Do lots and lots of deep treatments, use rich conditioners, stop shampooing often (if you havent already) and definitley start using products. In order for most curlies to go product free you need to have very healthy hair. Your hair does not seem like it is in tip top condition so it isnt going to look good without products.
Some great cheap gels are the ones in the herbal essences line: totally twisted, body envy, and set me up.
Also I dont know if you've read the Curly Girl (by Lorraine Massey) book or not, but if you havent i strongly suggest you do. It helped me so so much after I too straightened my hair for years.
Growing out hair to a little above bsl