Twelve years ago, on a dreary Seattle afternoon, my brother John was born. I was raised an only child, but my dream had always been to have a sibling. For years, I begged my mom to have another child, and when I was 18, she remarried and moved to Seattle, Washington, with her husband. Three years later, at the age of 21 and when my life was the most tumultuous, I became a sister.

I was living in Missouri on what I like to call my social experiment. I had lived in major cities my entire life, so moving to a small town felt like a charming adventure. Nature and cows surrounded me — something I had never experienced before. The charm quickly wore off, and once it did, I realized I was trying to run away from myself. Shortly after arriving, I decided to enroll in Cosmetology school, and within a few months, things in my relationship began to turn sore. I had left everything I had ever known and instead landed in a volatile and abusive environment.

I remember holding John for the first time. He tried to lift his head as if he had somewhere to go, and I was instantly in love. It was the first time I had ever felt unconditional love, and it was astounding. At that moment, there was nothing he could ever do to make me love him any less. It was something that was profoundly lacking in my life. I was having a hard time loving myself. I weighed about 108lbs and was obsessively controlling my weight because I couldn’t control anything else in my life. I punished myself with eating poorly and neglecting my body. I was the most stressed out and depressed I had ever been and had no idea if my life would get better.

I walked into school one morning with a red handmark on my face, which I had tried to cover with makeup. Intuitively one of my classmates asked me if my boyfriend had slapped me. I started to cry immediately and responded that he had. Concerned, she told me to leave. I had nowhere to go, no family, and a lot of pride. He had tried to apologize and told me it wouldn’t happen again, but of course, it did. It took me months to have the strength to leave. A family member sensed that I was in trouble and offered to come to get me and have me move in with them, but I was so ashamed that I declined. A part of me couldn’t believe that I allowed someone to put their hands on me, but it was merely a reflection of what I thought I deserved.

I flew to Seattle a few days before John was born. Amid the chaos, he arrived. I was an anxious, afraid, and broken version of myself. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone and was always on edge, expecting the worse. The moment I looked into his eyes, I saw hope, love, and wonder. I connected with his innocence and resilience. He reminded me of my strength. It was what I needed to have the courage to leave my situation and make a change in my life. I was an anxious, afraid, and broken version of myself. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone and was always on edge, expecting the worse. The moment I looked into his eyes, I saw hope, love, and wonder. I connected with his innocence and resilience. He reminded me of my strength. It was what I needed to have the courage to leave my situation and make a change in my life.

The moment I left Seattle, I made a plan. I saved money and announced to my boyfriend that I would be moving out. It was received amicably until it wasn’t. There were many promises of changes, and improvements but my heart and head told me to run. A few days later, I found my clothes on the lawn, the shared phone we had disconnected, and words of insults flying high and low. With the help of 2 girlfriends, I moved my things and never looked back.

John’s birth was the beginning of my birth and awakening. It was the moment I realized the patterns I had learned in childhood were still very present in my adulthood and my decision making. I knew that if I didn’t change, my life would never improve, but I realized even at that age that it all began with me. I could no longer blame my past on what was happening in my present if I wanted to live a happy life. Living in the past had hindered me rather than helped, and I was so tired of being unhappy.

This week I am 25 weeks pregnant. I am the heaviest I have ever been, the most in love and the most at peace. I honor myself now with all of the changes and imperfections. I want to look back at this part of my life and know that I accepted myself with all of my flaws. I have been broken and put back together more times then I can count, but these are all part of the fabric that makes me, me, and it’s what makes me beautiful.

Today I was reminded of how far I’ve come. I look at the picture of the 21-year-old me and see the fear and uncertainty in her eyes. I see someone who lacked peace and who didn’t know her worth. I see a deep sadness, and I desperately want to tell her that she will find herself, her happiness, and her joy. That she will have the life she’s always wanted, and it will be better then she imagined.

Perhaps you’re going through a hard moment, and you’re unsure if you’ll ever heal. Your journey will look different then mine, it may have fewer or more bumps in the road. Be gentle on yourself, honor where you’re at and know that you can find peace and acceptance and that healing is possible and can only come within you. You can and will find light in the darkness.

**If you or someone you know are a victim of domestic violence, please don’t hesitate to get help. Visit https://www.thehotline.org or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233