Bridging Two Worlds: My Poetic Survival Symbol

Published: Sep 27, 2022  |  

Trainee psychotherapist, writer and author

When my second publication you are safe now was released, it felt like a surreal dream. Publishing a poetry collection about the trauma of sexual abuse and its emotional, physical, and spiritual aftereffects was daunting: I was fully aware that sharing such a personal work would perhaps represent my most vulnerable act thus far. And vulnerability is, by definition, very scary. Vulnerability unleashed in emotionally unsafe, unsupportive environments can be re-traumatising at best and fatal at worst. But vulnerability combined with safety can be incredibly liberating and healing. And that’s exactly how I felt. I felt that I was safe now, that I had spent a long time working towards a life that felt safe, with people in it who exuded love and safety and security, and so vulnerability felt like the next step in my healing journey. 

I’d begun my poetry collection a few years ago, without the intention of publishing it, or the knowledge that that might even be an option one day. I simply wrote it because it was the only way I knew how to survive at the time—something about the self-regulating act of releasing the tension in my fingertips as I scribbled down the words, using a notebook rather than a laptop—an act of creation—and something about being raw and honest—possibly for the first time—was some kind of survival concoction for me. 

I’d stumbled across it. Having studied English Literature at school, I knew that I was particularly partial to the magic of words, but when I wrote my first poems, I was studying both psychology and psychotherapy—fields I assumed were far removed from literature. I was not a writer and certainly not an author. And I think that was the point. Perhaps subconsciously, I needed my survival symbol to reside in that which I couldn’t place the expectation of perfectionism onto—an expectation I struggled with deeply at the time. I stumbled across it precisely because it wasn’t me, it was a side hobby, it was something that I did experimentally, and nobody knew about it. 

There were many noteworthy “points” I reached throughout my poetry journey. The point when I first realised that writing was helping me. The point when I realised exactly how it was helping me, when I found that my shame was getting smaller and smaller as I handed it back to where it belonged: outside of me. The point when I first showed the poems to someone. The point when I knew that I’d finished writing them, without knowing how I knew. The point when I decided to publish them. And the many other points when I became more and more convinced that this was truly what I wanted to do. 

And finally, I reached the point when I could sit back and appreciate the feeling of looking around at a room full of people I love at my official launch in West End Lane Books, celebrating with them and signing copies of my book—a feeling that the me who’d first started writing these poems would never in her wildest fantasies have believed were possible. 

When speaking at my book launch, I said: “you are safe now began as my survival symbol—something that helped me survive—and now it represents my survival. I really hope that those who read it will take some survival inspiration from it, too—I hope that I can hand over that hope to even one person.” 

This is the duality of what you are safe now means to me. It was, and always will be, something for just me and my healing. But over time, I’ve realised that it’s also about being truthful and vulnerable for others—especially other survivors. This presents another duality: of talking about the horrors of trauma in the rawest, realest way possible, but simultaneously igniting genuine hope whilst facing such darkness head-on. Healing and trauma are interspersed, in the same way that my healing links to the wish I have for others to heal, too. 

Releasing you are safe now felt like a surreal dream for all of these reasons, but it also all felt… right. Not easy, but right. Holding my book in my hand, the beautiful clouds and jellyfish lining the front cover (another duality— representing dreamlike safety but also floating in protective dissociation) and leafing through its pages, looking at the illustrations that so wonderfully matched my words—it felt right. It felt especially right, and poignant too, to be celebrating my survival symbol during September—marking Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It felt right and healing. I truly believe that creative expression, vulnerability in combination with support and safety, good therapy, and time can do that.

Filed under:

Tags mentioned: