Change your thoughts, change your life

Apathy and fear-based thinking — i.e., ”I am afraid to fail”: We need to realize that failure (mistakes) is a part of life, that being able to admit to mistakes helps you to become whole and motivates you to take risks and not be afraid.

— D. Jeffries, staff member at St. Stephen’s Outreach in Minneapolis

Hello, once again, to all who follow the Starting Anew column. When I started this column, it was designed to talk about ways I cope with life struggles I have had or still experience today as an ex-con.

Many storms have come for me lately. I had a serious bout with depression (something I was diagnosed with). I shut down and began to isolate and stopped seeking support, which left me open to negative self-defeating thoughts and behaviors.

Messages from childhood sexual abuse started creeping in (”You’re doing it wrong!”) and had me thriving on acceptance and needing to do everything ”right.” I started focusing on my past mistakes and not the progress I have made in the past three years.

Past guilt began to overtake my thoughts, and before I knew it I was hospitalized for suicidal/depression thoughts. Had I not sought help at this time, I would have done something stupid or maybe even fatal to myself.

As I have said in numerous articles before, giving up is no longer an option for me. As my thoughts began to clear, I started reaching out to those who believed in me when I had stopped believing in myself.

I thought of a saying I remembered, ”Humility is not thinking less of myself; it is thinking of myself less,” that gave me the motivation to get up, swallow my pride and ask for help.

It’s been over three years since my last arrest and even though things were going well after my last release, trying to maintain alone was not an option.

It all began with my mother who said to me, ”Life is too short to give up on you!” I thank God for my mother’s unconditional love.

I realized that in this life there is strength in numbers when we need support or when messages of ”You’re a failure. You’re weak if you ask for help” kick into play. That’s when the strength of the nonjudgmental men of my church came through and restored my hope and faith, letting me know that I had to get back to a foundation of my higher power and trust that he will not give me more than I can handle. My pastor said, ”You need to give yourself some credit; you are stronger than you think you are — just hold on and just stand.”

I recently attended an all-day workshop at the Minneapolis Urban League in which the topic of health and wellness and how important it is for the African American community was the main focus.

Currently, the fastest growing population affected with H.I.V. is African American women. The statistics are alarming, and to see the passion of the Urban League’s willingness to do something about this and the fight to move forward with prevention is something I was very glad to be a part of.

At a group called The Circle of Love, I presented the group with the question of why this support group was so important to them. Many of the members of this group stated that it is vital to their survival to attend a group that not only focuses on H.I.V. support but also is specific for African Americans (male and female). This makes it easier to talk about issues of fear, hope and find others who can relate as they are dealing with the same or similar issues.

Finding a group in which one can feel a sense of belonging when there are so many people who still don’t understand or are ignorant to the fact that H.I.V. is not a death sentence has been a blessing.

It is almost like a person who has lost a child: If you have not lost a child you can be sympathetic, but when you have experienced such a loss it is easier for you to understand the impact of the loss/trauma and relate to others a little more openly.

I’m currently learning information from a place called Twin Town/Latitudes, a facility where they implement an ”H.R.” (Health Realization) component into their curriculum. H.R. allows one to understand that although thoughts come and they come to everyone, as recovering addicts we need to accept our thoughts as just that —thoughts — and we do not have to act on or feel guilty about them.

We are all born with the ability to control our thoughts. We accept and change our thoughts to have positive outcomes, and we talk about our thoughts with others who think as we do and free ourselves from being alone with them.

A counselor said, ”We and our thoughts can be our own worst enemy.”

Many addicts deal with this on different levels.

I was inspired by the alumni members who consistently attend Twin Town once a week. There was one gentlemen in particular, 24-year-old Josh, whose story of how the H.R. has been and is still a benefit to his sustaining a responsible life today struck me in such a way that I asked if I could I share his story with other young African American men.

Josh stated before H.R. he lived a life of hustling, gang violence and meth addiction and basically had given up on himself. ”[Going] in and out of jails and institutions was something that became a ritual for me. I came to the program very closed minded, and then something clicked as I heard a counselor’s story. I thought to myself, ‘If he can do it, so can I,’ and then I began to walk in it.

“I have a job; I am a responsible father who gets joy out of just seeing my kids smile and know daddy is always dependable now. I even have a bank account. Wow! Life is good now and although I still have rough days (not so many), I know as long as I pause, process and change my thought, I do not have to repeat past mistakes. It is such a blessing.”

There are so many African American men, young and old, who have come from the brinks of destruction and turned their lives around, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share their stories.

I want to thank my mother, High Praise Ministries, Minneapolis Urban League and Twin Town/Latitudes H.R. program for their assistance and input with this article.

I also want to give a big thank you to the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder for all of its support by allowing me to share my life with the hopes of helping others who deal with these same issues directly or know someone who does.

Many blessings to you all and stay strong — you do have a purpose!

James Davis welcomes reader responses to