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Mental Freedom After Incarceration: My Journey Self-acceptance

5 Min Read
Self

When I was sentenced to seven years in prison, I had no idea what I would do with my life after my period of incarceration. My life was filled with abuse, addiction, and crime. Trying to become gainfully employed and make a livable wage became one of my greatest challenges post-prison. In my hometown, there were 210 professions I could not even participate in solely based on my criminal record. I had lost my dignity, had zero self-esteem, and felt stuck. After some serious self-reflection about the reality of the situation and having so many natural barriers, I recognized the greatest block was my own way of thinking. I had to ask myself: what do I have, and what can I do with what I have?

Having that difficult conversation with myself proved to be the turning point for me. What do I have? I had to make a list and take inventory of all of my qualities and characteristics. Not the external but the internal. I'm embarrassed to say that I struggled with this list a bit. Literally I could think and write the word "smart," and it was like a voice in my head responded, "If you were so smart, how did you end up doing something so stupid?" One by one, I wrote the words through all of the negative chatter and finally had the left side of the page full. The next list on the right was all of the things I could do with the things on the list on the left. I had two rules to this list. 1. Write whatever comes to mind first 2. Pretend you have NOTHING in your way. Now this list was pretty empowering. Just looking at how having a "sense of humor" on the left could be used to "cheer people up" on the right made me feel great or how "doing nails" on the left could be used to "make others look and feel beautiful." Lastly, I picked apart the list and made as many combinations as possible to identify which ones I could use to earn a real living.

My life still had great value, despite what I had done or where I had been.

Instead of accepting defeat and allowing the limits society placed on me determine my life and my future, I forged my own path, and I found success through a new way of thinking and a fresh approach on how to move forward.

After you find your strengths, now what? Eat, sleep, and breathe it, then repeat. Literally, you have to immerse yourself in all of the positive things, grow your gratitude, and give yourself grace. I equate it to planting a seed, watering it, and watching it grow. This is not an overnight process, however, with patience and persistence, you WILL see the fruit begin to peek its head through the soil that once represented struggle. It is now the foundation for growth. I couldn't wait for someone to ask me to describe myself. What was once a shallow external description encompassing my race, role, and title now became an internal script for my life that connected me directly to my purpose and profession. Acknowledging my strengths made me more confident and reminded me that I was more than what I had been through and what people SAW on the outside. I finally believed I could start a business and that it would be successful. Realizing that a traditional path of employment was not a place for me, I had to be creative in finding what direction would allow me to find actual success and provide a rich and fulfilling life. I looked at what my strengths and skills were and used those to sculpt my future.

One of the greatest gifts I have ever given myself was permission to live beyond my past.

I was skilled at doing nails, and I had the gift of gab. I started with telling some friends, "Get a few ladies together, and I will do everyone's manicure and pedicure." I started by utilizing what I had. I went from traveling from door to door with a basket of supplies from under the bathroom sink and then evolved my business into a mobile spa business quickly booking enough parties to recruit other spa professionals and create the demand for events in other cities. I refused to be a minimum wage employee and, as a result, founded the Pamper Perfect Mobile Spa which became the on-location, girls' night in, fun and sophisticated spa party that women were craving at home.

I learned that living through trauma at any age molds how one thinks of themselves, especially about how valuable or worthy they are (or are NOT) as a person. I often say my entire birth and upbringing were traumatic. I lived with the label of being abandoned by being adopted. I held very little value on my mere existence in this world. I always felt as if I didn't belong. When I became incarcerated, I recognized how little value I placed on my life when I traded it for freedom. We misplace value on people and places. If something has value, it is useful and important. When you spend your life fighting to get people to acknowledge your worth and value, you are always seeking someone else to deem you as worthy. I can't even tell you how many times people gave up on me or declared me hopeless. If I was going to change my life and be more than mediocre, I had to determine my own worth. One of the greatest gifts I have ever given myself was permission to live beyond my past. I ate, slept, and breathed the mantra, "What others think of me is NOT my business." I started to reflect on all of my qualities in a positive way. Over time, I developed a healthy, more positive way of thinking of myself and what I was capable of despite my past mistakes or my flaws. I learned to accept ALL of my life as experiences that led me to be a better person. My life still had great value, despite what I had done or where I had been. Realizing that I was in control and that I determined my worth was a pivotal point in changing my life.

Despite what many say, some bridges need to be burned. It forces a different path.

Mindset is one of the key factors in creating lasting change in your behavior which ultimately can change your life. The first thing you must do is remove your "mask of sanity." You must acknowledge that things aren't going the way you had hoped and need to admit your "stinkin thinkin" played a part. Think about it, you've already read the books, attended the workshop, and been to that amazing weekend retreat in hopes to change your life. You got all pumped up to take action and change your life, and still you find yourself stuck. That's because our minds create habitual patterns that we walk out in our daily lives, and eventually we are back to our old ways. You must close the gap. Without a mindset shift, the gap between where you are and where you want to be is too large to take the leap. One must dive into all of the thoughts and beliefs you have surrounding your goal. The idea of finding true love and even building a six-figure income was something I really wanted, but the truth is, deep down, I didn't believe I could do it or even deserved to have it. As long as you do not fully believe in ANYTHING you want, you will never see the changes you really want in your life.

In order to change my mindset, I needed to develop a system for myself to daily practice positive speaking and thinking and believe in its power. The more I practiced, the more I experienced it in my life. I became totally sold on the idea that through my thoughts, I created my own reality, and whatever I paid attention to or put focus on would grow. So instead of burying my head in the sand of guilt, shame, and defeat, I constantly immersed myself in activities and tasks that drew me closer to what I really wanted for myself. After a while, I expected it, and it continually showed up. I am always going back to focusing on what I have (abundance) as opposed to what I don't have (lack). You attract what you put out in the world, and you should use this power to work for you and not against you.

Realizing that I was in control and that I determined my worth was a pivotal point in changing my life.

Experiencing hardships taught me three things: to be authentic, empathetic, and forgiving. This is what helped me to see challenges in my life as lessons I could not have learned any other way. That acceptance shifts the idea of hardship and challenges to allies as opposed to viewing them as roadblocks where all progress is halted. A more positive spin on any circumstance changes the narrative, leading to a more positive outcome. Anyone looking to overcome hardships must see their adversity as an advantage. Everything I had been through in my life led me to the place I am today, and my GRIT got me there. Use the word "no" as an opportunity to find another resource. Despite what many say, some bridges need to be burned. It forces a different path. Believe your YES is out there. I knew I could not survive with a minimum wage job being a single mom of two. Many people thought I should have just been grateful for having a job, but I wasn't. I no longer wanted mediocrity, and I was determined to let nothing stand in my way. I had to accept responsibility for showing up and leading my own life. All of the things people told me I needed to be successful in business, I did not have, so I focused on what I did have. By changing my mindset and taking control of my life, I went from earning the prison labor wage of 22 cents an hour to being the CEO of my own company. Realizing great success in my own life inspired me to help others that have found themselves trying to navigate the challenges they have found themselves faced with. I now work with professional women who struggle with life's setbacks, and I help them break free from their mental prison so they can experience true freedom in their lives and business. Once I learned how to reshape my mindset to change my life, it became my mission to help others do the same.

3 min read
Lifestyle

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.

-Sadsies

Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.



I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!



- The Armchair Psychologist

Need more armchair psychologist in your life? Check out the last installment or emailarmchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get some advice of your own!