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LOVE; noun  \ ˈləv \

Karla Lozano

Growing up I was influenced to believe that the definition of love had no meaning. Love was unrealistic, it was an illusion. My idea of love was violent. It was toxic and full of explosive tempers, and possessiveness. In my young mind this was normal. It was okay if someone showed these characteristics, it meant that they cared and loved you. Or so I thought. It wasn't clear to me why my stepfather mistreated the woman he swore he loved so much. He showed very little signs of love. Day by day I noticed his tone of voice, his facial expressions and the lack of affection.
I saw more hate than love.

Those late nights I stayed up with my mother made me realize that she was unhappy, and that she was afraid. My mom was hurt and little-minded Karla couldn't do anything but ask "Why are you crying mommy?" She never gave me an answer but, every time she hugged me tightly I knew it was her way of yelling for help. Locking herself in the bedroom and praying became my mother's escape. When 'El Macho' wasn't home my mother was a totally different person. She shined, her eyes lit up and her smile was bright and beautiful. She was finally at peace, though the peace was always interrupted with a push or shove from 'El Macho'.

When will it stop? When will my mother put an end to his madness? I questioned. Is this what love really looks like? Because if it was, I didn't want it and I didn't need it. That fear of falling in love and being loved haunted me. Not in the sense that it followed me, but that if I came across love with another person, I'd run away. I began to hide my feelings and shutdown when another person showed interest in me. I was afraid. I didn't want to see myself in a situation like my mother's. There was a big difference between my mother and I. My mother carried strength inside and out, but Karla? - she knew she was weak and vulnerable. I knew that if something hurtful and cruel happened to me, I wouldn't be able to handle it. I would hide and breakdown each time something painful occurred.

Throughout all the pain and suffering my mom still taught me that love isn't what I had envisioned. She taught me that LOVE is POWER and we should use it to express feelings, emotions, and affection - not to hurt someone. She let me know that love can be life-changing either for the good or the bad, that it won't come easy, and relationships can be tricky and complex. Each individual has their own opinion of what is right and what is wrong. I took everything she told me into consideration. Her words and actions awakened me; I began to understand that the key to having a good relationship, among others, was communication and compassion for one another.

During the start of high school I noticed that my friend had a new boyfriend every week. I never bothered to ask her why she was dating so many guys without really knowing them. It surprised me to see how comfortable she was with those guys, and truth be told, I didn't notice the constant pushiness, and control they had towards her. It could be that I was just used to seeing it from my stepfather to my mother. Dating was hard for me in high school; my wall was built higher than before, and I didn't let myself get to know anyone other than my sister and my best friend. I was reluctant to the idea of opening up to someone else. It was hard enough that both my best friend and sister annoyed me each time they asked if I was into someone, or if I would give this and that guy a chance. I didn't like talking about dating, and I really tried to avoid having any kind of conversation about love. Mainly because I didn't know what to say and it was all fresh to me.

On the other hand it was clear to me what love and respect looked like, so when someone showed me otherwise I shrugged them off. I didn't want or deserve anything other than real love and respect. After a while I noticed the number of different guys my friend dated began to decrease. I wondered what might have happened; she told me "They're all the same idiots". It took her awhile to comprehend the control and pushiness that she was experiencing, but when she did, she began to push everyone away, even me. She needed time and space to recollect her thoughts. While my friend was off handling her issues, I was trying to figure out a way to heal myself. I didn't want to be afraid anymore. In this moment I felt more ALONE than ever, I couldn't explain to anyone why I was so closed off. I didn't know how.

Bear with me. I was five when I witnessed my mother being severely beaten. I yelled when she couldn't because his hands were strangling her to the point where blood rushed to her nose and nearly suffocated her. Since then social workers, therapists and psychologists have surrounded me, helping me deal with my traumatic memories.

The first time I let myself open up to someone, was my worst nightmare. I thought it was love. LOVE WAS A BLUR. I thought he was my friend. He thought it was OKAY. I was 14 when I got raped. Then again at the age of 15. Fear and silence overpowered me. I was numb. Tears rolled down my face as he exited the basement closet. Having to see his face every day in class tore me up inside. Each time I grabbed the razor blade or knife I felt numb again. Blood ran down my wrist and tears ran down my face. I wanted to forget. He killed my spirit. "God help me, help me escape my reality." I prayed every night while I cried myself to sleep after having flashbacks. I went weeks without letting anyone know about what happened those nights. It was killing me inside to see him and I was afraid.

One month passed and I thought I was pregnant. I had stomach aches, continuous headaches, and my period hadn't came. Yet I was scared to let my mother and my sister know that I was raped. So I asked God for help. It took me awhile to let either of them know but, when I did they were furious and in shock. I began to receive legal help from Break the Cycle. My mother informed the school and the police station. My family, Break the Cycle and my lawyer gave me support to speak up. I was hesitant to let others know and remembering what happened gave me chills. It came to a point when I realized and began to understand it wasn't my fault. There were many other teens who had endured my experience, and I didn't want anyone else to not realize what being in a toxic relationship looked like. I didn't want anyone else to go through what I did with my mother as a child and then twice as teenager.

Joining Let's Be Real and Women Inspiring Strength & Empowerment (WISE) Club was the best decision ever. Let's Be Real is a 'National Movement By Young People For Young People About Relationships'

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Let's Be Real gives young people a safe space to freely talk about crushes, breakups, sexuality, firsts, and hookups. Grounded in their belief that everyone deserves a healthy relationship and everyone can take action in their own way. Wanting to make a change in our society, I took the opportunity to be part of a great movement. WISE Club allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and speak my mind on issues teens face every day. 'WISE Club provides young women with a structured and supportive space to learn about healthy femininity and redefine what it means to be a strong independent woman' challenging the images and "dominant stories" that we see in the media, our communities and across the world. The club pushes us to go further and never give up on what we believe. WISE Club encourages young women to look within and become their best selves and to be confident in everything they do. WISE Club transforms what it means to be a woman by creating safe spaces to discuss difficult issues, like date rape, gender norms, violence and body image issues.

Being able to participate in both groups has taught me to never give up, and has given me hope. I believe I can excel in everything that I do. It doesn't matter where I come from and how hard my life has been.

Let's Be Real Talks are open, honest conversations about the good and bad things that happen in dating and relationships along with possible solutions to the problems. A little while later I was informed that I could host 'Real Talk' listening sessions. I got right into it. I had never done anything like it before and I started thinking about locations and my crowd. The ideas where endless, but I figured I would ask WISE Club and Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR) Club about doing a collaboration. It was settled, I would be hosting the Real Talk sessions at school. We included a pledge on the first day- pledging to have healthy relationships and getting informed about the negative effects of unhealthy relationships on teens. Warning signs and awareness were included during following sessions. Teens discussed their experiences with dating and their views on the topic. In the end it was a learning experience for all and I felt so empowered being able to do that.

I don't regret anything I have done in my life. I have learned from my mistakes and they have made me become a better Karla, to help others and see joy in their eyes. Life is great and I'm so glad God gave me a second shot at life. Always remember that LOVE IS POWER AND CRYING HEALS THE SOUL.