Kevin Smith Reveals He Received Mental Health Treatment After 'Complete Break From Reality'

Kevin Smith is opening up about his mental health journey after deciding last year to seek treatment following a "complete break from reality." The film director, 52, spoke candidly about his experience with trauma and seeking help for the first time to PEOPLE, sharing with the magazine that he checked into Arizona's Sierra Tucson treatment center for a month last January after waking up one morning convinced he was losing his mind. 

"At that moment, I wouldn't have been averse to not being around any longer," the Clerks director said of the "scary" experience. "I called a friend and said, 'I'm in a weird, dark place. I need to go somewhere and get help.'" It was in treatment that Smith was able to confront a number of childhood traumas, including being forced at age six to perform sexual acts with a young neighborhood girl by an older boy he didn't know and being shamed for his weight.

While Smith always thought of the incident as "just playing doctor in an alleyway," a conversation with his therapist in treatment helped him see the trauma for what it was. "When a third party is instructing you to do something against your core values like that," the therapist told Smith, "that's sexual abuse." 

Smith also recounted being made fun of by his fourth-grade teacher in front of the class for his "gut." Smith remembered that as the moment he began to develop his public-facing alter ego. "I felt disgusting, like I didn't matter," he said. "That's when 'the other guy' started to appear. I decided to be entertaining and make people love me before they noticed I was fat."

At age 24, when his 1994 film Clerks catapulted Smith into the spotlight, he was "already a self-loathing mess," the director recalled, and it took until his time at the treatment center before he was ready to let his true self shine through. Undergoing hours a day in private and group therapy sessions, Smith initially found it difficult to share his traumas surrounded by people who oftentimes were military veterans struggling with PTSD.

"In the beginning, it was tough to share when somebody's talking about watching their friend get killed and I'm like, 'Well, my fourth-grade teacher told me I was fat,'" admitted Smith. "But I learned that there's no differentiation [between levels of trauma] to the human nervous system. Internally, trauma is trauma."

Smith said he's since learned the power of self-acceptance, as well as mindfulness exercises including concentrating on his breath that help him stay in the moment. "I'm terrified to see everyone's reaction to [all of this]," said Smith, who is also releasing an intimate, first-person video following his mental health journey. "But I know there's somebody out there who doesn't know this stuff – like I didn't – who could get something out of this."

If you or someone you know needs help, you can text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 in order to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.