Warning: the following discusses drug abuse and sexual assault.
At just 15, Mena Suvari left home for Hollywood to try to make it as an actor. Four years later, she ended up starring opposite Annette Benning and (the now disgraced) Kevin Spacey in American Beauty, a film that won five Academy Awards. On the surface, Suvari’s life itself looked like a Hollywood fairytale but, she says, it was far from it.
As a 12-year-old, she was the victim of sexual assault. Her attacker was a friend of her older brother. Then at 17, she found herself in an abusive three-year-long relationship.
"I was living a double life," Suvari told People ahead of the release of her book, The Great Peace. "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."
Suvari recounts the sexual assault in the memoir writing, "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,” she explains, adding, “And that, compiled with already not feeling seen and heard, established a concept that I would have of myself. That that was my value."
The actor says that she has a clear recollection of telling her attacker that she didn’t want to have sex but he forced her to regardless. Suvari blamed herself, thinking she’d “allowed it to happen.”
At 17, with her parents’ marriage in the process of breaking down, Suvari found herself in a relationship with another abusive partner and again blamed herself.
"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… it was a process of destruction." Like so many people in pain, she began to abuse drugs and alcohol in an attempt to feel better.
"I turned to any form of self-medicating I could find, just to get by. I was just trying to survive," she told People.
For Suvari, who felt she had to hide for all those years, the memoir is a chance to finally share her story. "This is what I have learned about myself,” she says of the book, “And for the first time I'm giving myself permission and finding the voice I wished I'd had."
Suvari eventually gave up drugs, crediting therapy and a supportive network of friends for helping her along the way. Today she’s happily married to set decorator and prop master Michael Hope. The two welcomed their first child this spring.
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