One of the hardest personal challenges I am dealing with and in reality have dealt with most of my life is GUILT.

I have tried tracing back to where I acquired this overwhelming and often debilitating sense of guilt, I tend to draw a blank. Well not entirely. Actually, I guess this is one of the blessings found in the hell of my 17 years in solitary confinement. Those many years of being sensory deprived and isolated from the world in the Pelican Bay Security Housing Unit (SHU) taught me some great lessons. One of which is self reflection. That is taking a hard and honest look at one’s self and what motivates you to be the person you are. [All of your faults and glimpses of greatness, all of your shortcomings as well as your admirable qualities.] Truth be told we all have some of both.

I hate to be one of those people who sound as if they are blaming all of their issues and problems on their up bringing or their parents. However, reality is a lot of what I have become or have not become for that matter goes back to my childhood. If I’m being honest, I have to say my mother raised me with a very strong sense of personal responsibility for her happiness. I don’t think she intended to make my older brother and I feel responsible for her happiness. Actually, from the stories we were told and what I remember of my Grandmother I think my mother was raised that way and just naturally continued the pattern of her upbringing.

Unfortunately, this led me to become a people pleaser. I often buried my own self determination in the pleasing of others. So, if I felt something that I wanted or preferred would cause someone I cared about to be unhappy I would often bury my own wants and desires in the false satisfaction of their happiness. I often felt guilt which developed to a since of shame and self loathing if I couldn’t make them happy. In addition I found that I struggled with desperately wanting to be liked by others. Oftentimes if I felt I wasn’t accepted or liked there was something personally wrong with me, not the other person. Prior to going to prison this resulted in my substance use problem which led me to prison. While in prison I harbored a huge amount of guilt and shame for all the pain my incarceration caused my mother and older brother. However, I buried those feelings inside in order to survive the violent world of the prison system.

Upon coming home I found those feelings resurfacing. Which is one of the things that I feel led to my bout with Post Incarceration Syndrome (PICS).

Now i find myself struggling with the trauma and pain my PICS causes my mate as she tries to navigate around my mental health issue and my substance use disorder. In dealing with theses character defects I’ve found that tools like , “Ten Ways to Untwist Your Thinking,” by David D. Burns, M.D., Featured in the Feeling Good Handbook to be extremely helpful. Three of the tools I find most useful are: 1). “Re-attribution,” “Instead of automatically assuming that you are “bad,” and blaming yourself entirely for a problem, think the many factors that may have contributed to it, Focus on solving the problem instead of using up all your energy blaming yourself and feeling guilty.” 2). “The semantic method” wherein you “simply substitute language that is less colorful and emotionally loaded. This is helpful for “should statements.” Instead of telling yourself “I shouldn’t have made that mistake,” you can say, “it would be better if I hadn’t made that mistake.” Lastly, I often use the method David Burns labels as 3). “Define Terms” which is simply a matter of “when you label yourself “inferior” or “a fool” ask, “What is the definition of a ‘fool’?” You will feel better when you see that there is no such thing as a “fool” or a “looser.”

While these aren’t a cure all for my mental health issues they are helpful and allow me the necessary time to rethink my character defects allowing me to make better, and healthy choices situation by situation. I highly recommend these be added to your wellness routine.

by Akili