Everyone has things in their past that they are ashamed of, everyone has things that they wish they could take back…unfortunately, life doesn’t allow you a do-over. The moments and people that shape us the most are the ones that were either powerfully negative or overwhelming positive. For quite a bit of my life the moments that shaped me were heavy on the negative side- largely due to the type of people I allowed to be a part of my life. People say that your friends represent parts of who you are, so it would make sense that when you allow those who have a darkness to be a part of your life, they will in turn bring out your own darkness… which is why we must wise about who we allow to have that kind of power.

When I was 17, I met someone who had a darkness that could eclipse any light, including my own. He was cruel, vindictive and highly manipulative…and he taught me those qualities. He had told me that I was weak, too forgiving and too soft- he told me that he was breaking me down to rebuild me even stronger.  I didn’t see it during our time together (3 years), but little by little, I began to notice in the aftermath of our relationship, that something about me was different. I still had the sweeter sides of me, but there was something new just beneath the surface, and it was fueled by self-loathing, rage and pain.

I’d like to think of myself as a “good person”, but upon reflecting on my life and some of the decisions I’ve made, I can’t deny that I have also been a “bad person”. I have hurt people, I have lied and cheated, I have rejoiced in the suffering of others, I have manipulated people when it suited my interests…and admitting that was once one of my greatest fears. I realized that I had hated him and what he did to me so much, that I took it out on other people; and I used the tools he gave me to ensure that I would never be hurt that way again.

I tell people “you have to love yourself, you have to accept the good, the bad, the ugly and the unforgivable parts of yourself”…but even I have struggled with that. I am the perfect example of “those who can’t do, teach”; but now I am learning to take my own advice. I never intended to be the kind of person that people feared, but I have been. I never intended to be the kind of person that caused pain, but I have been. I believe the difference between then and now, is that I recognize its a choice- who I am as a person was shaped by these experiences, but I choose how they influence me.

I look at my friends now and use them as a guide to see what parts of myself I am focusing on changing or embracing. My friends are beautiful, loving, forgiving, generous and gracious…and having them in my life has brought those sides of me out. Where he made me hard and formidable, they make me soft and gentle; where he made me fearful and skeptical, they make me courageous and hopeful. I worked so hard to hide that part of me that I was afraid of, but thanks to my friends I am learning to love myself where it hurts the most. I am learning to forgive myself for the actions that I cannot take back.

Today I chose to forgive him, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I forgave him for the damage that he had done, and I thanked him for the strength and humility that he gave me by inflicting that same damage. Once that was done, I forgave myself; I allowed myself to remember the things I am most ashamed of, and I embraced that I had done them. I’ll never be proud of those things, but I can now look at them and know that I will never, ever, repeat those mistakes- and that gives me peace. I’m not an angel, I’m not a devil; I’m human, I exist in a place between the two, where that line is drawn depends entirely on the choices and people that I embrace.

I know many of you struggle with loving yourself, and I can understand why- its incredibly challenging to look at yourself flaws, mistakes and all- and say “I love you”. But if I could give you one gift, one incredibly life changing gift, it would be to see who you are through the eyes of those who love you. It would be to give yourself the love and forgiveness that you so freely give to others. You are deserving of it, you are worthy of happiness and light- and I hope that you will find that within yourself.