Busy Philipps Gets Candid About #MeToo Moments and Teenage Trauma in 'This Will Only Hurt a Little'
By Meredith B. Kile
Busy Philipps is a queen of social media, but she’s dropping the filters to get candid about her life and career in her new book, This Will Only Hurt a Little.
If you follow Philipps on Instagram, you know she has a knack for storytelling. The actress was an early adopter of the platform’s “Stories” format, and has garnered a following of devoted fans who check in every day for updates on her workout routine, cute kids, love for cinnamon gummy bears and more.
In a sense, reading Philipps' book feels a lot like sitting down to watch one of her Stories. Her voice is clear and her anecdotes are captivating -- whether it's the tale of how Sharon Stone once told her she'd be a "big star" or the story of Lady Gaga yelling at her on Election Night 2016. Amid the memories of the Hollywood fame machine, however, are a few heartbreaking accounts from Philipps' personal life and childhood -- namely, her rape at age 14 and her abortion at 15.
The actress first shared the story of her sexual assault last month, during the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh -- as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified that the now-Supreme Court Justice allegedly sexually assaulted her at a party when they were in high school.
"This is me at 14. The age I was raped," she captioned a school photo, posted to her Instagram page. "It's taken me 25 years to say those words... I finally told my parents and sister about it 4 months ago. Today is the day we are silent no more. All of us. I'm scared to post this. I can't imagine what Dr. Ford is feeling right now."
In the weeks of conversation surrounding Dr. Ford's testimony, much was made of the supposed "gray area" that surrounds many sexual assaults. Questions were raised about the victim's participation in the act, the way they were dressed, their level of intoxication and their behavior in the days and weeks that follow. Philipps' account of her own rape rings nauseatingly true to many survivors, in that it feels like there may be a gray area, right up until there isn't.
The devastating story could be a primer for high school sexual assault. The assailant was a friend, a "skater boy" Philipps and her friends used to hang around with at the mall. The night started innocently enough, a group date at a football game, a cruise to a local park for some privacy. Philipps recalls fooling around on the playground equipment until the guy moved the action to his car. "As soon as he got in and closed the door, he was straight up on top of me," she writes. From there, the account is graphic and violent, and all too real.
The actress recalls her mother later spotting her injuries, both from the assault and from self-harm that followed. She remembers the way her friends shunned her for running off like a "whore," the failed attempts at group therapy, the confusion and infatuation that she attached to her assailant, whom she continued dating. "My still-developing fourteen-year-old brain couldn't handle the trauma of what I had gone through, so I invented a new reality," she shares.
Even later in life, she admits to pushing the assault down in her mind, and casually brushing it off in conversation. "My narrative mostly was, 'Oh yeah, when I was fourteen I lost my virginity to some random seventeen-year-old I was dating in his car,'" she writes. "But then, at my senior prom, I was in a deep red wine-fueled conversation about losing virginities with a friend's date when he abruptly stopped me and said, 'Dude. That guy raped you.'"
It was a fact Philipps, like many assault victims, had a hard time believing. "I unbuckled his belt. And I followed him to his car. And I got in. And I didn't say stop. And I blew him after the fact. And I called him all the time. And I was obsessed with him. And I said we were dating. And I told him we should do it again. And I was a slut. And I was a slut. And I was a slut. And I unbuckled his belt," she recalls.
Philipps admits the assault, to this day, "f**ks with all of my relationships, both sexually and emotionally."
"It has f***ed me in the head again and again, almost always in new ways. Showing up when I least expect it. In college! Night terrors in the months before my wedding! As I'm pushing my baby out of my vagina with no pain drugs!" she adds. "But it has never been one thing to me. And it certainly has never stayed one thing for long."
The following year, Philipps found herself facing another life-changing event, when a new boyfriend got her pregnant and she decided to have an abortion, despite vitriolic pushback from his conservative family. "You're being selfish is what you're doing," she recalls the boyfriend's mother screaming, placing all of the blame on her. "You're going to MURDER A BABY because you didn't prevent this. We are a good Catholic family and there is no way that I can let this happen in good conscience."
Thankfully, Philipps' parents found out about the situation and supported her decision, even helping her find a private practice to perform the procedure. Her mom handled the difficult situation with love, the actress recalls, even keeping her father on board -- "I knew he thought I was murdering a baby, too." -- and giving the boyfriend's mother a piece of her mind over the telephone.
"The truth is, my mother is who you want in your corner when sh*t goes down," she writes. "The way she put aside any of her own feelings about what was happening and just supported and loved me was staggering. I wish I had trusted that she would have taken care of me the year before, but there was no point in bringing [it up] now. One trauma at a time."
Despite her family's support, Philipps is candid about the realities of the aftermath of her abortion, detailing the agonies of ending her relationship, facing the ex-boyfriend's mother, a substitute teacher, at school, and suffering through a fellow classmate's pregnancy. She recalls jumping at the chance to take a trip to Europe over the summer, to distract herself from the gnawing guilt and her upcoming "due date" -- a getaway that turned out to be spiritually serendipitous.
After almost not making it into the Vatican due to a dress code technicality, Philipps recalls finding herself pushed to the front of a crowd of people, where she stumbled and then came face to face with none other than Pope John Paul II himself. "Inches from him in fact. I was staring into his eyes," she remembers.
"He smiled and laughed and then took my cheeks in his hands and said something softly in Italian, I guess? A prayer for me. He made the sign of the cross on me and put his palm to my forehead and then nodded at me and turned and walked away, back through the door where the Pope goes to do Pope stuff," she continues. "I remember his eyes. They were soft. I remember that he really had love for me. Truly. I remember I knew it was okay."
Philipps admits that's she's never told the extraordinary story before, and laments the idea of the encounter being turned into clickbait. But it's a breathtaking moment all the same.
"I don't exist without this story. And the story doesn't exist without this ending," she writes. "It doesn't work for me without getting the absolution I needed. And from the only person in the world who could give it to me: the Pope in Rome. When we got back to the hotel, I called my parents and woke them up. It was June 14, 1995, in Rome; June 13 in Arizona. It was my due date."
Though the following chapters outline Philipps' rise to stardom, the actress doesn't shy away from the realities of working in Hollywood and the struggles that can come with success. Her breakout role on Freaks and Geeks includes trauma behind the scenes, in the form of physical confrontations with co-star James Franco. She loses out on parts because the network couldn't handle her lingering postpartum pounds. She's a fly on the wall for an uncomfortable encounter with Harvey Weinstein in Kirsten Dunst's trailer and is briefly charmed by Quentin Tarantino fangirling over one of her lesser-known TV roles before lighting into him on Twitter for his infamous Howard Stern interview. She has the rug pulled out from under her by an ex-boyfriend who takes her name off a script for what will become a hit Will Ferrell comedy just before selling it.
And she flies to New York City, pregnant with her first child, to be there for best friend Michelle Williams after the shocking, sudden death of Heath Ledger. “For me it was really simple. He was my best friend’s love and the father of her child. My beautiful magical goddaughter," she writes of Ledger. "A child we all love so dearly, who has so much of him in her, without even trying. He was my friend and I loved him.”
The book ends, somewhat abruptly, on two earth-shaking moments for Philipps in late 2016: one explosively public and one shockingly personal. She opens the final chapter by detailing the 2016 presidential election, recalling the devastating mood at the Javits Center in New York City, as the Clinton camp watched the returns roll in. “When I started to cry,” she remembers, “Lady Gaga pointed at me from across the room. ‘NO! WE NEED POSITIVITY!!!!!! NO TEARS! THIS ISN’T OVER!'”
A month later came another bombshell: Philipps told her husband of eight years, Marc Silverstein, that she wanted a divorce. "I was done. I couldn't do it anymore," she shares.
The actress admits that her marriage "hadn't been great" for a while. "I'd just assumed that was what marriage was: two people being mildly miserable next to one another," she writes. She'd also begun having an emotional affair with "a man I was friends with, another dad." Her childhood friends were supportive of her decision to split. Her therapist warned her about the effect it would have on the couples' daughters, Birdie and Cricket. And Williams offered some hard-fought advice of her own.
"Michelle said, 'It would be really awful for two years and then you would find a new normal but honestly, if you can keep your family intact, I thought you should do it,'" she adds.
The couple got back into therapy, both separately and together, Philipps writes, and things started to get better for their whole family. "For a long time, Birdie had also talked to me like I was an idiot, and I figured that was just what girls did with their moms," she says. "But once Marc changed, so did she. I sobbed in therapy that I had allowed it for so long: of course my daughter treated me the way her dad treated me. I'd just never made the connection. We were starting to mend, all of us."
The final pages of the book also detail a new upswing in the actress' career, as she connects with new fans through Instagram and gets some inspiration from "the ghost of Merv Griffin" as she embarks on her newest venture: an upcoming late-night talk show on E! And while the journey is far from over, and the road won't be easy, Philipps ends on a confident note, ready to will her next dreams into reality.
“There are more than a few sliding doors in my past," she concludes. "And who’s to say what could’ve been better or worse, what might or might not have been? All I know for sure is… THIS IS WHO I AM NOW.”