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An Open Letter to MacKenzie Phillips

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Dear MacKenzie,

I watched your "coming out" on Oprah as an incest survivor, having had a decade-long sexual relationship with your father, Papa John, and I must say it triggered a lot of my own memories. But you have one piece of your story dead wrong: it was not a consensual relationship.

There was absolutely nothing consensual about a single piece of your life with your father, not from the moment he started to groom you as a young child to be his drug buddy and his lover. Of course you adored your larger-than-life father. When we're young, our parents are our universe. We want their approval, their love -- in whatever form it gets offered to us. You were under his power, whether you were 9 when you were raped (as I was) or 19. Even if you were the one going to his bedroom, seemingly willingly, even if you were 29 years old and "should have known better" -- it was not your fault. The shame that you carry, the burden of feeling like you should never have let it happen, much less let it continue -- that is your father's mantle of shame you're wearing.

Like an Egyptian pharaoh who grooms his daughter/princess to be his wife, your rock star father felt he too had god-like status -- the rules didn't apply to him like they did to ordinary mortals. When your father raped you the night before your wedding, he was simply taking what he believed was his. He established his dominance, made sure his possession -- you -- never truly belonged to another. He was guaranteeing that he owned you for life.

When he died, you unraveled. Of course you did. A vital part of you had died. I don't know if those who haven't experienced incest with a parent they adored can understand the bond. It's much closer than the bond between husband and wife. I imagine it's more like a twin who loses her other half, minus the shame. When my father died, I went into a tailspin. Like you, I thought I'd finally be free. Although I had left behind my alcohol and Valium addiction, although I was meditating and praying and doing everything in my power to stay clean and sober, it was cataclysmic when he died, like a part of "me" had just been destroyed.

You were one flesh. Not just at conception, not just at birth. There's something about having a sexual relationship with the person who is closest to you by blood that is impossible to communicate to others. I understand. But you must understand that it was not consensual. In a way it's like Jaycee Dugard, who spent 18 years living with her kidnapper and the two children he fathered with her. People wonder why she didn't just pick up and leave that miserable tent in the backyard. Just like people will wonder why you defend your father, why you were able to say "I love you" to him on his deathbed. Why I, too, made excuses for my father's behavior. Yes, it's the incestuous version of the Stockholm syndrome, which is still running in me as it is in you.

But if you want to stay clean, if you don't want to fall back once again on the emotion-numbing life of addiction, you must know in your bones that it was never consensual, it was never your fault. Your self-esteem, no, your very Self, was destroyed.

Telling your story is a brave and necessary part of healing. I did it in my book, Truth Heals. You are doing it on a vast public stage. Thank you for speaking out. I'm sure you will learn how many out there are still hiding in shame. You have joined the ranks of wounded healers -- sharing your journey for the greater good. May it heal your life as well.

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