When I was 13, I had sex for the first time.


He was 16, handsome, popular, and perfect in my eyes. Thinking back, I probably should have been wearing my glasses when I met him. Maybe then, I would have been able to see right through him.

When I was 19, I fell in love with an abuser. We fought and made love, fought some more, and fucked again. It became our cycle. At the time, I called it passion. Thinking back, I should have been strapped.

When I was 22, I fell in love with another woman's man. I didn't know he was already taken...at first. However, when I found out, I stayed. He was a verbal abuser. He would never put his hands on me but his words hit just as hard as any blow I'd ever taken. At the time, I thought he just needed to be loved harder. Thinking back, I should have returned his ass to sender and left him on the shelf for someone else to assemble.

These three men have had the biggest impact on my life. I could talk for hours about how they belonged in the trash, but I can't talk about them without shaming myself. After all, they were my choices.

I used to ask myself daily: What does "damaged" look like? Is it a he or a she? Does it resemble these men, or does it look more like me? And then one day, it hit me… hard! It hit harder than the time the dining room table attacked my pinky toe when I was just trying to get a late-night glass of OJ. It hit even harder than the time I took a boxing class and got paired against an opponent the size of Thanos. What did "damaged" look like?

The truth came crashing down, causing an electrical surge that lit every lightbulb in my studio apartment.

She is a Black woman, 5'1 with chubby cheeks, round nose, and eyes that squint when she smiles. She is iron that's rusted from the lack of care. She is a girl who was raised by her girls and big hoop earrings, "Oh Baby" lip gloss from MAC on her lips, and a laugh so loud that it overshadowed her pain.

Today, she is love without direction.

If this were a math equation, "damaged" would be best described as the common denominator. The one that stays the same in every fraction.

"Damaged" was me.

I never understood why or how I always ended up in unhealthy relationships with men. When I realized that I was the common denominator, I wondered what was wrong with me. Why did I choose to fall in love with abusers, users, and manipulators? It wasn't until later on in life, when I realized that damaged goods aren't placed on the shelf. They're placed in a bin with the other dented and cracked cans. This is the bin that I was digging for love in.

Silly me.

I came to this realization and set out on a journey to heal myself. I started my quest with forgiveness. This was my first mistake.

I thought forgiveness would heal all of my wounds. I thought if I forgave my mother for not caring for me the way I needed to be cared for, then that would heal me. I thought if I forgave my dad for not showing up, then I would be healed. I thought that by forgiving myself for allowing myself to be hurt and shamed, that I would be healed. I was wrong every time. I came to know that forgiveness is NOT medication. Instead, it's more like a Band-Aid. We put it over the wound so that we don't have to look at the wound, so that we can pretend that it's okay. However, in order for a wound to heal, it needs air. It can't breathe through a Band-Aid.

I'd been burying my pain in the name of forgiveness.

I avoided my feelings toward the turmoil I've experienced because I had been so anxious to claim victory over my past. I figured the quickest way to heal was to forgive and move on – leave the past in the past. However, does forgiveness remove the pain? Can I forgive you, love you, but still resent you? Is it possible to no longer harbor anger toward someone but still feel the pain from their sting whenever they enter the room? The answer for me was "yes." So, I tried a different approach.

I created a defense mechanism where I would dismiss my experiences in the name of gratitude. This was my second mistake. I would say things like, "Look how far I've come, I'm so grateful! Dwelling on the past is an insult to my blessings," or "It could have been worst, so how dare I complain?" It wasn't until years later that I had another light bulb moment – gratitude is formed through pain, so how can I express gratitude without acknowledging my pain? Had I not gone through the jungle, I wouldn't be able to truly appreciate the rain forest.

After many years of chasing the solace that I desperately needed, I realized that I wasn't going to get it through those commonly used tactics. For me, healing meant facing my pain head on. It meant having unapologetic difficult conversations with the people who hurt me. My truth was that I couldn't hide from my pain, dismiss it, cover it up, or diminish it.

I had to bring up the old shit and deal with it as if it happened yesterday.

So, I decided to start journaling. I figured it was the easiest way to release the pain that I had been harboring. I wrote as if the words were for my eyes only. I didn't think twice about word choice or tone. In fact, my words were harsh and hurtful. I wrote until every ounce of pain was on pages. When I was finished, I tore out each entry and placed them in envelopes. I decided that if I didn't have the courage to talk about my pain in person with the people who hurt me, then these letters would suffice. I still have each letter and I revisit them periodically as a reminder of how far I've come.

The moral of this story is: yes, the men who hurt me were trash. They practically came wrapped in a big black Hefty bag. However, I was trash too. After all, I hopped my little booty in that bag and laid right next to them. The most important lesson I learned was that my poor choices were the result of my open wounds.

Sure, I was damaged, but I'm not anymore. The beautiful thing about a self-realized life is that no one's damage has to be permanent.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com

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