In the wake of a biased sexual harassment video going viral and my decision to participate in a very pivotal project, I began to think about all of the experiences that have collectively summed up my 23 years in this world. More specifically, I began to truly think about the ONE experience that altered my life as a girl and, now, as a woman. I am well aware that I have family members and close friends who view my blog from time to time so I will say this: I wish that I had the courage as a young girl to share what I'm going to share now and while I can't save you from feeling your heart drop into your stomach, I can assure you that I am consistently learning to make peace with a part of my history. I can't tell you not to cry or feel hurt but trust that I still have a voice that I intend to use without question. 

The number 17 is very significant to me. If you can recall, I participated in my pseudo big sister GG Renee's #30Layers30Days Self-Discovery Challenge during the month of September and I wrote a letter on Day 17. This particular letter addressed someone that I've been working on forgiving for years and it occurred to me that as I typed away, day 17 was more than a coincidence.

I was 17 years old when I was sexually assaulted, violated, disrespected...raped. I chose to use sexual assault as my "safe" word for years because it took me a while to understand that I'd been raped and then it took even longer for me to stomach that I have to live with this for the rest of my life. I wrote about this topic before but I deleted it on the account of having a conversation with my mother about being "too open". As confident as I felt posting it the first time, after going back and forth with her, I felt that confidence dwindle. But as someone very close to me put it, what I've experienced is a part of my truth and no one should have the power to determine what I should or shouldn't do with it.

I'd be lying if I said that there haven't been times where the memory of what happened to me haunts me randomly. I can be having a great day, a "normal" day and suddenly my mind hits the replay button. I've watched the same scene in my head multiple times, involuntarily, and I've watched the teenaged to young adult version of myself try to somehow regain her footing in life. I've been asked multiple times, "how are you so strong"? I've been told that I'm courageous and resilient...things I've admittedly shot down before. I never felt strong. I felt as if I were going to break under pressure at any moment and I did, eventually. I've broken over and over. I've fought through thinking that I had to carry myself a certain way in order to be loved, to be taken seriously, to be respected...

Today, at this very moment, I own being told that I am courageous and amazing. I write every single day, even if it's just a few lines of affirmations. I take pride in doing things that make me feel good and I've stopped trying to look for the approval of others. I don't work in order for someone to feel that I'm a responsible adult. I don't blog and post style pictures in order for someone to deem if my pictures are amazing or not. If I didn't like something then I wouldn't post it; simple as that. And I'm not sharing my story because I am looking for a pity party. I share my story because there is someone who may need to see that they're not alone. I share my story because it is a release for me; it helps me to remember that I'm a survivor of something that threatened my existence. I blog because it brings me joy. It's not a competition for me and I'm not interested in changing things that are an extension of me in order to fulfill another person's visual, mental or emotional expectations.

At 23 years old, I am finding my footing in life and by God do I enjoy where I'm standing. I am beautiful because I can recognize myself and that's something that I never gave myself space to do. I mirrored my life around trying to nurse an old wound, keep others out while wanting them in, stifling my emotional nature and trying to be accepted by others. This life of mine? I'm doing this on my terms and it just so happens that God plays a lot into the way that I move through life now.

I am not damaged beyond repair. I am not hard to love. I am a woman who has purpose in her soul and I am not going to deny myself the right to exist because of something tragic that happened to me. I am here and here feels like where I need to be.