“Unworthy. Undeserving. Unlovable. Those words have been branded on me since I was 4 years old. No one ever told me it could be different.”

No one ever told me that I was unworthy of love. No one ever told me that I didn’t deserve love. No one ever said directly to my face, “Skylar, you are unlovable.” But the people who told me that they loved me were also the people that hurt me on a weekly, daily, hourly basis. And I watched my classmates’ families love them. I watched my best friend with her family. I watched my big brother get loved. I knew what was happening to me wasn’t love. I knew I wasn’t getting the love I was watching others get. So I settled on the fact that I am unlovable.

I’ve spent most of my life longing to be loved. I’ve tried everything to get people to love me. Showering them with expensive gifts. Making myself available to their every whim every minute of every day. Allowing myself to be controlled and manipulated. It never worked. No one ever stayed. I just didn’t know how to make anyone love me. Time and time again I was reminded that I was not loved, I was not capable of being loved, and that no one would ever love me.

Then I moved to a new state and watched my best friend crumble into tears. Not because she was going to miss what I could do for her, but because she was going to miss me.

Then I was assaulted and I called someone halfway across the country and I listened to her snap out of half asleep, barely with me to wide awake, calling the shots for me because I could not do it. I heard her working to keep me safe, even at 2 am on a holiday morning.

Then I listened to a sweet friend talk me out of my shame and guilt time and time again. “You have nothing to apologize for. This is not your fault. You are not to blame. You survived. You’re doing amazing. You’re doing great. You are amazing. Go take a nap.” Even when I was apologizing for apologizing after she told me to stop apologizing, she was still patient and matter of fact.

Then another friend spent the entire day texting me, being emotionally available, listening to me, letting me feel my feelings and validating me, but not letting me slip into too dark of a place. She reminded me to breathe, that my feelings were real and valid but did not define me.

These same friends, listening to me talk of longing for a mother, for love, to be held, and assuring me that I was worthy of those things and it was okay for me to long for them.

They’ve told me they love me, but that isn’t where the unlearning began. The unlearning began when they showed me what love is like.

I’m still learning what love looks like, and that I am worthy of being loved, but I never want to let go of the love that I have found and I will never take it for granted. Because there were days where I looked at myself in the mirror and said to my reflection, “Skylar, you are unlovable,” and I never want to feel that way again.