Dear beautiful, brave andlovablegirl,

And I emphasize loveable because that was never something you believed you were.

In this photo you are just about to turn 17, posing for an Aeropostale campaign, something you’ve dreamed of doing since you were a young girl. You look happy here, but I remember how tired and sad you were inside. The night before this shoot, you had gotten no sleep. You were woken up by the violent fighting of your sister and her then boyfriend, both addicted to heroin. You stayed up until dawn comforting your distressed mother, promising her that one day everything will be okay, and that you would make her proud. You drove off to LA and carried yourself through a full days work. If only then I could tell you that one day everything would eventually be okay, and that you wouldn’t always fear having to go back home at the end of the day.

You were proud of yourself for getting these kinds of jobs, although the kids at school weren’t. They called you horrible names and many times you didn’t have any friends, but you remained focused on one goal: staying safe and alive throughout uncertain times. This wasn’t something new to you, since you were bullied since kindergarten. You never stood up for yourself, and looking back I now see why. Having been molested at age 14, raped from 16-17 and molested again at 19, going back to a violent and unsafe home each night where you felt you weren’t able to express sadness or anger, and getting severely bullied in school damaged your self-esteem. If only then you knew how much, for those unhealed wounds manifested themselves into adulthood. Yet through it all, you managed to adapt and grow slowly stronger. You trained your body since age 13 to go to sleep each night at 7:30 PM and wake up each morning at 3:30 AM to avoid the dangers physical and drug abuse each night. You forced yourself to run at least 10 miles before school to release your pain, build your mental muscles, and pray to God for you and your mother’s safety.

Looking back on everything now, I am so proud of what you’ve survived and not succumb to. The trajectory of your life changed the day you decided you desperately needed to find a way to love yourself. You were only 18 here, laying on the bathroom floor in tears because of the abusive relationship you got caught up in and rejection in the modeling industry. Little did you know this was the catalyst that created your company, Meaningful Mantras and your charity/podcast, Passion for a Positive Impact. On this day, July 10, 2017 you realized you needed to put “you are” mantras on your mirror. Over the course of the next couple months, your whole life changed. Piece by piece, you built yourself back up. You got yourself out of that relationship, which was a monumental step for you. You released the shame you placed on yourself for being raped and molested at a young age. You finally learned to see yourself through your own eyes, and to love yourself through your own heart. If only you knew that the whole time you were worthy, you were enough, and you were always lovable.

Sitting back now and reliving your journey, there really are few regrets. To this day, you never have touched drugs or alcohol, something you pride yourself on. You allowed your pain to be your greatest teacher. You learned compassion, resiliency, and empathy at a young age. Where you are, isn’t where you’re going to be was your mantra back then. As William Ernest Henley said, “ I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul”. You proved that to be true. And you have made me proud.

With grace and gratitude,

Sofia Ava