Lauren Johnson, a Conspire Theatre alum, continues guest blogging for us about her experiences with incarceration, relationships and life in general.
When I was a teenager, I used to have a little saying. It began as a joke, as well as a way to sound wise, and slowly became my philosophy. The saying went something like this: “ Men are dogs, no surprises, nothing hidden, what you see is what you get, they are dogs. Women on the other hand are back stabbing, vindictive, two faced, treacherous, scandalous,(and on and on and on).” I would paint the picture of a Hallmark commercial with a beautiful sandy beach, where off in the distance a woman would be running toward you in slow motion, arms open wide as if she were going to hug you, and instead of a hug, when she arrived in the space in front of you, she would knock you out.
I don’t recall having any real bad experiences prior to coming up with this philosophy. I think I must have just said it once and gotten a good response to it and just kept it going from there. I believe the words we use do have a huge impact on how we think. So what began as a joke that jolted my status into the upper realms of coolness became something that I truly believed over a period of time. I never really questioned it and just accepted it as a truth.
The first rehabilitation setting that I found myself in was called the Modified Therapeutic Community or MTC. It was a program inside of the Gatesville prison Woodman unit. Instead of having jobs like the rest of the women on the unit, we spent all day going to groups, and were held to a higher standard than the rest of the unit. One day in our groups we watched a video taught by Hyrum Smith, called the Franklin Reality Model. It is a cognitive restructuring technique in which individuals are asked to identify a belief that they have and break it down to see how that belief is meeting their needs, over time.
You may think that identifying a belief is easy until you are the one in that hot seat. The basic current in the room often starts with religious belief, and that is not a good one to start off with since the controversy in the room takes away from the exercise. It took me a moment to come up with one that I thought would be a good starting point for this exercise, but after watching the example on the video, I decided to use my longtime philosophy for the exercise. We explored the belief and I began to find that this was something a lot of the women in the room identified with. At the end of the exercise the counselor spoke and brought it to our attention that this philosophy created an expectation. In life, we have a tendency of looking for realities that match up with our expectations. By creating that expectation, how could any of us have a healthy relationship with anyone? This way of thinking exhibited distrust for every human being and being women, it also on some level is a form of self hatred.
The whole concept behind cognitive therapy is that if we are able to identify our thoughts that lead to negative behavior, then we can change the negative behavior. What the counselor had said made sense, and so I decided to give a new way of thinking a try. It was a safe environment to try it in and so I began slowly to change my expectations with little things and watch the results. People being the fallible humans that they are, the results were not always positive but when I began to look through the new perspective that I was developing, I had more empathy and more realistic expectations.
When a new girl joined our program, I had the chance to try this out. I did not know her, but I had been sleeping with her boyfriend when she first got locked up and so we had him and other “friends” in common. It was awkward at first but we talked and I believed that we became friends. I could definitely relate to her. One night she came by my bed and asked me if I could put a letter in the mailbox on my way to breakfast since she wasn’t going. The letter was to the boyfriend. Curiosity got the best of me and I read the letter. ( Letters going out can not be sealed ) The letter said some really nasty things about me to him, things like, “ I expected you to be with someone better than that nasty thing”. Needless to say this didn’t do much to help me in my new endeavor. I confided all of this to another woman there and she helped me to process the information and decide what to do about it. I also did some praying that night, and in the morning I had an epiphany.
Aside from me being sneaky and crossing her boundaries by reading her personal mail which I had no right to do, I was all of a sudden keenly aware that maybe this was her way of dealing with her own pain. I looked at things from her perspective and made the mature decision that this was her way of coping with her circumstances, and by looking at the situation from that perspective, it helped me to grow from it and move on. I am actually still friends with the lady today, she doesn’t know that I read her mail, or even that she had anything to do one way or another with one of my own personal struggles.
I am happy to say that I have built on this over the years and no longer hold on to my old way of thinking. My relationships are better for it because instead of looking at the actions of people like the motive behind them was evil, I look at them as simply being human, just like me.
Since then, I have voiced my experience in some of the groups that I have participated in. I am still astonished to find out what a common theme my old ways of thinking are in the lives of other women. Again I hope that by me sharing my experience some of them have begun a new way of thinking. Hence the importance of continuing to share it. To some this may seem very basic, but when we find ourselves in the midst of a life that needs to change, going back to the basics is often a good place to start.
As for other women who hold some form of my philosophy in their own lives, my advice would be that it is all about perspective! If you can change the view point that you are looking from to gain more empathy for others and their plights then in that I think there can be a starting point for change.
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