I felt broken, cracked from the inside and never deserving of love.
When I first said "I do," I was 2 months and 13 days away from my 19th birthday. I stood as an 18-year-old girl swallowed up by an all-consuming desire to have a real home.
I left "home" as soon as I was able to move out. (Belts, paddles, and hands across a face doesn't make a child feel loved.) I got married and started my freshman year at the local university. I worked, went to school, and came home to a boy who didn't know how to love — or be loved.
I filed for divorce a little over a month after I turned 19. I had to leave. Abused women seek abusive men, and this is exactly what I found in my first marriage. He controlled, degraded, and isolated me from the world. It wasn't a hard task to achieve since we had rented an old two-story farm house. It sat on a beautiful piece of land and didn't have any neighbors to hear my screams when he blacked both my eyes.
It took a year before I was finally granted my divorce. I entered my 20s as a divorced woman. I felt broken, cracked from the inside and never deserving of love. It started a pattern of seeking love and throwing away my self-respect in order to be granted love.
Many call a first marriage and divorce at a young age a "starter marriage." Mine was exactly the starting point in figuring out what I wanted from a marriage — and what I didn't want. It took a few months, but by the time my twenty-first birthday came, I knew exactly what I didn't want anymore:
I didn't want to be hit.
I didn't want to be controlled and told what to do.
I didn't want to be used for pointless "quickies" before a boyfriend had to leave for work.
I didn't want to have to pay for every dinner we enjoyed and have them be called "dates." (They never felt like dates when the young man ordered steak with a side of lobster while I footed the bill.)
When you're scared of never being loved while carrying a suitcase full of emotional baggage, you tell yourself that you're damaged goods.
I walked into my twenties thinking I didn't deserve love that was kind and devoted to me. I was too messed up and scarred to deserve real love. I deserved only half-hearted attempts at being loved. I deserved something so much less than I actually was.
Then I met a man on a hot August night. He was intelligent, educated and kind. He took me to dinner. When I told him about my "starter marriage," he shrugged it off and said he liked me anyway. He said it was the past and we shouldn't live in the past.
We forged ahead, and after eight months of dating he proposed. I said, "No."
I didn't want to marry another stranger and I wasn't ready to accept his love yet. Mostly, I didn't think I deserved it. I waited another seven years before he proposed again. He proposed after turning down my proposals three years in a row.
I deserved the opportunity to make a home and try to have a family, one where abuse wasn't consuming my life. It took almost eight years after my divorce from my first husband to believe I deserved a healthy self-esteem.
I ripped that "damage goods" label off a long time ago. I'm not damaged; I'm not less than. I'm deserving and I accept what I deserve.