Growing Into Beautiful

By Joy A.November 10, 2014

(Editor’s Note: Some of the scenarios described below can be upsetting. Please take caution when reading.)

When I was 5 years old, I was “caught” in a closet kissing a boy my mother told me was my best friend. Our parents told us we couldn’t do that, but how do you punish a child for that kind of thing? Afterward, I heard them laughing in the other room that he played rough but only because he liked me so much. “He’ll probably grow up into a ladies man,” they joked. And that was that. But before that kiss, they didn’t know he pushed me into the closet because I said I didn’t think my mommy would want me to. 

That child was only a year older than me, so it’s hard to really blame him. But I was lectured for something I didn’t agree to, and I grew up thinking I was to blame for something I didn’t want to do.

Three years later I was in the same position but with a much older man, one who couldn’t claim ignorance and knew better than to get caught. My parents didn’t lecture me because they didn’t know, and I’d learned not to tell. Because he said I was lovely and that he wasn’t trying to hurt me. Because he said if you love someone you can’t tell them no or they might stop loving you in return. And when he kept coming back for me and cornering me alone in my own house, I eventually stopped saying no altogether. And when he was done with me he would apologize but say I made him feel good. As if that fixed it. As if that made my 8-year-old brain feel OK with the fact that he abused me before I even knew what that term meant. Before I ever got to understand that sex is so beautiful when it’s done with someone you love. When it’s done with your consent. 

Over the years I subconsciously learned that my body didn’t belong to me. I had to greet my parents’ friends whether I wanted to or not. I had to sit next to guys in class whether it ruined my concentration or not. I was into drama, and I had to hug male characters whether it gave me anxiety attacks or not. I had to do what was expected whether it was healthy or not. 

So no wonder by the time I was fifteen, dating my very first boyfriend, I was so jumpy and anxious, I’d cringe if anyone so much as came near me. I loved him, but I wouldn’t let him near me. Couldn’t even let him sit next to me. For seven months that went on before I finally let him hold my hand, shaking like there was an earthquake inside of my bones. And the first time he hugged me, he asked permission. 

He was the first person I ever told who listened with the intent of hearing why I was afraid and not with the intent of making it automatically go away. He told me he loved me anyway. And while I cried he took my wrists and kissed every scar I had so methodically covered with bracelets. And that was the last time I was afraid of him. Because he gave me the right to decline his touch without explanation, and in so doing, gave me an environment where I felt safe enough to accept it. 

Eventually we broke each other’s hearts, and it hurt like hell but it was the kind of hurt people are supposed to experience. It was high school, where you care too deeply and think you have everything figured out when you don’t. But he was the first guy who ever hurt me without actually physically hurting me. He was the first guy I cried over who had never once touched me without my consent. It was the kind of hurt that matures you without wrecking you completely. 

I learned a lot during and after that time. I learned a lot about asking for help when I needed it. I learned a lot about taking ownership of my story and recognizing the past as over and the future as something I could decide how to shape. In “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” author Stephen Chbosky put it this way, “You don’t get to choose where you come from but you can choose where you go from there.” 

I can’t change the fact that I have a rather long history of both dealing with abuse and abusing myself. But at some point during that period I made a choice to believe that wasn’t where my story was going to end. It wasn’t that I woke up one day and decided to be better and then was instantly fixed. It was that I woke up one day and decided to fight for the kind of life I wanted to live instead of passively resigning myself to the kind of life I felt forced to live because of my past. 

Time passed and healed things as it often does. I didn’t date again until college, but now I’m twenty and with a man who feels like home. He can wrap his arms around me freely because, with time, I’ve learned to view myself not as an object to be used, but as a person who deserves love just as much as anyone else. And every day he reminds me that another man’s unwanted touch says more about that man than it will ever say about me. And sometimes we talk about the future together and how we’ll raise our sons to be protectors and our daughters to be fearless. We’ll teach both that sometimes they’re going to feel stuck in dark places and lose some battles. But tomorrow is a new day, and yesterday’s demons don’t have to keep winning. 

I used to view myself as damaged goods, and on bad days, sometimes I still do. But since I’m not something to be bought or sold in the first place, I’ve learned that feeling damaged doesn’t mean my body is on clearance. Hell no. I glued myself back together. And if I ever saw him again, I’d march right up to the man who abused me and say to his face, “**** you… But I forgive you.” Because I’ve learned how to end cycles before they end me. 

I can’t treat my body like a battleground anymore. I can’t scream at my reflection anymore or self-destruct every time I see pieces of other people in my veins. I used to be so afraid. Now I tend to simply see myself as a work in progress and respect my own evolution. I am not quite beautiful. But I’m getting there. Growing into it. Breathing in grace every time I touch someone without panicking. Breathing out redemption every time I choose to write, sing, play, cook, scream, or run instead of hurting myself. I am a story still going, my friends, with many more chapters to be written.

Leave a Reply

Comments (19)

  1. Danni

    This is not a story about overcoming one’s obstacles, this is a story about overpowering them! Beautiful inspiration and empowering fuel wrapped in one, poignant testimony.
    Much love and admiration,

    Reply  |  
  2. Cheryl Spencer

    Beautifull, thanks for sharing xox

    Reply  |  
  3. Stacy Tucker

    I really wish I could have a conversation with you. I’ve struggled with very similar circumstances. Reading this as I make a poster for TWLOHA for my class, I was shocked. I didn’t expect to find something I could empathize with, but I did. I feel a bit better, so thank you for sharing and thank you for being brave. xoxox

    Reply  |  
    1. Joy A

      I’m so glad it reached you. I hope you’re doing better with whatever similar circumstances you’ve experienced. Obviously it’s a long road, but baby steps, my friend.

      Thank you for being brave with me. I hope you have people who you know love you and you’re getting / have gotten the help you need. We walk this journey together, girl. 🙂

      Reply  |  
  4. T

    So good!!!

    Reply  |  
  5. Anonymous

    I needed to read this and it was perfect timing. Last night I had a conversation with my long time boyfriend about my own experiences with abuse. It’s something that has only been brought up maybe twice before. I was triggered by talking about it (but not as badly as I have before, thankfully) and my body just gets physically stressed all over and frozen almost and feels like my chest is caving in. It’s so intense sometimes I can’t do anything but stop everything and get caught or stuck like a deer in headlights. I explained to him almost the same thing that is talked about here. I have that reaction whenever some people get too close to me except less intense. He said that he had hoped he never made me feel like that before and I tried my best to explain to him that he didn’t at all for whatever reason and how I really can’t control it or who it happens with. I know he has a difficult time understanding it but he still accepts it and accepts me. Again, this post was something I REALLY needed to read.

    Thank you so much for writing this and thank you so much for sharing your story. It means everything to me.

    Reply  |  
  6. dmar

    you can do it 🙂

    Reply  |  
  7. Erynn B

    I have never read a story like this. You fought through all of it so well and I’m so proud of you. You go girl and keep fighting. You can do this

    Reply  |  
  8. Clare Marie C

    This story was so empowering and incredibly well written! I have so much respect for you!

    Reply  |  
  9. Olivia Miller

    So beautiful!

    Reply  |  
  10. Tricia

    Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your story.. I can definitely reflect on my life and see myself in your story and it is good to know I am not alone

    Reply  |  
  11. Belinda

    Thank you for sharing. I was abused too. I feel damaged too. I want to grow and change into beautiful.

    Reply  |  
  12. Pingback: On Returning to Therapy – TWLOHA

  13. Jae

    It’s been a fight these past few days. This really helped me get out of bed to go to work. Thank you for this. I read your other post seen you mention this one and read it. God bless you I needed them both.

    Reply  |  
  14. Justina Langel

    You are a strong beautiful human being. Congrats on recovering from all bad that has happened

    Reply  |  
  15. Tiff

    Wow, my life is so much like yours. I was literally locked in a closet at 5 with a older boy, I was molested for so many years by my stepdad. I need to be in your place of your updated post . Oxo

    Reply  |  
    1. Becky Ebert

      Hi Tiffany,

      We are incredibly sorry to hear of your struggles. You are not alone in this, please know that. And there is healing to be found if you seek out the help you deserve.

      Please email us at [email protected] so we can provide you with some support and possibly know more of your story, if you would like to share. Our team would be honored.

      We also invite you to seek out professional help. Our Find Help page is a good place to start:

      You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 via Crisis Text Line at any time (it’s available 24/7, 7 days a week). It is free of charge, and you will be connected with a trained counselor. These people want to help you. We want to help you. Please know that you don’t have to go through this alone.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  16. Madi

    When I was little my brother made me do things to him I didn’t understand. I’ve now been told it was abuse. I still don’t understand though. No one can help me, and I feel alone.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA


      We are so sorry that you had to go through such heavy things. You deserve to find healing and you deserve to be heard. Please know that we want to be there for you.

      Would you email our team at [email protected]? We would be honored to hear more of your story and offer you encouragement and support.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
Get Email Updates

Sign up for our newsletter to hear updates from our team and how you can help share the message of hope and help.