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I recently finished reading Hollywood Park, a memoir written by Mikel Jollett. In this article, I will discuss how the author survived repeated childhood trauma, and the many ways in which he found and expressed his power.
If you are like me and you hate spoilers, do not read this post until you have read the book.
Hollywood Park describes the life of a boy born into a cult, which – as the cult worked to separate babies from their parents at just six months old – impacted his childhood before it even really began. In this described system, parents of the “community” are sent away to other compounds and only permitted to see their children a few times a year. The children are in turn schooled to become “children of the universe,” and, in theory, learn to live independently. While this process is described by Jollett, he and his elder brother did not come of age as said universal children; rather, they escaped the compound with their mother at the opening of the book. Initially, I had felt a sense of relief upon reading this, believing that the boys had just been rescued from a horrifying situation by their caring mother. As the book progresses, however, it becomes evident that Jollett and his brother had not truly escaped anything. Abuse, neglect, and trauma were all still to come from another source: the boys’ mother. In the coming chapters it becomes progressively evident that this is a woman suffering from a severe personality disorder and a deep depression.
Jollett describes the strain and confusion of his early childhood with a visceral realness, guiding readers through the shock of witnessing his mother’s friend and roommate be severely beaten by two masked men while he watched, only four years old at the time and unable to fully process what he was seeing. One of the victims is comatose for six months after the beating, and Jollett’s mother, unable to face the reality of what had happened, begins to gaslight her son into doubting his own memory of the events. She tells him that his account is incorrect, that he had, in fact, not seen the violence and was only making up being there after he had heard about it. When Jollett attempts to express what he had felt [fear, sadness, unease], his mother simply tells him, again, that he is wrong, that he does not have such feelings, and that he is happy and no longer afraid now that he is away from the cult he had been born into. As such, Jollett begins to question his own reality and doubt the existence and validity of what he feels. “Do feelings exist if no one sees them?” he asks. “Did I imagine it? The feeling of not knowing, of wondering what is real, bounces around inside my chest.”
In addition to distorting her children’s sense of truth, Jollett’s mother fills pages of Hollywood Park as a veritable Caroline Compson, wallowing away in bed and crying pitifully for her children to care for her and the house. The children may not be permitted to have feelings of their own, but they are still fully expected to cater entirely to their mother’s feelings, giving her massages and holding her hand whenever she requires them to combat her loneliness, all while fending for themselves in a cold house with no heat or food. Eventually Jollett and his brother are given the new task of raising rabbits from birth so that they may slaughter them in order to provide their family with meat.
With all of this in mind, it comes as no surprise that Jollette and his brother struggle tremendously in their formative years, unsure of their own identities and plagued with misguided anger, inherited loneliness, and a hefty foundation of insecurity. As young adults, both boys find that they have extreme difficulty in forming healthy relationships with their peers, with Jollett describing feeling caught between fear of commitment and the absolutely paralyzing horror of abandonment. The brothers’ labors are not fruitful; Jollett methodically sabotages his own relationships and drives away every woman that he loves, and his elder, Tony, ultimately turns to substance abuse as a means to regulate his unstable emotional state and eventually becomes a heroin addict.
There is at least one source of genuine care listed in Jollett’s memoirs: the boys’ father. While the man is, in fact, a member of the cult the boys had escaped from, he has an authentic love for them and makes an effort to see them often. His wife – the boys’ stepmother – shares his affection.
Hollywood Park is a fantastically palpable account of Jollett’s childhood strife. As I read, I took care to examine the ways in which Jollett was able to find power and strength within himself through every ordeal he faced growing up.
This book was a page turner for me. As I read it, I paid special attention to how Jollett managed to find his power throughout his life. He is now a best-selling author and the leader of a successful band. Reading this book, I deciphered the turning points in his life, and found six distinct methods that helped him seize his power. You can learn to use these methods as well.
6 Steps to more power
1- Listen to your intuition
All of us intuitively know what feels right and what does not. We are all familiar with that sinking feeling in our stomach when somebody asks us to do something we do not want to do. We know when we are comfortable in a situation, and we know when we feel an instinctive need to run out of the room. It is important for you to pay attention to your intuitions. These are ways in which your instincts try to tell you that something is wrong.
Jollett has been taught since early childhood that his main job is to take care of his mother. Even though he fully believes this to be true, his intuition tells him that there is something wrong with this idea. He is not comfortable when his mother asks him to massage her back, or when she expects him to hold her hand every time they sit together on the couch. He also sees that his mother’s version of reality is quite different from his own and frets over the discrepancies.
At the age of 11, when Jollett goes to visit his father, he works up enough courage to ask his father if he could stay with him for a year. His father and stepmother agree and help him arrange this with his mother. Once the year is over, his mother tries to manipulate him into going back to live with her by telling him how much he has hurt her with this supposed abandonment. Jollett struggles with his feelings of guilt, but he still persists and arranges to live with his father permanently. Jollett’s survival instinct must have been the main drive behind this decision. Our survival instincts exist for a reason, and are amazingly powerful tools when we pay attention to them.
2- Take responsibility for your future
You are the only person who is responsible for your future and your happiness. Others may help guide you along the way, or, reversely, try to stand in your way, but ultimately it is up to you to decide what you want and how to attain it.
When Jollett is in high school, he begins to think about his future. He does not yet understand all of the things that are wrong in his life. He is certain, however, that he does not want to end up as a drug addict or a criminal. He decides that the best way to prevent himself from such a future is to become a dedicated student and go to a good university. He commits himself to his studies in order to accomplish this goal.
Jollet is able to exercise his power here by taking full responsibility for his own future. He understands that his parents can not afford to send him to college, so he puts his all into academic success and secures a scholarship at Stanford University. He takes initiative, finds out what needs to be done, and does it. He knows that he must work hard in order to have a bright future.
After he graduates Stanford, Jollett works at two different places, and both times he realizes that the jobs are not bringing him happiness or fulfillment. He takes an immense risk and resigns both jobs, finds a family member who will provide him housing in exchange for a few hours of work a day, and focuses on discovering what he would really like to do.
This is an incredible step that most people are too afraid to take. Jollett, however, honors his own feelings and recognizes intuitively that his happiness is more important than steady work. He refuses to stay in jobs he does not like despite the financial and social consequences of leaving. I admire him for making such a bold move. You must be willing to take some risks to reap the rewards.
3- Accept accountability and change
Holding yourself accountable for your actions is essential to discovering your power. Our egos do not like to be wrong and become defensive when we feel accused. When you allow your ego to prevent you from seeing what you do wrong, you will miss out on learning from your mistakes and will not be able to change your behavior when needed.
Throughout his life, Jollett understands what behaviors he engages in that hold him back from succeeding. He was only ten years old when he started smoking cigarettes and shortly after that he began to drink regularly. In his early teens he spent time with his brother’s friends who would give him drugs and encourage him to vandalize his neighborhood. When Jollett decides that he wants to work hard towards having a good future, he quits the bad habits and cuts ties with his erstwhile friends. Later in his life when Jollett goes from one failed relationship to another, he pays attention to his own bad behaviors.
First, he learns what he is doing wrong and how he is pushing people away. Then he tries to modify his behaviors by becoming more aware of them. When he is not able to accomplish this on his own, he seeks therapy and works for years on developing healthier ways to deal with his insecurities. He is now married and has great relationships with his wife and children. His willingness to be held accountable for his actions, and to make changes where needed, helped him achieve the life he had always wanted.
4- Reach out for help
An important part of recognizing your power is to know yourself well enough to recognize when you need help. Nobody has all of the answers, and nobody expects you to accomplish everything alone. We all need enough humility to understand there are times we need help. A powerful person always knows when to seek help and where to find it.
Jollett turns to his mother multiple times in his life only to learn that she is incapable of helping him. This is a hard reality to accept, and it takes him years to understand it, but it does not mean that he has to give up completely. It only means that he needs to look for help elsewhere. While living with his mother, Jollett continues to look for others who may be able to help him. He forms a good relationship with his mother’s boyfriend and makes a few good friends who understand what he is going through.
Most importantly, Jellett learns that his father and stepmother truly see him and hear him, and he begins to reach out to them for help. He asks to move in with them when he is 11 years old. He speaks to his father when he is being bullied at school. He speaks to his stepmother when he feels ashamed of the things that he has done. Later in his life, he sees a therapist for help with his relationship problems. Getting help from the right people is one of the main factors that allow Jollett to seize his power and advance in life.
5- Set boundaries
Boundaries are extremely important to your ability to live powerfully. There are always people in your life who will criticize you or expect more from you than you can give. Your time and energy are limited resources and you cannot always attend to others at the level they demand of you. It is not only up to you to set boundaries for the people around you, but to also enforce them whenever they are crossed. If you have poor boundaries, you will find yourself exhausted and will feel overwhelmed by the weight of the expectations you have shouldered out of an inability to just say “no.”
When Jollett is in college, he understands that his mother’s constant criticisms and guilt trips are toxic to his well-being. He sends her a letter telling her not to call or contact him. He explains to her – although he does not have to – that he needs time to heal and grow without her. He informs her that when he is ready to contact her, he will. It takes Jollett a long time to get to the point where he makes this decision, but once he does make it, he carries it out and enforces it. His power here comes from prioritizing his own well-being over that of other people and acting on that priority. It was quite satisfying for me to read this part of the book as the entire time up to that point I was hoping he would set a boundary against his abusive mother.
6- Reject guilt
Guilt is a major tool used by people to manipulate you. We frequently find ourselves doing things that we do not really want to do just to avoid feeling guilty. If you want to claim your power, you must learn to let go of guilt once it has served its function. The function of remorse is to teach us what we have done wrong and to give us the opportunity to do what we can to make amends. Once that function is served, we must set all residual guilt aside, or it can consume us.
Jollet’s mother is quite masterful at manipulating her son through complaining, making every issue about herself, and accusing her son of being ungrateful or difficult. Jollett in turn feels guilty and gives in to his mother’s unreasonable demands. When he tries to advocate for himself, his words are dismissed, and his reality is distorted to fit his mother’s purpose. He feels so guilty that he becomes convinced he truly is a difficult, ungrateful son, and as such, tries to make up for it, fueling an endless cycle of emotional abuse.
Letting go of guilt is extremely difficult; Jollett only manages to let it go once he realizes how abusive his mother has been to him throughout his life, and how much pain and loss he has suffered because of this. Interestingly, only when he learns to let go of both his guilt and his expectations of his mother does he find room for good memories of her, and he is able, then, to appreciate the limited ways in which she had been good to him.
Hollywood Park is a great example of how a person exposed to severe trauma throughout his life could overcome it all and live with power. There are techniques you can use in your life to discover your own most powerful self. You can start by getting to know yourself, understanding your needs and wants, and trusting your intuition. It is important for you to accept accountability for your actions and take responsibility for changing your life for the better. Once you start making changes you will form different relationships. You will set boundaries for the people around you which will lead you to feel safer and more empowered. You will let go of any feelings of guilt residing within you. Finally, you will learn that you do not have to be alone and that you can and should ask for and accept help. This is a lot of work, but it is rewarding and will make consistent positive changes in your life.