Choosing "Happy"


DIY to Happiness
Choosing “Happy” Even When The Castle Walls Fall

Tools for Finding Resilience in Your Life

A few years ago, I turned fifty. Well, perhaps a little more than a few, but on that monumental half century mark, my world turned upside down and sideways. In what I thought was supposed to be the entrĂ©e to the “peaceful enjoyment years,” I was suddenly faced with having to pick myself up and reinvent myself, simply to survive and support my three children.

Looking back on my “lifeline,” I entered my 42nd year, believing I had the perfect fairy-tale life.  I had a wonderful husband of two decades and four children. My husband was an Emmy-nominated writer/producer in the film and television industry. In fact, he wrote for a series that was a modern day fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast on CBS, starring Linda Hamilton and Ron Perelman.

We had many friends, a beautiful home, did lots of entertaining, and enjoyed the amenities of an abundant show business life. I was a princess in a castle with a fairy-tale life.

I was first, a wife and mother, and second, I worked alongside my husband as his editor and manager of our film production company. Occasionally I took acting roles that filled the creative expression in me.

Toward the end of my pivotal 42nd year, my life became a series of assaults on my castle.

A week before that Christmas, my 16 year old son woke up with what the doctor diagnosed as the “flu.” The next morning, I went to awaken him in his bed, and he was dead. The misdiagnosis turned out to be bacterial meningitis. 

There’s nothing that can adequately describe the impact the loss of a child has on the very core and foundation of your being. The aftermath was the tragic and painful charted course of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and ultimately, acceptance.

Except my husband never got to acceptance, instead, he ran away somewhere at the “anger” stage into the deep dark forest of my fairy tale.

By the end of the fourth decade of life, my husband wanted a divorce. I licked my wounds and committed to being strong for my children. I began to write again as a band-aid for my spirit. (I previously published two children’s books and had written a series of articles).

By the time I turned 51, my husband’s career floundered, and actually came to a halt. His journey of grief and the unforgiving complexity of the entertainment business rendered him unable to keep a job.
Photo by Barsik
Shortly thereafter, he was unable to pay support and I had no career to fall back on. It was like standing on the beach, waves crashing rhythmically around me. Suddenly, without warning, I tip over. The sand eroded beneath my feet, and I wasn’t prepared for the fall.

I awakened on my 52ndbirthday, with the realization that I was lying in bed in my big house, on over an acre of land, with a leased Mercedes parked in the garage, and absolutely no money coming in.
The sun cast a harsh glow across the room and I screamed at God, “Why have you abandoned me? “The castle walls were tumbling down, and I, alone had to fight back.

I got up, looked closely in the mirror at the well-earned fine lines around my tear filled eyes. I took a deep breath and made peace with the fact that my life was about to change, forever.
Resilience was my only option. I had to re-invent myself. As the Baby Boomer generation, we were taught to have a plan and a goal for an abundant life. It never prepared us for the unexpected like…the death of a child, the loss of a husband, and for so many today…the loss of a home or an income.

As Baby Boomers, we tread boldly into the unknown. We are now learning that anything can happen.
I adjusted to the fact that it’s okay not to know where I was headed, as long as I created my toolbox to survive. I tuned up my spirit and repurposed my life as though I had a second chance to be young again.  With the whole world ahead of me, I was full of options….and secretly, I was terrified.

I moved to Murrieta, a quiet, affordable little town south of Los Angeles. There, it felt like all was possible. I got my real estate license at the perfect time.  Housing in Murrieta was on the upward climb. I quickly rose to the top in my field. I looked forward to going to work every morning! For the first time, since my 20’s, I was earning a living to support my entire household. And it was satisfying.

However, my secret longing was to heal my marriage. I wanted to re-ignite with my husband, what grief had snuffed out. 

We began talking again in the beginning of 2006. He was depressed, grieving the loss of our son, and out of options. He was writing a new script, to jump-start his career. He asked me to help and I felt the flutter of possibility! In April of that year, all possibility was removed with his sudden death at the young age of 54. I think he died of a broken heart, and mine would wear the wound forever.

I knew, it was most important to maintain stability for my children. With the real estate market taking a dive, it was difficult, but I made it happen.  My business partner and I never gave up, stayed in the game, and fought the demons of the economy and negativity, and we are still standing.

Yes, I promise there is a happy ending to this fairy tale, but what are fairy tales? They are stories of triumph over adversity!

Before I reveal my happy ending, many have asked for my tools of resilience. They are specific, necessary, and they work. After challenges of any kind, it’s imperative to reconnect to what drives you and keeps your spirit alive.
Tools For Bouncing Back
1. Choose “Happy”
When awakening in the morning, your only choice should be to smile. Be grateful you are alive and blessed with another day. Tragedy is not a sentence or a label you have to wear forever.
2. Feed the Spirit
Read at least 15 minutes every day from Motivational Books, the Bible, or whatever inspires you.  E-mail me for a bibliography of books that helped me find strength and hope.
3. Surround Yourself with People Who Love You.
Be with your children, grandchildren, parents, or friends. Ask nothing of them, except just to be with you. Be with those who share your beliefs and support your goals. Avoid negative people. Invite a friend to join you for coffee, even when you don’t feel like it.
4. Share Laughter
Remember, laughter is the buffer for difficult times. Find a friend who makes you laugh, or a funny movie, or something on YouTube! Laughter literally changes your body chemistry.
5. Create Something
Everyone can create something whether it’s a garden, a poem, painting a room, building a sand castle, stringing beads, cooking, etc. Being able to create something beautiful is what distinguishes us from the animal world.
After my daughter was born with a birth defect, I wrote my first book, because her imperfection inspired me. When my son died, I created a garden to experience the cycles of life. When my marriage ended, I painted, pouring my heart into each stroke of the brush.
Recognize you can be the most creative when you are going through tough times because your brain longs for positive stimulation. Chaos fuels creativity. Go ahead, light the fire.
6. Recognize Chaos as the Door to Transition and Re-Organization
You can’t transition without chaos. Remove the fear, it’s just a stage. Carl Jung said,  “What you resist, persists.” Don’t resist it…welcome it!
7. Use Symbols to Trigger your Faith
Symbols have been used since man and woman were created.
Roses are symbols of undying love and resilience. They are cut back every year, weather snow and frost, and yet they come back with glorious blooms each spring.
Your symbol can be in the form of a stone, a rose petal, a piece of jewelry, …really anything that has special meaning. Clutch it, touch it, gaze upon it to remind yourself you are alive with possibility!
After my husband died, I created a “Joyful Tree.” I wrote encouraging words in calligraphy, cut them up, and tied them to a ficus tree in my house (see what I mean about creativity coming alive in the throws of chaos?). Every morning I see my tree and focus on a different word for inspiration. (To any reader interested in a free copy of those words in Calligraphy, I’m happy to email them to you. Just visit my website: SandyPeckinpah.com)
7. Fuel your Body with Neurochemicals
No…you can’t find them in pill form at the pharmacy, but you can manufacture them in your body.
We all know the value of eating well and exercising. It’s even more important when in crisis. Too much sugar and you have fluctuations in brain chemistry that causes you deeper distress. Eat well and exercise often.
Exercise releases “feel good” endorphins into the brain. When my son died, I continued to go to the gym and always felt better after.
Invite a friend to join you for a neurochemical boost!
8. Share your Feelings and Ask for Support
Ask a friend or family member to listen to you. Remember, there isn’t one of us who hasn’t had a life without challenge or tragedy. It’s the assimilation of those experiences that create the tapestry of our lives. They are gifts from God that shape us, and when shared, can change people’s lives.
Those are just a few of my “action steps.” Trust me, they work.
My resilient life has taught me, everything is perfect right now. If it seems imperfect it’s just the perfect order of how things have to happen. If you are in chaos, you are also on the brink of transition. Trust it. You can’t have one without the other.
Yes, I promised this fairy tale has a happy ending…or just beginning.

I’m now in my 6th decade of life. I’ve put my children through college, I am still supporting my home, I have a dog and cat, and life continues to awaken me with surprise and possibility.

My wedding day
I met my prince charming two years ago,  married…and my intention is to live happily ever after.

I expect more bumps in the road, but guess what? I know I can handle anything that comes my way.
You see, the Golden Years aren’t about complacency! They’re about taking the sum total of all of the joys, the sorrows, the tragedies, and the triumphs; finding a path for resilience, and building a life that matters.

Sandy Peckinpah is the host of a radio show, Passion By Design on KRXA 540 Am Talk Radio. She's the author of several books, her newest being “How to Survive the Worst that can Happen,” a parent’s step by step guide to healing after the loss of a child, written from her own experiences (available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Balboa Press). Her blog,www.BreakthroughToHappy addresses an array of inspiring subjects from transformation, grief, and resilience.. Sandy welcomes your inquiries: sandy@sandypeckinpah.com. Visit her website www.SandyPeckinpah.com
Sandy welcomes your inquiries on speaking, articles, etc: sandy@sandypeckinpah.com 



9 comments:

  1. A beautifully written inaugural blog entry! I only wish I weren't able to relate to so much of it on a personal level, alas. But you really did a lovely job. Good luck with it - and your life, of course - from here on out!

    Love,

    Steve

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  2. You are an inspiration! Congrats on this next part of your journey.

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  3. Your article is beautiful, heartfelt, and inspirational! Like Steve in the comment above, I am able to strongly relate to what you've written. I haven't lost a child, but I can certainly relate to much of what you wrote. When my husband died suddenly in 1998, I felt as though my world had fallen apart, and me along with it. The tools you mention in your article are excellent! We never know what is ahead for us, and I'm sure many have experienced unexpected changes in their lives. Unless we can adapt to the changes brought about by grief and loss, our chances of living a healthy, happy life again are severely limited, if not impossible. I chose not to allow my tragedy to define the rest of my life. In fact, my goal now is to help others understand and face their grief. Thank you for sharing your experience and hope with others.

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  4. Sandy, you are an amazing inspiration in this world. Your energy is full of excitement to those around you. May you continue to ROCK the Real Estate world in our area. My love and admiration for you...Candace

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  5. Thank you Steve, Julie, Judy, and Candace. I'm so happy you took the time to read my blog, and also to share such validating comments. It really means a lot.

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  6. Sandy, you are an inspiration to so many. You grace our lives with your spirit, courage, kindness and generosity. Thank you for sharing from your heart. With love...Lauren

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  7. Thank you Lauren, Writing has been a blessing for me in healing. Comments like yours make the experience even richer.

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  8. Sandy,
    Your recollections about your path are filled with appreciation. As you look back and recognize how every step has been for your progress, you appreciate every one; the gift that keeps on giving. No matter how insurmountable or even how easy when they first appeared, good has been the end result. This is the natural law and your articles, thoughts, perceptions and demonstrations continue to prove it true. I hope everyone will find your writings inspirational in their own life recollections of past, present and what lies ahead in the eyes of seeing that only "good" prevails and all else returns to its native nothingness; there is no darkness where there is light. Appreciation keeps the light turned on and that which we appreciate in others belongs to us, too. Your words in this new work are priceless.
    Petey

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    1. Petey, Thank you so much for YOUR perceptions. Your reflective observations help me to know I've achieved my goals in writing the two pieces. The third has just come out in the magazine, and I will be posting in a few weeks. I'm so happy you took the time to "visit."

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