How I Regained My Sense Of Self After My Sexually-Abused History

High school is certainly not easy for everyone. I graduated from a public middle school to a private high school, where I had a few acquaintances — but that’s about it.

Finding my “group” of friends felt like it took the entire four years of high school. I realized girls were mean to each other, but they were also way too hard on themselves.

I still wish I hadn't been so critical of myself when I fell prey to sexual assault at the age of 16.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had my first boyfriend who I could hang out with sans my mom driving me around.

Man, did I think I loved him. Long story short, he broke my heart and got back together with his ex-girlfriend.

My world was crushed and I was devastated; I was going to die unmarried. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me. Why didn’t he just love me or like me back?

Because of this, I started hanging out more with other guys — some not-so-great guys — who did despicable things to me one Friday night after a football game.

Of course, rumors immediately started flying. When I got to school on Monday, I felt like the entire school — freshmen to seniors to teachers —was watching me.

Who knows how far the gossip really spread, but that was my perception at the time.

Older girls who were friends with some of those boys were horrible to me; they spread rumors, called me names to my face, prank called me, etc.

I’d cry; I’d cry all the time, but no one knew it. I pretended I was so tough. I pretended none of it fazed me, even though inside I was falling apart.

I didn’t think I would ever have another boyfriend again. Who in the world would want me to be his girlfriend after that terrible night and all of those rumors?

I hung out more with people from other local high schools. I went to sports games and high school parties. My friends at the time kept talking about how cute this one guy was, so they set us up.

After a short while, this boy became my second “real” boyfriend. Because of those previous rumors and because I was his first “real” girlfriend, he was extremely jealous and controlling during the first year of our relationship.

Every single one of my friends and family members were eventually pushed out of my life. Even my phone number changed.

I had no support because I wasn’t "allowed" to. He was all I had. I allowed him to control my life like this because I didn’t know my own self-worth, and I didn’t think anyone else in this world would want to date me.

I stayed in this toxic relationship for two and a half years, almost all the way through my freshman year at Vanderbilt University.

I've experienced mental, physical, sexual and emotional abuse that, at times, I wished had never happened.

But now, I’m almost glad it did because I’ve learned so much about myself and about my self-worth throughout the last half decade.

"Journey to Freedom," by Scott Reall, helped me sort through my issues and make sense of my life.

I learned to cope with social fears I had repressed. I stopped believing people saw a scarlet letter instead of me.

I learned to accept myself and the flaws, mistakes, experiences and everything else.

I've permanently changed my life through reorienting the idea I was an underage girl who "asked for it" to being a survivor of abuse who has so much more in store for her life.

I developed a renewed sense of purpose: To dedicate my energy to helping others in similar situations or systems of thinking.

We all have stress in our lives, but not everyone has the courage to talk about it. God knows that back in high school, I didn’t talk about it.

I shut the world out entirely, which was the absolutely wrong thing to do.

Think to yourself for a second. If you could change anything in your life — make any improvement at all —, what would that be?

Maybe you’d change some habits, or maybe you’d change your perception of yourself. Maybe you’d decide to be a survivor instead of a victim.

For years, I let my self-worth remain damaged by those aforementioned boys. Now, I’m bulletproof. By sharing my story, I’m regaining agency.

I'm hoping to inspire someone, anyone, to reorient the beliefs he or she has about himself or herself. You're not a hopelessly damaged victim; you're a survivor worthy of love.