For a long period of time, the Mad Max actress lived in denial of her pitiless past. She tried to not look at her horrors right in the eye and face her demons but that did not help her get rid of them. What helped let go of her horrific childhood was the support of her mother.
Charlize Theron’s childhood was an unfortunate mix of fear, unpredictability, and violence. As a child, she witnessed her mom, Gerda, getting physically abused by her alcoholic father on a daily basis while she was often subjected to verbal abuse, reports ELLE.
The actress who has been vocal about her violent childhood and the pain inflicted by her father on them told ABC News, “My dad was a big guy, tall, skinny legs, big belly. [He] could be very serious but loved to laugh as well, and enjoyed life. He also had a disease. He was an alcoholic,” Theron said, adding, “he was a verbal abuser.”
Her childhood did not comprise of the carefree days of laughter and merriment; it was, in fact, unpredictable and chaotic where she did not know how a day will unfold to be and what will happen after her father comes home drunk. “I think what more affected me for my adult life that happened in my childhood was more the every day living of a child living in the house with an alcoholic and waking up not knowing what was going to happen,” she said. “And not knowing how my day was going to go and all of it dependent on somebody else and whether he was not going to drink or drink.”
Theron went on to describe the incident that changed the fate of their family forever. Needless to mention, accepting and narrating a reality like this takes immense courage and one could only imagine what she might have gone through to come to terms with it. At age 15, Theron returned from her boarding school. Explaining the nature of the incident Theron said, “Nature gives you instinct. And I knew something bad was going to happen.”
Her father returned home with her brother, furious. He started firing shots at the locked gate and then made his way to Theron’s bedroom. He shouted and banged the door saying, “Tonight I’m going to kill you both with the shotgun,” according to the testimony that her mother later gave. When her father shot into Theron’s bedroom, her mother picked up her own handgun and fired at the two men, wounding the brother and ending the life of Theron’s father.
Gerda was not prosecuted as the court ruled that she acted in self-defense. While the court proceedings were not something they needed to worry about but a night like that could never be erased from their mind. The flashes from that night kept haunting Gerda and Theron for a long time. The horrors of that memory and fear of judgment were so much that neither could she accept it nor let it out.
According to HuffPost, for a long time, she told people that her father lost his life in a car crash and kept the truth suppressed in her heart allowing it to slowly erode her. “I just pretended like it didn’t happen. I didn’t tell anybody — I didn’t want to tell anybody,” Theron said, as quoted by People. “Whenever anybody asked me, I said my dad died in a car accident. Who wants to tell that story? Nobody wants to tell that story.”
She felt that talking about it would only make people uncomfortable, saying, “They don’t know how to respond to that. And I didn’t want to feel like a victim. I struggled with that for many years until I actually started therapy.”
As she started therapy around her late 20s she started facing her fears and allowing them an outlet. Through her journey of trauma and healing, there was one person who never left her side – her mother. “I was blessed to have a parent that kind of guided me towards very healthy time period of mourning, of going through the confusion, going through the shock, going through the anger, going through all of the emotional things that you do when you — when something like this happens to you. But really kind of guided me towards not being a victim and not going through my life feeling victimized,” Theron told Piers Morgan, according to a CNN transcript.
She is also grateful to her mother for not allowing the one night to overcome the better part of her life. She admits that Gerda is not just inspiring, she is courageous for going through so much herself but never abandoning her child. In fact, helping her achieve balance and stability in life. The Oscar winner said, “I have an incredible mother… She’s a huge inspiration in my life.” She added, “She’s never really had therapy. So a mother who never really had therapy dealing with something like that — trying to get your child out of that. Her philosophy was ‘This is horrible. Acknowledge that this is horrible. Now make a choice. Will this define you? Are you going to sink or are you going to swim?’ That was it.”
Theron, who is now a mother herself understood the instincts of motherhood and admitted that had she been responsible to save her daughter that night, she would have done the same. “I know what happened. And I know that if my daughter was in the same situation, I would do the same thing.”
Today, she is able to say, “It’s a part of me, but it doesn’t rule my life.” All thanks to her strong mother who not only pulled her family through a tough time but also raised a strong daughter.