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From Surviving to Thriving

Abandonment can transform you in surprising ways.

My husband’s leaving transformed my life. Initially, in the first year, I would have said that it was only in a bad way. I was buffeted by terrible feelings—emotional pain, hurt, bewilderment, loneliness and, eventually, anger—struggling to stay upright in the face of gale-force winds. I had to grapple with an unrecognizable new reality, one in which he not only didn’t love me but, somehow, seemed to hate me. I lost thirty pounds and virtually stopped eating because I was forced to swallow something I couldn’t stomach.

Vikki Stark
Source: Vikki Stark

I had to work on myself constantly, trying to find a way to stop obsessing, controlling my voracious need to talk about “it” to anyone with a pair of ears, and willing myself to stop needing repeated validation that what he did was wrong. I worked hard to accept that life is unpredictable and even if things seem to be settled, you never really know. I struggled to stop feeling jealous of others and sorry for myself.

His leaving transformed my outer life, but the result of his leaving transformed my inner life. I did so much emotional work those first few years, through my own thought processes, through reading books like When Things Fall Apart and The Dark Night of the Soul, through therapy, and through talking with friends. All that emotional work changed me and that change was in a good way.

I had to struggle to get up above the churning whirling waters and envision a new and different future. I swam hard against the current of negativity and despair and that hard swimming strengthened me. I fought to love life again.

Over the years since my husband left, I’ve come to recognize what a gift he gave me. I know my circumstance is unique. As a result of his leaving, I wrote Runaway Husbands, which led to the development of the Runaway Husbands website and the privilege of connecting with thousands of amazing women all over the world. I know my work has helped many of them and that gives my life meaning.

But even if your husband’s leaving does not turn into a career path for you, I know you have a choice. Faced with an enormous life struggle, you can choose to turn bitter or be better. Embedded in this challenge is a glimmer of possibility by which you can strengthen your mind and learn, once again, to love life. And following a life-and-death struggle, when you can love your life, in whatever form it’s in, you become different—in a good way.

I just finished reading a best-selling memoir by Samra Zafar called A Good Wife: Escaping the Life I Never Chose. The book is about how she was pushed into an arranged marriage at the age of 17, leading to years of emotional and physical abuse at the hands of her husband and his parents with whom she lived, far from her family and homeland. For many years, she was constantly blamed and criticized, isolated with no one to turn to. After many aborted attempts, she summoned all her smarts and emotional strength to escape from the marriage and the dictates of her culture, which demanded that she remain and take it.

She eventually was able to break free, go to university, and build a life that inspires women trapped in abusive relationships all over the world. In A Good Wife, she wrote that an interviewer once asked her who was the person most influential in her success. She thought about it and then answered that it was her husband, Ahmed. Had she never had to struggle as a result of his abuse, she would not have grown into the person she has become.

She writes:

I’m committed to letting my past make me better, not bitter. I strive to forgive Ahmed, his family and my parents, not because what happened was okay—it can never be okay—but because giving resentment, anger and hatred any place in my heart will only leave less space for love, joy and happiness.

Wherever you’re at in your recovery from Wife Abandonment Syndrome, I hope that you too will strive to turn this crisis into an opportunity for your growth as a person. I know that may seem confusing and vague and you may be wondering what you would need to do to work on yourself.

Depending on where you are in your life, opening yourself to growth means pushing yourself to do those things you know are good for you, even if they seem hard or scary. It may mean taking a drawing class, joining a chorus, volunteering at the animal shelter, or going to a party where you don’t know many people. It may mean challenging yourself to learn to balance a checkbook or stopping yourself from projecting bitterness and acrimony.

It means starting to say, “yes, sure” instead of “no, I can’t.” And then, one day, you’ll wake up and realize that all that work you did on yourself has made you strong and resilient.

Please leave a comment below and tell us what you’ve done to turn this crisis into an opportunity for your personal growth.

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