Interview with Nadia Sahari
Breakaway: How I Survived Abuse
Pink Butterfly Press (2009)
Reviewed by for Reader Views (2/09)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to interview Nadia Sahari, who is here to talk about her new book "Breakaway: How I Survived Abuse."
Nadia Sahari was born in Beirut, Lebanon to Arab parents who were Shia Muslims. She came to America at the age of two. Nadia is the eldest of eight children: five sisters and two brothers. She speaks fluent Lebanese. Nadia Sahari has performed as a headliner belly dancer and choreographer. She was a featured guest on various television shows in Detroit, Michigan. The newspapers frequently featured her story and pictures in their publications. Nadia Sahari drew crowds from many states and received standing ovations wherever she headlined. Her dancing was professional, exotic, and true to her culture. She also taught more than two thousand women the art of belly dancing. She alone produced and directed live dance shows for the public as well as families and friends of her students.
In her late twenties, she ventured out to Las Vegas where she attended the Las Vegas School of Acting. Later she registered and trained at various universities and private schools to refine her craft. She was an entrepreneur for many years and was very creative in business in order to support herself and her family.
Nadia now resides in Austin, Texas. She has enrolled in filmmaking classes at the Austin Film School. She plans to film documentaries and short films in the future. She continues to train in on camera acting, improv, film, and comedy classes. She has served as a guest panelist on the Oprah Show, and she is an advocate for women, children and animal rights. "Breakaway: How I Survived Abuse" is her newly published memoir.
Tyler: Welcome, Nadia. It's an honor to interview you today. To begin, will you tell us about the kinds of abuse you experienced and who were your abusers?
Nadia: I describe many types of abuse in my memoir. Beginning with sexual molestation by my grandfather at the age of five, multiple beatings by my father, date rape, domestic violence by my first husband and attempts on my life.
Tyler: Will you tell us more about your parents' background and particularly what made them decide to come to the United States from Lebanon?
Nadia: My father was born in Highland Park, Michigan. He was sent to Lebanon as a child and lived with relatives most of his younger years, until he was of age to join the French Navy. During leave he met my mother in Lebanon. They eloped and married against her family's wishes. After I was born and when I turn two, they emigrated to the USA.
Tyler: Nadia, in "Breakaway" you talk about how your father did not want you to mix with Americans. Was this a major reason for him to abuse you? Did your parents feel frustration about being immigrants in America, or would you have been abused even if your family had remained in Lebanon?
Nadia: It is not that my father did not mix with Americans, it was that he did not want me to mix with them. He wanted me to be married to an Arab and to remain a virgin. He believed that if I hung around with Americans, I would lose my virginity. If I would have lost my virginity I could not marry an Arab because I would have been soiled and my value would decrease. I would be worth nothing. I would not have been as abused in Lebanon. But the environment would have been completely different and maybe less violent.
Tyler: Nadia, we often hear of Shia Muslims as being the more fanatical Muslims, at least according to the U.S. media. Will you explain to us whether religion played any significant role in your abuse?
Nadia: I was not abused just for religious reasons; I was abused for cultural reasons. But you cannot really separate the two. They are two sides of the coin. My book is not about Islam, this is about my life as it happened (also the Shia Islam my parents knew when I was growing up was not radical as it is today after the Khomeni regime).
Tyler: You mentioned that you were sexually abused by your grandfather as well as physically abused by your father. Would you say there was a cycle of abuse in your family, one generation learning from the one before it?
Nadia: Probably, my father never was nurtured or loved as a child. He didn't know how to give or receive love. My grandfather was very abusive to his children and he may have murdered his wife. I believe he did. He was a womanizer and self-centered.
Tyler: Did your siblings have similar experiences to yours?
Nadia: No, I was the eldest, and I was the example.
Tyler: Tell us about your spouse who also abused you. Did you realize he was an abuser when you married him?
Nadia: No, I did not know he was an abuser. I never dated him. I really didn't know much about him. I only saw him occasionally at school and secret meetings whenever I could sneak away. I married him because he told me he loved me. He also threatened to kill himself if I refused to marry him. Plus, I had nowhere to go. I had no support system, my parents disowned me, I had no money, no job, no security and I was very naive about anything outside my box. Marriage looked like a safety net for me. I had no clue that I was marrying someone who was going to abuse me the way my father had abused me. I didn't know that I was going from hell to Hades.
Tyler: Why did your parents disown you?
Nadia: They disowned me because I converted to Christianity. Also, because I would not conform to their ways. I disobeyed. I exhausted them. I was not a good example to my siblings. I was of no value to them any more.
Tyler: Why do you think many women, yourself included, marry because it represents a safety net to them? Is it low self-esteem, a fear they won’t be able to survive without a man for protection or financial support?
Nadia: Not at all. Marriage is our only escape sometimes for survival. Remember, my first husband had no money, no job when I married him. I married him because he loved me. I had never received love at home. For me it was not financial security as much as it was getting freedom to live a life that I felt I deserved to live. We are trying to stay alive. If you live in a box all your life, you have no awareness of the world outside of the box. Your self-image is destroyed, you have no freedom, and you don't have the support to help you. At least during my childhood, there were no organizations to help as there are many now.
Tyler: At what point in your life did you finally quit being abused and how did freedom from abuse come about?
Nadia: With my first husband I went through three years of abuse on a daily basis. He was a womanizer, an alcoholic, and could not hold a steady job; he often became violent and beat me. There were times when he tried to kill me. I finally got to the point where I was fed up and the law could not protect me from him. Finally when he took food out of my children's mouths, only then did I realize I could not live this way. I feared that he would kill me or hurt my children. That was the straw that broke the camel's back as they say.
Tyler: What do you mean by “he took food out of my children’s mouths”?
Nadia: I took the beatings from my first husband and stayed because I thought it was normal. But as I have mentioned in my book, he came home drunk one day. He wanted my last five dollars for beer. I refused. He took the cereal bowl and the milk bottle from my babies and dumped them in the sink. He said, "If I can't have my beer, they can't eat." That was the last straw for me. I threw him out.
Tyler: Why do you think you could stop the abuse when it affected your children, but you were not able to do it just for yourself?
Nadia: I thought it was normal for me to be beaten. I knew no other way of life. I thought all men were abusers. My children were my life. If not for them I probably would have committed suicide. I had no hope, no love, no life. The birth of my boys gave me a purpose to live. They needed me. They loved me.
Tyler: Throughout your abuse, you always kept alive your dream of becoming an actress. When did you first decide you wanted to be an actress and what kept that dream alive for you?
Nadia: I was ten years old when the dream began. Ironically, abuse kept it alive. It was my way of escaping the reality of my life. It was my fantasy.
Tyler: Tell us more about the fantasy. What specifically did you fantasize about?
Nadia: I would picture myself in the movies as an actress. I collected autographed glossy photos from actresses and singers. I read magazines like “Photoplay,” “Radio TV Mirror,” and others. While reading and gazing at the photos, I imagined myself in the magazines as a famous actress. I could see myself in the movie, TV, or magazine as someone who was famous.
Tyler: Will you tell us more about your belly dancing? How did you become interested in it, and did you see it as a means to your goal of acting?
Nadia: I was born to dance. I danced as a little girl and through the years as I got older I kept dancing. Dancing was in my blood. The belly dance craze was just beginning; my friends and neighbors were the wives of the DETROIT LIONS football team. They wanted lessons in belly dancing and asked me to give them private lessons. I did. That started a long line of classes and eventually led to a studio and performances. I was a great means of giving my children a house, safety, and food on the table.
Tyler: Nadia, many people dream about being on the Oprah Show as a sign of having achieved success. Will you tell us about how and why you were on Oprah's program?
Nadia: I was initially in the audience. Oprah's producers invited me to be a guest panelist the next day for their special guest at the time, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I was happy to do so.
Tyler: How did your acting career get started?
Nadia: For the first time in my life, I am free. I trained and still am training to be the best I can be. I studied theatre at the university and performed in plays. I worked as an extra on many projects. I continued to train and hone my skills. It is my passion.
Tyler: What made you decide to publish your memoir now?
Nadia: There is a line in my book that reads, "you know that you are healed when you love the world around you." It took twenty-five years of reliving and healing to finish it. The pain of abuse is deep.
I love the world now, and I want to help women and children to find hope, encouragement, and inspiration by reading my memoir.
Tyler: What reaction have you received from your family regarding your memoir?
Nadia: Not a good one. None of them will be reading my memoir. No one wants to admit that my father and grandfather were abusers. They are in denial.
Tyler: Do you feel you have worked through your abuse issues and they are now in the past, or will they always in some way affect you into the future?
Nadia: In my book, I explain that healing from abuse is like peeling an onion. Just as you remove one layer another layer appears. It comes from your subconscious mind sometimes. You always have to be prepared to deal with it.
Tyler: Nadia, what is the message or understanding you most hope readers will gain from "Breakaway: How I Survived Abuse"?
Nadia: As I have written in my memoir, “Abuse is like being in a cocoon, when you are free of it, you become a butterfly. There is hope, change is a choice. You can make the choice to be free. I am still learning to fly away from my abuse, now that I have learned to fly I don't look behind me, I only look forward. Remember, it's easy to step on a worm, but hard to catch a butterfly.”
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Nadia. Before we go, will you tell us about your website and what information our readers may find there about "Breakaway: How I Survived Abuse"?
Nadia: My website is at: www.nadiasaharibook.com. You can read my bio, my blog, read my reviews and link to my acting website www.nadiasahari.com and link to amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com where you can buy my book.
Tyler: Thank you, Nadia, for the interview today and for sharing your story of how you escaped abuse and fulfilled your dreams. I wish you much success with “Breakaway” and hope you continue to inspire others.