How Living In Survival Mode Landed Me In Prison

Atoya Hodges | O/X Society | KNOW Raleigh

I was headed to the office, running late as usual – typical for a Wednesday, or any other day of my life, for that matter. As I was cruising down the road, my Bluetooth beeped to tell me that I had a call. I connected, said hello, and my life changed forever.

“Hi, this is Special Agent Doe (name changed for protection) from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We are investigating your former boss.”

I completely forgot I was driving until I looked up and realized I was about to slam into the back of a car. Screaming, I ran off the road and hit a mailbox, barely missing the car in front of me. Over Bluetooth, I could hear the agent asking if I was ok. Was I ok? How could he even ask that question? The FBI was investigating someone I had worked for, and now I was apparently going to be part of the investigation. How COULD I be ok? Then I realized that he was probably referring to the screaming coming at him over the line, not my current mental state. I told him what had just happened and assured him I was physically unhurt.

We both felt it was best to schedule another appointment once I was not sitting in a ditch.

Looking back now, I realize that sliding into a ditch screaming was the perfect analogy for my life at the time.

 Childhood trauma left me constantly trying to prove to everyone that I was worthy. I had lived 45 years hustling every day, never catching up, always fighting and clawing to stay ahead. I started business after business. I earned two bachelor’s degrees, three masters, and over 50 certifications, to make sure I had education to shield me from my past. I would never go through poverty, hunger, or abuse ever again. I would never allow my child to experience even a fraction of horrors I suffered. Running from the trauma directed my life.

Running left me in a bad place. My highest goal was to not have a terrible day. Having a GOOD day wasn’t even an option. From the moment I woke up, dread washed over me. Before I would even open my eyes, I knew that I had no joy to look forward to, but I had to get at it anyway. I never had enough sleep, which made it hard enough to get moving, but then pile several inboxes of hundreds of emails that I knew were waiting for me on top, as well as the guilt that came with them, and it’s a wonder I ever opened my eyes. Everything was urgent, and I was permanently behind. Each day was about surviving until the next day.


I couldn’t take time for excellence. Everything I did had to be just good enough to not start its own fire. I had no pride in my work because that no longer existed for me. Pride was for other people. The hottest fire got my attention at any given moment, and every moment was on fire. I could never think straight, my brain was always swirling, and I couldn’t concentrate on just one thing at a time. I relentlessly willed myself to calm down, but they were empty words in my head.


The stress began to manifest in my body. My breathing was odd and forced. My heart beat erratically. My sciatic nerve started shooting fire down my legs, so I started pain medication. Then I found out that I had herniated discs. More medication. The pain increased to the point that I had to get quarterly epidural steroid injections. Panic attacks began. I added anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants. My blood pressure went through the roof and they couldn’t figure out why. Two more medications. My weight ballooned, I was constantly sick, and then a disc in my neck collapsed and I had to have surgery to fuse my vertebrae. More pain meds.


I was a broken, over-committed people-pleaser with zero boundaries. I mismanaged myself, my time, my health, and my family. The rage and terror from my childhood trauma built me a life of unrelenting chaos and pain. And then the FBI called.


Two weeks after I got out of that ditch, I walked into an unmarked concrete building. A large officer patted me down, and I had to turn over all my personal belongings while FBI agents watched. The building looked like a typical office, with hallways and doors at regular intervals. However, when we got into the elevator, we went down past the numbered floors. Floors you wouldn’t have known existed. All I could think about was my cousin yelling at me not to go to this meeting without an attorney. I had been certain I didn’t need an attorney. I hadn’t committed any crimes and they were investigating my former boss, not me. Walking with the agents, the realization that I had made a huge mistake by not having legal representation spread like ice from my head to my feet. My life of chaos was coming to a dangerous peak.


After a two-year process (including hiring an attorney!) I was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.


I didn’t deserve this. I was a good person. I followed the rules. I did the right thing, but I was getting punished anyway. I had no idea that survival mode could intensify, but it did. The feds were in charge now. Until my sentence was served, I belonged to the system. When my family and friends dropped me off at the facility, I acted as strong as I could, assuring them that I would be fine, keeping up the façade of control. I believed it myself. I even believed it for a couple of months into prison life. I stayed as busy as I was allowed to be, emailing and phoning people on the outside about what I wanted them to do to try to keep up the house of cards I had built. I couldn’t let myself believe that I was going to lose everything. But I did lose everything. I couldn’t keep the chaos running from prison, so it all started to crumble.


I crumbled with it.


It was all over. This wasn’t like the movies, where the mafia don is able to keep his empire thriving while behind bars. I tried to keep it all going, and I failed. My businesses failed. Several relationships that I thought were solid failed. My money was gone. My family and friends were many hundreds of miles away. I was alone and powerless.


However, along with the powerlessness, there was also nothing pressing on me. There were no fires to put out, and I couldn’t set one if I wanted to. There were no people to please, I couldn’t make any commitments, and the prison system set my boundaries for me. The told me what to eat and what to drink and when to do it. They made me exercise every day. My breathing started to feel more normal. Some of my physical pain lessened. I learned what it felt like to have a full night’s sleep. Slowly, gradually, in the little pile that was whatever was left of me, I felt freedom for the first time in my life.


I adjusted to my new temporary one-year world. I taught business development and bookkeeping classes. I became a GED teacher. As I was helping others, I was also helping myself. Being ripped away from my old life and shoved into this new one left me with time to think. I realized that I had spent my entire life in prison. I had built the walls myself in survival mode, created from the trauma, pain, and hurt from my past. Helping, loving, appreciating, and respecting people was natural for me. While I was in prison, I realized I needed to love and respect myself as well. From my 20 years of working in mental health, I understood the power of our mental ability. I just ignored mine for years.


When I was released from the federal facility, I began focusing on my healing journey, to release myself from the mental walls I had built. I didn’t want to go back to the way things had been before. I couldn’t go back. I decided to get another degree, but this time, it wouldn’t be a shield. This time, it was to help me and help others like me. In healing myself, I discovered that I was uniquely situated. My life of survival, my time in prison, my whole life, had all come together to allow me to truly understand and help others.


My life in survival mode before prison had been full of anxiety, depression, addiction, and mismanagement. My emotions, pain and trauma had nowhere else to go, so they were trying to get my attention through my health – weight gain, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, addictions, surgeries, injuries, and body pain. My body, mind and soul had been screaming at me for years, but it wasn’t until I hit the ditch that I began to listen.


Don’t hit a ditch to realize you need to change. You are getting the messages just like I was. Stop ignoring them. I’m one click away.

Lynne Kimmich

More About Atoya

Dr. Atoya Hodges spent her childhood in the background. She witnessed domestic violence, drug abuse, homelessness, and her mother’s death all before she was 19. Atoya tried to keep these painful memories hidden. She threw herself into work and education, but no amount of money or success worked. She found herself getting increasingly angry, numb, and eventually, suicidal. Then, she made a discovery that changed the course of her life. Atoya realized she was stuck in a bad place because she’d never been taught how to lead herself out of it. She incorporated her 15 years of therapy experience and also started learning everything she could about healing, earning her PhD in Hypnotherapy and Hypnosis and getting certified in a variety of spiritual and emotional healings. She found power in these healing modalities and made it her life’s work to bring the techniques to as many people as possible. Atoya launched The Blueprint Method. A method that is infused with various holistic and spiritual modalities that have truly transformed thousands of lives. She also created the OX Society, a community of healing that helps guide people out of their trauma and into a more rich and meaningful life. Members learn how to heal themselves through coaching, programs, and now, the OX Mind Gym App, which puts the power of mental and spiritual health in the hands of anyone who needs it.