Mariel Hemingway grew up loving her celebrated grandfather’s legacy as much as the rest of her family. She just didn’t love Ernest Hemingway’s legacy for the same reasons.
“He was incredible and he was creative and he was amazing – and he was in pain and he was tortured, and he self-medicated his pain and his depression by drinking. I think initially it wasn’t that; I think he had a persona.
“He created a persona after he became the great writer we know him to be. He created this persona of being a man’s man, drank and lived a big life. And my family, these are the things that we honoured: drinking,” Hemingway said in an interview last month.
“To me, my grandfather was an extraordinary man who wrote extraordinary books and was the most creative person on the planet. And I bet if he were to do it over, he’d probably be part of a 12-step programme, and he’d probably do it sober. And it would be different.”
Born just a few months after her grandfather shot and killed himself, the Oscar-nominated actress (Manhattan) was raised in a famous family in which communication was rare but mental illness and substance abuse were all too common.
Hemingway, 53, shared her story of growing up in a family struggling with alcoholism (both parents), depression (her sister Margaux), suicide (her grandfather, Margaux, and five other family members) and schizophrenia (her sister Muffet) last month at A Chance to Change Foundation’s annual “A Celebration of Recovery”.
A Chance to Change Foundation is a non-profit agency that offers educational classes, workshops and prevention programmes to those suffering from addictions and behavioural disorders as well as their families.
“I am truly awe-inspired by this group, by the people that were honoured, that spoke, that I’ve met today. I’m kind of in love with Oklahoma City, who knew?” Hemingway said with a smile at the event.
Hemingway has released her fourth and fifth books: a memoir entitled Out Came The Sun: Overcoming The Legacy Of Mental Illness, Addiction, And Suicide In My Family and Invisible Girl, a diary in which she writes as her teen self to share her pain, heartache and coping strategies with adolescent readers.
Since her documentary Running From Crazy premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, Hemingway said she has spent much of her time touring the country and telling her story.
“I’m here to share my story because I want other people to share their story. Because I believe that when we begin to tell our story, whatever it is – good, bad, ugly, bright, sunny, dark, whatever it is – that is the beginning of healing,” she said. “Because once those words come out of your mouth, they have less power over you.”
Becoming the ‘fixer’
Born in Mill Valley, California, the youngest of three daughters mostly grew up in Ketchum, Idaho, where her grandfather committed suicide. Although her father, Jack, was an avid fly fisherman who taught her to love the outdoors, he also led the family in “wine time”.
“They would sit on the counters in our kitchen – our very ugly kitchen in the 1970s – and they would drink their wine. And the first glass of wine was nice and then the second glass of wine got a little edge. By the third glass of wine, people were not kind; by the fourth glass of wine, it got just horrible,” she said.
“My parents would fight and often-times bottles were thrown and somebody would get hit with something and get cut, and there was blood on the walls. Then they would all go to bed in a storm of anger, and I would quietly, from age seven on, I would get up in the middle of the night and I would go downstairs and I would clean up. I had become the fixer.”
When her mother, Puck, was diagnosed with cancer a few years later, her compulsion to make things perfect at home intensified as she became her mother’s primary caregiver, Hemingway said.
It wasn’t until her supermodel sibling Margaux recommended her for the part of her little sister in the movie Lipstick that Mariel began to understand how troubled her family was.
“I started to see that my family was just a mess,” Hemingway said. “I was starting to understand by going off and making movies there was another way to live.”
Going to extremes
In her quest to avoid her family’s dysfunctions, Hemingway went to her own extremes, she said.
“I became obsessed with food, absolutely obsessed, obsessed with how my body looked; I had body dysmorphia. I became very OCD, everything had to be in order. It was a desire to get out of that pain, because still I had not learned to communicate very well,” she said.
“So, all my life I was reaching out for a doctor, a guru, a trainer, some fitness person. Somebody out there was going to help me how to figure out how to feel better about me. … I did so many crazy things, but I was trying to find some solution, some way to feel OK, to not be obsessed. But of course, really I was making choices that were more obsessed because they were so extreme.”
After decades of trying “every kind of woo-woo New Age something”, Hemingway said she had an epiphany while visiting the Dalai Lama in India: she needed to look inside herself instead of outside to find health and wholeness.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t need an A Chance To Change place. It doesn’t mean we don’t need incredible doctors like you. It means we do need help … because all this constantly reaching outside myself was not working,” she said.
“The reason I tell you this is: tell your story. Find somebody, find a safe space, a safe space to tell your story with a safe person who will listen, because telling your story is the beginning of changing your life. Because my life is so rich and full and present now.” — The Oklahoman/Tribune News Service