Book: The Struggle Within
Cover Artist: Jay Aheer
Publication date: April 22, 2017
Reviewed by Meredith
Through Ryan’s trials, there are three different perspectives: a best friend watching from the outside, a lover desperate to get in, and his own mind.
His struggles were theirs. He just didn’t know it.
A tragic accident changed Dr. Ryan Jacobs’ life and freed him from a past he thought he’d never escape, but with that freedom came the realization: he could escape the man, but would be bound to the torturous battle within his mind. Fighting for control of his thoughts, he lived recklessly in a life of addiction and the next good time. Wearing a mask of deception, and hiding it beautifully behind his playboy ways, he fooled himself into thinking this was the real him, but he couldn’t fool everyone.
Dr. Michael Jonas considered Ryan more than just a friend, he was his family. With the support of his wife, Michael held Ryan’s hand, listened to him cry, and helped him through the hardest events of his life. He could see through the fake smiles and playboy attitude, seeing his best friend for the man he really was. After Michael’s wife had given birth to their first child, Michael vowed never to let pain affect his family again, Ryan included. But Michael carried his own burdens and watching Ryan struggle was harder than he thought. It tore him apart, silently, until there was only one choice. Save his best friend before it was too late.
As a high-powered attorney, Jayson Alexander thrived on easy thrills both in his professional and personal life, but when his heart broke the rules, he had no choice but to break it and run from the pain. Obsessive about controlling his own life, he set goals and rules and tried to ensure his own happiness, but life had a different plan. So he sought out answers and took on a case that would eventually change everything. He was drawn to Ryan from the moment he laid eyes on him. With a magnetic connection he couldn’t deny, he found Ryan irresistible, but he found out quickly the connection was more than physical. Jayson wanted Ryan, but how could he fight the demons Ryan’s mind was creating and stop them from pushing him away?
Ryan built a force field around his heart, vowing after that tragic day, no man would be allowed close enough to ever hurt him again, but with the support of his best friend and the man he loved, could Ryan beat The Struggle Within once and for all?
Due to strong sexual content and language, The Struggle Within is intended for mature readers 18 years of age or over.
Trigger warning: The Struggle Within may contain a subject matter that is sensitive to some readers as it deals with domestic abuse, self-harm, and addictive behavior. The author asks that the reader please take these warnings seriously and requests discretion be advised.
I'll warn you of this: There's abuse in this book. It's so vital to know this going in. I feel it will still take your breath away at times knowing in advance, but there's hope here too.
What makes this story different and almost more personal than other books that deal with abuse? Because the author addresses how real this is. How men are just as susceptible to abuse as women; and she uses real accounts from real men. We see this at the beginning and the end of this story.
These three men take a journey. One from past to present. You'll weep for Ryan, no question about it. He's a survivor, one who needs to rebirth his soul and he does that in this book. His courage is inspiring and he's not a character I'll be forgetting anytime soon.
I was beyond emotional reading this and in the end I realized how difficult this must have been for the men who inspired this book.
Heed the warnings the author very clearly states. But step out of your comfort zone for this one. It's a wonderful book.
Ryan’s point of view.
I clenched the flowers in my hand. I didn’t know why I was here. I shouldn’t be, but I never really did have any form of logic when I dealt with Calvin. I sighed through my nose, staring at the headstone I picked out. I knew whatever I picked, Calvin would have hated it. He tore apart everything I did. This would have been no different, but I had picked the best I could, trying to represent the husband I wished he was. That was my job, and I made a vow. Even if he broke every one, I stood by mine. I had to. The guilt choked me if I didn’t.
I laid the flowers in the vase next to his picture. He was a beautiful man. Jesus, what’s wrong with me? No. He was a monster, but he didn’t deserve to die. I shook as my mind played tug-a-war with my emotions, and then the tears flowed. I wasn’t sure why I was crying. It wasn’t like I missed him or anything. Or did I?
Who the fuck knows.
I grabbed my head and closed my eyes. “Stop. Just stop. You don’t miss him. You just feel guilty,” I breathed, blowing steady puffs between my lips. I hated this, every part of it. I opened my eyes and glared at his headstone. “Damn you for doing this to me.” I clenched my fist. “I never let myself get angry at you, Cal. Well, guess what? It’s my turn.” I tuned out everything except that headstone. There could have been mourners all around me visiting their family’s graves, and I wouldn’t have noticed. It was like everything was dark and the spotlight was on me.
I paced, gathering my thoughts. Every time I came here, I let something out, but most of the time it was groveling or begging forgiveness. I begged. The idea of that made me angrier. Even in his death, he could still shove guilt down my throat.
“Are you enjoying this? This−this fucking show you created?” I huffed, shivering back any fear I had in me. “I bet you’re laughing your ass off seeing me tortured and in pain.” I stopped, the toes of my shoes touching the granite. “Why, Calvin? Why did any of this happen? I loved you. Dammit, I loved you so much, and you broke me. You hurt me, and you liked it. Why?”
I lifted my left hand and rubbed my fingers over the burn where my ring once was. “Happy anniversary. The day I married you, I knew my life was going to be different. I had this man, this beautiful man wanting me for the rest of his life. I had such high hopes, and you shattered them with no thought for me, and I let you. I was willing to do anything to make you happy because I was your husband. You didn’t have to force me, Cal. You didn’t have to beat it into me. But something in you enjoyed it. Like I was nothing.”
I sniffed, wiping my nose on the back of my hand, and continued, “You promised me a future, Cal. You promised me over and over that it would change, but in the next breath, you reminded me how worthless I was, and dammit, I believed it. I still do!” I hung my head ashamed at my own admission. I had accomplished so much, and I let him demean everything as if it was shit.
“I don’t understand why you married me. What did you get from it? A punching bag? Someone to let all your frustrations out on? Someone to hate? Because you know what? None of what you showed me was love. Wanna know the sick part, Cal? I defended you. I defend you to this day because I want to believe there was some love. I refuse to think it was all hurt and pain. Hate.”
I fought back the tears. It was a habit. Even at his grave, I was afraid to do it. When I cried, he would strike because he knew how much he was hurting me and that hurt him. And I hated to hurt him. “Fuck,” I screamed, and it echoed through the trees in the cemetery. “You remember that time, Calvin? I was on the bed, and you were pissed because I wasn’t in the mood. So, you did me anyway, and then told me it was your right. When I cried, you screamed at me to stop because I was making you feel bad and that you didn’t want to know how disappointed I was in you. For a brief second I thought you were actually feeling guilty, or maybe even sorry, but I was wrong. When you blackened my eye, you didn’t have to worry about seeing that anymore, did you?”
I shook and felt like I was suffocating in my own skin. My chest heaved in and out. It felt like I was getting no air. Panic choked the wind out of me, and I coughed. I turned away from the stone, disgusted. I didn’t know if it was with myself or him; perhaps, both. I reached into my pocket. There they were, always ready to help; always whispering in my mind. I poured two into my palm and swallowed.
I knew that panic attack would come. It always did, good old reliable. I wanted to leave, but I came for a reason. I wasn’t leaving until I said what I needed to say. I sat, facing the stone, and let my fingers comb the course grass. Everything was getting ready for winter. I hated winter. I let out a long sigh.
“Even when I say I’m going to get mad, I don’t. What is wrong with me? I never could stand up to you.” I pulled at the dead grass and let it blow off my palm. I stood up, gathering the nerve I needed. Tucking my hands into my coat pocket, I let myself cry. “You deserve to see how disappointed I am. You deserve to know how much I expected of you and you let me down.”
I stomped my foot on his headstone. I didn’t care if it came off like a two-year old’s temper tantrum. “I look at these scars every day. I didn’t deserve them, even though you made me feel like I did. It makes me sick that I justified them.” And I did. I lied to everyone who asked, even Michael. I had told Michael that some of the scars and bruises were from our sex life, leading him on to believe Calvin and I were into BDSM. I almost wished we were, again it would have justified some of the things done, but we weren’t. I used it as an excuse because no one was going to question it. Covering it up was easy because no one thinks it could happen to a man, and the ignorance out of some people’s mouths when it came to a gay domestic situation was absurd. I gathered enough courage and told one man, and he said the word I would never forget. Don’t gay men like it rough? That’s the entire point of being with a man. It was as if they had in their minds every gay relationship was a BDSM porn. I was scared to open up after that, except to Michael, and I still lied, afraid he might actually think the same. He did ask me at one point if Calvin was a sadist. No, and that was another theory I hated. Every abuser must be sadistic. Nope. The fact was, some were just fucking assholes, and Calvin fit that mold. I could understand why Michael or anyone would think that way, though. I mean, look at these fucking scars.
I thought about all the small scars that were barely noticeable: the scar above my eyebrow, the multiple ones on my chest, on my legs. I would have taken them if I knew he loved me, but with each new mark, he showed me how much of a bother I was. I felt as If I were an inconvenient convenience. I realized how stupid that sounded, but it was how I thought of it. I was there for him, but he made me feel replaceable and easy. His love was only obtainable as a peace offering, and when it was fitting for him. I glared at his picture. “You promised me an equal partnership. Hell, was I fooled.”
These small scars were nothing. So incidental I could almost forgive them. They were afterthoughts, throwaways...mere collateral damage from an angry man's love. They didn't mean anything because he didn't even know he was marking me. Deep down, I knew I should be mad at them. I shouldn't treat these scars any differently than the ones he purposefully inflicted. Scars were scars, right? But they felt different because they only scratched a physical surface. It was the intentional scars; the ones where he looked me right in the eyes, saw my fear and struck anyway. That fucked me up the most. Those scars cut right through my skin, blasted a hole in my heart and shattered my soul.
The scar Jayson noticed last night was one of them. Calvin beat me with a silver picture frame; a frame that held a photo from our wedding. He smacked it against my side. It hurt like hell, but didn’t do anything but leave a welt. As he screamed and raged more, he kept slamming it against the wall and then back on me. The more he did, the more the frame rigid with slivers. It was like a dull knife striking me over and over. Even after I started to bleed onto the bed, he didn’t stop. Something in him snapped that night. It was as if he was trying to damage me, and he did. He moved the frame up and down until it slit my skin, opening it. He dropped the frame, realizing what he had done, but his sadistic eyes watched me bleed. I cried out, holding the blood-stained sheet over the wound. I never understood how hurting me gave him a rush, but it clearly did. He finally helped me and begged for my forgiveness. Like always, I gave in and verbally accepted his apology, but mentally, I still tortured myself with it to this day.
“It was all about control, wasn’t it, Cal? You made sure I wouldn’t be able to erase you, forget. That was the entire point of the scars, wasn’t it, Cal? You ensured that every scar on my body would be a constant reminder of you, eliminating any chance I had of being free of you. Being free. What a fucking joke. I carry these reminders every fucking day. What you didn’t know was that with every mark or scar, it made me hate you.” I dropped my head, sobbing. My chest heaved in as I fought to bring air into my lungs through all the tears. “Jesus, Calvin Chase, why can’t I hate you?”
I mumbled to myself. I couldn’t make out what I was saying, it was all gibberish, one of the lousy side effects of anxiety and panic. I stopped, bending down with my palms flat on my knees. I huffed, desperately trying to suck in the oxygen I felt deprived of. “Dammit, Ryan, pull it together.” The way my body tensed was almost unbearable. Slamming my fists against my thighs, I felt every nerve in my body react to the panic. It compressed my veins, squeezed my lungs, and for a second I felt like I might pass out. I counted, and with each number I spat out loud, I forced my mind to behave. It didn’t always work, but I had to try. Talking myself down from an anxiety/panic attack felt like war. It was. My entire body and mind waged a battle, and I could fight or surrender. I balled my fists, slamming them one last time against my thighs. Today, I was fighting.
“Fuck you!” I screamed into the gray sky. “Fuck the panic. Fuck the anxiety. And fuck you, Calvin.” It felt like I paced around his headstone forever, but in reality, it was mere minutes. I hated the things he did to me, and the man he’d created in me, but I couldn’t bring myself to actual hatred for the man I once loved; still do at times. Guilt took precedence over hate when it came to Calvin. I needed to learn to forgive myself, and then I could actually allow myself to get angry.
“You know some people still don’t believe me. You had everyone believing how perfect you were. You were a good doctor, Cal− a fucking great one, actually. And you put on the show of a lifetime when we would make any functions as a couple. You were the doting husband anyone would want. Then the doors would close, leaving just us, and that beautiful man everyone loved turned into a monster I couldn’t recognize. I’ll never understand why they got the best of you and I got your fists. I’ll never understand how you could sympathize with a rape victim as a doctor then turn around and do the very same thing. You scarred my mind, Calvin. Fuck every scar on my body, you tortured my mind, my heart. You made me fall in love with you and then changed. You took the man I loved, the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. You told me you loved me and then in the next breath told me I was a piece of shit, worthless.”
There was so much I wanted to say that it started to run together as I stomped and screamed, crying violently. I even picked up the roses and spiked them at his picture. As petals flew everywhere, I dropped to the ground. On my knees, I rested my elbows on them and cried into my hands.
“You took everything from me. I don’t even know who I am anymore. It’s too much, Calvin. It’s, fucking, too much. Why?” I breathed into my hands. “Why?”
“Even if you knew, Ryan, you’d never be satisfied with the answer.”
I turned, my face red and my eyes wet. Michael was right on time; always was, but he shouldn’t be here rescuing me. He had a son that needed him more. I sniffed back my tears, wiping them with the sleeves on my coat. I didn’t speak. I couldn’t. How much had he heard? I closed my eyes, shaking my head, and again, the tears rushed to my eyes. Michael knelt next to me, and I felt his arm reach around my shoulders.
“You didn’t deserve any of this, Ryan.”
“I wish I believed that.”
“That’s him talking, not you. Someday, you won’t hear him anymore.”
I knocked his arm off my shoulder and sat flat on my ass. The thought of not hearing Calvin anymore scared me. I fought with the idea many times, and let it play tug-of-war with my heart and mind. Part of me wanted to forget everything, move on, but the broken man in me knew Calvin would always be a voice, reminding me how insignificant I, my life, was. I felt like I was suffocating. I needed to breathe. I laid back flat on the cold ground and stared up into the gray sky.
“Okay, we’re gonna do this,” Michael said, laying down next to me. This man was a godsend. I didn’t deserve a friend like him. I turned my head and looked at him. He nodded slowly with a wry smile.
“Can we not talk? Just lay here with me, okay. No thinking. I wanna forget it all, Mikey. Please.” I grabbed his hand, and he squeezed.
“Anything for you, kid.”
We must have laid there for twenty minutes, staring at the gray sky not moving and not talking. Silence was sometimes all it took, but only when Michael was there. If I had been by myself, silence would have strangled me. Michael ran his thumb over my hand, and then it hit me. The guilt. Selfishly, I was keeping him from where he needed to be.
“Why’d you come, Michael?”
“Because I knew you needed me,” he said, turning his head. “And I knew you’d be here.”
“The date?” I asked, knowingly.
“Jenna remembered.” She remembered everything. I didn’t know why I expected her not to realize today was our anniversary.
“Shit, Michael, you shouldn’t be here. I refuse to be the reason you miss out on your family.”
“Jenna told me to come, and you’re not. Ryan, whether you want to admit it or not, you’re my family.”
I let out a defeated sigh. I wasn’t sure how to fight any of this anymore. I was glad he was here. The pills were starting to take effect. I could finally breathe. I narrowed my eyes and then glanced at Michael.
“This makes no sense. I mean, how in the hell did you know I’d need you?” I grinned. “And don’t tell me it was best friend ESP or some bullshit like that.”
“Damn, you know me too well.” He leaned up on his elbow, and then nodded, pointing with his head. “Jayson gave it away.”
“Jayson?” I said, looking in the direction he nodded toward. Holy fuck. He was here. Listening. Watching. He was standing by a tree, wrapped in his coat. There was concern written all over his face. I hated that. I hated the pity, and the look he was giving me right now was just that. Our eyes met, and I nodded once to signal him over.
“Hey,” he greeted, tucking his hands deep into his coat pockets. He glanced at me and then to Calvin’s headstone.
“Don’t worry. He won’t bite anymore,” I joked, and he amused me with a smile. “I’m sorry about the flowers. I’ll pay you back.”
“I’m not worried about the flowers. I want to make sure you’re okay.”
“Well isn’t this what normal people do?” I raised an eyebrow. He smiled, jumping as if he was trying to warm himself up. “Ah, California man, it’s nippy out for you, isn’t it?” For me, or even Michael, the fifty-degree weather was heaven for an autumn day. The breeze did make it feel a little chilly, but it was welcome after suffering through my panic attack. For Jayson, though, I was sure he was chilled to the bone.
“Yeah, not used to it.”
“Just wait until winter, Jayson,” Michael mocked and chuckled.
Jayson groaned and stood there surely unaware of what to do next. Michael and I were still laying on our backs, holding hands. I reached out my other hand to Jayson. “We don’t talk. Not yet.”
“Okay,” he said, taking my hand and laying down.
At that moment, with Michael on my right side and Jayson on my left, I felt like the burdens I carried every day, every second, weren’t that heavy. At that moment, I felt like everything was going to be okay. That was if we didn’t move and the world would just stop.
Tyler May will be gifting one person a $20.00 Amazon GC!
Fill out the rafflecopter below!
Contest ends on May 5th!
a Rafflecopter giveaway