidebar: I’ve spoken with multiple professionals who have affirmed to me that children can grow up in the same house and have profoundly different experiences with their parents. This is particularly true when there is a Golden Child and a Scapegoat. Of course my brother is close to our parents. They poured nothing but love and affection and support into his life from the day he was born. They are kind and loving grandparents to my nephew. That doesn’t make the way they treated me untrue.
Real quick: there’s a lot in this post and I want to take a moment here to tell you that if you’re hurting, there are wonderful people who are waiting RIGHT NOW to help you. I didn’t know that when I was suffering the most. I also didn’t have instant (and private) access to resources and professionals online to counsel me via my phone or laptop or whatever. I can’t tell you how to approach your journey, but I can show you two places you can start: https://www.mentalhealth.gov/ or https://nami.org/Home