How To Rise From The Ashes Like A Phoenix

“We have to put up with the rain to get the rainbow.”
Favourite quote of Sherri Stanczak, who followed her dream of writing late in life, after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

This is going to be a long article. It’ll take 10 minutes to read, so make sure you have your tea or coffee to hand. It’s worth spending time on though. Here’s why.

In my quest to uncover inspirational stories for you I put a query on the HARO mailing list. It’s designed for writers looking for specific stories, or anyone with an area of expertise or a story they want to share.

I said I was looking for:

Stories of women, age 40+,who have successfully turned their lives around for the better.

I’m not sure why I specified only women aged 40 or over, but in retrospect I’m glad I did, because my inbox was soon chockablock with replies.

In fact, it was hard to cope with, especially because these women were bravely sharing the trials and tribulations of their lives with me.

The results of my query were humbling

I got 32 emails from women who’ve successfully turned their lives around. Some of them had businesses, books or blogs to publicize, some even had publicists who contacted me on their behalf, but many emailed me simply because they wanted to share their experiences and help other women.

After reading their stories, my decision to cut down on my blogging because I’m so busy didn’t last. I had to reply to all these women who have successfully turned their lives around, and thank them for telling me their stories.

Then I began to wonder how I could pick just one or two stories for my blog at the expense of the others. I soon realised I couldn’t. Who am I to judge their stories and what would I base it on? These women are all inspiring; they have all been through shit and come up smelling of roses.

How could I choose?

What is most traumatic? The death of a loved one, drug addiction or disabling sickness? Who can say what the best turn around is? Becoming a fitness trainer, finding love, writing a book or business success?

So I decided to mention all the stories and let you decide. I’ve tried to divide them up according to the traumatic events, but otherwise they’re in no particular order. Where possible, the stories are in the heroine’s own words.

Read some or all of them, then check out the lessons I’ve learnt from this.

We will all go through bad times at least once in our lives. We will all experience times when a fire runs rampage through our lives burning down everything we hold dear. Hopefully we can find inspiration here, and learn from these survivors how to rise from the ashes like a phoenix.

Recovery After Addiction

Nancy Jerominski – Fitness Instructor and personal trainer (30 years ago) turned drug addict and alcoholic then back to lifestyle and exercise coach . 53 now, fit, fierce, stable, sober for 13 years and happy – just look at her smile in the photo above. I’ve checked out Nancy’s exercise videos and she an Amazon woman. I know she’d love to help you out with your health and fitness, so if you want well-being tips, do get in touch with her. Nancy loves using webcams and the Internet to work with people all over the world so you can benefit from her no matter where you are.

Patti – “I don’t know if my story will be of help, but if it helps other women, I am happy to share.

In 1998 I got into my car with my two dogs and a few possessions and drove away from my home, leaving real estate, business, family, with no destination in mind. I was, looking back, having a complete breakdown and an alcoholic to boot.

I wound up in Kansas, where I hunkered down for 18 months before reconnecting with my only daughter and then later, my youngest son. I have had no connection at all with the rest of my family, the ones left behind.

Obviously, very traumatic, but I did keep journals and ever so often I’ll look back and realize how far I came. I do not drink. Quit cold-turkey with no help from anyone. That was in 1998 when I was 52.

If you think I can help you, I would be happy to do so.”

Kim Vazquez – Kim has written a book, Living in the Rear View Mirror: From Substance Abuse to a Life of Substance. I can’t tell you everything she’s been through here – you’ll have to read the book. Great title, inspiring story.

Success Following Relationship Problems

Joanie Winberg – After a traumatic divorce and becoming single again, Joanie is now on a mission is to support women who are cancer survivors, victims of domestic violence, the homeless and women with children of addiction, by turning her home into a R & R Retreat Center. She founded the National Association of Divorce for Women and Children and her website, Fresh Start After Divorce, is full of great resources.

Mary Lee Gannon – After her divorce Mary became homeless with four children. She used “specific strategies and a life plan” to get her career started and became a CEO a few years later.  She has a book coming out in November, Starting Over, and a website with articles and advice.

Gia Machlin – “With a Columbia MBA, an engineering degree, and many years of experience in the Health Insurance industry I was making millions with a software company I co-founded with a partner in 1998 – the year my son was born.  I was making millions and I was miserable.

9/11, my mother’s stroke and the birth of my daughter prompted me to make a life altering change. At age 40, I left my partner, the company and the industry and had no idea what I was going to do when I grew up.

Last fall, I launched EcoPlum, a company that gives incentives and education about living a green life and purchasing green products.  While I am not (yet) enjoying the same financial success I had in my previous life, I know I am making a difference and today I could not be happier.  After all, I define success as “the right combination of money, lifestyle, personal fulfillment and contribution to society.”

I am a 45 year old mother, businesswoman, and reformed consumer trying to get people to take better care of the earth – one person at a time.

Stephanie L Watson – After my divorce I was devastated, I had three small children. I decided to stop messing up my life by getting married too soon (that was my 2nd divorce), and decided to do something with myself. I decided no dating, no men. I went to college and earned a business degree, and only then did I allow myself to date again. I started dating my current husband at 40. Waiting was the best thing I ever did for myself.  am now a successful business owner and in graduate school. I am 43 years old.

Bobbi Palmer – My story is about overcoming my crippling fears and insecurities and finally, at age 47, finding real love for the first time in my life. For many years I told myself that I didn’t want to get married. I thought my independence was everything, and I refused to depend on a man in any way. (Easily traced back to my family experience, of course.) I still dated, but it usually sucked; I had tons of first dates. For about 30 years.

In my mid 30s I started wanting something lasting. By my late 30s I was completely frustrated and felt like a total loser. It was like banging my head against a wall. I figured I had to change. I committed to learning and doing new things. I worked really hard. Books, seminars, and lots of therapy got me to the place where I understood it was all about me: my many fears, my self-consciousness, and my huge misunderstanding of men.

At 47 I married the absolute man of my dreams and our life together is remarkable. I’m still the same “me,” but my life has done a 360 in a lot of fantastic ways. I went from corporate manager to Dating Coach, now helping other “grown-up women” find love. This was a huge, conscious reinvention and it’s the biggest accomplishment of my life.

Robin WallaceRobin has survived domestic violence and a relationship breakdown. Now a single mother she’s a survivor who’s turned her life around and is justifiably proud of her achievements.

Surviving Bad Health

Laura Dion-JonesLaura’s story is about “losing 130lbs and going from a lifelong, chronically obese girl, then woman, to speaking and writing motivational lifestyle columns to help others do what I have done.”

Polly J. Meyers – Co-Founder of Break Free from
“I was disabled for over 40 years from anxiety and panic attacks. At one point I couldn’t leave my home. My husband purchased a motor home so I could shop for groceries. I can’t tell you how much my life has changed! I love every day now and am so glad to be alive. I was 49 when life blossomed for me.”

Sherri A. Stanczak – Just wants to share her story to inspire other people to stay strong and strive to achieve their dreams. When she was 39 years she became paralyzed from the waist down due to Multiple Sclerosis. Home bound she started pursuing her lifetime dream – writing. Sherri says:

“Within the last three years, I have been published in 30 magazine issues. I have been in several newsletters, newspapers and online publications. I have written and published two books. Sometimes I wish my life was a little different because the pain gets to me. But I just try to focus on my awesome family: my three wonderful sons, my two beautiful grand-daughters and my loving husband. They also give me a lot to write about.”

Sherri is starting a blog with great advice and tips for other people who want to become writers.

Debra Gano – Debra was in the world of modeling and acting, which she says are two of the most dysfunctional careers for women. As a single mother, she turned herself around by developing self-esteem and anti-bullying techniques for women and teenage girls. She steers them away from looking outside of themselves for their worth and approval , and instead bring them back to themselves for their strength and value.

Debbie D. Monahan – “My husband left me. I went from weighing 90 lbs, and suicidal to bringing my weight back to normal and owning one of the most successful business in town. Today I’m the CEO of Organizing 101.”

Danielle Herb – At the age of 5 Danielle was diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and overcame her diagnosis and label through natural horsemanship and natural healing techniques. She now helps children recover from ADD and ADHD with a horse-based progam, Drop Your Reins.

Career Comebacks

Vickie Oldham – At 48 years old, Vickie Oldham managed to redefine her mission and life goals after a painful career transition. Restarting as a writer she and find her passion, the Looking For Angola project.

Kerri Zane – “After almost 20 years in the television business, I have decided to completely change my life. The stress of the job almost killed me, literally. I am quitting my career to become a personal trainer. I am studying to take my ACE exam, which is a challenge having not taken a test, other than a driving test, in 30 years. I am trying to be very diligent and focused. Not thinking about the fact that I have no money coming in right now and I am a single mom of two teenage girls and NO support from their father. One is in college. I am definitely a work in progress, but already happier for the shift.”

Jean Newell – I’m 62 years old and due to the economy I had to reinvent myself in a whole new career after a 35 year career in real estate. I have no husband, children, parents or siblings so it’s always been a struggle to stay in the moment realizing I had no fall back or safety net. Although everyone said it would be impossible to do, I decided to follow my passion and become an entrepreneur; more specifically an inventor.

“I don’t know that I’m so fearless, but I do know it is possible to turn your life around even when everyone else says you can’t.”

Dotsie Bregel – Dotsie found her purpose late in life after her kids left home and started the National Association of Baby Boomer Women.

Colleen Cole – “Lost the ability to speak up in a business meeting, let alone speak in public.” Then she joined Toastmasters and is now a trainer for Toastmasters.

Surviving the Death of a Loved One

Josephine Geraci – I’ve had the unfortunate experience of my first husband dying of a brain tumor. He was diagnosed only days after our wedding and survived for 15 months, but that whole experience took a tremendous toll on me. I was only 32 when he died. I’m now 44 years old, remarried and have three beautiful children. I’m a wife, a mother,I’m an inventor and I run my own business, My Mom Knows Best.

Mary Ellen Rinaldi – Mary Ellen burnt out from her corporate job. When her dad died he told her to do what was most important and she started creating women’s comedy shows and found happiness:

“I can sleep, I laugh again, and I am able to work as hard as I want and gain all the financial rewards.” Check out her Life Lessons Through Laughter.

Kimberly Carolan – Kimberly emailed me on behalf of her mother:

“My mom is one of those ladies overcoming the death of her husband when she was 49. His death set her back emotionally (obviously grief), financially (he left her with practically nothing except a house falling apart to sell, no career training of her own and no retirement), relationally (her son has not related to her well ever since) and socially (lots of couple friends disappeared after his death).”

Kimberly has written a book about coming to terms with grief.

Recovering From Abuse

Francine Trevens – “At 45 I divorced a husband who was verbally and physically abusive to one of my children and moved from a small town in Massachusetts back to my native New York City.” Francine struggled to support herself with three children but came through it and says her youngest daughter, now grown up, “is convinced she would not have lived if I had not taken this step and changed our lives. ”.

Patrice Behrend – “After a devastating breakup from an emotionally abusive relationship at 40 I rebuilt my life starting an inspirational/empowerment jewellry company, a blog about fighting infertility, and am now finally pregnant with my first child, happily single and 42 years old.” Patrice is an infertility activist and the Founder of Life Medals.

Libbe S. HaLevy – “I am an incest survivor with over 25 years of healing.  Before I discovered the magnitude of my abuse (it was hidden in amnesia), I was bouncing between jobs, careers, cities, lovers, sexualities, beliefs — nothing was stable because my entire personality was built upon a false base.  I truly did not know who I was.  Once I began a Recovery process, I reconstructed my personality and priorities, went back to school to get a Masters Degree in Spiritual Psychology, and now work as a Life Action Coach, as well as Internet Business Coach.  I am self-employed, stable, have lived in the same city for 30 years and the same house for 7 – a record!

Lisa Lockwood – 40 years old, former victim of domestic violence who turned her life around and became a SWAT cop, and highly decorated police detective.

Total Turnarounds

Lisa Fisco – At 48, Lisa was an Emmy Award winning TV producer. But after a brutal divorce and gaining more than 100 pounds, this now-single mother of three was looking for change. After a period of depression following her divorce and her children deciding to move in with their dad, Fisco went back to school and took a business course where her professor challenged her “to think about what made her happy as a child, and turn that into a business.” As a child she loved sports and weight-lifted for fun with her dad. And she was obsessed with the Olympics.

So she turned to the Internet and found the address of an Olympic Weightlifting coach in Los Angeles. She emailed the coach to see if he would help take an out-of-shape mom and turn her into an Olympic champion. The coach accepted the challenge and Fisco gave up her job to begin training for the 2012 Olympics, where at 52 (in 2012) she will become one of the oldest Olympians. See Lisa in action on Youtube or contact Daniel Cherrin for more information about her.

Gabrielle Yetter – “I have actually reinvented myself several times — having lived all over the world, been through a divorce and death of a husband 9 years ago and been laid off a couple of times, and I am now reinventing myself again.

In February, I was laid off from my corporate job and am now about to launch a new company called The Brightside Group which manufactures the Screaming Pillow. This product came about after my sister and her baby were killed in a car crash many years ago and my mother was seeing a therapist who advised her to scream into a pillow. The name of my company is a tribute to my sister who was born in Brighton (England) and whose maiden name was Said (pronounced “side”). The design on my pillow has a screaming face on one side and a round dotted line on the other with the words, “When you just have to let it out….place face here and SCREAM.”

Carol Greenburg – “I’m a 46-year-old woman. Two years ago I was so overweight I couldn’t walk up the street without getting winded, so scared of driving I could barely get my son to school, and my career was stalled in a dying field. Now I am 63 pounds lighter. I’m the executive director of an educational consulting business that is making money – in THIS economy – and I drive anywhere and everywhere to get to give presentations at universities, conferences, and community organizations.”

Sherrie Berry – Sherrie is a 51 year-old grandmother who is reinventing herself. She was a devoted wife and mother who home-schooled her children. Odd jobs helped her support herself after a divorce until a freak burn accident started her on her way as a product developer for a skincare line.

Anonymous of Nashua, USA – I received a long out-pouring from a victim of human trafficking who has suffered and survived being homeless, tortured, a mail order bride, jail, physical and mental illness, depression, suicide and homicide. She is now a laboratory researcher and runs her own company.

Robin Lutchansky – I’m 50, been in a wheelchair full time for the last 5 years and my husband passed away in the middle of that. My prognosis was grim and the level of physical pain was intolerable. I ended up getting addicted to pain medication and so out of it, I was unable to function. I went to a Pain Management Residential Unit, got off the drugs and learned a lot of alternative ways to handle the pain. It’s been one year now and I’m out of the wheelchair full time although I’ve used it 4 times to go to big conventions because I didn’t have the strength or the courage yet to walk that much in a day. I work out at the gym 3 to 5 times a week, I’ve lost 80 pounds and I’m back at work full time.”

Nancy Stampahar – “I was born into inspiration. In 1963, when I was two years old, my mother decided to divorce her abusive husband after five years of marriage. In retaliation for this courageous act, my mother, my four-year-old intellectually-disabled brother and I were locked out of our row house, with some of our belongings scattered out on the lawn. That day, the lives of my family of three changed forever.

As my childhood evolved, I had a very difficult time feeling good about life, and more importantly, feeling good about myself. I felt damaged and thought that I was not worthy of having a good life. I could not cope with my hardships of being poor and living in a single-parent house with a “different” and limited sibling. When I was in my vulnerable teens, at the age of thirteen, I escaped my stress and pain with excessive partying, which included drugs and alcohol. First, I dropped out of life. Then, I dropped out of high school.

As my young adult life evolved into adulthood, I took steps forward and backward until I came into this great place of happiness and fulfillment. The steps I took represented the choices I made; some were wise and some were not. I eventually earned my college degree in human resource management and created my own organizational training and keynote speaking business to empower people to improve their work performances and live great lives. I learned firsthand how to go from nowhere to somewhere by watching my family’s ability to triumph over tough circumstances. I learned the power of choice. I learned how to make lemonade out of lemons.

Sharon Cohen – Sharon recovered from chronic anxiety and suicidal depression and now helps others make the same recovery.

“The most important aspect of going through “hell” as I did? It is always in the back of your mind. You never forget it. Reminders, however difficult, are also positive. They make you continue to take action to keep to your life priorities. At the “wise” old age of 60, my wisdom is that I have to keep on working on improving myself.”

6 Lessons I’ve Learnt From Writing This Story

  1. Human beings are incredibly resilient.
  2. You’re never too old to change your life.
  3. A lot of people like to tell their stories.
  4. We can only be truly happy when we are striving to get or living the life of our dreams.
  5. Most people naturally want to help other people.
  6. I need to stop creating more work for myself!

How To Rise From The Ashes Like A Phoenix

  1. Believe in yourself – if you don’t no one else will.
  2. Love yourself – be your own best friend, eat nourishing food, keep hydrated with clean water, get outside and go for a walk.
  3. Get help – know that you’re not alone.
  4. Take it one step at a time – change won’t happen overnight, set small goals.
  5. Be grateful for what you’ve gotpracticing gratitude will make you happier and feeling happy will make you stronger.
  6. Record your journey – writing it down can provide great therapy and allow you to identify negative patterns and work out how to change them.
  7. Practice forgiveness – especially towards yourself.
  8. Stay in the moment – stop worrying about tomorrow or raking up the past.
  9. Create the world you want – start by controlling your own thoughts and eliminating negative thought patterns.
  10. Never give up – read my article on the importance of having grit for scientific proof that perseverance pays off.

Post Script

Cultural historian, Jonathan Pontell, also emailed me to explain that:

“A disproportionately high percentage of 40+ women who have turned their lives around are members of one generation: Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and GenXers). This is because life cycle and generational issues have resulted in a strikingly high percentage of GenJones woman making dramatic changes in their lives.”

What do you think? Is it becoming more common for people to make huge changes in their lives? Do you have any tips on how to do it?

Thanks for reading

Thank you to everyone for sharing their stories and especially to Nancy Jerominski for helping me write the tips at the end.

Please add your comments below and don’t forget to get free updates by email now or with the RSS Feed, if you haven’t already. That way, you won’t miss out!

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Other Inspirational Stories

>> Follow Your Dream, You Only Live Once – Central America, Guatemala

>> Changing Crappiness Into Happiness

>> 5 Ways To Prevent Depression

>> 10 Ways To Get The Life You Want

>> 3 keys To Living Our Dreams

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!


  1. Patrice Behrend September 18, 2009 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    Thanks for sharing my story! I am on a life mission to raise infertility awareness, and reframing this life and medical crisis. A good part of the pain of infertility is the lack of understanding and compassion from those around you, which results in isolation and shame. Being a cancer survivor, I have seen how much support is out there for those battling cancer – I believe this will happen for infertility too.

    • Annabel Candy September 18, 2009 at 2:06 pm - Reply

      Patrice – What a great cause and thanks for letting us know about it.

  2. @MarianneStClair September 18, 2009 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    I am always touched deeply by reading stories of the amazing journeys of people and what strength the human spirit has.

    You captured the essence of all the stories and together they weave together and create such a magnificent piece of art.

    Thank you for sharing and caring
    Marianne St. Clair

  3. Josephine Geraci September 18, 2009 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    WOW! What a powerful article. I got goosebumps reading this article and I realize when I was going through some of the toughest days in my life, I could remember my mom telling me, “nobody ever said life was going to be easy!” Ouch, that hurt at the time, but it was one of the hardest lessons I had to learn. When life throws us that curve ball we have two choices, we can either pull the covers back up over our head or make the decision to rebuild our lives. Every single one of these woman chose option #2. Congratulations to all and Annabel thank you for helping so many woman with your article.

    • Annabel Candy September 18, 2009 at 10:26 pm - Reply

      It is life-affirming that all the women made brave and powerful comebacks. And amazing how many people have taken their hardships and turned it around so they can now help other people who are going through the same thing.

  4. Stephanie Watson September 19, 2009 at 12:41 am - Reply

    Thank you for writing my story. I do like telling it because if just one woman gets hope, and learns that men are just icing on the cake and not the entire cake, I’ll feel successful!

  5. Nancy Burcham September 19, 2009 at 1:03 am - Reply

    I once heard the quote (something like): “Our success isn’t dependent upon the type of ancestors we’ve had, but upon the type of descendant we choose to be.” CHOICE – it is all about the choices we make, every minute of every day, like these women did to turn their lives around. When I remember that, there is nothing I can complain about… if I don’t like what I am experiencing, at least I have the power to choose something else. And it also helps me to remember I’ve always done the best that I could at any given moment, with what I had to work with at THAT moment in time. If I could have done better, I would have!
    Thanks, Annabel.

  6. Bobbi Palmer September 19, 2009 at 2:33 am - Reply

    Hi Annabel,

    Your article is so powerful!

    Thank you so much for letting me share my story, but even more for letting me read the stories of these other beautiful women. Their personal strength and fortitude is spectacular, but even more touching is the common desire to nurture and do good for others…and for the world.

    Women freakin’ rock, don’t they?

    Love to you all.

  7. Kim Carolan September 19, 2009 at 2:56 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing my mom’s story! As an addition for readers (I may not have told you before), my mom is now overcoming by working as a bus driver F/T and going to school F/T to get a BS degree and then an MBA to further help her position after my dad’s passing.

    Amazing stories, every single one! Great article!!!

  8. Jean Newell September 19, 2009 at 3:00 am - Reply

    Annabel, Thank you for bringing our stories to other women. I’m often asked how I stay motivated without a support team. My answer is, continuously reading and hearing other inspirational stories of women who like me where told “you can’t do that without an education” or ‘You’re too old to start over”, You’ll hear many reasons why you can’t do something but, just knowing other women have turned their lives around with just the power of self -reliance should be a hope for anyone currently facing a life’s challenge.
    Live Your Passion,

  9. Connie September 19, 2009 at 1:58 pm - Reply

    This is amazing, amazing, amazing. And I can tell it was a lot of work for you to put it together. But take joy in knowing what a valuable contribution you’ve made, Annabel.

  10. Sherri Stanczak September 21, 2009 at 3:11 am - Reply

    Thanks so much for mentioning me in your article. I really enjoyed it. You did a great job, especially while working with so many different articles. It was very nicely done. I also wanted to thank you for using all of us. I believe we all had some obstacles to overcome and we all worked hard to get past that time in our life. It was very kind of you to mention my website as well. I feel honored to be on your site and look forward to working with you in the future. Thanks again and have a blessed weekend.

    Love & Prayers,

  11. Nancy Stampahar September 22, 2009 at 2:00 am - Reply

    To Annabel and All of the Inspiring Women,

    Way to make some sweet, refreshing lemonade!

    Thank you for sharing your stories and helping others to realize that brighter days can come.

  12. Shelley September 23, 2009 at 10:08 am - Reply

    no matter how hard a time you’re having, there’s always someone else worse off than you. Great to read these stories.

  13. Cathy Larosa January 26, 2010 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    Great info I love examples of articles which have been written, and especially the comments posted! I will definately be visiting again!

  14. […] out a Haro query I had a massive response and included all the people who replied in a story called How To Rise From The Ashes Like A Phoenix. It was a huge job compiling that post so this time I asked people to tell me their stories in […]

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