Editor’s Note: Jon Wheeler used to have a difficult time controlling his anger in romantic relationships. As part of our occasional series, “What’s Your Story?” Wheeler shares how a group in Santa Rosa called Men Evolving Non-Violently, or M.E.N., helped him change his abusive behaviors. Now, he leads those same groups, helping other men who struggle with violent behavior.
By Jon Wheeler
I’d be in a relationship with a woman and whatever was going on in the relationship, I would respond to it with anger. Like, I might even tell you in my words that I’m supporting you, but my tone of voice would say, ‘You’re an idiot and I don’t respect you.’ And I’ve been physically violent with a woman a few times in my life. It has come to that.
I felt guilty for my behavior, and I could see the way that I was acting was driving away a person that I was trying to hold close.
I’m the sixth of seven children, and there was a ton of fighting between siblings as a kid. And then my own parents hit me when I was a kid, and (there was) a lot of yelling. Those were the tools that were taught to me for how to deal with things that you don’t like that come up in life.
Seeing my own violent behavior and knowing that I wanted to change it and didn’t know how to do that, I felt terrified that that’s who I am. That I’m a violent man and there’s nothing I can do about it.
My first night with M.E.N., I felt a little bit scared that I was going to try to something and fail at it. Because that was my experience: I wanted to connect with women and I had an experience of failing at that over and over and over again.
I felt ashamed that I needed help. I was scared to be known among batterers. But I really believed in what I was doing and I believed deep down that those who knew what I was doing would respect it and would appreciate my effort to try to be better.
One of the most powerful parts of M.E.N. is that you get to be going through a process that’s shared. That all these guys who were like burly men could sit down and be gentle and be tender with one another and be like totally emotionally vulnerable.
I think the most important part of my journey was when I figured out that I have low self-esteem. Underneath it all is a fear of not being good enough. So, if I’m not good enough and you find someone else better, then I get left alone.
My participation in M.E.N. is an act of liberating myself from everything that held me captive for a couple decades. And now I can be free of that, and I can live with a heart full of love.
Listen to Wheeler’s Story: