Debby Ryan recently partnered with Mary Kay for their Don’t Look Away campaign to support teens turn away from abusive relationships. The singer herself opened up to PEOPLE about her own abusive friendship and why it was important to her to be a part of this campaign!
“It was a couple years ago, and things were seemingly amazing,” she tells PEOPLE. “Career-wise, they were great, and in general life they were great. But then I was in a friendship – kind of a working relationship – and it ended up becoming more and more destructive, and getting emotionally and mentally abusive.” She was doing so well on her Disney show, Jessie, as well as in her band, The Never Ending, that she found it hard to realize that she was being abused.
“I was like, ‘I’m a powerful woman and I’m a producer,’ ” the 21-year-old continued. “I never thought that this was happening to me, and it was absolutely happening to me. It was kind of late in the game by the time I realized that this was not healthy, that this was not a good situation and that I was in a relationship that in nature was abusive.”
It was not a romantic relationship, but Debby admitted that there were scary moments with this guy, who even once physically prevented her from leaving him to spend time with her other friends. “He chased me out of the room, grabbed me, put me back in the room, and followed me to my car and took my keys,” Debby said. “I was like, ‘Okay, fine, get in the car, you can come with me.’ He was like, ‘No, you’re going to drive away and leave me here.’ He ended up grabbing my keys and holding on to my wrists and crawling into the passenger side from my driver’s side [so I couldn’t drive away].”
The abuser, who she knew for years, was very obsessive, calling Debby 40 times if they weren’t together, and even attempted to move in with her. The breaking point for Debby was when her friend threatened to kill himself if she wouldn’t spend time with him. “I realized I’d done everything that I could do,” she said. “It’s not my purpose to sacrifice my own happiness and sacrifice my own mental health so that this guy doesn’t overdose. I called someone and had someone go and be with him, and I removed myself from the situation and realized he’s no longer mine to deal with.”
Using her own experiences, Debby is opening up as a part of Mary Kay and Love Is Respect’s Don’t Look Away campaign, which offers 24-hour anonymous counseling services for anyone in an abusive relationship, simply by texting “loveis” to 22522. “We believe that everyone deserves a healthy, loving relationship,” she says. “I wanted to bring awareness [to the campaign], so I started opening up about my personal story. I feel like I’ve come out so much stronger, but it’s a situation that enslaves you for a very long time. If I can learn anything from the scars, I don’t consider it a loss.”
I commend Debby for opening up. It wasn’t easy to deal with herself, and then to let the world in is even harder! However, it’s great that she is able to use her pain and lessons learned to help others.
Image via JB Lacroix/WireImage