Allison T. Garrett of Prison Break Coaching: “You have to Know What That Means”

The first thing you need is to Know Who You Are-You must remember or imagine what it is like to be healed. When I look back at some of my worst days, there was a time when I was doing bad for so long, I forgot what it looked or felt like to be healed […]

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The first thing you need is to Know Who You Are-You must remember or imagine what it is like to be healed. When I look back at some of my worst days, there was a time when I was doing bad for so long, I forgot what it looked or felt like to be healed or whole. So much so I could not even think of a time when I was after a lifetime of loss and change. I had to imagine it. The power to fulfill anything lies within the power to define it. Begin to get to know who the healed you looks like.

The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.

Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.

How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?

In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison T Garrett.

After a lifetime of abuse, addiction and crime, Allison spent time in prison, being sentenced to 7 years as a habitual offender. Allison used her prison time to reinvent herself, transforming her habits, perspectives, and ultimately, her life and went on to start a successful mobile spa business, became an award winning certified life coach, author and TedX Speaker. Allison, known as Americas Prison Break Coach, helps professional women over 40, use their trauma and setbacks to experience more wins in their life.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I actually learned that I was adopted when I was looking to get a passport for travel in my 20’s. My birth certificate was considered ‘amended’ which prompted me to research my birth story. I was born to teenage parents (both 16) who had the desire to care for me however were too young and did not have the support of family. My grandmother and mother were pregnant at the same time and she wanted my mom to help her take care of her baby, urging my mom to put me up for adoption. Fights became pretty normal in the home surrounding my mother’s pregnancy and her decision to keep me. After my birth instead of adoption, my parents put me in temporary foster care hoping to be able to take care of me at some point. Over the course of a few years after my birth my parents continued to visit me regularly through the agency. This eventually took a toll on my mother and she eventually started running away and using drugs. When the agency reached back out to her, noticing her change, they were informed my mother was in the hospital with Leukemia and later died. She was only 19. I was in foster care with the Butler family since my birth and they wanted to adopt me. I could not legally be adopted at that point because they needed by birth father to relinquish his parental rights. It took until I was 7 years old for them to locate him and at that time he had refused, and a hearing was held. It was determined that since I had been with the Butler family since birth it was in my best interest that I remained with them and allowed to be adopted. I grew up in Queens NY with 5 other adopted siblings and foster children that came in and out of the home. There was physical and emotional abuse daily. I was sexually molested by the son of a family friend every time they came to visit and never told anyone. We were considered middle class, had average living conditions and enough food, but we were often called names, given humiliating punishments, received beatings with objects and encouraged to fight one another while my mom watched. They were elderly for foster care/adoptive parents. My mom died suddenly of a heart attack when I was 13 and I dropped out of school in the 8th grade to help care for my 5 siblings. I was doing the laundry, cooking, shopping, their bathing, grooming and even the banking. Two years later my dad died when he went to the hospital for what was supposed to be a minor medical procedure and passed away after a ruptured colon. I ended up running away from the hospital that day and felt like I continued to “run” for most of my life. I moved to Delaware with another family member with the expectation that I should be grateful anyone wanted to take care of me and I never had the opportunity to grieve such a devastating loss.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote for me is “The way to become a good writer is to have a lousy childhood” Ernest Hemmingway. I was a great writer, even as a child. I would receive awards for my book reports and speeches. I loved to read and always enjoyed reading about individuals who had experienced tragedies in their childhood and somehow made something of themselves. The Ernest Hemmingway quote was and is so relevant to me in my life because it made me hopeful that the one thing, I was good at came from the lousy in my life. It’s still relevant today. All the things I am really good at (my purpose) came from some of the least favorable experiences.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

I would have to say my #1 quality that I possess that has helped in my accomplishing is GRIT. The combination of my ability to perceiver combined with my passion to see things manifested in my life, has been my success accelerator. Its like starting a fire. Once I have something in my heart to do, my GRIT is what not only starts that fire but keeps it burning. It remains at the top of my mind so when it shows up in my life, I recognize it because I have seen it before.

#2 I would also say my unrelenting focus. Once I learned that I would become what I thought about ALL DAY LONG, and I knew it to be true from the negative experiences, I made it a practice to think and exclusively focus on what I wanted, opposed to what I did not want, my life changed. There were a lot of odds stacked against me naturally, especially after being incarcerated. I refused to even speak about all the things I would be prohibited from doing or how hard it would be. That was all I would hear people talk about! “No one is going to hire you, the system is against you, you can’t be any of the things you want to be.” It was a fact that in my own city there are 210 professions I am not allowed to work in based on my background. Instead of entertaining that, I focused on a new goal (exclusively) every 30 days. I wrote it on index cards, placed them in my wallet, in my car and even on the bathroom mirror. The messages became engrained in my thoughts and there was eventually no room to focus on what I could not do. Limitations did not exist. Although I was unable to become a psychologist, I did not focus on that. Instead, I became trained and certified as a life (NLP) coach which allows me to do the same rewarding work and impact lives.

#3 Resourcefulness would have to be the third quality that contributed to my success. When others see limited resources, I have been able to be creative and use my knowledge to make it happen. I developed an abundance mindset that says there is more than enough opposed to a scarcity mentality which suggests there is not enough. I believe if I have an idea, I must already have what I need to bring it to fruition. There is never a lack of resources, only one’s ability to be resourceful. When I would think I did not have support for something I would force myself to write a list of at least 20 people who would be able to help. Even if I was not able to enlist the support of all 20, I at least could see ‘possibility’ and that would immediately reduce my stress from believing I did not have it.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?

Absolutely. I honestly believe that sharing our stories of loss and life change is tremendously helpful in the process of healing oneself and assisting the healing in others. I experienced the loss of parents at a young age, I was in an abusive relationship for over 15 years, I lost my brother to gun violence in a case of mistaken identity and his case went unsolved for 16 years, and I went through a divorce at a very difficult time in my life, however my most disparaging loss was the loss of freedom when sentenced to prison.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

What is interesting I think the scariest part of any of these events was the thought of never being able to recover. There is this moment when you think to yourself, “I can’t make it…. how will I be able to live without ___________(whatever I was losing at the time)” The worst thing that could have happened to me was always the thought of death. I am not really sure why. Maybe because I had witnessed so much death, there was a part of me that felt like I would die. Not only die. I was afraid that I would die without becoming better, never healing from so much loss in my life.

How did you react in the short term?

In the short term I reacted emotionally. There was a whole lot of crying. Then I would be angry. I think I spend much of my life being angry at everything and everyone. I blamed God for allowing me to suffer and I questioned why me. My very existence I would question. It made me depressed and sad. I would cry out that I just wanted to me ‘normal’. I did not think I was. How was I born to go through so much pain?

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?

I used writing as a coping mechanism. I call it Memoir Therapy. I would write my feelings in a very detailed way. It was like Dear Diary. The things I wrote were the things I felt like I could never share with anyone. I felt they would either dismiss me or not be able to help anyway. My library is filled with journals. Sometimes I read through them and I cannot believe where. I came from. There was so much desperation in the words. I believed letting go of it on those pages was a powerful way to release the negative feelings and emotions.

Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?

I was able to let go and heal by reframing the event. I would literally recreate the story but with a positive spin. The stories I was telling myself about an event was more about what I thought about it and less about the facts. If some one left me instead of sharing a story of abandonment, I reframed it in a way that suggested it was to make room for someone new (just an example).

Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?

It was not just enough to let go, I had to make it lasting for any loss or life change. I had to learn the faster I could see myself as being responsible for how I respond, the faster I could move into the next chapter of life surrounding the event. It is not like getting over it but finding a way to accept that it could not have happened any other way. I can shift emotionally when I accept that I cannot control what already happened however I can control how I respond vs react and find a lesson in it some way. I also remind myself that the negative emotions are not from the actual event but the feelings, thoughts and meanings I have created surrounding it.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

I would have to say my children and amazing support of family and friends. They made me see that I am enough and what happened to me in the past does not matter to them. It reminds me that what others may think of me is not my business so I can continue the journey of healing without judgement. I think worrying if you are getting it right can get in the way of healing. They embrace me with love in a way that reminds me that there is no right or wrong. There just is. The past is gone, the future has not happened yet, all we have is now.

Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?

I totally turned the loss and life changes I went through into a positive by helping others. I became an open book sharing things that may people would be afraid or ashamed to share. I compel them. When I broke free and changed my life, I made a firm commitment to help others do the same. Because I know loss and change on many levels, I serve as a peer mentor to so many who feel like they are alone. While everyone’s path to healing is available, it is not linear. My path may be very different from someone else’s, but I believe we have nothing to lose from trying. Sharing and healing go hand in hand. I will always be transparent and share my story and help women use their setbacks and traumas experience more wins in life.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?

I learned that I am not what happened to me. I am not a failure, and no matter how many times I have failed, I always have an opportunity to begin again. I learned that I am definitely stronger than I thought I was. Everything I thought I would never make it through, I am clearly on the other side and thriving. I learned that my purpose is more important than my past. I used to believe no one wanted to hear what I had to say. I guess I was wrong. Being an ward winning speaker dispels that myth I created in my head.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. The first thing you need is to Know Who You Are-You must remember or imagine what it is like to be healed. When I look back at some of my worst days, there was a time when I was doing bad for so long, I forgot what it looked or felt like to be healed or whole. So much so I could not even think of a time when I was after a lifetime of loss and change. I had to imagine it. The power to fulfill anything lies within the power to define it. Begin to get to know who the healed you looks like.
  2. You have to Know What That Means- Now what you have remembered or imagined what healing feels and looks like, what will it mean for you to be healed. What will your more supportive story mean to you? Maybe it means you can spend quality time and enjoy family and friends. We can often forget there are still people who count on us. Know your WHY behind healing. Embrace that you deserve healing, and you actually can.
  3. You have to Accept Where You Have Been- You do that by acknowledging your suffering. This was a hard one for me. I was always considered “the strong one”. Being strong to me meant that I had to always just say ‘I’m fine’. It meant pretending that I was not suffering and wearing a mask became natural to me. It was not until I became mentally exhausted trying to keep it all together and not even sharing when I had bad days. I finally blurted out “I AM NOT OK AND HAVE NOT BEEN FOR A REALLY LONG TIME” It is OK to not be OK. Accepting and acknowledging your suffering is a non-negotiable in the healing journey.
  4. You have to Know Where You Are Going-You drive the bus. You and you alone are responsible to get there. Healing is not for a back seat driver. It is not an easy road, but it is simple. You may be taking baby steps for a really long time or leaps and bounds really quickly. Some things may be easier than others. It will take you to determine what practices work for you and be focused, intentional and persistent. Commit to a few minutes a day and increase the time when it is not overwhelming. It could be journaling, meditation, reading, prayer and even visualization. Knowing where you are going will allow your intuition to lead you on the path. It does not happen overnight and if not now when? It will be worth it.
  5. You have to Know How To Get There- One of the greatest lessons I leaned in my journey to healing was to look inside myself for healing. I had so many …(If only this person would apologize, If someone just understood what I was going through, that other person is the reason why….If only they would help me, I am this way because he….) and that put healing into the hands of others. I could remember searching for one of the best doctors that would help me heal and change. If you are looking to others for answers exclusively, healing will always elude you. Think of when you get a cut. You may seek medical attention to get stiches or medication to prevent an infection, however the cut will naturally begin to clot and eventually scab over, rebuild new skin and strengthen while its still healing. Doctors, mentors, and coaches are a great way to support you during the process of healing, but it is ultimately an important purpose of your life. No one else can heal you but you.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would inspire a movement to the schools in the elementary stages. I believe that if we could somehow incorporate these learnings in young children (most of them experience their first loss or life change between the ages of 5–12) we would raise young adults who understand the importance of healing and how to practice it. This would greatly impact the world over time once traumatized child at a time.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

I have, like many, always admired Oprah Winfrey and she has always provided a platform to be seen or heard. I see myself as a thought leader and would love to just have a conversation about her latest project “What Happened To You” over brunch with mimosas. I have shared the message of trauma and the importance of healing it ever since I learned it was a real thing. She’s my auntie in my head!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I would love to connect with your readers!

Here’s the link to my TEDx Talk

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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