A Pocket Full of Dreams: Interview with author Justine Wentzell

Justine Wentzell is a survivor. After overcoming domestic abuse, Justine wrote a titled “A Pocket Full of Dreams” that chronicles her harrowing tale to help other victims overcome abuse.

The expertly outlines the early warning signs of abusive behavior. While a somber and read, the story is ultimately one of empowerment that offers excellent advice for overcoming trauma. Justine decided to give 13% of the book’s proceeds to a non-profit organization called Break the Cycle which works with teens and young adults to help create and foster a culture free of abuse.

Justine currently works as an executive in the entertainment industry.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Global & International Studies from UC Santa Barbara and a Juris Doctorate from Whittier Law School. Justine also has a YouTube channel titled “Tea with Justine” where she discusses interesting topics while having tea with various guests.

Justine recently granted an exclusive interview where she discussed her book, her channel, and more on September 13, 2018.

Domestic violence, books, and publishing

Meagan Meehan (MM): You work in the entertainment industry, so what drew you to that field?

Justine Wentzell (JW): I grew up performing, doing a lot of theatres, singing at fairs, and competitions. So, I’ve always had a deep passion for the arts and storytelling. I went to law school and would love to think I could be a great Human Rights attorney like Amal Clooney, but I knew I’d have a better impact on the world through entertainment.

MM: You met the boyfriend-from-hell, Alexei, when you were in college. Looking back, what were the earliest warning signs that you ignored then, but would recognize now?

JW: It’s difficult to say that I’d definitely recognize them now because as I note in my book, early warning signs weren’t so blatant. However, one thing that stands out for sure was his comments about my body—it was certainly an early sign of control.

MM: Alexei came from a troubled background that was filled with domestic abuse. Do you think that contributed to his issues?

JW: Absolutely. Children who witness abuse can be equally traumatized and/or affected by abuse, even if they themselves are never touched or verbally abused. These things stay with children, and some will learn to overcome such trauma, while others may not. Alexei (which is not his real name), knew his father was abusive and told me he never wanted to be like his father. Yet, when you look at all the signs and the way he viewed and treated me, he no doubts learned these behaviors from his parents’ abusive relationship.

Another thing I mention in the book is that I learned from my therapist, that we have a certain animalistic part of our brain that learns things even before we can remember them. For example, we may not remember what happened when we were two years old, but our brain does. So, in Alexei’s case his brain remembered all the abuse he witnessed as a child, and unfortunately, was triggered to do the same. It was a learned behavior. The same happens with many who were molested as children and later become child abusers. It’s something they can’t quite control when triggered.

MM: What inspired you to write this book and how did you successfully find a publisher?

JW: I felt a calling, like I had to share my story to hopefully prevent others from getting stuck in abusive relationships, and also let people who have been or are in abusive relationships know that they are not alone. It was the revelation that I was so far from being alone, that I just felt like I had to write this. It was like I needed to reach out to others, especially women, to form a sisterhood. As I’m not a known celebrity, it’s not likely many people will want to randomly pick up my book and read about this random person they don’t know. So, after much research and consideration, I decided to self-publish and form my own publishing company to publish my book. We live in a day and age where it’s not uncommon to do so and can be more economical, and not to mention, I get to be CEO of my own company, which is pretty cool—even if it’s just me for now.

MM: How tough was it to write this very personal and painful story?

JW: It took me almost eight years to write before I felt it was ready to publish. That is because after certain chapters, it was just emotionally draining and I’d have to put the book down. I actually was worried that maybe I’ve written a terrible book that is difficult to get through. Only after I had a few people read it to review, I realized most were able to read it quickly and it only took me so long, because it was indeed emotionally draining, reliving the abuse each time I went back to it. So, that was a relief. It’s not supposed to be Tolstoy!

MM: Has this experience left any lingering problems and what do you wish more people knew about domestic violence and its effects?

JW: Something I realized is that trauma stays with you. I don’t think it necessarily ever goes away. However, it’s about how you’re able to deal with your trauma and transform it into something that empowers you, instead of something that holds you back. I still have nightmares from time to time, and certain things trigger PTSD, but for the most part, I’m healthy. I’m really lucky. I did have to deal with him trying to me and find me, but I changed my information and thus far have not heard from him. Most lingering problems I see require a culture change, which is part of the purpose of the book. That’s why I’m donating 13 percent of proceeds to Break the Cycle, because they work specifically with teens and young adults to create a culture without abuse—and we really do need to start addressing healthy and unhealthy relationships with our youth.

Escape stories, YouTube, and the future

MM: While escaping from the relationship you met other domestic abuse victims/survivors. How helpful was it to hear stories from people who had experienced a similar situation to you?

JW: Knowing I wasn’t alone helped me greatly, and inspired me to write this book. Every time I meet someone who can relate or has had a similar story, it reinforces why I wrote this book. It’s a strange bond to have with others, yet it’s a powerful bond. I want everyone who feels silenced or scared, to be free of that silence and fear. I feel like everyone becomes my brother or sister and I get angry that this has happened to so many of us, yet it’s still very much taboo to talk about, and most people would still rather brush it under the rug. When we silence survivors, blame victims, and brush these issues under the rug, we allow the cycle of abuse to continue. It’s on all of us.

MM: You have a YouTube channel where you discuss various topics with guests. How do you select your topics and guests and what inspired you to start that channel?

JW: The YouTube Channel is an extension of my blog, Love, Justine, which is the origins of the book. I started blogging and then decided to turn it into a book. I simply want to show people that we are more similar than we are different, and our differences should strengthen us, not divide us. The show is called, “Tea with Justine,” because I love tea and love having tea with people. The history of tea has spread all around the world and it shows how we’re all tied together. So, I like to provide cultural insights, as well as provide interesting and/or useful information. When I first got out of the abusive relationship and started realizing how many resources were out there for me, I wished more people knew about all this. We don’t always know what to ask or know what’s out there for us.

MM: What are your biggest hopes for your future as an entertainment professional and might you write any other books in the future?

JW: There will definitely be more books in the future, so stay tuned! As for my future as an entertainment professional, I love connecting with people and entertaining them, so more of that! I have already been so blessed with the opportunities and relationships I have built, so I hope to keep telling stories with incredible people—whether that’s making movies or writing songs. Forgive yourself. Forgive others, too, but remember to forgive yourself.