"Warrior Heart" by Rachel Tonu




Rachel Tonu is from the South-East coast of Australia and has been studying Social Work whilst also working in the Disability industry for 5 years. She is passionate about making a difference in the lives of other people and supporting individuals to live their healthiest life. She is a proud advocate for social justice and has a large focus on talking about mental illness and educating more people about it. When she's not working and studying, she enjoys going to the ocean, traveling, painting expressive art and blogging about life.


As a biracial, Pacific Islander/Australian woman, I’ve always considered myself to be strong. I was born strong, with generations of strong women behind me. I was taught from a young age the importance of hard work, determination and the power of not giving up. I was taught that life needed me to be brave, resilient and fight back. These ideals became the back bone of my life motto. Then I got old enough to understand the reality of life and love, in all its mess and beauty. And I got discouraged. I still thought I was strong, I came from generations of strong, fierce warrior women- my dad told me. But, I started to think that, perhaps I wasn’t strong enough to handle life at times.
I saw things that tainted the view through my rose colored glasses. I witnessed love and life and hurt people close to me. I couldn’t save them. I didn’t want to ever want to be in their position either. I became jaded and a little cynical.
Perhaps it wasn’t enough to just be a strong, independent woman? Perhaps it didn’t matter as much as my younger self believed. Perhaps the world moved along, and love wasn’t the most important thing fighting for?

A few years ago, I strongly believed that ‘new beginnings’ meant leaving something or someone.
My parents divorced when I was 17, and I clearly remember my mum associating her new life and starting over- with leaving us. There were statements tossed around about a ‘fresh start’ and the like, and I was hurting so deeply that I had no way of filtering out these thoughts, and so they sunk in and became part of my mindset. A few years after this, I went through a painful breakup with the first love of my life. It happened overseas, away from my loved ones- and when I came back home, I felt I had to walk around and put on an outward mask because I was so ashamed that he had left me for someone else. I had no money left, I had no car or license and I had no choice but to go back to my former retail job. My heart was broken, my dreams were shattered, and I couldn’t possibly see how I was meant to continue my life without him. I didn’t feel like a strong, warrior. I felt small.
So what did my naïve, wild and impulsive 19 year old self do? I decided to create my own new beginning and start my life over. I felt it was my only option. Yet, I had no idea how it was going to look.

Illustration by Amil Barlow

Illustration by Amil Barlow

I got into university in my hometown and I moved out with a roommate. I worked two jobs (with full time study), and late at night, in my room alone I dreamt about this new life I was going to create. I considered the furthest state in Australia and spent hours looking at its pristine beaches and white sandy coastlines. I applied for jobs overseas and even got offered an interview from a company highly interested in taking on an Aussie carer. My heartbreak started feeling further away, as I planned how I was going to properly start this new beginning. A year and a bit passed since I had returned home to Australia, and I finally found the courage to spread my wings and fly to my new life. It was December 2014 when I packed my bags, bid all my family and friends farewell and moved to a city 400 kms away- where I did not know a single person. I knew the name of my new boss, I had a house leased in my name and a few precious belongings.
That was it. It was a bittersweet voyage into my new life.
I was prepared for the sacrifices that I was going to have to make, but I wasn’t prepared for the loneliness or the isolation. It was overwhelming in those first few weeks and months. I worked long, hard hours and even over holidays where people were gathering with their loved ones- to mask my homesickness.
This was my new beginning.
This was my new life as a strong, independent woman who didn’t need anyone, and definitely not a man. I thought to myself, NOW I am the epitome of a strong, warrior woman- like those gone before me. I needed to leave everything behind to start again. It was supposed to be painful, bittersweet and hard all at the same time. Right? That was what I told myself.

Then I met him.
He who would change the entire course map of my life.
He who would change me as a person and turn my entire world upside down.
He would go on to wake my life up in the most exciting, enticing and unconventional manner.
I didn’t think I was ready for it, but the universe did and my soul sensed it was safe for me to be vulnerable again. In turn, he became the most exciting and thrilling chapter in my story. He was a polite, rather conservative, white Australian man and most of my family and friends were astounded by my choice. I was an Islander girl who had only been with/or interested in ethnic men or free spirited, hippie bearded wanderers. He was gentle, quietly spoken and mildly reserved. I was loud, unconventional and sometimes outspoken. He was interested in politics, gaming, technology and science. I was interested in the earth, arts, travel and getting more of my body tattooed.
We were worlds apart.
Yet, our souls captured the attention of the other. They called out to each other and I followed its leading. Something in him glimmered far beneath the surface. I couldn’t comprehend it, yet it thrilled me.
I thought to myself, I have nothing to lose, let’s see where it goes.

Fast forward three years, and I married the conservative, white Australian man who caught my eye and won my heart over. I find out there was so much more to him than what I just saw on the surface at our first meeting. He’s the loving, kind, generous, hardworking man I get to wake up to each morning.
He’s the compass to my sailing ship on this adventure we have embarked on together.
He’s my protector, best friend and warrior who has fought some scary health battles, right by me.
Most importantly, he’s the one who taught me that a new beginning does not always mean leaving someone or something. He taught me that I didn’t need to run away from life when it hurt me, but that I could stand in the storm with courage, dignity and strength. He taught me that sometimes a new beginning means staying.
Sometimes it means learning how to heal and begin again, in a place you love and don’t really want to leave.
I learnt this beautiful idea in the midst of trying to break up with him when we were dating a few years ago. My personal life started falling apart, I felt ashamed and didn’t want him to see me like that, so my instincts kicked in and I tried to leave. “Start over”, I told him. “You can do better than me”. I pressured him to let me go. In turn, he showed me it was safe to stay. It was safe to stay because after the storm, we would begin again- together. It was such an ironic lesson we learnt early on, because even our engagement and marriage over the last year- has gone through a bittersweet metamorphosis. We didn’t move cities, or anything like that- but we lost friends and a community network. We made the difficult choice to move our lives on because we were not getting the support we needed as a couple. I have been tempted to leave and start our life together in a city where we don’t know anyone. He smiles calmly and reminds me to wait for the right timing. He tells me again about how this process is growing us.
Somehow it makes sense to me. I trust him. He has been right all along. He helped me find my strength again.
I found the courage to let love heal my jaded, broken heart.
I found my warrior shoes and I put them on and went back into battle.
This time realizing, that this new beginning was actually about staying, and love was the most important thing fighting for.

Marisol de Jesus