Shirin Ariff is an inspirational speaker, author, and women’s empowerment coach committed to helping women find their strength. After braving immigration to Canada and surviving thyroid cancer, Shirin understands adversity. Despite the lemons that life handed her, she dug deep and found resilience. Today, she empowers other women to become their own North Stars. Read her message to bring a change in society
By Shirin Ariff
Acts of family violence in Canada are considered crimes. Usually physical assault and bodily harm are more evident forms of family violence. We tend to overlook the fact that violence could take on other forms. Any violence is destructive. Verbal violence that leads to emotional and mental abuse can be as destructive as physical abuse. There are no visible scars on the victim that could bear testimony of injury, trauma and suffering inflicted by the predator. However, continued practice of verbal violence and abuse can destroy the mental health of the victim beyond measure and deeply impact their well-being, sometimes causing permanent damage or a loss of life due to severe depression.
I was afraid, depressed and anxious. I reached a point of sheer frustration and towards the end of my marriage began to lash out verbally. I had reached a point of zero tolerance and lost all respect for my ex-husband and his family members. I had reached out to them several times, but my distress calls were ignored and my urgency was treated with complacency. Abuse was their culture and I failed to meet their expectations of being a good wife.
I was never beaten in Canada but the impact of a daily dose of verbal abuse, of shaming and humiliating me for not bringing dowry, for being a divorced woman with a child at the time of marriage and for not having the perfect hourglass shaped body, showed up in bouts of anxiety. I could not sleep for nights after nights, tossing in mental agony.
Name calling and swearing at me, at my parents, at my sister and daughter (from first husband) left deep scars in me. This daily ritual caused a tremendous break down in my level of self-confidence and destroyed my self-worth. To this day, any trigger makes me re-live those moments, almost like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Thankfully, I have learnt to process the negative thoughts and emotions that follow.
It was only when I had cancer that I realized how important it was for me to live for my four beautiful children. How imperative it was for me to have a healthy mind and spirit to restore normalcy in my life and stability and well-being at home. It has been a lot of work and several bold decisions since then. The most relieving and liberating of all decisions has been that of a divorce.
Thereafter, I committed to restoring myself and took on several mindfulness and leadership courses. The nonjudgmental community of coaches that have worked on me, the programs at Landmark and the attendees in my classroom have been very instrumental in rebuilding and empowering me. It took several years to get me back on track and thriving.
Regular meditation and visits to my place of worship gave me faith and grounded me. It helped me to let go and forgive and to be grateful for what I had in life. It gave me peace.
As I shifted and began to share my story in my circle, I opened up the space for others to share theirs. I was shocked to realise that I am not alone. That there are many immigrant women who are abused behind closed doors in Canadian homes. I learnt much later that a college friend of mine, from India, fled from Canada and returned to India to escape the daily grind of abuse. She never met me or reached out to me while she was here.
My story is not unique, but it is even more important because it is not. Google showed me data from Statistics Canada that domestic violence in the South Asian community is quite prevalent here. In fact, a few years ago, I recall watching a Bollywood film called Heaven on Earth, starring Preity Zinta that showcased an abusive family in our very own Brampton. What has changed since then? Nothing. Statistics show, nothing has changed.
I had a few South Asian women who had never known me before, come up to me after listening to my story and urge me to roar my voice. They thought I was brave and heroic. One of them shared her horrific stories of being locked for hours in a closet and not being given food. Another woman shared how her husband did not allow her to live on the same floor as him. Yet they were living in the same house and faking a healthy family life when their marriage was dysfunctional. They were bound together not in love but in the fear of what will people say.
In our culture it is shameful to speak about unpleasant family issues in public, no matter how ugly things may be. I have disrupted that pattern in my life to show women a new way of being. My voice is not a voice of hate towards any individual. My voice is a call for change. Women need to be educated in the understanding of domestic abuse. Canada is a free country and has a structure in place to protect the rights and freedom of women. Women need to agree to be free.
I have three daughters and a son, and I began to feel responsible for the legacy I would leave behind for them. It would certainly not be a legacy of abuse. I do not wish for my children to grow up and abuse others or consider it normal to be abused by others.
The future of my children and the plight of the women who shared their stories with me compelled me to write my book “The Second Wife”. It entails my heart-wrenching story of being an immigrant South-Asian woman in Canada and the hardships I experienced as a result of the prevalent culture of abuse not only in my ex-husband’s family but in me as well.
My book has a chapter called “Raising Abuse” where I have discussed the important role of women in conscious parenting. I was raised to believe that good women from good homes stay quiet and suffer. I saw many women in my family or in my neighbourhood in India, who suffered. As a young girl, I admired them for their tolerance. My gifts of being loving and patient became my curses. My life experiences taught me that silence perpetrates abuse and I chose to break the silence. I did not go through so much for nothing and want to make my journey worthwhile. By reading my book and learning from my experiences, women can avoid the hardships I went through to learn life lessons.
I serve my life purpose as an inspirational speaker and story teller. I am an award-winning author and a women’s empowerment coach. Through my program, “Be Your Own North Star” I empower women to access their own inner knowing and become their own guiding force.
Her new book The Second Wife recently hit the number one international best seller list on Amazon in the category of Divorce and Separation. The book is now available for purchase on Amazon. www.shirinariff.com