Tatum O'Neal on How She 'Found' Herself

Tatum O'Neal explores her addictions, her family and herself in "Found."

ByABC News
March 22, 2011, 7:49 PM

June 14, 2011 -- Academy Award winning actress Tatum O'Neal was born in the spotlight, the daughter of Ryan O'Neal, an Oscar winner by age 10, addicted to drugs and alcohol by her teens.

In her new book, "Found: A Daughter's Journey Home," O'Neal, 47, candidly takes readers insider the addictions, family discord and career struggles that came with living a life in the public eye.

In "Found," a follow-up to her New York Times bestselling memoir, A Paper Life, O'Neal delves further into her struggle to beat her addictions to drugs and alcohol, and explores how she got to where she is today, a single mother of three grown children, an actress and ex-wife to tennis legend John McEnroe.

PHOTOS: Tatum O'Neal and Other Celebs Who Bounce Back

"Found" is also a father-daughter love story, documenting O'Neal's fragile reconciliation with her father, actor Ryan O'Neal, after 25 years of estrangement, a process they will open even more to the world when their docuseries. "The O'Neals: Ryan and Tatum," debuts on "OWN," the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Read an excerpt from "Found: A Daughter's Journey Home" below, then check out some other books in the "GMA" library


How Do you pick yourself up, day after day, when people don't believe in you and you have every reason to give up on yourself? How do you survive when you've nearly lost your children for good, when your addictions have led to an arrest, when work becomes hard to find and the life you once expected to lead seems more and more remote?

only now, years after A Paper Life, am i starting to find the answers. After the arrest—and the near relapse that led to it—after all the pain that has come to the surface, my exit wounds are starting to close. scars have formed and healed. The burden of all that chaos and tragedy has lifted, and i am seeing reasons for everything i've endured. Telling my story has brought me some relief. i feel a lightness i've never known before. And the moment of realization has finally come. i am okay. i am really okay. And no matter what happens, i am going to stay okay. yeah, i'm whole—well, almost. i'll get to that later.

THIS BOOK is about rebuilding a life. it's about how i kept going, with a public childhood and a famous father, a public marriage and an acrimonious divorce, a public addiction for fifteen years and an imperfect record of sobriety. it's about how i kept going in the face of criticism, judgment, and my own incomprehensible demoraliza¬tion. it's about how, after all i went through as a child and an adult, all the trauma and the self-destruction, a decent life emerged. it's about how i realized that there's never a time to give up, not if you have kids and the slightest sense of purpose on the planet. giving up is not an option. No matter how much others and you yourself condemn you. No matter how close you come to losing who you are.

IN A PAPER LIFE, i told my story, and it was mine alone—the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction saga of being a child star in a dys¬functional show-biz family. but the story of my recent years is much more universal. This is the story of how i got sober, conquered my addictions once and for all, and am working to preserve that victory one day at a time. it is about the challenges and joys of being a mother; an ex-wife; and a single, middle-age actress. (yes, i said it.) it's about a woman who was once scared to get close to people but has learned how to be a friend and to trust in intimacy with others.

rebuilding a life means taking stock of what you have and what you've lost. As hope grew and i reemerged, i saw that there was an important person missing from my life: my father. Daddy. ours was the most important relationship of my life, and it was nonexistent for nearly twenty years.

more than anything, this is the story of a father and a daughter. when i wrote A Paper Life, i realized that there was no fairy-tale ending, that no life, particularly one in which a child is trauma¬tized, is ever perfectly resolved. in the ongoing process of rebuild¬ing my life, it was time to deal with my biggest unresolved issue. my dad. ryan o'Neal.

That strong, compelling movie star who was, at one time, my hero and my savior. yet we had barely spoken in eight years. even at my mother's funeral in 1997, we acknowledged each other but did not speak. Now i felt confident, strong, and certain of what i wanted. i was ready to try again, to rebuild my relationship with my father after so much private and public estrangement. And so i began a slow, careful attempt to reconcile with him. That reconciliation ran an uneven path, growing, faltering, and, ultimately, persevering.

when ryan and i first had the idea to share our efforts to mend our fragmented relationship with a television audience, we both thought long and hard about whether to do it. The risks and pitfalls were obvious—we might reinjure our new, delicate rela¬tionship and/or expose our private lives. but the honesty that the camera brings appealed to me. i wanted us to face each other in a harsh spotlight, where we couldn't hide anything, where each of us would have to take responsibility for how we had behaved in the past and who we were in the present.

i wanted to force our secrets out into the open. much as our lives have played out in public and on the screen, i felt the camera, with its unflinching mirror of truth, was the mediator most likely to propel us forward in our journey. my father would have a chance to show that he was not the man who, in a Vanity fair article, said negative things about me and his sons; that he's more than the mug shot seen around the world after he was arrested in 2007 for firing a gun at my brother griffin. And i would have a chance to show that i'm more than the daughter of someone famous, the wife of someone famous, a drug addict whose children had made it in spite of me, not because of me.

so this tale includes the ups and downs as we tried to forge a new relationship—at times a fraught, emotional, and seemingly doomed effort, but also a funny, surreal glimpse of a father and daughter who made an iconic film together in the early seventies, who've had their problems and still have them, who are celebrities but still regular people, trying to survive as father and daughter as best we can.

WHAT DOES IT mean to forgive—literally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually? As far as i'm concerned, my father started me on a rocky path in life. what does it mean to watch a man who hurt you grow older, to see that the years you have left together are diminish¬ing, day by day, and to realize you have to choose between accepting the person he is or letting him go forever? For so many years, i cut my father off, but i finally felt it was time to face him again and try to heal the wounds.

i began this journey thinking that i needed to find a way to let go of the past—that forgetting was the only way to forgive. Parents and kids can make terrible mistakes. but as ryan and i circled and spun, pulling each other closer and pushing each other away, i found that the past was always with me—always reasserting itself. sometimes it was melancholy, sometimes hopeful. sometimes it gave me strength. sometimes it kept me true. but it always bound me to my father, with a complicated, ordinary, undying love.

ryan cannot change the past, but in making a Tv show about our reconnection, i believed he had the opportunity to give us the present and a future, and that would be the best gift a father could give his daughter.

i was terrified to bring my father back into my life. ryan can be the most charming, sweet, gentle person in the entire world. i have always wanted to please him. i have always longed to bask in the glow of his acceptance and love. but i remembered his anger, and i still feared it. still, i decided that if, regardless of my fear, ryan and i could forgive each other and repair such a damaged relationship, then anyone can, and it would be an effort worth sharing.

And so i am telling everything. The truth. The struggle. The hope. The love. i believe it is the right thing to do, and that it will bring the right outcome, whatever that may be. we are all dealt dif¬ferent hands, and some are tougher than others to survive. There are traumas and there is damage that create seemingly insurmountable hurdles. but i am as determined to move forward as i've ever been. You can and must survive, no matter what. That's my motto.

There is always hope.

CLICK HERE: Tatum O'Neal Talks About Her Drug Abuse, Chaotic Childhood and Forgiving Estranged Father

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