Her This Is Us alter ego, Kate Pearson, has dealt with plenty of hardships, and in real life Chrissy Metz has had a harrowing past of her own
The actress, 37, opens up in her new memoir, This Is Me, about growing up in poverty and enduring painful physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her stepfather.
“I’m a tough cookie,” Metz tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s cover story. “But it’s one of those things that attempts to break your spirit.”
When Metz was 8 years old, her father, a former Navy officer, left her mother Denise to raise Chrissy and her two siblings Monica, then 15 and Philip, then 13, on her own. Later, after Denise had another baby, Morgana, with a boyfriend who skipped town, she met Metz’s future stepfather, a man she called Trigger.
“My mom married Trigger at the courthouse,” Metz writes in her book. “Soon she was pregnant again, with another girl, Abigail. Trigger loved his two biological children, and was even welcoming to Morgana. Me, not so much. My mother was always at work, so she didn’t see how he treated me.”
“My body seemed to offend him, but he couldn’t help but stare, especially when I was eating. He joked about putting a lock on the refrigerator. We had lived with a lack of food for so long that when it was there, I felt like I had to eat it before it disappeared. Food was my only happiness.”
“And so, I began to hide my eating. I’d get up in the middle of the night and eat. I’d sneak food to eat in the bathroom. Cookies, chips. Things I could eat as fast as possible to avoid detection,” she writes. “Things that would give me the brief bliss of numbness.”
“I don’t remember why Trigger hit me the first time. He never punched my face. Just my body, the thing that offended him so much. He shoved me, slapped me, punched my arm. He would hit me if he thought I looked at him wrong. I remember being on the kitchen floor after he knocked me over, and I was begging to know what I did. He just shoved me hard with his foot.”
- For more from Metz, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
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As Metz entered her early teens, the abuse became worse.
“When I was fourteen, Trigger began weighing me,” writes Metz. “He’d get the scale from the bathroom and clang it hard on the kitchen floor. ‘Well, get on the damn thing!’ Trigger would yell. ‘This is what you need to know.’ “
“He sat in a chair next to the scale as I got on. ‘Good God almighty!’ he yelled every single time. The number then was about 140 or 130. Most of my friends weighed about ninety pounds. ‘Why are you getting fatter?’ he demanded. I look at pictures of me from that time, and I would be so fine with being that size now. But I thought I was gigantic. By then the beating had escalated. One time he hit me, and I looked right in his face. If I had a gun, I thought, I would shoot you,” she writes.
Still, Metz was conflicted about her emotions regarding her stepfather.
“Afterward, I was so upset with myself,” she writes. “How could I think that about this person I loved so much? Because I really did love him. This man did more for me than my father ever did. He was smart, and I was allowed to quietly join him in watching the Ken Burns Civil War documentaries on television. I clung to [these points of connection] because I needed to figure out why this person could do right by me as a provider, but be unable to love me.”
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Metz writes that Trigger was eventually contrite about the situation and says they’re now in a positive place. “We have a relationship now,” says Metz. “I do love him and I do care about him.”
As a teen Metz used comedy to “deflect and deal with the hardships.” Now happy and living her dream, the star says she has no regrets about her past suffering. “We all go through stuff. But I truly believe that everything that happened to me, happened for me. [I’ve learned] some beautiful lessons.”