Reaching the peak of childhood stardom and then battling addiction by the age of 13, being locked away in an institution and then walking away from her mother at the age of 14; for Drew Barrymore, all of this wasn’t the story of a character she had to play. It was real life; the real painful struggles that she had to overcome to become the woman she is today.
If someone told 14-year-old Drew Barrymore that she was going to be one of the biggest Hollywood stars later in her life, she would probably find it hard to believe. When she was asked by The Guardian if as a teenager she imagined her life to take such a positive turn, she said, “Half no, in that I was so scared of not knowing where I was going. I really had a fear that I was going to die at 25. And half yes, because no matter how dark shit got, I always had a sense that there should be goodness. I never went all the way into darkness. There were so many things I could have done that would have pushed me over the edge and I just knew not to go there.”
The star was born to the actor John Drew Barrymore, who had alcohol addiction and someone who she says was just “unavailable” and to Jaid Barrymore, a mother who introduced her to the drug-fueled partying culture. Drew Barrymore had already stepped into childhood fame after ET and by the age of nine, she was a “party girl” who was taken by her to mother to nightclubs, and eventually, she spiralled into a world of addiction at a tender age.
“When I was 13, that was probably the lowest,” she said. “Just knowing that I really was alone. And it felt… terrible. It was a really rebellious time. I would run off. I was very, very angry.”
Growing up with her mother, she didn’t get the experiences that were common to an average child. At 13, after she had already been to rehab once, “…My mom locked me up in an institution. Boo hoo! But it did give an amazing discipline. It was like serious recruitment training and boot camp, and it was horrible and dark and very long-lived, a year and a half, but I needed it,” Drew Barrymore admitted. “I needed that whole insane discipline. My life was not normal. I was not a kid in school with normal circumstances. There was something very abnormal, and I needed some severe shift.”
She was left alone in the institution for over a year and a half while her mother only visited occasionally, as reported by GoodtoKnow. And once she came out, Barrymore legally emancipated herself from her mother. The actress later admitted, “I really didn’t know how to feel about my mom for so many years. And it’s painful to have conflicting feelings about the woman who gave birth to you.”
Even though she was on her own, she started learning things that her parents could never teach her. “I had no idea how to run an apartment at 14,” she recalled. “There was fungus growing everywhere, it was a disaster. It was in a dangerous neighbourhood and I was so scared to sleep. I had bars on the window and alley cats fucking 30 feet away. I was so terrified.”
The once lauded childhood star saw her fandom wear off; she was laughed at when she went for auditions and was working at restaurants and scrubbing toilets at the age of 16.
But it wasn’t the end of the road for Drew Barrymore, who was once again behind the camera by 17 for Poison Ivy. She built her life from scratch and climbed back up to the top, where her talent and iron-will belonged. She told Us Weekly, as quoted by the Daily Mail, “I had a bravery back then [in my twenties] because I wasn’t really thinking — I was just being. But I have mental peace and calmness now. I love how traditional I’ve become.”
While she found her true destiny, the one thing that still hadn’t changed for a long time was her relationship with her mother. “I mean, my relationship with my mom is so complicated… I’ve always been empathetic toward my mom, and I was even more so when I had a kid and we had a really amazing conversation about it,” she told Marie Claire. “However, it hasn’t enabled me to lessen the distance. It’s the hardest subject in my life. I’ve never just been angry with her. I’ve always felt guilt and empathy and utter sensitivity. But we can’t really be in each other’s lives at this point.”
Now that she’s a mother herself to her two daughters, Olive and Frankie, she’s trying to give them the kind of childhood that she didn’t have. “I knew I would not repeat the mistakes of my parents. I knew I would never do that to a kid,” she said. “I would never have had children unless I was incredibly stable, and willing to put them first.”
That kind of mother that she had is not the kind of mother that she wants to be to her children. Nevertheless, Drew Barrymore, over the years, still tried to mend her relationship with her mother. “I still support her — I must know that she is taken care of or I simply cannot function. I am grateful to this woman for bringing me into this world, and it would crush me to know she was in need anywhere,” she told Vulture. “It is not who I am to harbor any anger for the fact that our life together was so incredibly unorthodox.”
Decades after she got emancipated from her mother and years after she moved on from her difficult younger years to become one of the most renowned faces of the world, the now 44-year-old actress put up a post that showed just how far she has come along.