Actress Ashley Judd poses at press conference to announce her...

Actress Ashley Judd poses at press conference to announce her new role as the spokesperson for Estee Lauder cosmetics line "American Beauty" at the Carlyle Hotel. (June 23, 2004) Credit: Getty Images

Actress Ashley Judd, who last year received a master's degree in public administration from Harvard, has opened up about her childhood sexual abuse and growing up in a drug-ridden, alcoholic family with her mother, country star Naomi Judd, and her half-sister, singer Wynonna Judd.

"I loved my mother," she writes in her memoir, "All That Is Bitter & Sweet," released Tuesday, "but at the same time I dreaded the mayhem and uncertainty that followed her everywhere. I often felt like an outsider observing my mom's life as she followed her own dreams. . . . She and my sister have been quoted as saying that our family put the 'fun' in dysfunction. I wondered: 'Who, exactly, was having all the fun?' "

While the bulk of the book follows Judd's humanitarian work with YouthAIDS and other organizations, the actress, 42, told "Today" Tuesday that she "was really encouraged by people I trust to include some of my own story" as a way to explain how refugees and others empathized enough with her to share "the sacred narratives with which I was being entrusted when I began visiting brothels and slums and forcibly displaced persons camps."

When she was a girl, for example, "An old man everyone knew beckoned me into a dark, empty corner of [a pizza parlor] and offered me a quarter . . . if I'd sit on his lap. He opened his arms, I climbed up, and I was shocked when he suddenly cinched his arms around me, squeezing me and smothering my mouth with him jabbing his tongue deep into my mouth."

Her father, she writes, spent weekends taking hallucinogenic trips. Through everything, "I was taught to believe that our lifestyle was normal and never to question it or complain, even when I was left alone for hours, sometimes days at a time, or when I was passed without warning to yet another relative."

Naomi Judd, in a message to "Today," said, "I love my daughter. I hope her book does well."

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