Dr. B.J. Davis on Freedom from Self-Doubt at TEDxSacramentoSalon (Transcript)

Dr. B.J. Davis

This is the full transcript of clinical director of Strategies for Change, Dr. B.J. Davis’ TEDx Talk: Freedom from Self-Doubt at TEDxSacramentoSalon conference.

Dr. B.J. Davis – Clinical director of Strategies for Change

I work as a co-director at a substance abuse and co-occurring mental illness treatment agency. And not a day goes by that I take that for granted.

In 1999, I paroled from prison for the second time. For the second time. Apparently once wasn’t enough for me. Yeah, it’s pretty scary. That’s me.

All told, I spent over eight years in prison on probation or on parole for numerous felony drug charges. For 10 years, I woke up smoking crack every morning and went to bed smoking crack every night. I spent most of my time trying to escape the helpless, hopeless reality of my life by getting high.

On the worst day, I remember selling an $8,000 car that my mom had given me, that I’d left to my crack dealer for [44] $20 rocks. That memory is so painful that actually this is the first time I’ve ever shared it publicly. I came as close to giving up on life as one can without jumping off.

But something extraordinary happened to me the second time I went to prison. About two months into my sentence, I got a letter from my ex-wife telling me that my mother, the person I professed to love and care about more than anyone in the world had had a heart attack and was likely going to die. This wasn’t my biological mother who had abandoned me shortly after I was born. But the real mother who had raised me as her own for all of my life.

I was forced to look at what kind of person I had become and the person I had become was not easy to look at. Because I had become the son who would not be there to comfort his 77-year old mother laying all alone in a stark hospital room when she needed him the most, because of my selfish need to escape my realities by getting high.

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In a moment of brutal honesty, I had to — it meant I had been living a lie. I was not the loving son or the faithful partner or the supportive father or the good citizen that I had been telling everyone including myself for years. It was then that I decided that I needed to try to change my life into something that I and my mother, wherever she might be, could be proud of. And a tiny seed of change was planted deep inside me.

So after my release from prison, I decided I would go back to school. Because I figured what better place can a middle aged 240-pound black ex-convict go to blend in then a white bread community college, with a whole bunch of twenty something coeds. But I was fortunate — I was fortunate because at the local junior college where I landed I ran into two instructors that changed my life. It was my interactions with these instructors that helped me to regain the self-worth and purpose and meaning and confidence that my drug use and drug related lifestyle had stolen from me.

I’ll never forget the moment that I realized, that I understood, that I could create my own miracle. It all started when I went up to one of Professor [Cena’s] office hours fishing for some special praise because that had become my new drug of choice. She listened to me describe some super cool thing I had just done and with no pomp and circumstance she looked at me and said, “Isn’t it amazing, BJ, what a person can do when they start believing in themselves?” And then as if nothing special had happened she turned back to her desk in what she was doing.

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