How An Actor Overcame His Addictions, with Chris Browning

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Character actor Chris Browning was watching his life slowly turn into a cautionary tale due to his struggles with substance abuse when he finally found his path to redemption. He learned that “humility isn’t thinking less or yourself, but rather thinking of yourself less.” In this final episode of a series with Chris, he and Tana discuss how finding the purpose to help others led to the triumphant conclusion of his comeback story.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And, I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
So this is our last episode this week with Chris Browning. If you haven't heard the other three, please listen. It's just a crazy story but a great story. It's a great story because it's real life. It's what we see. It's hard life. But it's the story of comeback, and I just love how honest you've been willing to be. It's been so great. Your story with addiction, your recovery, and we got to scan your brain and show you how much better it can be. And we're going to rescan you in a couple months.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Well, that was a little disconcerting when your husband's like, "Yeah, we took a picture of your brain." Oh, but I know it can't be the worst.
Tana Amen: No, not even close. And even said, one thing he did say, because people always latch onto that part, so let me remind you.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Especially an alcoholic.
Tana Amen: Right. So let me remind you of the part where you said, considering... Obviously, you have been not bad to your brain for 15 years now. You've been really trying to be good to it. And so that's why it looks as good as it does.
Chris Browning: And we're not past the point of no return.
Tana Amen: Absolutely not.
Chris Browning: That's what I-
Tana Amen: You have a lot of hope, and it's not going to take that long.
Chris Browning: And there's stuff we can do.
Tana Amen: Yes.
Chris Browning: And that means I get to come back. I had to do all that. By the way, thank you. These people are wonderful and I don't know how I manifested you, but thank you for showing up.
Tana Amen: Thank you. And we're grateful to you as well. This is going to help a lot of people. I'm serious. I'm really grateful to you also.
Chris Browning: Well, I'm volunteering if there's ever anything more I can do in this thing, please ask because it helps me, keeps me sober.
Tana Amen: Well, and that's what we're talking about. We're talking about purpose.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Well that's the thing. I'm not just this purposeful Gandhi of a guy. I'm an alcoholic and a drug addict, so I'm selfish and self centered by nature. That's my default mode. So I finally got willing and humble enough to take suggestions and direction from other people, and I stuck around for three months and started getting that rewards, the things that I'd never felt before. I'd come in, come around and try to get sober for a month or two and just be miserable. Called white knuckling. And it's a **** feeling when you know for a fact you're going to use again. You're getting together with people in recovery and you're like, "Yeah, they have something. I don't have it. I'm not done. I know I'm..." And it's a horrible feeling.
And so when I finally got three months, I was comfortable enough in my own skin and I was looking people in the eye. And I didn't have a secret. There wasn't anything on my breath. There wasn't anything wrong with my pupils. This is me like it or not, take it or leave. And it was something that really puts you back straight and puts a bounce in your step, gives you a confidence. Gave me one that I'd never had before. And that came from taking direction from these people that had been doing it a while, one of the things I used to hear from people like old timers, as they say, people who've been doing it sober for a while. One of the things I would hear would be, "You know what kid, I think you might be too smart to get this thing." And I was like, "Well, that's-"
Tana Amen: Oh, that's a really good point.
Chris Browning: And that was definitely the route-
Tana Amen: Because you could rationalize why.
Chris Browning: Yeah, I would think my way out of it and go, "Yeah, I don't need to do all that. I'll do some of that and a little bit of that. But all those, nah. I don't need that because I'm smarter than everybody." And that kept me in a lot of pain for a lot of years. But the other thing was I heard was, "Quit whining. Go help somebody." And I don't know why it works. I don't do it because I'm Gandhi. I do it because it feels good because I'm an addict. I'm all about feeling good, and I never would have thought that it could feel so good to help people.
Tana Amen: Right.
Chris Browning: But it's awesome.
Tana Amen: It really does, doesn't it? That's what we try and tell people. If you are trying to recover from, whether it's depression, substances, I don't care what it is. If you go help someone, it takes you out of yourself. It takes you out of yourself just for a little while and it can make you grateful for something. And purposeful people live longer and they're happier.
Chris Browning: Stuff comes to you. It's like the universe is going, "I see what you're doing and I'm going to reward that." You're around people that are positive, positive things happen for you. So there's a lot of selfish reasons that I do it. But I opened a treatment center. My first wife and I and another couple, we were asked to open a treatment center in Taos, New Mexico. That was like the best year. I was around for a couple of years. But the opening of that... Once we got to the patients and parents and all that involved, it stopped being fun.
Tana Amen: Right. It's work now.
Chris Browning: Building it... Yeah. Building it and being there and you're just knowing that you're doing something to help people. It was one of the best years ever.
Tana Amen: Well, and even when I was trying to schedule your appointment to come down here and be on the podcast and get your scan, you were funny. You're like, "Well, I'm feeding the homeless on that day so..." We were trying to schedule. And I'm like, "That's cool." I mean, that's what you're doing. And so-
Chris Browning: And that just comes from there's people that like Donna Jericho, we just did this movie with. And she's the one that told me about it. And I'm like, "I do that. I do that every year. I'm doing that." I didn't know that she was going to be at it as well. But it's like, yeah, well now I'm definitely going to do it. And they asked me. There was a lot of press there and they asked me about it. Why here and why are you doing this? And I said, "Because I've been in this line. I've been in this line." And now I'm in a line of plate runners or in the back doing steamed vegetables or whatever in my place in line and whatever. But I've been in that line and how can you not if you've never been in that line?
Tana Amen: And most of those people... I mean, it's funny because other people see you, they know you and Hollywood's all about who's who. But a lot of those people, they don't care. They don't know. They're too gone. They're too hurt. They're too down. But you're still there helping them. They're not feeding your ego. They're just there.
Chris Browning: Yeah, no. In fact, a lot of them are really just not grateful at all. Some of them are just, they treat you awfully, but they're just really in pain.
Tana Amen: But they're also, like you said before, their souls have been hijacked. Their brains have been hijacked. So see, that's something we know. Those drugs hijack your brain and your soul.
Chris Browning: Oh yeah. I mean, I've been very selfish and entitled and rude and had been in that place before where you want to bitch about something. And I don't know, it's just something good always comes up. Humility isn't thinking less of yourself. It's thinking of yourself less. And I love that. I love that because if I'm thinking about someone other than myself, good's going to come from it. I mean, if nothing else, because I've stopped thinking about myself. Just if that's all, it's better.
Tana Amen: I totally agree with you and it's not always easy to do because we're all a little bit selfish. But that's why taking those steps to be intentional and be purposeful with other people and help other people are so important because it takes you out of yourself.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Well, I think you have to be doing that for yourself. Anything though. If it's trying to get in shape or trying to get sober or trying to whatever, if you're doing it for someone else, it better be about you before too long because it just doesn't work.
Tana Amen: That's what we often say is you've got to get your why right or you'll never do the what. You got to get the why right. So your why has got to be big enough to move the what.
Chris Browning: Yeah. And I've seen it. I've seen it work where people, they try to get sober because of a spouse or a nudge from the judge. It's like you want to go to prison and you want to do this or you want to go to jail or you want to go to treatment. And so a lot of times I don't care what gets you in the door, but it has to be you that stays there. It's got to be for you. And plenty of people, myself included, have needed it for 20 years. I needed it, but until I wanted it, I had no chance.
Tana Amen: Right. You have to want it. I love that.
Chris Browning: And that's the thing, the gift of willingness. You hear that a lot because I did. I got to that point where I didn't care. I was like, "You tell me to stand on my head butt naked in the corner and yodel, I'll do it. Just tell me what you want me to do."
Tana Amen: The pain was driven it.
Chris Browning: Yeah. Yeah. And as soon as I got that mindset, good things happened. It's amazing too that I see it in my kids. I see my kids doing lovely things because-
Tana Amen: Because it's been modeled for them.
Chris Browning: Because I'm sober. Yeah.
Tana Amen: Yes. And because you're modeling it for them.
Chris Browning: Yeah.
Tana Amen: And just think how far ahead of the game they're going to be. So one of the things... So my book that I'm writing right now, which is really funny. We haven't talked much about some of the differences in our lives. The book I'm writing right now is about breaking that cycle in the next generation and so it's based on my life story, which was pretty ugly. But mine starts off with, I'm just going to say it. I was a judgmental witch.
I'm sitting in front of a bunch of drug addicts. That's when I had my epiphany. I was teaching. I was speaking at the Salvation Army to 200 addicts, and I am having the most vile thoughts. I'm angry. I literally, I left. I told Daniel, I go, "I can't do this anymore. I cannot do this. I cannot come back." And I started crying and he goes, "Why?" And I go, "Because I don't like these people." I don't have empathy. I don't have compassion. I can't help people. And I told him, I looked at him, I said, "God picked the wrong person." And if you know my husband, which most of the listeners know something about him, he's got this very sweet, empathic little smile that only psychiatrists and husbands have I think. It's so annoying. It's really annoying. "Honey, God-"
Chris Browning: Because he's always right.
Tana Amen: Yes. "God picked the perfect person." I'm like, ah. I was just fighting that because... But then the book, that's how my book opens and then it flashes back to my childhood where my uncle was murdered in a drug deal. And I had people breaking in my house. My mom's shooting the gun in the house. And I mean, there's a reason that I felt that way. It didn't just start out of nowhere.
But it ends with this epiphany that I have that if... Like I start a prayer and somehow that prayer was answered, and all of a sudden I looked out and I didn't see them or addicts. I'm like, "Oh my God, there they were scared children just like I was." It's like, if I can help one of those people, that's one less scared child in the world. And it just was this massive turnaround in my own world. And from that point, it completely changed my life. It changed the purpose and the direction and the trajectory of my life.
So I am coming from a little bit of the opposite place that you are. But it's funny how you can end up in the same place.
Chris Browning: Pain. Pain.
Tana Amen: Yeah.
Chris Browning: You were in pain.
Tana Amen: But we were all scared children at one point. That's where we all started. And I sat there thinking to myself, "Where were these people before they started doing drugs?" They were probably scared little kids like I was at something.
Chris Browning: That's what I thought about that Gus, Gus guy. He was 30 and looked 60. But he was one of those guys that you could still see the little boy with the skinned knee.
Tana Amen: Broken.
Chris Browning: Crying about a booboo on his knee or something.
Tana Amen: And maybe someone wasn't there to help him. Who knows?
Chris Browning: Yeah. That's wonderful.
Tana Amen: And then we start here, but we can meet in this place in the middle with healing. It's pretty cool.
Chris Browning: Wow. That is cool.
Tana Amen: So that's why when I heard your story, I'm like, that's got to be a book or a movie. It just has to be. It's like the other side of the fence from mine, and it's just an amazing story.
Chris Browning: Well I want to do it. I mean, you heard it here first. I'm going to write a book and it's because of you.
Tana Amen: Because I pushed him.
Chris Browning: Yeah, but you brought it to Daniel. He's like onboard, and it's like you guys just decided, "No, we're going to help him make this happen."
Tana Amen: Yeah. I want to hear from you guys. How many of you, if not yourselves, have someone you love that this is a story that you can relate to? So either my story, which you were on the other side of it, and you're judgmental and you don't want to help and you don't want to get involved because you're scared. Or you are the person who really has struggled and either you haven't come back from it yet or you're trying to find a way back from it or you have come back? Almost everyone's been touched by it. So would love to hear your comments, your questions. You know we love to read your questions. When we're not having a guest, we answer questions and talk to our people. So send it to us.
Chris Browning: Oh, I want to come back and read questions.
Tana Amen: Oh, I would love that. Yeah. When you come back to do your scan, let's do that.
Chris Browning: Yeah.
Tana Amen: All right, so send your questions in because Chris Browning is going to help us read them.
Chris Browning: My book isn't going to be some how-to by the guy who figured it out because I am far from that guy.
Tana Amen: No, we want to hear your story.
Chris Browning: Yeah. I'll tell you my story, but I'm one stupid mistake away from being right back on the streets. I can't. That's just-
Tana Amen: But knowing that is probably part of what keeps you-
Chris Browning: Knowing that, yeah. Rather than being bulletproof like I was before where like, "Oh, I can do this. I won't get addicted. I can..." There was all these lines in the sand that I was wiping them and making new lines like every week. I was doing that, but I'll never do that. Next week I'm doing that and going, "Yeah. But I would never-"
Tana Amen: But that's the bars here. Now I've been in-
Chris Browning: You know how you hear about reaching bottom. You've reached your bottom when, whatever. Best definition I've ever heard for the bottom is you've reached your bottom when circumstances around you are declining faster than you can lower your standards. Isn't that great?
Tana Amen: That's pretty good.
Chris Browning: Because I couldn't keep up with the lines. It's like, "Aw, forget it."
Tana Amen: Just let it go.
Chris Browning: Yeah. I'm a piece of ****.
Tana Amen: So now I have no standards.
Chris Browning: I have no standard. I have no standard.
Tana Amen: Wow. That's pretty honest.
Chris Browning: There are some I never things that I'm proud of as far as... Because I saw a lot of people and especially in jail, I saw a side of humanity that I don't even like knowing that those people that really exist. There's some dark, dark people and just dead on the inside killers. There's a lot of things that I didn't ever do. I never victimized people.
Tana Amen: Just yourself.
Chris Browning: Yeah. When I was on the street, people are robbing and ripping people and beating them down and taking their ****. And I never did that. I never could do that, and I could steal from supermarkets and **** like that. I tried to make an amends to them.
Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.
Chris Browning: And I'm like, I can't begin to pay back the million dollars that I stole from you over the years, but I'd like to start just to be paying on it.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Chris Browning: They didn't have a column for that.
Tana Amen: Oh, interesting.
Chris Browning: It was like, "We can't."
Tana Amen: They written it off already. It's gone.
Chris Browning: Yeah. No, they're like, make a donation to a thing or something. But they don't have... Yeah, it's written off. The books are balanced. You'll screw it up. If you give us that money, we don't know what to do. It'll throw off everything.
Tana Amen: So go help someone else.
Chris Browning: And I'm like, "Oh, that's fine. All I need to do was make the gestures. So we're good. Thanks."
Tana Amen: What is that? Step four.
Chris Browning: Nine.
Tana Amen: Nine. Okay. Interesting.
Chris Browning: In 12 step programs, which I'm not endorsing or denying or what is the word? I can neither confirm or deny.
I don't care what people do to get sober. And everybody's program is different. Some people, they do this kind of thing and they supplement it with this spiritual belief in this pursuit. And I don't care what anybody's thing is. If you're not lying, cheating and stealing and using, then more power to you, whatever it is, whatever your little thing. If I can lay my head down and go, "I didn't lie, cheat or steal today." And if I was wrong, I fixed it because that's a thing. I get into a thing with somebody and just be like, "That asshole,." I'm walking around taking poison for this guy. He doesn't even remember.
Tana Amen: He doesn't care.
Chris Browning: He doesn't care. Yeah.
Tana Amen: He doesn't know. Right.
Chris Browning: Yeah. So now I got to go, "Hey, you know that thing? I was out of line, man. I'm sorry, whatever." And then it's clean, and I don't have to... That's not on my list when I go to bed, I'm not carrying that. And that's been a big thing because I'm that guy that can hold onto that for a long time.
Tana Amen: Well, and the thing that I noticed about you when I met you was just how raw and open you were. And I appreciate that. So that was just a really nice quality to meet in people because you don't see it very often. And someone who's just really... Like it's funny when you talked about not being comfortable in your own skin because the word I would use is comfortable in your own skin. That's how you seem to me. So you were just like completely wide open with who you are and that's just not... Most people are trying to...
Chris Browning: Really?
Tana Amen: Oh yeah, no, most people are wearing facades like crazy.
Yeah. So it was really refreshing.
Chris Browning: I'm totally petrified in here right now.
Tana Amen: You don't seem that way. You're just telling us everything.
Chris Browning: See, guys. I'm an actor.
Tana Amen: Right. Well we appreciate-
Chris Browning: You think I'm well adjusted and comfortable. No, I'm a much more so today.
Tana Amen: Well, and we just really appreciate this. I love the saying pain shared is pain divided. And when someone is willing to step up and share their pain, somehow someone else out there that's in pain is like, "Oh, okay. I'm not alone and there's hope for me." So that's why I just really appreciate you being here telling your story.
Chris Browning: And I get to come back.
Tana Amen: Looking forward to that book. Absolutely. Yep. Help you get that written.
Chris Browning: And you guys write about whether or not you want to read the book.
Tana Amen: Yes. Please let us know. Send us questions, comments.
Chris Browning: We're doing a whole proposal thing and we need your data.
Tana Amen: Yes. And make sure you share this with someone that you know that's suffering. That's either recovering or suffering or just needs some hope.
Chris Browning: And you can reach me through the show anytime you guys got a question or you want somebody advice or something.
Tana Amen: That's awesome.
Chris Browning: From someone who's just making it up a day at a time like the rest of us.
Tana Amen: Yeah, no, we appreciate that.
Chris Browning: Just talking with another one, that's where it keeps me sober.
Tana Amen: Love it. Thanks.
Chris Browning: Thanks.
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