The star of American Beauty opens up about her path toward healing in her new book The Great Peace: A Memoir

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Mena Suvari
Credit: Phylicia J. L. Munn

Mena Suvari has been on a journey of healing.

In her new book The Great Peace: A Memoir, excerpted in this week's PEOPLE, the 42-year-old star of American Beauty shares how she worked through the trauma of sexual abuse and drug addiction and found a new way to love herself and her body.

Part of that, she explains, was getting her breast implants removed.

Suvari, 42, got breast augmentation a few years after her American Beauty success. She tells PEOPLE she remembers being on set for a magazine shoot and being given "chicken cutlets" to make her chest look larger, and that she justified her decision to her friends, saying "dresses will fit me better" and "life can be so much easier."

Since she wanted to do it as discretely as possible, her doctor agreed to just make her look "proportioned."

"I didn't want anyone to know that I had done it," Suvari says. "I had to keep that secret. Like everything else."

Looking back, she realizes it was another task she did during a time when she felt like she had to change something about herself in order to be enough.

"In some ways, it was a distraction," she says. "Something I could fill my time with — so that I didn't think about everything else."

mena suvari
Credit: Todd Williamson/Getty

As a result of her trauma, Suvari says she struggled with constantly feeling unsettled, like she needed to look outside herself for validation rather than finding it within.

"I was always looking for the answer," she says. "I was constantly just looking for this thing that then would get me there. If I just get this, then I'm there. If I do that, then I'm there. So I get surgery. I'm proportioned. Life's good. Everything will be better. Oh, yeah."

She also remembers being unable to "find her voice," and seeking the approval of others. "I needed someone else to tell me all the time what I could do, or what was okay. I was so scared of changing anything."

Mena Suvari's book: The Great Peace

As years went by and she started to break free from the trauma of her past — as she reckoned with the sexual and emotional abuse she had suffered, she chose to become whole again. One way she did this was by removing her implants.

"I would catch myself so many times realizing, 'I have these bags in my chest.' And I didn't have that connection as to why I truly did it. There was a lack of appreciation on my part. So I just sort of felt like, 'Who am I and what am I doing?' I had gone to this extent, to such extremes, looking for this identity."

She also started becoming more aware of the health consequences of breast implants. "One of the actresses I worked with at the time shared her experience with her implants and how she almost died. And I was shocked and I was terrified. And I thought, 'Oh my god, like, can this happen to me? I don't even know what kind of implant I have.' "

For more on Mena Suvari's new memoir, pick up a copy of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

Suvari started to explore explant surgery in 2019, when she first considered having a baby with husband Mike Hope. They got married in 2018 after meeting in 2016 on the set of her Hallmark movie I'll Be Home For Christmas.

"It was the first time I felt I wanted to have a family with someone," says Suvari, who had married and divorced twice before.  

"I decided to go back into my doctor to at least find out if I was okay if I wanted to have a baby, if I could breastfeed," she says. "I sat with Mike and we talked about it. I was terrified. I thought I would die on the table. I mean, I prepared myself for that."

But Suvari suffered no complications during the 3-hour procedure. Suvari recalls waking up and seeing the implants on a side table as she was wheeled to the recovery room. "Wow, there they are," she remembers thinking. "It was wild. I put those in there."

Suvari gave birth to a son, Christopher, in April 2021. Since then, she's more ready than ever to embrace her true self.

"Now that I'm 42, my Lasix has sort of worn off and I need reading glasses," she says. "I'm just totally reverting back to the smaller breasts and the glasses, like where I was before all this."

She continues: "I just felt like I got to this place in my life where I was like, I'm ready to just be me."