There comes a time, in everyone’s life, when we come to the “knot” at the end of our rope. Some call it “hitting bottom,” ” a wake up call,” or “spiritual awakening.” Whatever the term, I reached it in early 1995. My life was a mess and I needed help!
After multiple rule infractions, and the consequences of them, I sought the help I needed through the rooms of twelve steps, group and individual therapy. What I learned shocked and amazed me, bringing me to this point in my life. now 15 years strong. Here is what I’ve learned, incorporated into my daily life, and passed onto others.
I have a voice and I desire to be heard. Yes, I’ve made mistakes; one pivotal point was taking a life. Today, after serving 27 years, I am struggling to catch up and become a respectful member of society/ This is the problem, and I desperately need a solution.
It would seem I have become the barely visible space between a rock and a hard place, feeling trapped in my past, grave decisions. I felt I was being looked upon as an “outcast,” which is a most disturbing feeling. While I came from an abusive and dysfunctional family, I still heard the same old message here: “You’ll never amount to anything. You are worthless.” So I was determined to change that through taking the steps that recovery requires, to change my thinking, which will change my behavior. Daily, I strive to make use of this process by NOT REPEATING the same old behavior.
Yet, still the haunting grief, shame, and guilt of my crime rose up to dash away all hope of restoration. While I believe I can never serve a sentence that would ensure the return of my victim, and all the amiable accomplishments I may acquire, will always be eclipsed by my crime of murder. I do feel my life’s experience can be of use to society. By not repeating old behavior, it becomes the ultimate life-long amends, and never allow or put myself in a position that would give way to violent outbursts, crimes, and creating more victims.
Where do I turn for this help? The solution is REHABILITATION. Along with that comes other factors that will be expounded upon later. Awareness, and willingness to stop a behavior, while going to any length to find the reasons for it, is the only way to successfully rehabilitate.
Recognition and relapse prevention are major avenues to ensure that the cycle of entrapment is broken, so I can continue to lead a healthy and satisfying life. Through years of recovery, I became determined to help break this seemingly unending cycle of self sabotage, and turn it into self-awareness and regain hope. I needed to face my past, give my voice volume, and allow it to be heard.
In the words so aptly penned by Pearl S. Buck: “None who have always been free can understand the terrible, fascinating power of hope of freedom to those who are not free.” I now know that if I remain so rapped up in the shame and guilt of my past, I will fail to make progress.
To start the process of recovery, I first had to acknowledge I had a problem and these are the steps I took to ensure my goals are reached through recovery.
AWARENESS. Being aware of the possibilities I could achieve because I now have the means in which to succeed, is half the battle. Awareness also includes knowing that I do have a choice to live a healthy life in and out of prison, without the stereotypes that are tethered to being an ex felon. It gives me voice to talk about my problems openly, as well as to be shown other options. Awareness brought me to the bottom line of my past decisions, and it got me to ask, “What will I need to make better decisions?” THis brought me to my next goal.
EMPOWERMENT. Empowerment is the fundamental ingredient to change, and that is what I ultimately wanted to accomplish. IIf I remain stuck in the mental/emotional jails of not being able to do something worthwhile, then I won’t do something worthwhile. However, if I am given a choice to do the right thing, and the tools with which to accomplish it, then I will do it.
Teaching people life skills. coping skills and giving them the chance to succeed is important, and they MAY do it. However, like for me, if you throw in empowerment, dignity, honor, lots of self-worth and truth, you have an empire of determined people! I obtained all of this through education and awareness. This is accomplished through allowing myself to be a part of my own change in lifestyle. not the outcome of forced change through coercion and oppressive rules. I had to give myself permission to take on the pivotal role in changing my behavior by changing my thinking. I needed to learn that it was in my best interest to invest serious time and energy in my recovery.
I accomplished this by being shown another, healthier way of life. No one dreams of growing up to be a criminal, drug user or alcoholic when they are a child. Yet, unfortunately, because it may have been the only way of life we knew, it became a lifestyle. Now that I know I have a choice to live differently, I have become a productive member here, and will continue to be so in society.
EDUCATION. I needed to be led in the right direction, and through myriad self help groups, therapy, and working the 12 steps, I desired to change destructive thinking patters and behavior.
REHABILITATION. Through classes on self esteem/awareness, body language, social skills, battered women syndrome and breaking the cycle of violence, substance abuse, and codependency, I have been able to change my thinking and behavior.
SELF-IMAGING. By having a spiritual awakening, I chose to give my life over to God, a third step principle: “We made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” In him, I have become a new creation, and with that came the ability to have my mind renewed. I learned to allow God to lead me, and He gave me tools with which to male solid boundaries, concrete plans for my future, and hope for a healthy lifestyle.
COPING/LIFE SKILLS. This is learned with practice and patience. I have learned to RESPOND rather than REACT to life, which in turn creates a positive outlook for my decision-making process.
SHARING MY EXPERIENCE. This is the final step and it is a continuum of walking the steps of recovery. The 12th step principle is, “Having a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other (addicts, alcoholics, codependents), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Because I have internalized the 12 step principles into my life, my experience is unique when shared in this light. There are countless women who have suffered as I have, and I would not be able to keep the immeasurable knowledge, wisdom, and truths I have if I don’t give it away freely without reservation.
My journey is not over, yet this passage through this prison is at its end. My life is an open book, with its flaws, nuances, and likable character.