First Person

Can I Forgive the Unforgivable?


An artist who’d endured unspeakable assaults—on her body and her hard-won career—confronts the painful memories of what happened and takes us on a journey of forgiveness.



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Last week, as I walked past the open encasement windows of my 1920s California apartment, a wave of jasmine scent wafted in. Instantly, I was hit with a memory. Then, many memories, all at once. Just as a tidal wave seizes all within its grasp, so too did these memories and the emotion that engulfed them gripped my heart, my solar plexus, my abdomen. They were all from the same time and place, all painful, and all connected through the sticky, sweet, and tangy aroma of blooming jasmine.

A few years ago, I’d fallen in love with an old friend. Our romance, like the jasmine permeating our long walks and midnight talks, blossomed in spring. Unlike jasmine, our relationship was not perennial. It ended disastrously, leaving me unquenchably suicidal for the first time in my life. Last week, when I caught a whiff of the jasmine, toxic and noxious, I shuddered at the memories. But I also realized with some relief that the potency had waned over time.

The wind picked up. The gentle breeze that carried the aroma of bursting white blooms turned to a gust that flipped my curtains and proceeded to topple the rose quartz on the mirrored table next to the window. As I turned to close the window, I was enraptured again. I grasped the window’s metal handles and pulled them toward me. As I did, I heard a voice from somewhere inside of me gently urge: It’s time to let it go.

Who? I asked. What? For a split second, I questioned myself. Surely, I had done much work on myself since that fateful relationship. I’d taken my personal and spiritual work to new levels and started on a path of emotional sobriety, noticing and unraveling what I now interpret as an addiction to negativity, disappointment, and victimhood. I enhanced my meditation practice and enriched my prayer. I committed to vigilance around integrity, and had even healed a deep wound with my father, who had abandoned me as a child. I’d examined my own part in the resentment with him: my insistence on holding him in contempt decades after that particular heartbreak took place. It had instantly and silently transformed my relationship with him and with myself. By letting go of my contempt, I created a space where our relationship could heal.

Let it go, my inner voice repeated. 

No! My resistance welled up.

Then, a flash of comprehension. “Let it go,” wasn’t about my father, nor the longtime friend whose betrayal left me in a suicidal stupor. No, I had unwittingly arrived at  a new depth; that which I had thought I would never forgive. It was time to let go of the hurt from two profoundly painful incidents with actors in the late 90s.

It’s time, the inner voice persisted.

But who will I be without that pain? I begged.

For what seemed like infinity, but was probably a split second, I pleaded with the voice. My protests were a death rattle. I could already feel myself releasing the grip on what had been a devastating blow. It had never crossed my mind that this day of forgiveness and release would arrive. 

In the mid-1990s, I was a successful actress. I was earning over $1 million a year. I had a beautiful hacienda with a fruit orchard, and rose bushes that I loved to garden. I had a swanky new car. And I was represented by a team of agents and managers, impressive by anyone’s standards. I’d forged a path from foster care to becoming an internationally successful model, got my GED and a few college credits, published essays in top magazines, created TV shows and sold them to studios, and had starred alongside Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, and David Schwimmer. I had become a go-to girl to test on most feature films in Hollywood.

But two unrelated events, in the fall of 1997, and again in the spring of 1998, would cripple me in ways I couldn’t even comprehend: I was sexually assaulted and then violently attacked by my co-star on a TV series—a man whose dead body would later be found, a needle still stuck in his arm, just when he was about to be arrested for the murder of his girlfriend. I was saved from an unknowable fate the night of the attack by another actor who heard my screams.

The following spring, another actor, in a film this time, relentlessly sexually harassed me and then had me fired after I didn’t submit to him. We were working on what was intended to be a magnificent independent noir film by an illustrious screenwriter and the director, an important filmmaker—it was a dream come true for me. Unprovoked, he simply refused to come out of his trailer until I was gone. The director sobbed as he delivered the news to me. I’d been hired before this actor. I was the director’s first and only choice for this role. This was a loss for us both.  These incidents were about more than just sexual harassment, firing, physical and sexual violence, and intimidation; it was the brutal and abrupt ending of my dreams. The scent of jasmine, inhaled, brought it all crashing back, as though jasmine was the albumen that encased these yolks of heartbreak.

These memories also brought back to light the lack of support from the team in a position to guide and help me as I forged a career from stardust and dreams. None of the networks, studios, agents, or managers called to see if I was okay after these well-documented disasters. Gratefully, I had a few dear friends and an amazing lawyer who were there for me, but the dream of becoming a movie star, of creating art through expression with others via film, was over for me. I’d worked hard and sacrificed much to get where I was, and in an instant, it was gone, replaced with the awareness that show business was going to require managing a level of abusive personalities that I was unqualified for and uninterested in. With nowhere else to turn, unmoored and traumatized, I self-destructed. Within a few years I was, almost intentionally, unhireable. 

Looking back on the romance with my friend, I could see the contributing role I’d played in my disappointment; I had known about their destructive past and personality disorders and had told myself that things would be different with me. I’d betrayed myself by choosing to trust someone I’d been so clearly warned about. But what was my part with these two actors in the ’90s? 

I did deep work on myself, including what I call “radical responsibility” where I bravely examined from all sides at situations in which I appeared to be a victim and see if there’s any freedom to be had from another perspective. And, knowing that the path to liberation is through self-awareness, I now had to assess my own behavior and ask myself whether I had contributed to the catastrophes that enveloped me. 

I asked myself: Did any prior shame or fear affect my choices? Did my lack of fear encourage me to be brazen when others knowingly hid in the shadows from these perpetrators? Should I have screamed when my co-star sexually assaulted me? I could have sued the producers for not protecting me from a clearly out-of-control employee, or at least filed a complaint. Had my silence contributed to the death of the girlfriend of the actor who assaulted me? Perhaps if I had done more, she would still be alive! I could have fought back when the gossip magazines printed stories, with clear warnings directed at me to “watch out or I’ll be fired.” 

Instead, like the countless others on the crews, I suffered in silence as these monsters wreaked havoc on production week after week. Had I subconsciously assumed there was something I must have done to bring this on myself? I had been abused as a child. Being attacked and oppressed by those in power wasn’t new to me. Perhaps, my low self-esteem had kept me from moving on in a healthy way or demanding retribution from the executives in charge? It’s possible. Possible enough that I could be willing to let it go. I had claimed the pain and anger as armor for decades. I wanted freedom more than I wanted to be right. I wanted to dream again.

In early 2021, just a few months before this revelation of timed release, the woman who’d been the head of the network when I was attacked by my co-star died and I experienced a flash-flood of bitterness. I had felt so betrayed and unsupported by those in charge. After the attacks my co-star had pulled out a switchblade in front of the show-runner, flicked it open, and said, “(the woman who was the head of the network) called me to tell me what a great job I’m doing.” No one responsible did anything to encourage or protect me. The homicide detective had called that “intimidation” when he deposed me for the actor’s murder investigation. I took note of my reaction when the former network head died. It was shameful. I had, without realizing, become someone I didn’t want to be—a spiteful and mean person. Someone I was embarrassed to be, even in secret. I can’t help but imagine this was an icepick’s slice in the glacier that was my frozen pain. Let it go

Frozen in time and space I stood in front of the closed window, still transfixed by the effects of redolence. I chose to release those actors from my chains of hatred. I was instantly freed. Like a flash flood, the awareness that I could now do anything I wanted rose up. Forgiveness draped off of me as dark waves receded from a jagged rock. All along the power to heal that hurt had been in my hands.

Over time, I have come to trust those quiet inner voices.  I’ve found, too, that emotional triggers are messages from my subconscious saying, “Here! Look here! There is a wound that needs to be healed!” 

My role on Earth, my purpose as it were, is to heal my brokenness. So, with that as a core belief, it may take a little arm wrestling, but eventually, you’ll find me surrendering the old stories in lieu of new ideas and identities.

Learning about the structures of my trauma and setting those structures like frameworks against any current issues I’m having has been invaluable. I am able to recognize and release my victimhood quickly. Bad things happen, sure—but I’m less likely to be subconsciously orchestrating them. Sometimes, my part is anticipating disappointment at every turn, blaming, shaming, being too afraid to tell the truth—or not walking away, calling 911, or speaking up for myself and others. I now look at situations differently. If I’m triggered by someone or something, instead of acting in the ways I used to—yelling, hiding, becoming rageful, silent, or passive-aggressive—now, I tend to follow the trigger deep inside, down the rabbit hole to self-realization.

I have come to trust the power and process of healing. Healing, I have found, can become a way of life. Eventually, it’s something that happens of its own volition. It has the great power of being exponential. We all must find the path that works for us. Healing is very individual. While I never know what magical transformation I will experience, it’s been a great feeling when it happens, so I’m inclined to pursue it. This new path to personal evolution has revolutionized my life. I have found it deeply freeing to understand that others are not responsible for my triggers— I am.

As I write this now, the luxuriant jasmine vines that envelop Los Angeles in the spring have begun to wilt. They will rest and return anew. Inside of me is the now distant memory of heartbreak—it too will bloom again—perhaps provoked by an unsuspecting waft of jasmine. As sweet and poignant as those perfumed blossoms is the urging by Rumi: “Keep breaking your heart until it opens.” 

 

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