Jennette McCurdy understands, accepts, and stands by her one-woman seriocomedy show, “I’m Glad My Mom Died.”
“It’s thought-provoking,” the former iCarly actress, 29, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue of the show, which details the “intense” physical and emotional abuse she endured at the hands of her mother, Debbie, who died of cancer in 2013. “But even though it may seem black and white, there’s a fullness to my narrative. Life can be dark — and messy. Nobody has a perfect life.”
Despite a successful career, McCurdy, who was raised by Debbie and father Mark, growing up was not easy for McCurdy.
“My earliest memories of childhood were of heaviness, and chaos,” says Jennette, who plans to share her story in an upcoming memoir. In particular, “My mom’s emotions were so erratic that it was like walking a tightrope every day. The mood fluctuations were daily.”
Jennette says when she was just a child, she witnessed physical fighting between her parents and recalls Debbie’s outbursts often turning violent. And by the time she was 6, her mother became fixated on her only daughter.
“My mom had always dreamt of being a famous actor and she became obsessed with making me a star,” says McCurdy. And while she was “cripplingly shy,” her mom pushed her to go to auditions and she began working steadily. “I felt like my job was to keep the peace,” she says. “And I wanted to make my mom happy.”
When McCurdy was 10 when her mother began bleaching her hair and whitening her teeth. And when McCurdy was 11, Debbie would make the child count calories. By the time McCurdy landed the role of Sam on iCarly, she was battling anorexia — which later shifted into binge eating and then bulimia.
Until McCurdy was 17 (by then she was three years into a starring role on a hit show), Debbie would perform vaginal and breast exams on her and forbid her daughter from showering alone.
“I know if my mom were alive, I’d still have an eating disorder,” says McCurdy, who credits recovering thanks to intense therapy. “It was only distance from her that allowed me to get healthy.”
McCurdy also reveals she is “so repressed and delayed developmentally” due to her mom’s control. It wasn’t until after Debbie died that McCurdy finally had autonomy and began having sex and experimenting with alcohol. She went on to struggle with bulimia and a dependency on alcohol until she made a few big life changes.
“It’s a risk to change your life, but I made it my mission,” says McCurdy, who left Hollywood to build a life outside of her mother’s tight fist — for the first time ever.
“I did not know how to find my identity without my mom,” she says. “And I’m not going to lie. It was very hard to get here. But now, I’m at a place in my life that I never would have thought was possible. And I finally feel free.”
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