Tana Amen: The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child
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Tumultuous Early Years
Childhood was anything but peaceful and secure, Tana says of her early years. The list of agonies she endured is a long one: Her father left shortly after her birth, which would later make her feel abandoned. While her mother loved Tana fiercely, she also worked very long hours to provide for them, which meant Tana was often lonely. Two early babysitters included her drug-addicted uncles, Bob and Ray. The latter was murdered by a motorcycle gang when Tana was four, traumatizing the whole family. Her dad married several more times and reappeared at various intervals throughout her life. Though he became a pastor, his character left her with a distrust for both God and men. Years later her mom remarried, but soon afterward, the new husband started molesting then 11-year-old Tana. Thankfully, her mom believed her and the stepfather was soon gone for good. Several years later while walking to school, Tana was groped by a stranger and nearly raped, but was able to escape.
By her young adult years, Tana’s life bore the fruit of her chaotic youth. Her 20s were marked by severe depression, thyroid cancer, bulimia, and a spate of superficial relationships with men that left her feeling empty and purposeless. Eventually, she came to the place where she didn’t want to live anymore.
Finding Her Voice Again
Of the many layers of healing it took for Tana to overcome the trauma of her early life, the first and most important, she says, was coming to a genuine faith in God. A friend invited her to church where Tana found the message more meaningful than she expected, and non-judgmental, so she kept going. Later, as she attended nursing school, she started attending Harvest Christian Center, led by pastor Greg Laurie, and found she was changing. “For the first time in my life I sensed something I’d never had: personal peace. And when, after three decades of struggle, I finally surrendered my life to Christ, I gained not only a sense of calmness but a sense of purpose and structure.” The Bible started to make sense, Tana says, and she was finally able to see God as a loving parent from whom she had kept her distance, not vice versa.
Tana married, but despite good intentions, the couple drifted from God and each other. Shortly before their split she conceived and soon became a single mom to Chloe. A couple of years later, Tana had a lunch date with Dr. Daniel Amen, having no idea how renowned a psychiatrist and brain health expert he was. As a neurosurgical trauma nurse, she enjoyed him and their obvious similar interests, but had no desire to enter a serious relationship. Nonetheless, Tana soon found herself falling in love with this kind man who continued to accept and encourage her no matter how “messed up” she felt inside. His love served as another aspect of her healing. Though he wanted to marry Tana, Daniel was very patient in giving her all the time she needed to work through her past trauma.
His first gift to her was ten sessions with a good trauma counselor, which she continued for eighteen months. In addition, he took her to see an expert in cognitive therapy who helped her examine why she held on to many false beliefs about herself and her value. After two years of hard work in therapy, Tana was able to say, “For the first time I really felt whole, a word I used to find ridiculous.” Now she was ready to commit. “The day I married Daniel Amen marked one of the two best days of my life–minus the labor pains.”
A New Purpose
Diagnosed with thyroid cancer for the third time, Tana’s doctor told her she’d have to take medications that made her feel terrible for the rest of her life. That’s when she put herself on a mission to learn everything she could about the healing properties of food, exercise, and supplements for natural healing. Eventually, her research became the New York Times bestselling book, The Omni Diet, followed by a companion cookbook for Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, her husband’s popular work. The success of those books gave rise to a new career for Tana as an author, coach, and speaker. Deeper than that though, it gave her a new mission in life. “In helping myself learn to use food as medicine, I had discovered my true purpose–to help others heal with food.” She adds that God calls us to help others, which is healing for us.
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