Minka Kelly Reveals Details From Her Traumatic Childhood in New Memoir: ‘I Carried a Lot of Shame’ (Exclusive)

Raised by her single mom who worked as an exotic dancer, Kelly is releasing her new memoir Tell Me Everything on May 2

Dave Kotinsky/Getty for DC UNIVERSE
Dave Kotinsky/Getty for DC UNIVERSE

Even as a seven-year-old girl, Minka Kelly knew her life was “different.”

Living in Los Angeles with her single mom, Maureen, who worked as an exotic dancer, Kelly and “Mo” struggled with poverty. At one point they even stayed in a storage shed of an apartment complex after not being able to pay rent for their unit.

“I spent a lot of my youth wishing my mom was something she wasn’t, wishing she was like the other moms,” Kelly, 42, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I only was able to really appreciate how special she was when I got much older. In fact when it was maybe a little too late.”

In her upcoming memoir, Tell Me Everything, Kelly opens up for the first time about her traumatic childhood, watching her mom try to make ends meet as she faced addiction and domestic violence. Maureen, who died of cancer in 2008, often took her young daughter with her to Crazy Girls strip club in Los Angeles where she performed.

“If she made a lot of money that night, we’d go grocery shopping at 2 a.m.,” the actress recalls. “My childhood was colorful and chaotic, unstable and inconsistent, unpredictable and hard a lot of the times. But the silver lining is that it made me a very adaptable person.”

For more of Kelly’s exclusive interview, pick up next week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands April 21.

In the first pages of her book, Kelly reveals she performed in peep shows at an Albuquerque adult-video store when she was 17. Having been shuttled around between family friends and acquaintances while her mom left her for weeks and months at a time, Kelly was determined to try and support herself.

“I started with the scariest part,” she says. “The part that I carried the most shame about, the part that I felt the most embarrassed of, the part that I hid my whole life, and the part that I’ve had people make me feel bad about. And I felt like that was just where I had to be the most brave.”

After eventually escaping a toxic relationship with her first boyfriend — which resulted in an abortion and coerced sex tape — Kelly found her way to L.A. to try and reconnect with her dad Rick Dufay, who is a former Aerosmith guitarist. She went to school to become a scrub nurse before she began modeling and acting and won her first breakthrough role in the hit series Friday Night Lights.

“I was terrified because I was in way over my head,” she recalls. “I was learning as I was going. So you see me on that show literally learn how to do what I do. Funny enough, at that point in my career, I was very curious about what people thought of me. And I have to be honest, reading a lot of really mean things about me helped. I was just able to read the feedback constructively.”

She also became romantically involved with her costar Taylor Kitsch despite a warning from director Peter Berg to avoid doing so. “I think that relationship taught me to not have on-set romances,” says Kelly, who isn’t in touch with Kitsch. “But you have to learn it for yourself.”

While Kelly’s mom weaved in and out of her life, the two became estranged after Maureen asked her for more financial support. They did not rekindle the relationship until after her mom was diagnosed with colon cancer and given two years to live. Upon a therapist’s suggestion, Kelly confronted Maureen about her upbringing.

“I saw her start to crumble in shame and regret and pain when she was already in so much of all of those things, and I just immediately thought, ‘I don’t need to do this to her,'” Kelly recalls. “I only need to forgive her and love her. She’s already broken. What is the point of pouring salt on the wound? I’m fine. I just want to take care of her right now.”

At the end of her life, Maureen was in a hospice facility in Albuquerque. Kelly crawled into her mom’s bed and wrapped her arms and legs around her and held her as she died. One of her biggest regrets is not spending her mom’s last Thanksgiving together. “Because that was her favorite holiday, and she really wanted me to be there,” says Kelly, who had been working at the time. “I just was like, ‘Ah, I’ll see you for the next one,’ knowing deep down there wasn’t going to be another. And I think about that a lot. That still breaks my heart.”

Now Kelly is hopeful her book helps those who “might have complicated relationships with their mothers feel less alone,” she says. “And also to know that we don’t have to be a victim of our circumstance.”

Writing it was cathartic and allowed Kelly to embrace “all the darkest, most scary parts, the parts that I carried a lot of shame about my whole life,” she adds. “It felt very liberating to sort of own my history as opposed to feel like I need to hide it anymore.”

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