For this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Tana Amen is giving away chapter 1 from the audiobook version of her brand new book “The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child!” In this opening chapter she recalls the moment that changed her perspective on everything (including herself) forever. Enjoy this special episode as a thank you to all of you Brain Warriors who tune in to the podcast each week!
For more info on Tana’s new book, “The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child”, visit https://www.thomasnelson.com/p/relentless-courage-of-a-scared-child/
Daniel G Amen, MD:
Welcome to The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen, BSN RN:
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.
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 amenclinics.com.
The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast is also brought to you by BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to brainmd.com.
Welcome to the fourth episode this week of the Brain Warrior’s Way. And we have a very special gift. We are giving you the first chapter of the The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child in audio. So we hope you will share it. It’s read by a very special friend of ours, it was sort of coincidence, if you believe in coincidence, my publisher chose to read it. She’s a very, very well-known voiceover artist, and she just did a spectacular job with it.
So Gabrielle de Cuir did this book in audio form, and I couldn’t have been happier with it. So please listen to it. Give me your thoughts. I want to hear your comments. You can go to brainwarriorswaypodcast.com. Leave me a comment, share it. I would love for you to share it with as many people as you can. In fact, if you share it with at least 10 people, take a screenshot, let me know that you’ve shared it, and send it to me. Tag me on social media @TanaAmen, or in brainwarriorswaypodcast.com. I will send you a signed copy.
Gabrielle de Cuir:
Chapter one. God picked the wrong person. If you win an argument with God, you lose. If you lose an argument with God, you win. Mark Batterson. Our tastes of heaven sometimes require a trip to hell, preferably round trip. This wouldn’t be the first time I’d been down this road, but this particular journey would forever change me. Though some people lose baggage while traveling, on this day, I would find it. Baggage I didn’t even know I had. On a clear afternoon in May, I drove along the Pacific Coast Highway toward my destination. Sailboats rocked on the crystal blue Pacific Ocean, glimpsed beyond palms that swayed to their own rhythm. But the beauty around me only highlighted my growing distance from the safety of my home as if I wasn’t already acutely aware of the enormous abyss between me and the personal nightmare I was about to face. The task? Speak to a couple hundred junkies at one of the largest inpatient chemical addiction recovery centers in the country. Bad fit, me and them.
Not that I didn’t have plenty of experience dealing with addicts. They had been prevalent in my past, and I avoided them in kind of the same way that cowboys avoid rattlesnakes. As far as I was concerned, you couldn’t tame them, you couldn’t trust them, and you’d better keep your distance if you didn’t want to get bitten. Each mile I drove, lessened the safe space between my hard-won heaven and their self-inflicted hell. I could feel the demons closing in, the dream killers I’d vanished as vigilantly as I’d banished some family members who threatened the serenity of the life I’d finally created, the safety I cherished, the home I would give my life to protect. Stoplight after stoplight, the questions hounded me like an irritating backseat driver. Why had I agreed to do something that caused me to feel such anxiety and resentment? As my humanity graded against my faith, I wondered, “Will, I still get brownie points in heaven if I’m this bitter about helping?”
I’d said yes to the speaking engagement because of [Leslie [00:04:36]. She was the director of this particular facility, a woman who, velvet hammer in hand, managed the nearly 200 addicts there. Nearly all had criminal backgrounds, most had been court ordered to be there, all were high risk projects, and she loved every one of them in a way I did not, could not. Leslie and I had met through my husband, Dr. Daniel Amen, a psychiatrist specializing in brain health. She had become fascinated by Daniel’s research, showing that good nutrition improves brain function and that a better brain leads to a better life. Even more enlightening to her was his research about how poor nutrition could lead to having a smaller brain and typically lower quality of life. Her interest in Daniel’s work had led her to me because I had applied my nursing training and research in metabolic medicine and nutrition to help create the nutrition and lifestyle protocols for the patients we saw at Amen Clinics.
Because of my passion for helping others heal through food, I also taught 12 week courses based on my book, The Omni Diet, that emphasized the power of food in decreasing inflammation, reversing illness and aging, and increasing focus and energy. Leslie had completed one of those courses and told me it changed her life. She’d lost nearly 50 pounds, her skin had cleared, her hot flashes had stopped, and her brain fog had cleared. She’d learned the impact of food on our bodies, that it could be either medicine or poison, and come to the startling realization that the food the rehab center served was inadvertently feeding the residents illnesses. The toxic standard American diet, high sugar, low fiber, full of processed genetically modified food-like substances that lack micronutrients, was making it harder for them to overcome their addictions and learn how to make good decisions.
Originally, Leslie asked Daniel and me to help educate the residents and revamp the menu at the facility. Daniel agreed to help with the former and I agreed to help with the latter. This was an easy yes for me. I would receive the reward of helping without the risk of dealing with addicts, a task Daniel was much better suited for. But then Leslie wanted more. And when it came to these residents she loved, she could be quite persuasive. “Tana,” she asked during one of my visits, “I’d really like you to come and help them personally with their nutrition, the way you helped me.” Then she invited me to get to know them by attending a graduation ceremony that marked a major achievement for the residents who had completed the intensive program. By then, I had come to appreciate the way the program worked. For 12 to 24 months, the residents lived in a cavernous industrial building, transformed into a comfortable residence. The sofas, ping pong tables, and donated art created an oddly pleasant ambience.
They even had a quaint little chapel, but although it involved an all-expense-paid stay, the program was no vacation. It was purposeful. With all their physical needs met, the residents could focus on healing through therapy, acquiring job skills, and learning to live without relying on substances. The nurse in me appreciated the structure, the mission, and even the stories of triumph. Another part of me, a wounded, cynical part, sneered. “What’s the point? Most of them will be back within the year.” Yet, my perfect, “Why, of course,” smile masked my inward grown as I thought, “I agreed to help with the menu, not the people.” But I agreed to go to the graduation if my husband would accompany me. When Daniel and I arrived at the event, I immediately noticed the meticulous planning that had gone into it. The chef had prepared a delicious spread using recipes from my cookbooks. And the common room had been converted into a banquet hall, complete with a dais and festive decorations.
There was a buzz in the air as the graduates waited their turn to speak. When the time for the ceremony arrived, I sat next to Daniel and listened, searching my heart for a thread of empathy for their pain. And I almost found it. Until, that is, I could no longer ignore their repeated refrain about how drugs had ruined their lives and the lives of those they loved. Their stories brought back painful memories from my own past. Exit empathy. Enter judgment. I wanted to be encouraged by their successes, but I felt myself numbing to what I perceived as an endless loop of stupidity, entitlement, and total disregard for others. I tried to laugh at the humorous comments when everyone else did, but my laughter felt hollow and disingenuous. None of it was remotely funny to me. These people weren’t discussing harmless traffic violations. Some had done time for burglary, rape, even manslaughter. I thought, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you just follow the rules? Put in place to keep everyone safe, the same rules the rest of us follow?”
I hated my judgmental musings. Even as I mentally defended them with indignation, my heart pounded. Instinctively, I clutched my purse closer and began scanning the room. I was 43 years old, a black belt in both Taekwondo and Kempo Karate, and a trauma unit nurse. I’d overcome difficult life experiences in excess. When I spent time at the range, I was not hitting golf balls. In other words, I like to believe I was a card carrying bad [inaudible [00:11:18]. I was also a big fan of order and predictability, and I liked the concept of taking responsibility. So why were fear, apprehension, and resentment the only noticeable reactions I could muster in this moment? By the time the evening ended, I was nearly overcome with emotion, but only when Daniel and I were safely ensconced in our car did I let it out? I’m not a crier by nature. So the sight of my mascara-stained tears startled him.
“Did something happen?” he asked with his usual gentle concern. “I don’t think I can come back here,” my voice quivered, “I can’t do this.” “Why not?” The ugly honesty spilled out. “I don’t have the compassion. I need to help these people, Daniel. I think most of them are full of crap and only here because they have to be. I hate drugs and I don’t much like the people who use them. They scare me. How can I help someone I don’t feel compassion for?” My words hung in the silence of the car like a Paul. “God picked the wrong person this time,” I muttered dejectedly. With a smile. I think only husbands and psychiatrists can produce, a smile that was as irritating as it was warm and reassuring, he took my hand. “Honey, God picked the perfect person. You just have to tell them your story. You have to tell them the truth.”
Daniel was as confident as I was not. He thought my background would be a blessing. Well, I saw it as a barrier. He thought our involvement with the rehab center was a great idea. And not simply because we had helped to educate the residents and make their menu more nutritious. Unlike me, Daniel loved people’s stories. It’s why he became a psychiatrist. He liked the walkie talkies, people who preferred to talk about their experiences so that they could heal. Not me. What he called history, I called excuses. As a former trauma unit nurse, I was the person you’d call if your skull had split open when you did a flip off the high dive while drunk and missed the water. I prefer dealing with patients who were sedated and intubated. Daniel was the guy you’d call for the years of PTSD that followed a traumatic episode.
He listened to people’s stories. I didn’t want to hear excuses. His motto was, “It’s easy to call people bad, harder to ask why.” My motto was, “Stop sniveling and take responsibility. Do whatever it takes to get the job done. Meanwhile, don’t whine like a little twit. No one promised you that life would be fair. Fair is a place with bad food and farm animals. Clearly, I was the wrong person to meet face-to-face with a bunch of people who’d made choices I despised. So, why in the world had I said yes when Leslie asked me back to speak to her people? I honestly had no idea. I just knew I was going to do it. Standing in the main room, listening to Leslie introduced me before my talk, I looked down at my freshly painted toes peeking out of my heels, the perfect red nail polish looked as out of place as I felt.
As a health expert, I usually dress to show my level of fitness. It was my calling card. I could only assume that my mostly male audience would be sporting an array of tattered, sweatshirts, threadbare jeans, and an occasional t-shirts spouting Socrates-level wisdom like, “A day without beer is like … Just kidding. I have no idea.” As the butterflies turned in my stomach, I appealed to God with half a dozen fleeting thoughts. I usually wasn’t this nervous before a talk. As I climbed the steps of the platform stage, it’s hard to say who was shouldering the biggest chip, me or my audience. I could feel their eyes on me before I looked at them. It was a well-honed survival instinct I developed as a child, one that told me I was being watched. A blink. That’s how long it took for me to know the intent behind a look. Lust, admiration, envy, jealousy disgust, or just plain boredom. Every such look elicited a visceral feeling. Warning me when anything around me was wrong, dangerous, or suspicious. My Spidey sense had saved my life more than once. So I never ignored it.
And what I sensed in the room that day was resentment, distrust, and frankly, the feeling was mutual. I knew the men and the sprinkling of women in the audience were perusing my physique and assessing the quality of my clothes. I was being judged by a jury of 200 recovering addicts who were at varying levels of withdrawal or sobriety. The obvious verdict, of course, was that I was shallower than low-tide backwash. My confidence ebbed. Gone was the strong, successful business woman and health professional I usually displayed to the world. Instead, I felt like the knock-kneed girl in the school cafeteria trapped in a game of Mean Girls, as if it was only a matter of time before someone threw the Monday mystery meat at me. I felt defenseless and defensive.
Am I a healer or a hostage? I tried to break the ice with some light comments, but my audience was less animated than the presidents on Rushmore, which made me all the more annoyed. Why do any of you have the right to judge me for being healthy, for looking successful, for not being a law-breaking addict, for not being like you? I scanned the room and saw a sea of bored, empty eyes and an occasional look of mild curiosity. People whose arms were crossed and bodies were slouched. A few had already checked out, open mouthed and dead to the world. Their drowsiness triggered by the need for drugs and the effects of detox. I highly doubted that anyone in this crowd cared about the evils of sugar and gluten. Most of them were still jonesing for a pipe or a needle with a tequila chaser.
If they were willing to risk jail, losing their children, and even their lives to follow these addictions, why would they care about the effects of leaky gut or insulin resistance? We were on opposite shores of a vast ocean, speaking different languages, and I had no idea how to crossover. Not that I really wanted to. I just began my speech. When my hands started shaking and my heart started racing, I was doing something I never did. Panicking. I thought I’d left all the memories, behind buried them deep. Now they were stalking me like some horror flick zombie popping up to kill again. “Stop it, Tana,” I told myself, “get your act together, toughen up.” But then something deep within me whispered a reply that stopped me in my tracks. “Tough isn’t what this group needs. They just need you being real.” I wasn’t sure I could trust the voice that was nudging me to drop my guard, but I decided to listen.
That voice was telling me that I needed to level with them. I needed them to see beyond the facade created by the designer shoes, and the well-coiffed hair, and the never-let-them-see-you-sweat disposition. In short, I needed my audience to see that although substances hadn’t been my addiction, I might have more in common with them than they assumed. And then it happened. As if it were a time-released pill that wouldn’t work unless I surrendered my pride and narrow-mindedness, the quick prayer I’d said before my speech finally took hold. “God, please help me set aside my own needs, my pride, and my fear, and focus on the purpose you have for me. Use me as an instrument. Speak through me. If one person out there needs to hear your message, open their ears. I am broken and angry, but you have promised that you can use anyone for your purpose. So, here I am. Prove it. This is not about me. This is about the people in front of me. Finally, please give me patience with these people. Like, right now. Amen.” I stopped and scanned the room. Taking time to look beyond the doubting looks and shabby clothes.
I know what a lot of you are going through, I said. I know a woman in my field of vision twisted her body with an exaggerated harrumph that few could ignore. “Yes?” I asked, thinking a question from her would ignite some buy-in from the audience. “How would you know?” she asked. “I’m sorry?” “How would you know what I’m going through? Look at you. Your life is perfect. You can’t know what I’m going through.” With a flick of her wrist, she dismissed me, the way one might shoo a pesky fly. In that moment, I went from concern, to anger, to total deflation. The words I’d hoped would break the ice had brought me a frigid slap in the face. The group perked up, waiting for my response. I half expected to hear them chant, “Fight, fight. Hit her back.” Like kids during an egging on an afterschool brawl.
My first thought was to snap. “How could you judge me? You don’t know me.” Then, as quickly as I’d had that thought, I was haunted by another one. “How can I blame her?” In a sense, she did know me. I was standing on the stage, literally looking down at her, projecting exactly what I wanted them to see. Since adolescence, I had engineered the perfect mask designed to prevent all but the most persistent from seeing beneath the surface. I had felt protected behind my shield of meticulously applied makeup and carefully chosen clothes until she saw through it. No doubt, they all had. “Lord, why am I here?” As quickly as the question flashed in my mind, the answer came in the words Daniel had said in the car. “God picked the perfect person. You just have to tell them your story. You have to tell them the truth.”
I exhale. “So,” I said, with the blend of defiance and candor, keeping my tears in check, “how many of you are judging me right now?” As if I’d pulled a fire alarm, I suddenly had their attention. A couple of them rolled their eyes or furrowed their brows. Two or three crossed their arms. A few snickered. Though briefly encouraged, I didn’t see anybody raise their hand. “Really?” I asked. “That’s interesting, because I’m certainly judging you.” The room quieted as if my honesty had shattered their own protective armor. In that screaming silence, I thought, “What are you doing, Tana?” I tend to crave security and what I was doing felt anything but secure. This was raw and wildly unpredictable. Instead of seeking shelter behind my protective walls, however, I decided to forge ahead. “Let’s be honest, shall we?” I said, “We’re judging each other.”
I raised my hand. “Seriously. How many are judging me?” After an awkward pause, one hand in the third row went up then another in the back. I simply nodded, more than willing to wait for the truth to touch other hearts. Another hand here, another hand there. Soon, hands were popping up throughout the audience as we confessed to passing judgment without even knowing one another, without knowing our histories, our deeper selves. In that moment, I saw truth. And as the truth shall set you free Bible verse suggests, I could already feel it diluting the presumptions I’d made about my audience. For the first time since I’d walked in that room, I didn’t see addicts or junkies. Instead, I saw wounded children. And I saw me. The me I thought I’d left behind many years before. Each person in front of me was dealing with adult problems and adult consequences.
But the common thread that superseded our diverse backgrounds was childhood pain. As their hands went up and my pride faded away,. My purpose for being there was suddenly crystal clear. If I could help just one person in this room, there would be one less scared child in the world. One less scared little girl who felt like an afterthought. One less scared little boy who had tried to go unseen because invisible felt safer. One less scared child who would go on to become a scared adult in need of healing and forgiveness. But the payoff wouldn’t end there. With one less scared little girl or boy in the world, with more of us choosing differently at the proverbial fork in the road, the carryover would benefit not only this generation, but the one to come, and perhaps the ones to follow. I could help change the world. One scared child at a time. Maybe, I could even change me.
I took a deep breath, peeled back what remained of my mask, and looked at my audience. I was about to meld my mind with people whose lives, I realized, had been no messier than my own. In that moment, I wasn’t a healer or hostage. I was just another beggar looking for a piece of bread. When I first took to that podium, the gap between me and my audience had made the Grand Canyon seemed like a sidewalk crack. But as we began letting down our guards, the gap became a mirror. We weren’t nearly as different as I’d imagined. We all were, or at least had once been, in the same boat, the Titanic. Just like them, I knew what it was like to find myself alone in cold, treacherous water, wondering if anyone was going to come and throw out a life vest. The only difference was that I’d made it safely to shore while they were still flailing in the choppy sea.
Beyond that, something else was suddenly crystal clear. The stage did not belong to a warrior, a black belt, or even a skilled trauma nurse. On this day, the stage belonged to the vulnerable part of me I had worked so hard to leave behind. And yet the very thing I’d been so afraid to do, deal with my past, was the very thing that when revealed, would make this perhaps the most powerful talk I would ever give. In the next hour, in the next weeks, in the next months, these men, and women, and I would build an amazing bridge between us. A bridge built of bricks only God could provide, mortared with the pain of everyone in the room. My own, not only included, but the most conspicuous. It would be as if the open their ears part of my pre-speech prayer had been from my own ears, the ones most in need of hearing.
It wasn’t my first come-to-Jesus moment, nor would it be my last, but the experience would teach me a powerful lesson. Sometimes God calls us to help those we don’t want to help so he can provide healing for the broken parts of us. In other words, the help was for them, but the healing was for me. And, for the rest of us willing to enter the fray, even if it means facing the past and exposing a terrifying vulnerability. “Okay,” I said, completely going off script. “Let me tell you a story.” The rooms stilled with what seemed like a new sense of genuine curiosity. Perhaps even a side dish of respect. It’s a story about a scared little girl. Her name is Tana.
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