Colton Haynes addresses addiction, sexual abuse in memoir that caused 'mental warfare'

Erin Jensen
USA TODAY

Colton Haynes' most raw role to date is that of author.

The actor, whose blue eyes and sharp jawline you might know from series “Teen Wolf” and “Arrow,” bares his soul in “Miss Memory Lane: A Memoir” (Atria, 256 pp., out now).

“I'm all good with talking about real stuff, but I'm so bad at small talk. I'm like, ‘Can we get to trauma, please?’” he says playfully over a Zoom chat.

The book’s pages capture the 33-year-old’s virulent childhood with “two drug-addicted parents,” who “met in rehab and kind of escaped and had this wild love story.” His mother was an alcoholic. His father was absent. Haynes recounts first being sexually abused by his uncle at 6-years-old and internalizing the guilt, which contributed to the “anger” Haynes carried through his life. “I just always felt like I was trying to prove something. Now, I’m almost 34, and I realized that a lot of the issues that I've had really (are) from childhood trauma.”

Best selling books:'The Office BFFs' and new Jack Carr thriller fly off the shelves

20 sizzling summer books:Jennifer Weiner, David Sedaris, Michael Mann's 'Heat 2' and more

Actor Colton Haynes has written a memoir, "Miss Memory Lane."

Haynes envisioned a life larger than the small towns he grew up in could contain. But in pursuit of an acting career, he was forced to hide that he is gay. He even attended classes to alter his voice and mannerisms. Seemingly the only topic avoided in the memoir is his two-year marriage to celebrity florist Jeff Leatham. Haynes states in “Miss Memory Lane” that “a binding nondisclosure and confidentiality agreement” bars him from addressing their relationship.

Haynes describes completing the book as “2½ years of absolute mental warfare. It was the worst experience. Writing this book was the hardest thing I've ever done, and it was no sleep.” He says he even “repainted my office every other week just to try to get away from this book.” But revisiting the manuscript two months after finishing itallowed him to view it as “the most beautiful thing.” 

“With this book, I really found my way back to myself,” he says, attributing losing touch with his true self to “countless amounts of drugs and alcohol” and “chasing something that's not ever attainable.”

Colton Haynes poses for a selfie with a fan at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles.

Haynes’ ache to be noticed took root in childhood.

"I think a lot of queer people can identify with this growing up, not feeling like you're getting the love that you really need," he says. "In my situation, I grew up in a super small town and just was different than everybody else. I started using my body to get the attention that I thought was love." 

In his memoir, he writes "sex to me wasn’t an expression of love. It was just a tool to get what I wanted." 

At 14, he says he entered a relationship with a 42-year-old police officer. "I essentially was chasing my father’s love that I never got. I would seek that in older men," Haynes says. It felt "like my dad died again whenever I left (the relationship)."

While trying to launch his acting career in Los Angeles, Haynes says he was told he needed to put his sexuality "on mute because this is not what Hollywood wants. 'You look like you could be on television or in movies, you look like a leading man, but you need to learn how to act like one, or else this is it.'"

'We are all in search of a story':Selma Blair reflects on life, identity in memoir 'Mean Baby'

Colton Haynes is snapped at New York Fashion Week in 2013 next to his fellow actor Zachary Quinto, far left, and musicians Kevin, Joe and Nick Jonas.

Haynes says he worked on a heterosexual presentation for nearly 1½ years by doing things like taking classes to change his mannerisms and lose his lisp. He dropped his voice. He took pills and drank to dull the anguish of not being able to be himself. 

Before living in LA, he "got to wear what I wanted to wear" and was free to sport "swoopy Zac Efron hair." While there, he wondered: "What if I'm never going to get to be who I am?"

"I just genuinely wanted to do whatever I could to numb myself," he says, explaining his drinking "crept up" on him. "You look around and you're like, 'Oh wow! Everyone around me (doesn't) need to drink two bottles of alcohol or two bottles of wine, or a bottle of tequila every day, right from the moment they wake up to silence the pain."

The 2018 death of Haynes' mom Dana Mitchell also drove him to drink. "My mom had been dead for six months now and, as everyone kept telling me, I had to get back to living," he writes. "But I didn’t want to do that. I just wanted to drink."

5 must-read new books:Dan Chaon's 'Sleepwalk,' steamy Akwaeke Emezi romance

"Once I lost my mom, I just genuinely felt like I couldn't exist anymore," he says. Though their relationship was complicated, Haynes writes that he loved his mother "more than the sun in the sky. I loved her more than ranch dressing. I loved her more than thinking about myself." He says he considered her his "best friend." 

A 2018 overdose of Xanax put Haynes in the hospital. Afterward, he was finally able to enter rehab, something he'd contemplated before but never acted on. "It was definitely time for me to just start being an adult and owning up to my (stuff), and just realizing that there's a different way of living life," he says.

Today, Haynes is far from the person who felt he needed to impress others. He shops Craigslist, Ross and Marshalls and dubs himself "the thrift king of the world."

"If I had realized all I needed to do was just get a cat, instead of trying to get attention from people who I don't know, things would've turned out a little differently," he says lightheartedly.

'I no longer want to project a curated life':'Arrow's Colton Haynes posts hospital pics

CW will debut 'Supernatural' and 'Walker' prequels in the fall. See the full schedule.

Ultimately, he hopes his book is "a beacon of hope" for others who need it.

"This book is for all the queer kids," he says, referencing his dedication to those "who long for love and attention, to the ones who’d break their own arm, if only to have somebody sign their cast . . . know that you are deserving of love without pain."