Now this friend is one of the smartest execs I know, and within 10 minutes, it became clear that her great taste in scripts extended to her choice of partners. Moochie (a.k.a. Michelle Stevens) was quick-witted, clearheaded and exactly the kind of person you hope to meet at these TV affairs (i.e., someone who doesn’t work in TV). We discovered that we’d both grown up obsessed with Broadway musicals and bonded over that.
Hanging out with Moochie at parties became a bonus of working with this exec. I watched their lives unfold in time-lapse. They got married. They had a son. Moochie enrolled in graduate school and received her doctorate in psychology (“that’s Dr. Moochie”). Because of our easy connection, I always assumed that we both came from a similar background filled with academic pressure and suburban angst—nothing that listening to Pippin couldn’t cure.
I could not have been more wrong.
From the age of eight, Moochie was brutally tortured and grotesquely enslaved, raped, and prostituted by a sadistic stepfather. For over eight years, she endured relentless physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, which triggered psychological breakdowns and three suicide attempts. I learned the harrowing details of her childhood a few years ago when I read Moochie’s doctoral thesis, which used her experience as a case study for surviving abuse. I was shocked. There’s so much talk in Hollywood about “reinvention,” but here was someone who seemed charmingly normal and whose early life was anything but.
Moochie has since turned that thesis into a beautifully written book, Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving, which hit bookshelves and Kindles this week and has generated a considerable amount of cultural buzz already. It’s been blurbed by both Arianna Huffington and Dave Pelzer, the author of A Child Called “It.” People excerpted the book. Dr. Phil devoted an entire hour to Moochie on Tuesday, and she is scheduled to appear on Dr. Oz later this spring.
“It is so surreal to go from having no one know about my history or mental illness to having it blared in headlines,” she told me. “My saving grace has been social media, where I’ve been able to slowly drip out the truth without the obligatory weirdness that would happen in person.”
Obviously, it wasn’t an easy book to write. “I’m a stress eater,” she told me. “And I gained 77 pounds during the writing process . . . which I’m now desperately trying to take off before all these TV appearances.”
It’s not an easy read either. But just as Moochie felt a responsibility to write this book, it’s our responsibility to read it. I guarantee there will be times when you want to put the book down. Maybe it’s when she describes what it was like to be raped at eight and thrown into a cage. Or when she’s 12 and pimped to a sadist who slammed her head against the floor until she concussed and blacked out. But here’s the deal: if you’re uncomfortable reading about how a little girl was hog-tied and suspended from a hook on a ceiling, imagine how uncomfortable it was to endure the crush of her own organs. Or if you gag while reading about how a child was forced to eat dog food, imagine how much she gagged while actually eating it. Or if your skin shudders at Moochie’s description of being Tasered, imagine the shock of the actual volts coursing through her tiny body. If she could endure the inconceivable pain, you can read a paragraph about it.
I was flooded with relief when Moochie aged out of the sick pedophile’s obsession and headed off to New York University. But it wasn’t not smooth sailing from there. The aftershocks of the horror and abuse reverberate to this day. Still, Moochie tells her story in the same manner that made me seek her out at parties: with honesty, humor, and a lot of references to musicals. In one passage, she discusses how anxiety is hardwired: “We are not only preprogrammed to look for every potential danger but also to remember those dangers forever. That’s why we can’t drink peach schnapps ever again after that time it made us sick in college. (Perhaps I’m divulging too much.)” I laughed out loud because she’s written a primer on divulging too much.
The second half focuses on the fascinating psychology behind multiple personalities from someone who understands them both clinically and emotionally. Moochie also digs into post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. When she mentions in passing that she suffered from bulimia in college, I thought, “Finally. Something I can relate to!”
We don’t have vocabulary for what Moochie endured. We turn to fiction to describe her reality. We say, “She was dragged through hell” or we call her stepfather “a monster.” Our references all come from our imagination because we can’t conceive that any human would so brutally treat another, especially a defenseless child. But it happens. Far too often. And when Moochie “divulges too much” we know she’s making up for countless others who didn’t get the chance.
“Opening up about the past has been a little like coming out as gay: it was much scarier in theory than it is in reality,” she said. “I’m actually feeling kind of liberated now. But, man, was I terrified in the beginning!”
And it takes a lot to terrify Moochie. Through grit and hard work, what begins as Grand Guignol finishes with a big Hollywood ending. You’ll cry in outrage at the start of the book and you’ll cry out of joy when Moochie declares at the end, “I have a normal life. Who could ask for anything more?”
Moochie should have died many times from chokings, beatings, and medical neglect. Harry Potter’s epic struggle with He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has nothing on her. But Moochie names the evil that targeted her. He is Gary Lundquist. And she’s “the girl who lived.”