I Was The Phoenix Rising From The Ashes Of My Failed Marriage

My wings were broken, but I still flew.

Depiction of Author in Cambodia behind a fire sunset NoName_13, Vincent Gerbouin | Canva, Courtesy Of Author 

When I lost two babies, and my husband went icy cold within the space of four years, I fought my way out of a very dark place and got the heck out of Cambodia. And I left a man I had deeply loved for years who was treating me like a personal servant. I was exhausted from life-saving surgeries, worn out from depression, and my self-esteem was in the gutter — but I got out of a bad space. I left a man, a business, and a country to fly home.


How did I rescue myself? In part, by using positive self-talk.

I talked myself into a better place. I coached myself, as one would coach and guide a friend. I swear by it.



Here’s what positive self-talk sounds like in my head: You can do this, things will get better, and you will survive. This is what I told myself. Every day and every night. I told myself these things when I didn’t yet believe them. I repeated those words over and over.


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Anyone who knows me or has worked with me is aware I’m someone who loves building businesses. I’m entrepreneurial by nature. My husband-at-the-time and I built a publishing company from the ground floor up in Cambodia. No, we weren’t from there. Ken was a Michigan guy, and I was from Oregon, where we met at university. We can do this, I thought, when Ken proposed his idea of a publishing company. And we did. I learned the Khmer language so I could sell advertising all over Southeast Asia.

Our company flourished after the first year, but work was hard. I rode all over Cambodia on a motorcycle in tropical heat and dust, selling advertisements to reluctant buyers. They bought. I sold, and sold, and sold. I worked so hard. Ken was at home, writing and doing the computer work in an air-conditioned office. His work environment was much better than mine.

Maybe the tropical heat and exhaustion, in part, contributed to my miscarriages. I nearly died the first time, of an ectopic pregnancy. Then came a second one. 


I can’t avoid thinking, now that I’m older and wiser, that I ended up in a position similar to Stockholm Syndrome — when the captive develops feelings for the captor.

My husband, who I practically worshipped, became cruel. I tolerated it for a few years, then got the heck out. It took a great deal of strength. He admitted to a mental health issue. I think it contributed to his cruelty. He was absent during my second miscarriage — busy with a girlfriend. I suffered greatly.

RELATED: How To 'Think Positive' Without Pretending The Bad Doesn't Exist

My resolve to do the impossible became part of how I rescued myself.

I had lived in Cambodia for most of the '90s. My husband and I helped raise a child there, and we built the company. I lived in a large villa with high ceilings and a garden. The money flowed like water. My reputation in the country was strong; we were active in the community and had good friends.


Suddenly, my health tanked. My husband withdrew into his world and became cruel. I was lost. I started thinking very unhealthy thoughts or crying throughout the day. Then, I snapped to — Oh, my God. My parents. I can’t do this to them…I have to rescue myself. They’d already lost one child, my brother.

So I began coaching myself — You can do this. Others have done this. You will be okay. You can rebuild. You can.

Every night before I fell asleep, alone in a large bed, I lay there and self-coached. Over and over. I stared at a wooden carving of a bird and encouraged myself — You are a phoenix, and you will rise from the ashes, I told myself. You’ve got this. Rise and rebuild and thrive.

RELATED: 6 Little Words You Use Daily That Cripple Your Self-Esteem


And that, my friends, is what I did. I left Cambodia, left an abusive situation, and left a lifestyle. In time, I rose from the ashes and flew on new wings.

Twenty-three years ago, I sat on a plane flying home to the USA from Cambodia. I looked out at the clouds and felt a sense of calm and terror. I was on the edge of a cliff and preparing to jump off. Would I fly? Would I fall?

I was in the magic transformational space of the phoenix — not yet resurrected. But that would come.


I Was The Phoenix Rising From The Ashes Of My Failed MarriagePhnom Penh, Cambodia 2002 | Photo from author

And I will be forever grateful to the forty-one-year-old me. You strong woman. You did it. You rebuilt your life, and you are more than okay. Well done.

RELATED: Why So Many Happy, Successful People 'Talk To Themselves' —And 7 Reasons You Should Try It, Too


Debra G. Harman is a memoirist and author. A publisher on Medium, she enjoys working with a team of writers. She's a retired English teacher and a world traveler.