My high school boyfriend cheated on me a lot.

Like a lot.

From years 16 to 19, I woke up nauseous most mornings and avoided even talking about my boyfriend out of fear that someone would bring up this weekend's cheating rumor. No matter how many times my heart felt that sinking feeling when someone said those words, "I heard something you need to know", it never felt any less painful.

Do you know the feeling?

The older I get the more I realize this part of my story isn't uncommon. Another commonality I share with those women is the strength we gained from the struggle those boys put us through. Truthfully, I don't have an ounce of hatred in my heart towards the boy who cheated on me anymore. I'm engaged to the kindest, most thoughtful and intentional man now.

Because of the dirt my high school boyfriend dragged me through for a few years, I am even more grateful for the incredible man I will spend the rest of my life with. The lessons I learned after moving on from that relationship have shaped me into the woman I am today. And guess what, I think that woman rocks. So ladies, if your time was so rudely wasted by a boy who wasn't man enough to respect you, take your time back from him by fighting hate with gratitude. Here's why I'm grateful:

Thank you for helping me learn the beauty of self-love.

Do you remember that first "aha moment" when you sobered up from the beer goggles of your love for that boy. That first time you realized, "wait a second, I am amazing and I deserve someone who treats me that way". That's one of the best feelings in the world. Even better, is the feeling of knowing you can be that person who loves you. Being with someone who repeatedly forgets your worth is painful. But once you move on from the relationship, you can really develop an incredible amount of love for yourself, and this love is not contingent on the opinions of others.

Thank you for helping me learn what I deserve in a man.

To be frank, there's a reason you felt worthless when you were with him. He didn't treat you right. Let those feelings aid you as you enter your next relationship. I always loved the saying, "Thank God for who you're not dating". When I was single after breaking up with my ex, I gained great comfort and security knowing I'd much rather be single than be with someone who made me feel insecure and unworthy. My fiance is the total opposite of my ex in every category, and I'd like to say, it's working out great for me. I learned everything I did not want in a relationship and ran in the other direction. Over there, I found my forever.

Thank you for helping me inspire others.

I struggled to tell the whole story of my past relationship for a long time. I held back for many reasons. What if people didn't believe me? Will people think I'm being mean about him? I didn't want to sit around and bash my ex, but the truth is, all of the pain he put me through led me to incredible strength that I could have never had without the struggle. So I stopped holding back. I talked about what happened openly and freely. And guess what. Girls started sharing their stories with me. Our experiences were so similar. We needed one another to have the courage to open up. Someone needs to hear your story. Someone needs to draw from your strength.

Don't let fear keep you from inspiring others.

So this is my encouragement to you. You can't turn back time, but your pain doesn't have to be wasted. In my high school relationship, I loved as fiercely as a teenager could. I'm grateful to have learned how to love like this because now I am loved fiercely, too. I finally can love fearlessly and I feel all the loved I always craved.