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Video: Ashley Judd reveals sexual abuse as child

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    >>> ashley judd . critically acclaimed for her work on stage and screen she's a devoted activist and scholar. in her new memoir, "all that is bitter and sweet," she reveals how growing up in the musical judd family had all the makings of a tragic country song . we were talking about how the book is about your advocacy work, but in order to explain where you are at this point in life, you have to explain where you have been. i think that's getting a lot of attention.

    >> it is. i have made a decision actually to be complete ly abstinent from the press. i started writing diaries to commemorate the narratives when i began visiting brothels in slams and forcibly displaced person camps. i wanted to share the stories that were being entrusted to me and i needed to write to process because i was so staggered by the realities with which the majority of the people with whom we share our fragile planet live and i didn't know where to put it. i didn't have a place in my brain or heart so i started putting it on the page. then i also wanted to talk about the effective and inexpensive grassroots solutions i was seeing. all of the sudden 13 countries later, 650 pages of diaries there was a book in there. but i was really encouraged by people i trust to include some of my own story because why i love this work really baffled people. so i got willing to put it in there.

    >> maybe you love it because of the life you led. you talk openly about that. you did not have an easy childhood. i think people would be surprised to read that your parents divorced when you were 5, so you shuttled back and forth. you said your mom ignored you a lot of the time. there is a quote, i was a stranger in my family. i remember endless time spent on my own, thoughts of suicide as a kid, dealing with depression. why include that?

    >> first of all, my mother loves and adores me. and my dad absolutely loves and adores me. they did then and they do now. we came from a dysfunctional family system that didn't work well. the things that happened to me are standard and indicative of a family system that doesn't work well. and by the grace of god in 2006 some really brilliant clinicians identified that i was coming out of this family alcoholic system and there is help and hope. so i was given the gift of recovery and really that section of the book for me is about hope, resilience and recovery. but it doesn't make sense to share my recovery unless i'm willing to share some of the uncomfortable things that set me up to need help.

    >> was there a moment you realized you needed that kind of recovery help?

    >> you know, i was sick and tired of being sick and tired , meredith. i didn't know, quote/unquote, what was wrong with me. i looked really good on the outside. i had a lot of anxiety and insomnia. i realized eventually that i was powerless over my childhood and the coping strategies that i developed had made my adult life unmanageable. so i needed to find a power greater than myself to help me make peace with all of that and have a very simple and effective design for living today. you know, it's too late to go back and have a happy childhood, but by the grace of god and a pretty simple program of recovery and a fellowship, life is good today.

    >> you know, we reached out to your mom and sister for their comment about you and the book and we didn't get a comment from your sister but your mom sent a message. she said, i love my daughter. i hope her book does well. has it come full circle for the family?

    >> i was talking a walk and this is where i get emotional because i love the god of my understanding. i was taking a walk in the park and having a talk with god going, this is absolutely amazing. to think that i, who very much played the lost child in this family system , would have the opportunity to travel all over the world and sit with and hold and lo and encourage people who are pretty lost in our global family system is remarkable. while the conditions in which i was raised were very different, i identify. that's really what matters. it's empathy, the mutual sharing of experience, strength and hope. so there is a lot of coming full circle . i'm really grateful for my mother's exquisitely gracious attitude towards my right to share my narrative. you know, the book is very honest. it's not necessarily accurate because everyone in a family has their own perspective and their own experience. but it's very true for me.

    >> it must have been hard for your parents. you had repressed incest that happened to you. when you talked to your parents about that --

    >> well, it's that i didn't know. because that's what sexual predators do. they groom their victims and psychologically manipulate. because they are shameless when they are perpetrating, as all those perpetrators who will perpetrate during this segment and i am not alone or unusual which is one of the reasons why i'm super comfortable talking about being a survivor of sexual abuse . every two seconds a woman is sexually agresed upon or a girl in this country. it's very standard. so they put their shame on me. and i have given those s.o.b.s back their shame.

    >> it was a lot in this book. ashley judd , thank you so much.

    >> pleasure.

    >> the book is "all that is bitter and sweet." you can find an excerpt on

By
TODAY contributor
updated 4/5/2011 11:23:35 AM ET 2011-04-05T15:23:35

While her famous mother and sister have written autobiographies of their own, film star Ashley Judd’s memoir tells a different story — one filled with early-life horrors of being neglected, then emotionally and sexually abused.

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Judd’s just-released “All That Is Bitter and Sweet” includes stories from the “Kiss the Girls” star’s painful childhood, including being left alone while mom Naomi and sister Wynonna sought fame and fortune as the singing team The Judds. The memoir includes eye-opening accounts of Judd’s being molested as a young girl and family members not believing her story. The 42-year-old Judd also writes that mom Naomi tried to turn her daughter against her dad, Michael Ciminella, following their divorce. Her mother’s volatile relationships with men were traumatizing for Judd, as she was witness to inappropriate sexual behavior and even saw her mom pull a gun on one man.

Story: Ashley Judd details ‘bitter and sweet’ in memoir

Appearing live with Meredith Vieira on TODAY Tuesday, Judd said that the goal of her book was to explain the humanitarian work she does for numerous charitable organizations around the globe, but believes she needed to divulge her own backstory in the process. And in her family story, she and her mother have come to an understanding.

“First of all, my mother loves and adores me and my dad absolutely loves and adores me; they did then, and they do now,” Judd told Vieira. “We came from a dysfunctional family system that didn't work very well. So the kinds of things that happened to me are very typical and standard and indicative of a family system that doesn’t work very well.”

In her book, Judd recalls being in middle school when her mom started dating her current husband, Larry Strickland, and writes about the ways that relationship affected her.

“Mom and pop were wildly sexually inappropriate in front of my sister and me ... a horrific reality for me was that when pop was around I would have to listen to a lot of loud sex in a house with thin walls... I now know this situation is called covert sexual abuse,” she writes.

Video: Judds credit life coach for reunion

While Judd’s written revelations have raised eyebrows, Naomi Judd issued a statement to TODAY saying, “I love my daughter. I hope her book does well.” Judd told Vieira she appreciates the words of support, even though some stories in the book don't shine a positive light on her mother.

“I’m very grateful for my mother’s exquisitely gracious attitude toward my right to share my narrative,” she said. “You know, the book is very honest [but] it’s not necessarily accurate, because everyone in my family has their own perspective and their own experiences. But it’s very true for me.”

Judd’s 2006 stay at Shades of Hope recovery center in Texas, where she sought help to beat depression, was a catalyst for writing the book and coming to terms with her childhood. Despite stepping out of her famous family members’ shadow and becoming a star in her own right, Judd told Vieira she “was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

“I just didn’t know quite what was wrong with me,” she said. “I looked really good on the outside [but] I had a lot of anxiety and insomnia, and I realized eventually that I was really powerless over my childhood, and the coping strategies that I developed had made my adult life unmanageable.”

Video: ‘Helen’ hits close to home for Judd

In therapy, Judd uncovered repressed memories of being sexually abused by a family member (she doesn’t name the person in the book), and also circumstances that led her to consider suicide before she was even in her teens. Judd writes about playing with her mother’s gun as a child — loading the bullets into the chamber and holding it to her head.

“.... I took to playing with mom’s gun, trying to decide if it would be worth it to shoot myself ...” she wrote. “There were many days after school ... I would expertly check the chamber, load bullets, give it a spin and with a jerk of my wrist click the chamber into place, cock the trigger and then hold then gun to my right temple. To me, the way my family lived was already killing me.”

In addition, Judd writes about being raped while she was a 15-year-old model working in Japan. “There was a creepy Frenchman who hung out at the bar ... He offered me a ride home ... I was so young and confused that I had no idea that what followed was rape.”

And that wasn’t the only painful sexual experience she had while modeling. “An adult male model who lived above me ... attempted to force me to perform oral sex on him, and I was able to persuade him to stop...” she writes.

But Judd told Vieira that she got over the emotional upheaval, and made peace with the past.

“You know, it’s too late to go back and have a happy childhood, but by the grace of God and you know, a pretty simple program of recovery and fellowship, life is good today,” she said.

As far as the headline-making revelations in the book, Judd admits she’s “really powerless over what the media does with it.” But she hopes readers understand the place she was coming from in telling her story — which was hearing the horror stories of women in impoverished countries around the globe as part of the process of her humanitarian work.

“I began visiting brothels and slums and forcibly displaced persons’ camps, and I wanted to share with the world the stories that, however improbably, were entrusted to me. I didn’t know where to put it, like I didn’t have a place in my brain or in my heart, so I started putting it on the page.

“I was really encouraged by people I trust to include some of my own story, because why I love [humanitarian] work really baffled people, and so I eventually got willing to put it in there.”

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