AnnaLynne McCord rose to fame playing confident, sexually adventurous characters on Nip/Tuck and 90210. Behind the scenes, though, she struggled with moments of extreme darkness brought on by her strict upbringing, a sexual assault at the hand of a former friend, and a tumultuous love life. Now, in a new essay for Cosmopolitan, the 26-year-old Dallas actress is opening up about her troubled, painful past, which once drove her to think "seriously" about committing suicide.
Growing up in an "extremely religious and conservative family in Georgia," McCord and her two sisters endured "painful and ritualistic" spankings in the name of discipline, she writes in Cosmo. "I knew my mom and dad loved me, and I loved them too. I still do...but at the same time, my parents hurt me, which told me they hated me," she shares. "I know they were doing what they thought was right to discipline their kids. But it really messed me up."
The star's parents also had a very restrictive attitude toward sex, which had repercussions in her romantic relationships later in life. "I became sort of promiscuous but didn't actually have sex. I'd get right there with the guy and then stop, thinking I'd go to hell," she explains, noting that she also "pushed men to be violent" toward her. "My sexual relationships were dark and violently dramatic."
Things "calmed down" when she fell in love at 16—but any emotional progress she made during that time was undone when a so-called friend sexually assaulted her two years later in her own home. "He said he needed a good night's sleep for a meeting, as he'd been crashing on someone's couch. I had known him for some time, so I said to come over and I set him up with a clean towel," she writes. "We sat on the bed and talked for a while, then I fell asleep. When I woke up, he was inside me."
McCord—whose 90210 character, Naomi, was also raped by someone she knew—pretended at first that it hadn't happened and kept the incident quiet. Over the next few months, however, she "began to go dark" and started cutting herself. She finally told friends and family about the assault when a pal shared that her attacker "was going around claiming [she] was in love with him."
Telling people was one step in her healing process, but as she writes in Cosmo, "it would take an outright breakdown to truly turn things around." That breakdown happened when she was in her early 20s, after she'd accepted the role on 90210. At the time, she was in a tumultuous relationship with a fellow actor; they "broke up about 45 times." (McCord's exes include Twilight star Kellan Lutz; she's currently dating actor Dominic Purcell.)
After one particularly bad fight with her then-boyfriend, McCord reveals, she considered taking her own life. "I had pills and water in hand and thought seriously about killing myself," she writes. "I didn't fear death—it felt like a solution."
Fortunately, she realized in time that it wasn't and, with professional help and support from loved ones, began to heal herself in earnest. In the years since, she has turned her experience into something positive; she now works with survivors of sexual slavery in Cambodia and is embarking on a college speaking tour this fall. "Honestly, I would endure everything all over again," she writes. "It has led me to my own revolution."
Read the full essay at Cosmopolitan, and pick up the new issue on June 3.