Jan Stewart Memorial Wellness Lecture: My Life with 'Dirty John': A Story of Addiction, Deception and Survival
Congress Daily: Did you have any inkling when you met and married John Meehan (aka “Dirty John”) that your life would be turned upside down?
Tonia Bales: I had no reason to believe that my life would be turned upside down. I was serious about the lifetime commitment of marriage and felt I had asked all the right questions. What I didn’t know was that I didn’t receive all the right/truthful answers.
Congress Daily: What did you notice first that made you suspect he was not what he seemed originally?
Bales: Of course in hindsight there are several red flags. The first was finding a picture of him as a child that had a date that didn’t line up with the age I thought he would have been that year. I dismissed that clue as inexperience in knowing what children looked like at young ages. It wasn’t until calling his mother for the first time did I realize I had married a con man.
Congress Daily: Reporting someone to the authorities who has an addiction, and is personally dangerous, can easily turn threatening for the innocent party. What did it take for you to go to the authorities with your suspicions/evidence in the first place?
Bales: I first found a syringe that I secretly tested and it was positive for opioids and benzodiazepines. I questioned John who lied and said it contained lidocaine. I searched John’s office and found a box of fentanyl and versed and learned from his mother that he was mailing drugs to his brother in California. I felt a moral and ethical obligation to the public and my profession to put an end to this even if it meant putting my life in danger. That brother died of a drug overdose.
Congress Daily: Did you have an escape plan in case things went awry?
Bales: John and I were already separated when I reported him. My reporting was kept secret from him while they investigated. He eventually became aware and due to several threats I was able to obtain a protection order. There were many times that I felt I was in imminent danger and hid with my children.
Congress Daily: What advice do you have for anyone who finds themselves in a stalking situation or a situation that is personally dangerous to them?
Bales: I would advise anyone in a dangerous situation to make sure they tell a friend/family member and seek help in developing an exit plan. The most dangerous time is during the separation.
Congress Daily: How are you and your children doing now?
Bales: We are all thriving and lead very normal lives now. No doubt the events/trauma with Dirty John will rear its head from time to time throughout our lives. I am hopeful that I have modeled for my children that standing in your truth might be hard but it is the only way to true healing.
Congress Daily: Is there anything else you would like our members to know?
Bales: I have loved my career as a CRNA. I am so proud to be a member of some of the greatest caring professionals in the medical community. Please be kind and supportive of each other because you never know what someone might be going through outside the workplace.
Be sure to attend Tonia Bales' session on Sunday, August 11 from 7:45 - 9 a.m. for more on this compelling true-life story. Check the AANA Meetings app for the latest room assignment information.
For more information on just what transpired in the life of John Meehan, read the Los Angeles Times Dirty John series by Christopher Goffard:
- Part 1: The Real Thing
- Part 2: Newlyweds
- Part 3: Filthy
- Part 4: Forgiveness
- Part 5: Escape
- Part 6: Terra