On an otherwise run-of-the-mill Sunday morning in March of 2019, I sat at my dining table, weeping. I’d been putting off reading a series of articles from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since December.
I certainly wasn’t looking for a new way by which to steel myself against the ups and downs of being an actor and a writer. I had plenty of tools already. I was in acting class. I’d been taking writing classes. I’ve been a reader for multiple casting offices in Los Angeles, so I was pretty confident that I had pretty much seen it all. I knew what they were looking for and what they weren’t. I saw what worked and what didn’t. As far as I was concerned, I already possessed all the tools I needed.
Ah, but the universe it seems, had other plans for me.
I’m a 46-year-old man. As a creative, I’m already the sensitive type. Ask my partner, Auriell. She can attest to the fact that I’m prone to crying when the spirit moves me. But that day, something was different. It was about my past. Traumas and abuses that I thought were safely put to bed were rearing their ugly collective head, making it extremely, excruciatingly clear that they had been lying awake, eyes wide open for decades, waiting for the right moment to pounce.
The fact that I read through articles that shook a deep layer of my soul on a Sunday morning was only fitting. It wasn’t my first sense of a religious experience. I had escaped a cult when I was just seventeen years old. I had, on many occasions, referred to it as a cult, but usually only with a close friend who had gone through the same experience. To everyone else, I was just the guy who grew up in a religiously oppressive, controlling home–but never more than that.
Suddenly, thirty years after my great escape, there was an entire exposé for the whole world to read that unequivocally called the church I grew up in a cult. It was the first time I had ever heard or seen an outsider call our religious group by such a name. I was a cult survivor.
Relief gushed through the tears I shed, but I also had so many questions. What did it all mean for me?
Next section trigger warning: sexual abuse.
And let’s be clear, dear reader, I am not only the survivor of a random cult. I am also a survivor of sexual and physical abuse.
I honestly don’t remember how old I was when it first happened, but I’m pretty sure I hadn’t yet turned seven when I was tragically raped by a male babysitter. What I vividly do remember is thinking that I was a sinner because of what someone else had done to me. I had participated in something I couldn’t even understand, but I must have been at fault.
That’s what the cult taught me. Sex cults may have different faces, but ideological manipulation is all the same. In our cult, girls who dressed a certain way, were “asking for it.” They were temptresses who made it difficult for good, righteous men to stay in the will of God because of their evil-dressing ways. If that was true, then why should I think that I wasn’t asking for it? Why would I imagine that my assault was anything other than a sin for which I was just as responsible as any other?
Or the industry in general? Well, I’m glad you asked. Rejection is such a weird word, isn’t it? Maybe it’s an ugly word for you, the same way it feels to me. I don’t know. But isn’t rejection simply part of our lives as artists? Even as human beings?
You didn’t get the job you wanted. You got turned down when you asked that special someone on a date. Even getting cut off in traffic can feel like a rejection. But when you’re an artist (and you are an artist, my friend!) most of your experience will be rejection.
Even actors who are A-listers don’t get every job. The “offer-only” actors won’t get every offer that comes across the tables of the elite few. Maybe someone has said your writing is shit, but another person tells you they love your story.
I remember reading an article with Ben Affleck after he made Gigli. He talked about how he woke up the next day, after being completely panned by critics, and he realized the world hadn’t ended. Now, think whatever you want about Mr. Affleck and his work, but the simple truth he discovered that day is profound. Rejection doesn’t end the world. It doesn’t even end your exceptionally personal world. It certainly may feel like it does in the moment, but it doesn’t. It’s just rejection.
The problem is, we often take that rejection on as a burden for ourselves. We take it personally. Now, compound that rejection with an ingrained system of belief from growing up in a cult, and you’ve really got some crap to sift through. Or at least, I do.
For me, it goes a little something like this: You’re a born sinner. You don’t deserve the love of God, but he was gracious enough to provide you with the means to escape eternal damnation. You can’t forget that you don’t deserve any of this, though. You don’t deserve anything. Ever. So why should I deserve my dream of being a working actor?
Now please don’t make the assumption that I’m condemning religion. I’m not. I’m condemning abuse. Abuse that I picked up, thinking it was mine to carry. For forty years, I thought that the cult beliefs about me, their acceptance of my humanity, their validation, was mine to shoulder.
When I was younger, I didn’t tell anyone about being sexually abused because I was convinced the church would see me as guilty and ostracize me. I didn’t talk about my mother beating me, or the incessant screaming and yelling that crippled me psychologically. I didn’t want my friends to think I was weird and to stop hanging out with me. Fast-forward to me pursuing my dream of being an actor, and I transferred all of those ingrained patterns onto every part of the work I brought to the audition room, the stage, the studio set, you name it. I carried it everywhere.
“Please like me,” I said with my energy. “Please let me be part of the group. Please validate my existence by allowing me into your limited club of actors who get to play.” It was, and is, heavy stuff. No one ever wants to feel that kind of energy being thrown at them, let alone when they’re trying to be collaborative and create art.
Maybe you don’t relate to the experience of being physically abused. Or emotionally abused. Or sexually abused. Or brainwashed. But if you’re like most actors, myself included, and you find yourself obsessing over every little audition, trying to get it “right,” fitting your work, your art, and your creativity into a little box, replete with sparkles and bows so that they will pick you, then I respectfully submit that you are playing by someone else’s rules and not your own.
I know, you’re probably thinking that’s a shitty thing to say, but hear me out. The way I interpret that is simple. No one knows what they’re doing. We are all just trying to figure things out the best way we can. Sure, you can have a mentor to guide you. Or, like me, you can get yourself a good therapist. Therapy became a necessity after reading the exposé in the Star-Telegram, and you had better believe it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself.
But ultimately, the work is still up to you. No one can just hand it to you. But there are those who can shine light for you to help you along your way. For me that’s my therapist, my partner, my amazing siblings, and myriad teachers I’ve had along the way.
Simply seeking truth, wisdom, and knowledge isn’t even enough. When we get to one stage – for me it was seeing the truth of the cult through the mouthpiece of a reporter – there’s always the next stage. As artists, we should be in the state of constantly becoming. That is to say, actively seeking, learning, and transforming our knowledge into applied wisdom, then searching for the next part of our soul that is still shrouded in darkness so that we might illuminate and create from that place. And still, we’ll get rejected.
So, stop trying to make it for everyone. (Hello! Message to self!) What if we reframe our thinking from “I hope I get this job!” to something more conducive to our well-being? My latest trial with this is, “it just takes one.” Because that’s the truth. It only takes one person to get it. To get you. It only takes one series regular role for you to fulfill your dream of being on a series. It only takes one guest star role, if that’s your goal right now. You don’t need them all, you just need one. So, stop putting your worth in someone else’s hands. It’s not their responsibility anyway, and they can only break it. Why ask them to hold it for you?
The work of the artist is to connect the dots of our collective humanity. Oftentimes, we think we’re alone. For so long, I believed I was alone with my long train of abuses. As the beautiful, sensitive souls that we artists are, we can so easily fall into the trap of thinking about or approaching our work as if we’re the only one that has felt this, experienced this, or understands this, and no one else could possibly “get it.” But when we open ourselves, and thereby our work, to the world, we find that we are never alone.
So, do the work. First on you, the human. Let go of all the things that are holding you down. Find someone who can help you do that, if that’s where you are right now. But get personal with it. Then, create that work–whatever is–be it an audition, your screenplay, your pilot, your one-person show, and do it for you! You’ll be amazed by how just showing up with your raw, vulnerable humanity will touch the hearts and minds of others. Will you get rejected? Are you going to fail? Probably. But you’ll learn. And you’ll grow. You’ll hone your voice, your perspective, and you will solidify your uniqueness in the world. And that will make the world start coming to you, rather than you chasing the world, begging it to include you in a group of which you’re already inherently a part.
Jon Snow is, first and foremost, an escapee of a cult, and a thriving survivor of sexual abuse. Born the son of a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher, Jon grew up primarily in St. Louis, Missouri before his great escape from the church and it’s mental, emotional, and physical abuses. Now, Jon is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA as an actor and writer living in Los Angeles with his partner, Auriell and their two dogs, Molly and Justin.
He’s been seen on All Rise on CBS, The Rookie on ABC, Good Girls on NBC, as well as other tv shows and films. Jon is a speaker and a solo performance artist who focuses his work and artistry into continually honing his voice so that he can tell his story of escape and healing in an effort to help others who have felt oppressed, demeaned, and unheard, find the strength and power of their own voices.
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