When I close my eyes, I can vividly remember the day when “starting over” became a reality. It was July 2013. I was about to be released from prison after serving four years for a DUI with bodily injury conviction.
During the time I was incarcerated, I served the first 22 months at a medium-security state prison. The remaining 19 months of my sentence were spent at a low-security work-release facility. It was from that facility that I would be released and transition back into society.
I thought I had everything under control – nothing was going to derail my plans. I had a detailed itinerary for making the most of my second chance. And then reality slapped me in the face.
Starting Over Was Nothing Like I Expected
As the days dwindled down on my sentence, I was convinced that life was going to be problem-free once I got out. In my mind, I’d passed the ultimate test. I couldn’t wait to leave everything associated with the Department of Corrections behind me.
I spent the time leading up to my release date daydreaming about how wonderful my life was going to be: visualizing all the traveling I would do, the high-paying career I’d have, and the many people who’d welcome me back to society.
But as I soon discovered, free life was nothing like I’d expected it to be. I hadn’t fathomed that starting over with absolutely nothing would be so difficult. I had no phone, no checking account, and no driver’s license, among other things.
I also hadn’t counted on the discrimination that comes with being labeled as a felon. It never dawned on me I’d face so much difficulty in finding an employer willing to give me a chance. And I definitely didn’t count on the inability to connect with people from my past.
Is Starting Over Really All It’s Cracked Up to Be?
A few days after my release, I found myself sitting in a restaurant surrounded by my family and friends. I suddenly realized that maybe being free maybe wasn’t everything I’d built it up to be. How in the world was I going to dig myself out of this huge hole I dug years ago?
As hard as this transition was for me, though, I refused to feel sorry for myself. I had come way too far and overcome too many obstacles to give up now.
So, I kept plodding along, putting one foot in front of the other. And when setbacks happened, I took it on the chin, got back up, and kept moving forward. Little by little, things finally started to fall into place. Life continued to get easier and a whole lot better.
My Tips for Starting Over and Finding Success in Recovery
It’s been eight-and-a-half years since I was released from prison. I’ve come a long way since the day I first set foot back into society. And if my journey can help to inspire anyone who feels like they’re starting over with nothing, I’m happy to share my story and my insights.
Looking back, here’s what helped me most when I was transitioning from prison back into society:
Take it One Day at a Time
Starting over in the real world is tough, but I tried to focus on taking it one day at a time. Don’t expect things to change overnight. Deal with challenges as they come rather than worrying too much about the unknown future. Yes, transitioning back into society was different than what I expected. But I had faith that life would get easier the more time I put behind my release…and it did.
Actively Chip Away at that To-Do List
When I got out, there was an endless list of what I had to do in order to get up and running as a functioning member of society. Tasks, such as getting a driver’s license, setting up a new credit card, or interviewing for a job, seemed too overwhelming to cope with. In fact, in the early days, knowing how much I had to do made it hard for me to want to get out of bed in the mornings.
One day, I decided to take control over the situation. I created a to-do list for all the tasks I needed to accomplish. Then I set a goal of completing at least one task each day – even if it was as simple as sending out one resume. This allowed me to preserve my mental health while also feeling like I was accomplishing something each day.
Keep Your Support System Close
Transitioning back into society can trigger a lot of emotions. Outside support is essential to help you weather the challenges that will inevitably arise. There were a lot of times that I got really down on myself, and I needed help to overcome those feelings. Having a network to lean on during this time not only helped me cope with stress, it also helped me process all of the feelings I was experiencing.
Manage Your Expectations
The expectations I had for my life post-release were entirely unrealistic. In my head, I thought I’d just immediately bounce back to my old pre-prison life. These expectations, I believe, made the transition out of prison much harder than it needed to be.
But I learned a valuable lesson from setting the bar unreasonably high: we might have overcome a significant challenge (like completing a prison sentence), but it doesn’t mean life is suddenly going to become easy.
Success in anything – including starting over with nothing and transitioning back into society – requires patience and effort. It’s a long process, not an event. It can take years before a person is fully able to enjoy the type of life they yearn for.
For those about to go through their own starting over transition, keep this in mind: this period can be tough at first, but don’t lose sight that brighter days are ahead.
For information about treatment options for you or a loved one, call 800-963-1579 (Who Answers?) today.