I Was Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen and CosmoGirl Until Childhood Trauma Made Me Leave It All
This has been republished unaltered from Atoosa Rubenstein’s free Substack newsletter, Unedited. You can get her weekly emails by subscribing here.
If you’ve experienced sexual abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
It took me many years to get past what my “thinking” and “doing” mind was saying and drop into what was really going on for me. I hope this insight is useful to you, too.
October 9, 2006. Look at that big smile on my face. I mean…who wouldn’t be excited to hang out with Oprah, right? But here’s the truth of what was going on for me: About a month before this picture was taken, I had discreetly gathered a cabal of the most powerful men in LA and NY (attorney, agents, publicists) to help extract me from Hearst, the company that published both Seventeen and CosmoGIRL! (I was Editor in Chief of Seventeen at the time and was Founder, Editor-in-Chief of CosmoGIRL! before that.) I had told the head of the company I was leaving, but no one on my staff knew and it certainly wasn’t public. Can you imagine what it felt like to be pregnant with this type of secret? I’ll tell you: Not fucking good. Despite the smile, I was not in my body. Btw – this is a feeling I was so used to, that I didn’t know another way of being.
Within a month of this picture being taken, I announced I was leaving Seventeen.
You may be wondering why my leaving had such a cloak and dagger vibe to it. Why I essentially fucked over my boss who had given me the opportunity of a lifetime (“Youngest Editor in Chief in the over 100-year history of Hearst” yada, yada, yada)? Why I left at the height of my career? Why I left…you?
In truth, at the time I thought it was for a series of very legit reasons. I felt like Hearst didn’t “get” digital. As I said to the New York Post back then: “I’m a risk taker. I don’t play the game in a safe way. I’ve never been driven by power or money. I’ve always had a very strong relationship with our audience, and I hope to develop that in a more immediate and visceral way.” Sure. Sure. Sure. Of course, all that was true. There were perfectly good reasons for leaving my position and great opportunities to consider.
But you want to know the REAL reason?
Let me give you some background first. When you have a traumatic childhood that you haven’t properly processed, you start to replicate or reenact the same patterns. It’s a way our subconscious tries to figure out what happened so we can process and heal. That’s why you may notice that certain (annoying) things ALWAYS happen to you. Like you always attract a certain kind of guy, relationship or dynamic with friends even though it sucks and you don’t want it.
So, on my end, as you know, I was sexually abused in my home. It was happening on the reg and in the shadows: I hadn’t shared it with my parents or siblings…much the less processed it thoroughly. So…I unconsciously reenacted some aspects of my childhood while I was working. I was having affairs although I was married. (I know – not great. But listen, secret sex is what I knew and a big part of my healing has been to hold myself with compassion. I’ve apologized to my soon-to-be-ex-husband endlessly. As Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, do better.”) I had also cast my boss in a role she didn’t audition for: The Mother whose love and protection I was always trying to earn. Hearst was the setting: The house I had to flee just like my house growing up. Unprocessed shit can really go sideways, sister. So, as wacky as it sounds, because of all this childhood trauma, I had created a narrative and energy that felt like I had to be saved from my captors at Hearst (there was an intensity and urgency about leaving that just didn’t match the reality), but what I was actually trying to flee was the abuse and years of incest I survived in my childhood. I was completely projecting it on my adult life because it was still vibrating inside me so many years later. It still blows my mind.
So now that I finally understand what can happen with unprocessed childhood trauma (btw – My ACE – Adverse Childhood Experiences – score is a 7 – what’s yours? It’s an easy assessment you can take online), I want to make sure you are also aware. Please don’t treat the hard experiences from your childhood with a “leave the past in the past” type of attitude that so many well-intended friends and family members proselytize. And it doesn’t need to be a trauma as intense as incest. As you will read in Thursday’s Ask Atoosa column (Yes! We’re going to twice a week!), even a toxic friendship can leave this type of wounding. There are many healing modalities out there from psychotherapy to energy work to help you process it. For some, there are also physical manifestations of these repressed emotions. (If you have a lot of auto-immune stuff it’s worth considering whether the root cause may be emotional – Bessel van der Kolk wrote a seminal book called “The Body Keeps The Score” that you may want to look up). My point is, don’t wait for “one day when you have time,” hope this doesn’t apply to you or diminish your baggage.
To wrap it up: As a survivor of incest who was used to keeping tons of secrets as a kid, I had built this same shaky foundation behind the scenes of my early adult life. So sure. I was super successful…but all was not what it appeared. (And I had a shit load of mysterious illnesses that have all since vanished!) It would take a few more manifestations of my fucked-up childhood (and yes, we’ll get into those too on this journey together) before I was able to begin to bring consciousness to my patterns. And until I did that…I could not in good conscience reach out to you. So there you have it. The mystery of “Where’s Waldo”…I mean…”Where’s Atoosa” solved.
Welcome to Earth School, sister. Where the teacher is also a student. And the student is also a teacher. Thank you for being my teacher. Thank you for creating this village with me. If you like what you’re reading, please share it with friends or social media.
We’re adding an Ask Atoosa edition of Atoosa Unedited on Thursdays (Yay!). And remember, I’m here for you 24/7, as always at email@example.com.
Image via Atoosa Rubenstein