Poet Juliana Allin tells us about her experience of emotional abuse, her path to recovery, how poetry has helped her healing process, and advice to those suffering now.
Why did you begin writing poetry?
I started writing poetry privately because it felt like the most natural way to let out my feelings, but until I found my voice in my relationships, I didn’t have the confidence to share my writing with other people. After my divorce, I felt inspired to start sharing my story and this bolstered me to let a few of my close friends and family know that poetry was something I enjoyed writing. The positive response I got from those first, tentative readings pushed me to broaden my audience and pursue poetry more.
Are you able to tell us about your personal experience of emotional abuse?
The truth is that it took me many years to come to terms with my experience of emotional abuse. In fact, I continue to work on the trauma of going through emotionally abusive relationships and I still struggle because of them. I had partners who created powerful codependencies in which they exerted almost total control over me. Essentially this was a dynamic where they benefited immensely from my suffering. In some cases, I had strong restrictions placed upon me. I was often left alone and neglected, which was especially challenging when I became a young mother of two with severe postpartum depression. I was isolated, manipulated, put down, and told I was crazy, but my experience of emotional abuse was insidious and mostly under the radar because I worked very hard to hide it. It has taken a lifelong toll on me and forever changed who I am, but coming out of it has shown me that I have more grit and strength than I ever imagined.
How has your healing process been? What steps have you taken in your recovery?
My healing process is ongoing, but it started with simply asking my loved ones for help. When my marriage fell apart and I decided to leave my abusive partner, I knew that for my own sake and for the sake of my children, I needed to do whatever I could to get as much support as possible. Once I knew I had the support of my closest friends and family, I sought out medical help through my family doctor. I was referred to a mental health day program at my local hospital, and this, in turn, connected me to psychiatric help which bolstered my ability to deal with the trauma of being abused.
Along with beginning to address my mental health issues, I connected with a family law lawyer so I could be supported in dealing with the dissolution of my marriage and the fight I knew I would have to keep myself and my children safe. My lawyer referred me to a therapist whom I connected strongly with and then I also began seeing a partner abuse counsellor. I sought out a clinical nutritionist to help address my physical well being and I put myself in a place where I could feel safe and secure by moving out of the city and into the country. I was lucky that I had so many resources available to me and I made sure to connect with as many as I could.
Do you have any advice for someone in an abusive situation now?
The patterns of codependency and abuse are so strong that it can be extremely difficult for people to leave an abusive situation. Emotional abuse is often hard to identify and can be challenging for people to recognise as legitimate and damaging. If someone can see that their situation is unhealthy or abusive, then my advice for a first step in addressing it is to find someone you trust implicitly and share your experience with them. I’m not necessarily talking about finding a therapist or hiring a lawyer or things like that. I mean identifying a person in your life—a friend, parent, sibling, doctor, coworker, whomever—who you trust and reaching out to them. Remind yourself that you are worthy of love and respect and that you’re not crazy; your experience is real and valid so you have every right to talk about it and ask for help in improving it.
Has writing helped you heal? If so, how?
Writing most definitely helps with my healing; it’s always been a safe outlet for me to express myself. I use writing both to connect with others and heal within a community, and to express myself in my private writing so that my feelings and thoughts don’t get bottled up or explode.
I actually stopped writing for a long time, but as I’ve reconnected with myself post-divorce and post-abuse, I’ve been drawn back into using language to express myself. I mean, I have all this experience and knowledge and pain and life in me now that I can’t seem to stop myself from letting it all come out!
The biggest form of self-care I’ve done is most definitely launching my blog, headstrongblog.com, and my poetry account, @headstrongpoetry. These two creative outlets have led me to places like Brenda Magazine, public speaking engagements, and connected me with so many people who share similar experiences or want to know more. It’s been amazing and I absolutely want to continue what I’ve started.