08162023 (Day #4249)
Therapy and change.
My arrest became a catalyst for change. I channeled my willingness to change, and commitment to do the work, into a tenet instilled in U.S. Amy Rangers: accept, adapt, overcome. With that mindset, I adopted a 3-pronged approach for lasting, effective change derived from CBT textbooks:
- Change my environment or surroundings.
- Change my thinking.
- Change my behavior.
Changing my surroundings and environment was reconciled with my arrest and pre-sentence custody.
Changing my thinking began in the county jail while I awaited sentencing. I began independent-study work to familiarize myself and lay the groundwork for the treatment I planned on seeking once I entered imminent BOP custody to begin serving my sentence.
Transfer to USP Marion brought another change of surroundings, and additional opportunities to change my thinking. I began formalized mental health work with DBT group, and realized modest progress with thinking improvements. During initial group session introductions, one of the incumbent group members advised me, “You’ll get out of this what you put into it.” I took it to heart, and quickly learned the validity of that advice.
Individual therapy followed DBT group and proved to be the cornerstone for changing my thinking, which paved the way for changing my behavior. Therapy has been more “guidance” than “instructional”. Sessions with my Primary Care Provider, initially Dr. M., and now Dr. W., entail conversations that peel back the layers of my thinking and behaviors. For example, irrational thinking and unhealthy coping skills surfaced as problem areas for me, so we identified them and explored why they are irrational or unhealthy, and how to replace them with rational thinking and healthy coping skills. Transparency became essential to ensure accurate insight to my thought processes for Dr. M. and Dr. W. to determine the direction and content of their “guidance” along the way.
Early therapy work revealed that my self-talk was negatively impacting my thinking and behavior. It was a common denominator in my emotional imbalance, lack of self-esteem, suicidal ideation, relationship dysfunction, and the list goes on and on. I was, simply, toxic to myself, my own worst enemy and harshest critic. I had unrealistic expectations of myself, and I had become adept at “confirmation-biasing” myself. Addressing my self-talk was the de facto “ground zero” of change for me. Over time, with hard work and complete honesty with myself, therapy helped me weed out the irrational and subjective thinking that corroded my self-talk and replace it with more rational, objective thinking. At the same time, I learned healthy coping skills to lean on when I’m having difficulty or experiencing unpleasant feelings.
By applying what I learned, followed by repetition to reinforce the healthy and positive, today I have a solid grasp of rational thinking, healthy behavior, and a toolbox of coping skills to choose from when I need them. Mindfulness came to me easily and became a good “friend”. Radical Acceptance was more challenging for me to get a handle on, and I was determined to figure it out. Today we have a great “friendship” and Radical Acceptance is my most-utilized coping skill.
My self-talk today is a 180-degree change from before and I’m more self-supportive now, no longer self-critical or self-destructive, a lot friendlier to myself, and that translates to my relationships with others, I am more compassionate, empathetic, patient, and tolerant.
Therapy has been key to my ability to make thinking changes, accompanied by subsequent behavior changes. And self-improvement in thinking and behavior created a solid foundation for SOTP-NR treatment to build on.
I’m not done with therapy or treatment. They were originally goals. I’ve since learned another perspective:
Goals have an end-point, when the goal is met, it is complete, done.
Missions are indefinite, made up of a dynamic set of goals that changes as each goal is met and the mission progresses.
Treatment and therapy are my mission. Now that I have attained a level of self-improvement that I feel warrants a new look at me and who I am, early release to home confinement is my goal. I am going to continue learning, applying what I learn to my thinking and behavior as I continue to grow into a better version of myself, “New me”.
Accept, adapt, and overcome. With willingness, commitment, and transparency.