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Melissa Brunetti-My Story
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Hi! I'm your host, Melissa Brunetti....

I am Melissa Brunetti, but this was not the first name I was ever given. The name that is on my original birth certificate was different. I was born Jennifer Lynn Darmsted on March 22, 1968. I was placed in foster care on March 26th until my birth mother signed her relinquishment papers on May 23. I was finally placed with my adoptive parents on June 10, 1968.

 

I always wondered what my foster care providers called me. Did they call me Jennifer for two months? Did they make up their own name? Was I wondering who these people were? And... where was my mother? I am told my biological mother did visit me a few times before relinquishment. What was I thinking when I saw her? Did I recognize her touch, her smell, her voice? Did I wonder why she kept leaving me with strangers over and over again? Did I grieve every time she left me? How did the trauma of losing my original source of comfort make an imprint on my mind, my body, and my spirit? The fog came rolling in like thunder, and I had no control over it. Like a thick dense mass, it enveloped me - smothering me.  As this seemingly impenetrable shroud of mist choked my essence, I was helpless. This helpless little infant, me, would be in the fog for the next forty years.

Growing up I was the compliant adoptee, always doing what I was supposed to do. Although I had a great adoptive family, I remember being scared, secretly depressed and nervous most of my childhood. I never told anyone. After all, outwardly there was nothing to warrant the feelings I was having, or so I thought. I didn’t even know why I felt what I felt, so how was I supposed to convey it to anyone else? Looking in from the outside, I was a normal child and teenager, with normal kid problems, and there was certainly nothing to validate what was really going on within. Inside, I felt isolated, alone and like I was losing my mind. During this time, I learned how to put on a mask to shroud my true feelings. I started practicing my lines for the show I would be staring in. I took copious notes on how others reacted to my character and adjusted accordingly to what got the loudest applause.  For the next thirty years, I became an academy award winning actress in the story of my own life.

In my teens, I was terrified of dating. The feeling of connection felt foreign and uncomfortable for me, causing so much anxiety that I avoided it like my life depended on it. At around age 20, I started dating someone for the first time. Not because I finally felt safe to do so, but because this person actually wanted me, and I needed to feel chosen. I didn’t consciously know this, and, If I’m being totally honest, I wasn’t really attracted to this person, but that didn’t matter. I felt if I didn’t commit myself to this relationship, no one else would ever come along. After all, my own original mother didn’t want me, so I had better take what was given to me, or else have nothing. I didn’t know I had a choice. I didn’t know I could consult myself to see what I wanted. I didn’t know I had worth and was worthy of being happy. I thought I had to do what everyone else expected of me. I had to stick to the script. Me, ad-libbing my own lines in the movie of my life? Me, actually saying what I wanted to say, instead of what was written down by other screenwriters? Those weren't options! I put on makeup and a smile, and recited every line perfectly. At that time, no-one knew I was slowly dying inside. Not even me. The camera was rolling. I was married at 21, had my first child, a son, at 24, and a daughter followed at 26. The perfect little family. So why was I so depressed and miserable? Why was I having debilitating anxiety attacks? I continued to let others write my story for the next twenty years.

 

Days turned into months and then years. I was now about 30 years old, and this actress was becoming increasingly exhausted - mentally, physically, and emotionally. Walking out on the set was not something I felt I had permission to do, even though I desperately wanted to. I had signed a lifelong contract. What would happen if I broke it? I couldn’t disappoint my fans! Who were my fans? My children, my parents, my church, and everyone that knew me. Funny thing was, no one really knew me because I didn’t even know myself. But I kept hearing the director yell, “Action!” and I had to snap out of this depression NOW! The stage lights felt bright and hot on me as they lit up the stage of my life. I started to sweat. Could I keep this up forever? More makeup please! I can’t let anyone see I’m starting to wither and crack.  Me, my essence, who I really am - that light inside - started to diminish as the blaring glare of the set threatened to illuminate my brokenness. I was able to hold it together for the next ten years.

 

Fast forward to 40 years old. I was growing increasingly depressed and anxious, so much so that I was hiding in my dressing room from everyone and everything. I couldn’t keep up the façade anymore and I was afraid I would go into some crazy rage and end up on the front cover of a tabloid magazine. I could just see the headlines now: Adoptee Actress Has A Mental Break Down At Her Daughters High School Basketball Game And Is Carted To The Loony Bin For Evaluation.  My mind and body were failing me. My doctor had run every test imaginable, only to find nothing of concern, yet every cell in my body was telling me I was dying. This was not a dress rehearsal. I was truly dying. I had intrusive thoughts of suicide and paced the floors of my home when I was alone, fearing I would do something drastic if I didn’t keep moving, if I didn't keep running away from myself.  I just wanted to sleep my life away.  And boy did I try! Anything to be unconscious to everything I was feeling. Why was this happening? I didn’t want this! What had I done wrong and how was I to fix it before it was too late?

I didn’t know what to do or who to talk to. I didn’t have anyone I felt I could reveal my honest feelings to. I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. I just wanted to fix it quietly and quickly and return to my life. The problem was... it wasn’t MY life. It never had been. At least, it wasn't the life I wanted to live. I was like a marionette with strings, and those strings were being tugged and pulled at without my consent. My movements were not my own. The Universe was nudging me hard to make changes, but I stood firm and took the blows until finally I started to crack open. To my dismay, the light started shining through those splintered pieces, illuminating all my wounds, all the ones I had hidden under my makeup and wardrobe all these years. There was infection, and I felt the pus and blood oozing out of my very soul as my authenticity started to break free of the bondage I had put myself in.

And, just as a huge crack in a car windshield starts with a small blemish, there was no stopping the damage. I splintered and split into a million tentacles that spread across my entire view. It was painful, and hard, and horrible….and beautiful. In that moment, I decided to find myself. Because if I didn’t do it right NOW, I felt I would be lost forever. The next few years were full of fear as I stepped out of my comfort zone and went on a pilgrimage to find ME. I was stepping out of the bright blinding lights of the stage I was able to see I had been standing on for the first time. No make up or hair done. Just ME! I gave myself permission to release things that were no longer serving me, no matter what anyone else thought or wanted, without apologies or hard feelings. Taking one step at a time, one feeling at a time, one lesson at a time, like a butterfly breaking free from its cocoon, I slowly started my way back home to my real self.

Currently, I walk with my head held high and a self-confidence I never knew existed. I am strong. I am resilient. I am beautiful. I am authentic and I don’t care what people say about me in the tabloids or on the streets. Go ahead and take my picture! I have never been so ready! I have been coming out of the fog for more than 15 years now. I say ‘coming out’ because do we ever fully come out? I’m not sure, but I now see things with different eyes. When the fog comes rolling in, I don’t panic. I see it as a learning experience that will only make me grow, which makes me so excited! I get asked if I miss the stage and all the things that came with my old life, and I can honestly answer with a resounding, “NO!” Nor do I regret what I went through. Everything I have learned I want to pass on to others who also feel they are award-winning actors in their lives.

 

I give you permission to walk out of the set and throw the script in the trash. I give you permission to live a life that YOU love. I give you permission to release people and things that no longer serve you and to create healthy boundaries, even if others don’t like your choices. It’s not their life, it’s yours! And let me tell you something: I may not be everyone’s cup of tea... because I’m espresso, baby! And I’ve learned to be just fine with that.

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melissa brunetti
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