Canada markets open in 5 hours 11 minutes
  • S&P/TSX

    20,401.49
    +157.20 (+0.78%)
     
  • S&P 500

    4,395.64
    +41.45 (+0.95%)
     
  • DOW

    34,258.32
    +338.48 (+1.00%)
     
  • CAD/USD

    0.7892
    +0.0060 (+0.76%)
     
  • CRUDE OIL

    72.21
    -0.02 (-0.03%)
     
  • BTC-CAD

    55,971.11
    +1,774.55 (+3.27%)
     
  • CMC Crypto 200

    1,111.21
    +70.73 (+6.80%)
     
  • GOLD FUTURES

    1,766.60
    -12.20 (-0.69%)
     
  • RUSSELL 2000

    2,218.56
    +32.38 (+1.48%)
     
  • 10-Yr Bond

    1.3360
    0.0000 (0.00%)
     
  • NASDAQ futures

    15,260.25
    +96.75 (+0.64%)
     
  • VOLATILITY

    19.38
    -4.98 (-20.44%)
     
  • FTSE

    7,115.87
    +32.50 (+0.46%)
     
  • NIKKEI 225

    29,639.40
    -200.31 (-0.67%)
     
  • CAD/EUR

    0.6729
    +0.0035 (+0.52%)
     

Mena Suvari makes peace with abuse, addiction in new book: 'I spent so much time fighting myself'

·5 min read

Mena Suvari’s name instantly conjures an indelible image: a blond, virginal beauty sprawled on a sea of velvety rose petals as red as her smiling lips, flashing a beguiling wave. Suvari was the very picture of girl-next-door glamour in her star-making turn as Angela Hayes in the 1999 best-picture-winning film “American Beauty.” But her real life couldn’t have been further from the sugar-and-spice appearance she projected in that and her other hit that year, “American Pie."

When she filmed that iconic scene, she was living under the control of an abusive boyfriend, often high on drugs, sleeping on the floor between unwanted sexual encounters with strangers. “The whole time I worked on 'American Beauty' I was grinding on empty: working to perfect my part, submitting to Tyler’s demands for kinky threesomes at least three or four times a week, and pretending in both cases that everything was okay. Except it wasn’t,” Suvari writes in her new book, the actress’ first, “The Great Peace” (Hachette, out now).

Suvari, now 42, is bracingly honest about her experiences, detailing the rape and sexual abuse she suffered, the parental neglect that left her living with predatory managers and confused by what her period was when she first got it, broken relationships and near financial ruin.

“The Great Peace,” by Mena Suvari.
“The Great Peace,” by Mena Suvari.

But though Suvari is unflinching in detailing the sex, drugs, abuse and toxic relationships that afflicted her adolescence and young adulthood even as she was becoming a star, “The Great Peace” is not a sordid tell-all or Hollywood expose. Instead, Suvari has written something more personal, a sort of diary of her spiritual journey. Once she had been a girl broken enough to write a suicide note. Now she's thriving in a supportive marriage with her third husband, Michael Hope, and the mother to a young son.

Writing the book "has been a wonderful process, an uncomfortable process. I refer to it as therapy with the world,” Suvari says in an interview with USA TODAY. “I never thought that I had a voice or anything to say, and I’m working toward feeling that I do.”

More: Kevin Spacey lands first acting role since 2017 sexual assault accusations, reports say

Mena Suvari gets real about sexual abuse, addiction and shame

Though ultimately hopeful, “The Great Peace” is often a harrowing read. The horrors start at age 12, when an impressionable Suvari, aching for affection, was raped by her older brother’s friend, who ignored her pleas to stop. “I never was all right again,” she writes.

“It feels strange when I experience second-guessing myself when I would like to choose the word ‘rape,’ ” Suvari says. “Because I didn’t end up in the hospital. I didn’t end up unconscious. But isn’t just that I said no enough?”

Shortly after the rape, struggling with feelings of shame and worthlessness, Suvari got drunk for the first time, and then quickly graduated to more illicit substances.

“My days moved with a frantic mix of meth and marijuana,” she writes. “I took drugs to numb myself from the pain. Alcohol. Pot. Coke. Crystal meth. Acid. Ecstasy. Mushrooms. Mescaline. It was my way of detaching from the hell of my existence – and surviving.”

Mena Suvari, a castmember in the Paramount Network series "American Woman," poses for a portrait during the 2018 Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour at the Langham Hotel on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif.
Mena Suvari, a castmember in the Paramount Network series "American Woman," poses for a portrait during the 2018 Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour at the Langham Hotel on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, in Pasadena, Calif.

In this haze of meth and shame she meets Tyler, the lighting guy at a rave whom she refers to only by his first name in the book. He would take her life to new lows. Her things stuffed in the corner, Suvari slept on a soiled mattress on the floor, and at Tyler’s insistence brought home women to engage in threesomes she didn’t want, eventually contracting an STD. It would take her years to work up the strength to leave him.

Suvari writes of her desire to let go of the shame of sexual abuse and addiction she has carried around for decades. Though the book is finished, that personal journey is still ongoing. “I still am dealing with that process. It’s still uncomfortable for me,” Suvari says. “I spent so much time fighting myself, I spent so much time being hard on myself, living in that pain and regret.”

More: Prince Harry is spilling his own ink: 'Honest' memoir to be published in 2022

Making peace: 'I don’t want to feel bad for myself anymore'

It would be many years still until Suvari would live a healthy, fulfilling life. After Tyler, there were two failed marriages, more drugs, financial hardship and debilitating emotional extremes. Through it all, Suvari found solace and escape in her work, funneling her experiences into her characters.

Of her performance in “American Beauty,” she writes, “I could take every single moment of trauma in my life that I worked to conceal and bring it to the character, letting it rise to just below the surface, where I scared myself that someone might see.”

She didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, Suvari sees how her work was key to her survival. “I feel that art saved my life because it gave me that outlet,” Suvari says.

The book was another kind of outlet.

The project began with the rediscovery of a plastic bin she’d kept as a teenager, filled with poetry, pictures and diaries. What stopped her in her tracks was finding a suicide note she hadn’t remembered writing.

“I felt completely compelled to finally talk, I felt like I needed to just breathe and I was tired of fighting, running, playing, acting,” Suvari says. “It just felt better to me to live my life authentically.”

She was inspired in part, she says, by the #MeToo movement, and the courage of the women who stepped forward to tell their truths. She hopes that her book will find readers who feel as isolated and alone as she once felt, and that her emotional vulnerability and honesty will act as a light showing the way out of shame.

“I worked with the spiritual teacher once and she called it sitting in your poopy diapers,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me. I just want to have conversations about it, like what can we do about it. Because I’ve sat in those moments, I’ve been in my poopy diapers for a long time. I don’t want to feel bad for myself anymore. I don’t want to give that power away.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mena Suvari abuse, American Beauty detailed in book 'The Great Peace'

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting