Kerry Washington’s memoir confessions: A painful family secret, childhood trauma and an abortion

The actress has revealed all in a new book called ‘Thicker Than Water,’ from her 10-year-marriage to Nnamdi Asomugha to struggling with an eating disorder at university

Kerry Washington Actress
Actress Kerry Washington on the red carpet at the Met Gala, May 1, 2023.Theo Wargo (Getty Images for Karl Lagerfeld)

Kerry Washington has always preferred to keep her private life private. So much so that little is known about the actress of the hit TV show Scandal. But now she has broken her silence in a tell-all memoir called Thicker Than Water.

“There’s so much healing and liberation in the truth and not feeling like we have to hide,” Washington told People magazine.

In the memoir, the actress talks about everything from the problems she’s experienced during her 10-year-marriage to Nnamdi Asomugha, a former American football player turned actor and producer, to the abortion she had following an unplanned pregnancy in 2003.

“I’ve been a very private person when it comes to the public, so I never thought that I would sit down and write a soup-to-nuts memoir about my life,” she said in the interview.

Her decision to write a memoir was spurred by discovering that her father was not her biological parent. The painful family secret pushed her to take a journey of self-reflection. “There’s a phrase, ‘You’re as sick as your secrets’,” she said. “I think there’s some truth in that. There’s so much healing and liberation in the truth and not feeling like we have to hide.”

In the memoir, the star — who is an only child — writes that she experienced crippling anxiety and panic attacks when she was just seven years old. According to Washington, these attacks were triggered by major arguments between her parents: Valerie, a teacher, and Earl, a real state agent.

“I was dizzied with terror, no ground beneath me; it was crazy-making, endless. And sad,” she writes in the memoir. “At some point we have to accept that our parents do the best they can and then we have to fill in the gap by parenting ourselves and being the adults we want to be. I always knew how much they loved me.”

The actress told People magazine that she has hired a team to try to locate her biological father, but added that she will be happy regardless of the result. “I’ve learned to try and let that stuff go. I deserve to live fully in my truth. And with joy,” she explained.

In the memoir, Washington writes that she had a quiet childhood in the New York neighborhood of the Bronx. That peace was broken when a boy began touching her inappropriately during group sleepovers, while their parents were sleeping in the next room. At the time, she decided not to tell anyone about the sexual abuse. She says that she has reflected a lot on this trauma over her life.

“I think about that little girl standing in the hallway deciding whether or not she should tell her mommy what was happening to her. I wish she had asked for help sooner ‘cause she carried that secrecy and shame and blame for too long,” she writes.

Washington also speaks about a same-sex relationship she had when she was younger. “I think love comes in a lot of forms. I’ve had other romantic relationships,” she writes.

The actress also recounts how she had an abortion when she was 20 years old. She said she decided to write about the experience because “it had so much to do with kind of my understanding of myself and the world as my career unfolded.” Washington explains how she decided to have the abortion after accepting the lead role in Spike Lee’s comedy She Hate Me.

“When the nurse called my false name, I followed her into a small office,” she writes of shielding her identity to undergo the procedure. “My body felt hot with shame.”

She continues: “Abortion is not a bad word. I’m excavating some of my secrets because I don’t want my not telling it to make anybody think that there is shame to be had about this choice.”

University can be a tumultuous time for anyone, and for Washington, it was one of her darkest chapters. In the 1990s, while studying at George Washington University — where she graduated in sociology and anthropology — the actress writes that she fell victim to “a toxic cycle of self-abuse that utilized the tools of starvation, binge-eating, body obsession, and compulsive exercise.”

Now, reflecting on that period, she says she is proud of her ability to get past it: “Kerry in college was a hot mess… and a bit of a wild child. But it’s halfway through college that I started asking for help. In some ways I’m really grateful for Kerry in college because hitting bottom the way that she did, she opened the door for a lot more healing for me.”

Today, Washington says that she has overcome her illness by caring about her physical and mental health. “I still have that messaging in my brain at times, that I’m not enough or that I should look better,” she says. “But I also can choose other thought patterns now.”

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS