09/30/09 ETA: If I gave the slightest impression that my focus here is derived from anything other than concern for Mackenzie Phillips’ well-being, please read my follow up statement in the comments.
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For over 30 years, Mackenzie Phillips’ life has been a train wreck, punctuated every couple of years by drug arrests, rehab stints, and public confessions. She told the story of her father shooting her up with drugs at age ten a long time ago. I kept thinking, why does she do this? What motivates her to go public with things that don’t shed especially pleasant light on herself or family members? What is not being heard that she keeps struggling to convey? I always hoped — and still do — that she would find a terrific therapist, because the need is strikingly evident.
So she did the “Oprah exclusive” interview yesterday to publicize the release of her book, High On Arrival. The bombshell was that, at age 19, she and her father got stoned to the point of passing out the night before she was due to marry, and she awoke to find her father having sex with her. She claims that they maintained a ten year “consensual” sexual relationship thereafter, and she only ended it after she became pregnant, did not know who the father was, and aborted the baby.
I understand the need for cleansing and closure. I understand the need to confess to that which brings you tremendous shame and guilt. And maybe pleasure. But let’s call it what it was. John Phillips was a druggy who inflicted his habit and lifestyle upon his young daughter. Addictive personalities are manipulative to the max. She stated she was starved for his attention, and wanted to please him. By age 19, she’d become his reflection — another druggy with poor boundaries and little impulse control — great legacy, Dad.
But I don’t believe that even at age 19, waking up in a drug-induced stupor to find your father having sex with you is a picture of “consent”. It’s a picture of rape. Period. And as far as it being “consensual” for the next ten years — ever hear of the Stockholm Syndrome?
Stockholm syndrome is a psychological response sometimes seen in abducted hostages, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger or risk in which they have been placed. The syndrome is named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm, in which the bank robbers held bank employees hostage from August 23 to August 28, 1973. In this case, the victims became emotionally attached to their captors, and even defended them after they were freed from their six-day ordeal.
What else can you call how she speaks about her father now? He’s dead, and she’s still trying to make his role in her life seem not horrific. She implores us to not hate him, and states her categorical forgiveness. I hope that’s some comfort to her, but from my own experience, saying you forgive someone who harmed you irretrievably doesn’t make everything okay unless and until you truly face what actually happened. “Consensual” is the kind of rationalization people tell themselves because the reality is too damaging. And the need for love — any kind of love — is too great.
She has a year of sobriety now. That’s amazing, all things considered. I hope she is strong enough to withstand the onslaught of millions of judgmental people, most of whom have never been within a mile of her shoes, let alone worn them.
I hope she can find some peace.