Bethany Joy Lenz doesn't want to be anything other than what she's been trying to be lately.
The former One Tree Hill star recently opened up about her decade-long experience in an unnamed cult, sharing that she spent years recovering from the mental and emotional toll it took on her. And if there's one message she hopes people will take away from her story, it is that "there's no shame in being abused."
"There are really terrible people out there who do bad things," she told Access in an Aug. 16 broadcast. "That doesn't make you a bad person and that doesn't make you at fault."
In fact, that was a revelation that admittedly took Lenz quite a long time to understand. As she explained, "I didn't know how to talk about this in a way that I feel like I'll really be understood."
"I was kind of terrified of being misunderstood, so I just didn't talk about it," the 42-year-old continued. "It was incredibly painful to to heal from that. It took a long time only because I have gone through that process and done a lot of that work."
Though Lenz acknowledged that "there's always more" work to be done in her healing journey, she said she's now ready to be there for others who may be in the same situation.
"Before, it may have been more about me needing to have a catharsis," shared Lenz, who is writing a memoir about her cult experience. "I'm good with that and, now, I actually just want to help people."
After all, according to the actress, it was her own support system that helped bring her out from the traumatic situation. Take OTH costar Paul Johansson, who Lenz said "opened up his house" to her and her now-12-year-old daughter Maria Rose—who she shares with ex Michael Galeotti—when she left the cult.
"They saw who I am and they wouldn't give up on that. That's huge," she noted. "That's all you can really ask for: Somebody who really sees you for who you are and they know that you're not stupid. There's nothing wrong you, you just got caught up in because you care and you probably just didn't have any boundaries."
The actress added, "That's part of learning how to grow up, too."
Lenz—who played Haley James Scott during OTH's nine-season run from 2003 to 2012 and now hosts a podcast with costars Sophia Bush and Hilarie Burton—previously said that being on-location with the cast in North Carolina "saved my life."
"For a while, they were all trying to save me and rescue me, which is lovely and so amazing to be cared about in that way," she recalled to Variety earlier this month, explaining that the cult "built a deep wedge of distrust between" herself and her costars before she left the organization. "I had a lot of flying back and forth, a lot of people visiting and things like that, but my life was really built in North Carolina. And I think that spatial separation made a big difference when it was time for me to wake up."
(E! and Access are both part of the NBCUniversal family.)