Mena Suvari went through a lifetime of scary s**t before becoming the breakout star of 1999’s memorable film American Beauty.
Now, the 42-year-old actress is speaking out — through her stunning new memoir, The Great Peace: A Memoir — which looks back at her eventful life and her uncertain journey from sexual abuse and early drug addiction to becoming healthy and well-adjusted.
Sharing a section of her memoir to be excerpted in this week’s People, Suvari opens up about moving to Charleston, South Carolina in her pre-teen years and struggling with being “the new girl” who was “trying to fit in” however she could.
According to Suvari, a friend of one of her older brothers — who she calls KJ in the book — raped her when she was just a few weeks shy of her 13th birthday. Reflecting on that fateful day as a touch point and explaining how she blamed herself for a long time “for allowing it to happen,” the actress wrote (below):
“Part of me died that day. He used me, had fun with me and then disposed of me. He called me a whore. I never got to have a healthy expression of [sex]. My choice was lost. And that, compiled with already not feeling seen and heard, established a concept that I would have of myself. That that was my value.”
Soon thereafter, the poor girl’s family fell apart; her father, who was “much older” began to physically and mentally decline, while her mother left the family altogether in a bid to “find herself.” Alone and lonely and already struggling with her mental health after the horrifying rape, Suvari moved to Hollywood to try her hand at acting. She eventually got a manager whom she trusted — only for the man to allegedly try to pressure her into a sexual relationship when she was just 15 years old.
As she writes, drugs quickly became the thing of choice to numb the pain, and she reflected on how her life quickly became “a haze of drugs and despair” (below):
“By this time my family had pretty much fallen apart. I didn’t feel like I had any other options or was worthy of a life that was any different. I turned to any form of self-medicating I could find, just to get by. I was just trying to survive.”
As she turned 17, Suvari met a man she refers to in the book as Tyler, and began what she describes as a sexually and emotionally abusive three-year relationship with him. She says he pressured her to participate in threesomes and “pick up women to bring home” for him in addition to physical, verbal, and emotional abuse.
But the actress tried to convince herself that it was OK:
“I remember thinking maybe this is how relationships are: the screaming, the name calling, the abuse. I felt like I had brought it all on in some way. From KJ to Tyler, it was a process of destruction.”
It was right about then that her career started to take off, though. First came a breakout role in American Pie, and then later with that infamous part in American Beauty. But as wonderful as her career may have been at the time, Suvari admits she was still leading a double life of drugs and parties — and nobody was any the wiser even as she did interviews with the media or went on set to work:
“I was living a double life. Every time I would go on a set. Every time I was interviewed, I was acting the whole time. It was another role for me to play. That I was okay … I was functioning on the outside and on the inside, desperately trying to heal.”
Eventually, after three years, she broke it off with Tyler and soon thereafter stopped using drugs. Then, in 2016, she met Mike Hope on the set of the Hallmark movie I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and the two immediately connected. They fell in love, and married in August 2018; their son Christopher was born this April.
Reflecting on the changes in her life, Suvari sums it up (below):
“It was the first time I felt I wanted to have a family with someone. And I found out I was pregnant when I finished writing the memoir. This is my truth. This is my voice. I was so tired of fighting and hiding my whole life. I hope I can help someone else see their value. If I can lessen the pain for someone else, then I want to do it, because I didn’t have that person. I want to share my story in hopes to always shine light and inspire. This is what I have learned about myself. And for the first time I’m giving myself permission and finding the voice I wished I’d had.”
So happy to see how Mena made it through the storm, and can now enjoy the rainbow on the other side… What a terrible but also inspiring story! Reactions, Perezcious readers?
[Image via WENN/Avalon]