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Pain to Poetry – Zan’s Story

Zan’s life unfolded against the backdrop of history’s darkest chapters. Born to Latvian displaced persons who fled the horrors of World War II, she inherited a legacy of suffering and survival. Their journey to Australia in 1949 marked a new beginning, yet the scars of war lingered, shaping the fabric of their family for generations to come.

Raised in Adelaide, Zan’s childhood was fraught with challenges. Her father, a veteran of the war, grappled with the demons of his past, while her mother, a silent witness to the atrocities of conflict, bore the invisible wounds of trauma. Alcoholism became a way to escape, and as a result, lead to a highly dysfunctional family life.

As a child diagnosed with autism in an era devoid of understanding and support, Zan’s struggles were compounded by societal stigma and familial expectations. Her voice was stifled, and she found no refuge in a world that failed to comprehend her unique perspective.

The tragic loss of her mother in a fatal car accident shattered whatever semblance of stability remained, thrusting Zan into the role of caregiver at the tender age of 12. With her father’s health deteriorating and the wounds of grief still fresh, she grappled with the enormity of her responsibilities, clinging to the fragments of a shattered family.

Betrayal would visit Zan once again, as the innocence of youth was shattered by the predatory actions of a trusted adult, when her best friend’s father began sexually abusing her. Bound by fear of what would happen if she spoke out, she suffered in silence, bearing the burden of trauma alone.

Zan faced relentless bullying at school, for being that “odd kid” and turned to controlling her body through anorexia as a way to cope. She just wanted to disappear. And then, the last straw… her father was hospitalised from the long-term effects of alcoholism, and with no one to support her at home, she hit rock bottom. She left school at 15 and not long afterwards, ended up leaving home at the age of 16 to try and find a job and take some sort of control over her life.

Then, she faced the devastating news that her father, the most important person in her life, was dying of cancer. Zan recounts this as the most traumatic part of her life, as she was living interstate and could not afford an airfare ticket home to see him.

After her father passed, Zan found herself spiraling into a world of homelessness, drug use, exploitation and found herself working in the sex industry, addicted to heroin. Her life was constantly threatened, and after having a baby girl who she placed up for adoption, she admitted herself into rehab. Zan was lost in a world that she just could not seem to break out of.

Yet, amid the darkness, a glimmer of hope emerged. Her father left her an inheritance at age 33, which provided Zan with the means to break free from the cycle of abuse and adversity that had plagued her existence. She seized the opportunity to forge a new path, defying the odds stacked against her.

Armed with an education and fuelled by a passion for advocacy, Zan embarked on a journey of self-discovery, channeling her pain into poetry, art, and activism. Through her work, she sought to confront the uncomfortable truths of her past and shine a light on the resilience of the human spirit.

Today, Zan’s story serves as a testament to the power of resilience, a beacon of hope for those grappling with their own demons. Her journey from survivor to thriver is a testament to the strength of the human spirit and a reminder that, even in our darkest moments, there is always a flicker of light waiting to be found.

Zan continues to write and share her poetry so that she can help others battling their own struggles, and “lay gentle handprints on hearts.”

“It is my duty to have survived all this, to have lived through this, to come out as not a bitter person, but to come out as the most awesome version of myself, to share this with other people.” – Zan

To watch the full interview visit: From Pain to Poetry – Zan’s Story (

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