Note: This article contains details that may be disturbing to some readers.
For weeks, Iyanla Vanzant has supported the healing of Jay Williams, a 44-year-old father with 34 children by 17 different women. It may sound like a unique story, but Jay isn't the only man in this situation. On last weekend's "Iyanla: Fix My Life," Jay and Iyanla reunited in studio, joined by five other men with similar experiences -- between the six of them, they have fathered 87 children with 50 different women.
One of those men is Ryan. He has four children with four women -- plus another baby on the way. Iyanla wants to examine Ryan's story, but before he can speak, Iyanla notices his mother sobbing in the seats behind her son.
Iyanla walks over to Ryan's mother, who explains why she is having such an emotional reaction.
"His father died when he was 7 after a one-day illness," she tells Iyanla. "[Ryan] was self-mutilating... pins through his fingertips... he was putting pins in his gums. He tried to commit suicide when he was 17 with the anti-depressants that he had been put on. He took 50."
As his mother speaks, Ryan breaks down in tears himself. Almost immediately, Jay pulls Ryan to his feet and hugs him. One by one, the other men on stage begin to huddle around him to offer their support as well. Ryan's mother continues.
"So, after he had all these children, I told him, I said, 'I'm not willing to collude in your denial. As far as I'm concerned, unprotected sex with four women is just as suicidal as when you took those pills,'" his mother says, as Ryan's cries grow louder on stage. "The doctors said if I had been 20 minutes later, he would have been dead. It wasn't a cry for help. He was trying to leave here."
"Hold it. Everyone in here, breathe," Iyanla says. "Men, stand with him."
Other men in the studio audience rise to their feet in support of Ryan as his mother explains the cycle of abandonment that has destroyed him as a person. "He is so broken and so hurt," she cries. "Nobody's mentioned the word 'addiction' because people think that's a cop-out. But I'm a recovering addict. You use whatever it takes not to feel."
Ryan, she says, used sex as his addiction to cover up his pain. Other men on stage quietly nod, as if they are recognizing themselves in Ryan's story.
"Tell me, as a mother, what you've been sitting, watching your child go through," Iyanla says.
"Kill himself again," she says tearfully.
"And what do you want to say to the women who are looking for a promise in your son's brokenness?" Iyanla asks.
"They're just like me. They had father issues. They were looking for their father and they got their father. Don't blame [my son]. We need to stop blaming them," she says, gesturing toward the stage. "When I'm empty, I look for emptiness. When I think I'm worthless, I look for somebody who's going to collude."
"What we need to understand as women [is] we have that brokenness and we go looking to fill it," Iyanla adds. "But if you are broken, you're going to fill it with brokenness. If you are empty, you're going to fill it with emptiness. If you are wounded, you're going to fill it with woundedness. And we all -- us as women, them as men -- we all have got to get healed."