I never realized the toxic way I thought and wrote about women—until my book editor called me out for it. She told me, “If I have to read the way you describe women one more time, I’m not going to edit this fucking book.” I was speechless.
I’m going to share my journey with you since she called me out, but to get the full picture, we have to go back to the beginning and see where my mindset about women was formed.
The book I was writing was never meant to be a book. It was meant to be a suicide letter. After a memory of sexual abuse from my childhood came flooding back as an adult, I decided to end my life. I left the woman I was in love with. I cheated and lied. I partied all the time, got high, and prioritized being around beautiful women. To put it bluntly: I wasn’t a good human being.
During my time as a fixture in the bar scene, I met a woman named Mira. We partied together, but she was always trying to drag me out of that scene, while I did nothing but drag her down. During this time, I was writing the goodbye letter I intended to be sent out after my death.
Fortunately, my suicide attempt was unsuccessful and Mira was able to pull me up out of my downward spiral. It was a slow, laborious process with stops and starts, but she persisted. The day she told me she was pregnant with our first child, we both said: “never again.”
The other thing Mira inspired me to do was turn my letter into a book. She even bought me a memoir writing class taught by published author Laurie Gough. I shared my manuscript with Laurie and she was so blown away that she agreed to help me with it. Laurie became my editor, my mentor, and the person who opened my eyes to the way I thought about women.
A Relic of My Past Life
There was this jarring moment when Laurie first made that comment, where I went back to Mira and asked, “Is this really how I think?” She paused a moment before saying, “Yeah, it is.”
Come to find out, there were two parts to the problem. The first was my inexperience in describing women in writing. As a rookie writer, my abilities in that department weren’t well developed.
There was a larger issue, however: the thought patterns from my partying days were still deeply ingrained in my mind. As part of the crowd that was paying for bottle service, I was basically paying to be around beautiful women. That definition—beautiful—was the extent of how I saw these women. It was completely one-dimensional and shamefully derogatory.
When I combined that way of thinking with my raw writing skills, every woman I introduced in the book was described according to their looks: A good looking brunette. A tall, scantily-clad blonde. Nothing about them as people—just what they looked like. It was so bad!
There was also an undercurrent of objectification running through my book. I went so far as to suggest that women need protection, which was also a byproduct of the belief set that was formed during my past life. But I didn’t see it that way until Laurie pointed it out to me.
Changing My Perception
After having that wake-up call, I resolved to change things. Not just for the sake of the book, but for the sake of my life. I wanted to have a healthy and respectful view of women for its own sake, but especially with a wife, a mentor, and a daughter on the way.
I began reading about toxic masculinity and the ways our patriarchal society has held women back. I realized how much my thinking had been influenced by these forces without me even knowing it, and I resolved to become more aware of these thoughts in the future.
I also took a course for writers on character development. I learned how to describe the uniqueness of women in a multitude of ways. It made my book so much better.
I began having weekly discussions with Laurie. In addition to being an excellent editor, she was the person I needed to guide me at that point in my life. I was so lost that I didn’t even realize I was lost. She helped me see what I was missing and was patient with me as I worked to mature in my ways of thinking. I’ll be forever grateful that she called me on my bullshit!
At the same time, I talked with Mira to work through these issues. She’s such an emotionally intelligent person that I’m still surprised to this day that she stayed with me. But she did, we worked through these issues, and today we have two beautiful daughters.
How I Want to Raise My Daughters
Fast forward to the present, and perhaps the biggest impact of Laurie’s comment—and the journey I’ve been on since then—is how I want to raise my daughters.
I want them to be empathetic and fierce at the same time. I want them to know they have a safe place with us, their parents, and help them build a strong sense of self. We’re already seeing that with our oldest daughter, Vivian. We don’t assume, for instance, that she’s going to hug and kiss all over our family members. She gets to do what she wants with her body and we respect that. When she wants to be tickled, we have a system: red means stop, and green means go. If she gives me a red, I’ll stop, although she loves tickle time, so it’s almost always green!
In the first draft of my manuscript, I talked about needing to protect women. Now I’ve made an important shift: I want to make sure my daughters are strong enough to protect themselves.
I’m closer to my mother than I’ve ever been. She actually lives around the corner from us and sees her granddaughters a lot. That wasn’t something I saw happening, but now that I’m a parent, the picture of what her life must’ve been like as a single parent is a lot clearer.
Finally, I’ve also realized something about Mira: she’s the hero of our story. She’s the hero of my life. If it weren’t for her, I’d still be in that downward spiral—or I wouldn’t be here at all.
Laurie’s comments might have started me on this journey, but being the type of man I want to be for myself, my wife, my daughters, and the rest of the world is what keeps me moving forward.
Learn more about the author and his book, Before I Leave You: A Memoir on Suicide, Addiction, and Healing
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