This reader submission comes from Veronica Bonilla.
Trigger warnings: Eating, bullying, sexual assault, religion
Hero to Me
They say life is what you make of it. When I was only twelve years old, my mother was
constantly fighting my father and he began to lose interest in me. I wanted him to be proud of
me, but he only ever pointed out what I was bad at. My mother was always busy with work or
her friends. As they fell out of love, I myself, lost touch with reality. My sister was resilient, but I
resented her because she always made my parents so angry. I blamed her for challenging them
because I thought she was tearing us apart. I felt unseen at school, unimportant to my friends
and unwanted by my family.
At the age of fifteen years old, I was raped at a high school party by an eighteen year
old, High School senior. I blamed myself and struggled in school. It was hard to pay attention
on an empty stomach while being bullied at school and ignored at home. I was then sent to live
with my aunt in Florida. She was a strict Pentecostal woman. She told me that if I wore a long
skirt I wouldn’t seduce men. I wanted to tell her what happened, but she didn’t want to know. I
learned to speak my most painful memories only to God in secret. I had to act as if God had
healed everything in my heart and in my body and because I never felt better, I blamed myself. I
wondered why I couldn’t sleep at night. I wondered why I cried alone.
I dropped out of community college in the first semester because I felt too nervous in a
classroom. Two years later, I decided to travel to Bible college in the United Kingdom. I had
reached another dead end after another sexual assault and fell into religion again. I needed my
family’s approval and their help. I earned a Diploma in Theology within two years, fully
accredited by the British Accreditation Association. I studied the Bible, performed original
music, taught Bible studies and Sunday school, and traveled between fifteen countries. The
other students struggled to accept me. I became so overwhelmed and felt increasingly unheard
as my desire for true love, true transparency grew. I fell into a dark place. It became
increasingly obvious that the people I was working with for change were not changed
themselves. Our experiences pulled us miles apart, but all I wanted was to bring it to the
surface and work on coming together.
I felt disconnected, disassociated. I started to process what had happened to me again
after never speaking of it for so long, and I could never put it back away. The next year, my
class prayed for open doors. We met an organiser for the YMCA in Perth, Scotland and we
developed a youth drop-in for the local refugees and students with mental health. That was my
favourite part of college and this is how I found what I knew I was meant to do. I have passion
to right the wrongs in this world.
They say life is what you make it and I am still working what I was given into a story I
want to share. I can honestly express that I am proud to share what I have been through and
that I may be far from perfect, but I am whole. I am complete. I am learning. I am growing.
There are no definite answers, but we can get close to the truth if we try and, if we are open. I
want to continue that journey and secure a future in which I am challenged, using my talents
and organising with like-minded people.
I was taught fear. I was taught loneliness. I was taught judgement. But, I learned that
those ideas do not belong in my heart. I can rise above, and so can we. We can rise above any
hate that we’re shown and stay true to our intuition, and our heart. The worst of what we
experience will teach us who we are meant to be, what we are meant to do. What we lacked,
we can make abundant for others. We can be there to understand others when we had no one
there for us. We can be the change in the world if only for one person. We can be a hero if only for
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