What I Learned About Toxic Relationships After My Mom Married Dirty John

My real-life education on everything from gaslighting to trauma bonds

Terra Newell
Human Parts


Photos courtesy of the author.

Terra Newell is best known for defending herself against her mother’s estranged ex, “Dirty John” Meehan. Now, Terra shares what she’s learned about the toxic relationships of her past, and the desire to empower women that drives her future. Below is her story as told to Gina Ryder, edited for length and clarity.

People know me as the daughter of the woman who married a man who tried to kill me. People also know me as the girl who stabbed and killed Dirty John Meehan in an act of self-defense. But I’m also a young woman who is slowly healing and searching for a healthy relationship. I want to build a family. I believe someone amazing will come into my life, but it hasn’t been easy to get here.

If you’ve watched Bravo’s Dirty John series or listened to the LA Times podcast of the same name, you know this man stalked and threatened my family, even telling my sister to jump off a building. He also “joked” about shooting my sister. He met my mom in 2014 just two days after his release from a second prison term, where he was serving time for stalking a woman and being a felon in possession of a firearm. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to drug theft. A disgraced nurse…