In prison, dealing with my mood swings was a major challenge. Other inmates regularly tested my patience, and I was confined to a negative environment. The lows felt so low and the highs were never all that high.
Treatment taught me that I cannot control how I feel about a situation, but I can control how I respond. Instead of reflexively reacting, I needed to use an exit strategy or other resources to get out of a hot situation.
When I was in prison, I needed to have a plan for where to go, who to call, and when to ask for help. My mom or sister were my go-to calls.
If they didn’t answer, I went to Lars, Nate, and Kyle. I kept calling down my support list until somebody answered. I knew that any one of these positive people could give me perspective and talk me off the proverbial ledge.
Now I’m home, the negative environment is gone, but the stresses and frustrations of work, parenting, cravings, and restrictions have replaced it. To my surprise, I have even more opportunities to manage my mood than when I was incarcerated.
As I learn and grow through experience, it’s easier to identify my patterns. I think about the consequences before making a rash, knee-jerk decision. I get proactive and avoid high-pressure situations.
Balance and perspective have been key to my success so far. These six practices allow me to keep that balanced perspective.
1. Physical Fitness
When I work out, I literally feel the positive hit of endorphins. A runner’s high follows a long run. A high-intensity workout gives a wave of euphoria afterward. Working out is a healthier way to get these pleasures than my pre-prison habits.
Fitness encourages me to improve other aspects of my life which helps me manage my mood. Sleep and diet not only help improve physical performance but balance my mindset as well.
In prison, I had people who pushed me in the gym. Now that I’m out, I have new workout partners who keep me accountable: my brother Jesse, my neighbor Joe, and lately, my buddy Jeremy. Working out with others gives me a connection and relationships in addition to kicking my butt.
Gyms have been available only hit or miss, so we did prison workouts in the driveway in the summer and use my homemade gym in the garage for winter.
2. Meditation & Prayer
Meditation has been a major tool for managing my mood. Early in my recovery, when I ignored my connection with my higher power, I used mediation to channel that calm.
When I got out, my neighbor Joe, introduced me to Insight Timer, a guided meditation app available on Apple and Android. It’s got tens of thousands of meditations of all kinds and I fell in love with it! It’s a great way to start or end my day.
As I continue my recovery path and my alternate weekend visits to Eagle Brook Church with Joe, my faith continues to grow. These days, I find my mediation time is replaced with prayer. I talk to my higher power, ask for help, pray for others, and express gratitude for my life.
Writing has been the foundation of my recovery. Not only does it help me manage my mood, but it is also my way to express myself, learn what makes me tick, what’s held me back, and unpack why I went to prison in the first place. When I started telling my story by writing for my sister’s blog, it all started to make sense. Writing allows me to learn from the past, forgive myself, and begin to build a new future.
As I’ve transitioned from prison back to life outside, I know it’s crucial to continue writing regularly. When things are going well, I’m writing. When I’m struggling, I’m not. Even when I can’t manage to reach out and ask for help, I’m usually able to figure it out by writing.
4. Weekly Recovery Meeting
My recovery meetings are a consistent source of hope and support. When I listen to those with several decades of recovery share their experiences, when I relate to their story or they relate to mine, I get a peaceful encouragement that I can’t get anywhere else. It is where I go to know that I’m not alone.
No matter what state my life is in, a meeting has a way of moving me. It’s as if something or someone knows what button needs to be pushed and exactly what I need to hear.
Even when I started going to meetings as an agnostic, the coincidences were hard to ignore. I now believe there is no such thing.
5. Alone Time
Alone time was a rare commodity to find in prison. I was always surrounded by people and confined to small quarters. Since I was usually living in open dorms, I simply had no way to be alone. Walks outside in the winter were all I had.
Now that I’ve been home for eight months, the joy of being alone has yet to wear off. I can close my door, take a walk, or sit in my back yard. It gives me space to breathe and think more clearly.
Anne Lamott says “expectations are resentments under construction” and she’s right. Most of my problems start as an expectation — usually about how someone else should act, what I deserve, or what the future should hold for me.
When reality falls short of what I expect, my mood inevitably plummets, my blood begins to boil, and I can feel how my recovery and everything I’ve worked for stands in jeopardy. Instead, I do my best to drop the expectation in the first place and assume nothing about how things will go. This is no easy task and takes lots of practice and forgiveness when I inevitably forget.
When I was released, I had big ideas about what my life, my profession, my passions, family, and relationships would look like. But someone had different plans and I quickly learned I’m not in the driver’s seat.
For months, I fought angrily against the disappointments until I finally surrendered and admitted I just didn’t know how things were going to go. Now I focus on the basics: fitness, prayer, writing, meetings, alone time, and asking for help when I need it. With these practices in place, I find that I can focus on monitoring and managing my moods…however they show up.