I pretended the abuse never happened. But the pain wouldn’t go away.
Darren* and I were the perfect Christian couple. Or, at least, it seemed that way. He was my first boyfriend, a junior in high school and a respected student intern at our church. I was the daughter of a pastor and the chaplain of my eighth–grade class. I felt like the princess of the youth group and he was my prince charming.

Then, the fairy tale ended. One night, we were leaving a basketball game when Darren asked about a notebook he’d let me borrow.

“Umm, I’m not sure where I put it,” I said.

“You never know anything,” he said. “I really need it, Sarah. I have a test tomorrow. Is it in your locker?”

“We could look,” I said.

“Man, it better be there.”

No one was in the dim hallway when we got to my locker. Darren kept saying mean things about how dumb I was. I spun the combination and he dug through all my stuff. It wasn’t there. I started to cry because I felt so bad for letting him down. He grabbed my shoulders tightly. He gave me a cold stare and shook me hard.

“Think, Sarah!” He yelled. “THINK!”

As he shook me, my back repeatedly rammed against the closed lockers. On the last impact, one of the metal handles dug deep into the small of my back. I was in pain, but I was more upset I’d been such a bad girlfriend. I am the dumbest girl ever, I thought. I deserve this because I am so worthless.

This was the first time Darren abused me, but it wasn’t the first time I told myself I was worthless.

In fact, I hated myself. There was a group of girls in my class who picked on me every day, and I started believing what they said: I was ugly and horrible. I’d stare into the mirror every day after school and tell myself over and over, “I hate you.”

This deep insecurity is exactly why I started dating Darren. I knew he was too old for me—that’s why I hid it from my parents. And I knew from watching my parents’ loving relationship that the way Darren treated me was wrong. But I was willing to go through the pain because dating him gave me worth. And it worked. Those bully girls were suddenly my friends—so they could meet Darren’s guy friends.

I also thought dating Darren made me a better Christian. Because he was known in the church for being so devout, I thought others would think I was more godly, too. Instead of having a personal relationship with God, I just cared about what my church thought. I made sure people saw me doing what I thought “good” Christians did: witnessing, not watching R–rated movies, and attending church every week. Appearance meant more to me than the truth.

Even after breaking up with Darren, I continued to date guys for the wrong reasons. During the summer between my junior and senior year, I started dating Craig. Like Darren, Craig was older, gorgeous and well–respected at church. Again, I was dating him because I thought it’d give me worth.

Craig was different than Darren. He didn’t shove me around, call me names or put me down. But he was possessive and controlling. One night I was visiting him during my freshman year in college, and he wasn’t acting like himself. He had his mind set on what our relationship should be like and he didn’t care what I thought. When he realized I didn’t agree with him, he raped me.