Long before Mary hit R&B stardom with her debut album What's the 411? in 1992, music was a refuge from the pain of her troubled childhood. Raised by a single mother in a New York housing project, Mary says she was molested at the age of five. "That's a hurtful thing to feel like [the sexual abuse] was your fault," Mary says. Physical abuse also left its mark on Mary's life at a young age, she says. "It's a vicious cycle," Mary says. "You look at the way your mother is being treated and you think this is the way you're supposed to be treated."
Mary turned to drugs and alcohol early in life and struggled with addiction for years. The music industry's partying lifestyle accelerated her downward spiral. "No one was telling me the truth," Mary says. "I had someone say to me, 'Girl, it's okay to drink and be promiscuous.' ... It was a lot of me just not loving or respecting myself and not thinking I deserved anything better."
Mary says her turning point came in 2001. After the loss of a close friend, her grief was compounded by the death of fellow hip-hop star Aaliyah on August 25 and the 9/11 tragedy.
Mary has now been sober for about five years. She attributes her progress to her religious faith and the power of forgiveness. "I think the breaking point is where you just totally forgive [the abuser] and get on with your life because that person's going on with their life. ... 'I'm free of you and everything you tried to keep me down with.'"
Mary's forgiving spirit has earned her a place alongside Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Oprah's book of quotations. In an interview for Essence magazine, Mary's words of wisdom resonated with Oprah. Referring to the abuse she endured as a child, Mary said, "I blame [my mother] for nothing, but I forgive her everything."
Mary is the first to admit that forgiveness is a difficult obstacle to overcome. "It's all easier said than done," she says, "But it's got to be done. That's the painful part, the forgiveness. ... People don't want to go through it, [but] I'd rather go through the pain of getting better and being free than the pain of being stuck."
In December 2003, Mary and Kendu wed in an intimate ceremony at her New Jersey estate. She chose to surround herself with the support of loved ones—not the people in her life who had offered negativity and cynicism. "So many people ... 'hated' on us," Mary says. "They were saying to [Kendu], 'You ain't the first, and you ain't going to be the last.' They didn't believe that I could [stay married].
Mary discovered that the wedding was another step in her journey of self-discovery, not the final destination. At first, she says, she was disappointed that the marriage alone didn't heal her insecurities. "I was looking to my husband to make me feel good about myself," she says. "'He's not the one to make you feel happy,'" Mary says she soon realized. "You've got to feel good about yourself in order for this to work."
Mary says some of the people closest to her couldn't handle her clean lifestyle and self-confident mind-set. "I lost every friend," she says. "They ran. ... It was just me and my husband left. [They thought] we were 'weirdos' and we were 'God freaks.'"
Mary finds she now attracts a different type of friend. "I can relate to them," Mary says. "I really don't care about the friends I lost, you know?"
The new energy in Mary's life comes across in her music. "It's called freedom," she says. "Letting people's opinions be their opinions and not letting their opinions be my life—not letting what they say in the tabloids about me make me or break me. I know what I am in my heart. I know what I believe about me. That's the freedom I have in performing and looking in people's eyes and being able to smile from my heart."
"Are you proud of yourself now?" Oprah asks. "I'm so proud of myself," Mary says.
Mary wows the audience with "Be Without You" from her latest CD, The Breakthrough. Next, Mary sings "Family Affair," Oprah's all-time favorite workout song—the tune that gets her pumped up every morning!
Singing legend Barbra Streisand recently introduced Oprah to a supersweet treat: cupcakes made fresh daily by a Beverly Hills bakery named Sprinkles. Barbra loves them so much, she sent Oprah an entire box of the colorful little cakes. Now our audience is singing their praises too—yummy!
Get Sprinkles Cupcakes' recipe for Dark Chocolate Frosting!
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