Author Shirin Ariff recently released her new heart-wrenching memoir The Second Wife, a story about betrayal, abuse, hardships and the resiliency that pulled her from the storm. In ‘The Second Wife’, author Shirin Ariff takes us back to her picturesque childhood with her prestigious Indian family. When she grew up, she was expected to marry well, have children, and please her husband till death do them part. Her first marriage cut that timeline short. Despite being a brilliant man, her husband was plagued by demons in the form of drug addiction. Out of the ashes of their marriage, Shirin was given the most amazing gift: her firstborn daughter, Sabah. However, a beautiful child wasn’t enough to save what had been broken. His addiction led Shirin to learn a monumental life lesson: only you can heal yourself. The marriage ended, leaving Shirin scarred and shell-shocked.
Divorce was not approved of in the Indian culture; if it happened, it was assumed to be the woman’s fault. Shirin felt the judgment and negativity thrust at her and it severely affected her self-worth. With low self-esteem and open questions about the future, Shirin knew she needed to remarry. Her knight in shining armor arrived, but he was hiding a tarnished inner layer. Sahir was an Indian living in Canada and he won Shirin’s heart. Shirin and Sabah got on a plane that would take her to a treacherous next chapter of her life.
We had the opportunity to chat with Shirin about stigmas in the South Asian community, what society can do to help, and what she hopes readers will learn from her story.
Kat: Why do you think there’s been a stigma around speaking about partner abuse in the South Asian community?
Shirin: I think that in our South Asian community, it is shameful to share most problems, let alone speaking about partner abuse. Especially, if the partner being abused is a woman, her level of tolerance towards abuse is a measure for how virtuous she is.
Kat: It’s mentioned that you and your daughter flew to Canada to start a new life, and that instead, you felt like a slave in your own home, enduring endless verbal and emotional abuse. As a survivor of abuse, can you walk us through what you were thinking or feeling and why you may have struggled to share what was going on? And maybe what are some of the signs we can look for in our friends and community?
Shirin: While going through a life of abuse, I lost my ability to think with clarity and discernment. My self-esteem hit an all time low and I began to justify the abuse as if I deserved it. I felt apologetic for my existence, guilty for being alive. There were times when I opposed it too, but not in a graceful and empowered way. My communication skills were deeply impacted. I was in a constant state of confusion. Often our interactions ended up in shouting matches and drama. I was completely out of alignment from who I truly am. I lost my sense of dignity and did not feel loved. My existence felt like an encumbrance and I was buried under the heaviness of feeling obligated for everything. As if the food, clothing and even the air I was breathing in my house was a favour to me. As if I was not worthy and deserving of it. Eventually I did share my experiences with my in-laws. Either it was my fault or my parents’ fault or they chose not to say anything. I was always advised to remain silent. I had to be an exemplary daughter in law. No one could tell my inside story. I camouflaged my pain and suffering with my smile and refrained from making friends or inviting them over to my house. I had just one or two friends I shared bits of my life with but I did not tell them everything.
Kat: What can we as people, and as a society do to help make a difference?
Shirin: We need more of us to share our stories of breakdowns and breakthroughs so that those who are stuck in an abusive situation can see possibilities for themselves. We need to hold a space of no judgment for those who are brave enough to share their stories and listen. There needs to be more awareness about the damage inflicted on a human being as a result of mental, emotional and verbal abuse. Currently the law protects victims of physical abuse in domestic violence but there are no measures in place for victims of emotional, mental and verbal abuse. It is time to bring a change.
Kat: Can you talk about your coaching, and how you help women work through past and current traumas?
Shirin: Presently I have been working one on one with women. I endeavour to support women to access their own inner guidance and learn to live their lives by design- their own design; and not as per deadlines set by others. I work with them so that they are able to shift their inner narrative of excuses and self sabotage to a narrative of possibilities and results.
Kat: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
Shirin: The biggest take away for my readers is the understanding that we have the choice and the power to turn our lives around. We have the power to shift from being a victim to a survivor. If I could overcome such adversities in my life, so can they. It is not okay to be abused. It is not okay to be silent and expect someone else to change the world. I wish for the readers to not just be touched, moved and inspired. My intention is that they may be able to practice some of the tools provided to empower themselves and transform their lives.
About Shirin Ariff:
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.
Through her three mediums-speaking, writing, and coaching- Shirin relates to women who are feeling defeated. Her motivational guidance teaches women to cultivate their inner strength and believe in themselves. Her mission is to foster a culture that supports compassion, diversity and generosity.
Shirin is committed to helping women experience freedom from their past, freedom of self-expression and the freedom to create the life that they love.