“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Each person in front of me was dealing with adult problems and adult consequences, but the common thread that superseded our diverse backgrounds was childhood pain.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.
In this excerpt from my new book, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child, I describe a pivotal moment that led to an important aspect of my own healing. While speaking to a large group of recovering addicts, I realized that I was not alone in trying to manage a history of trauma, chaos, and pain from childhood. While I had not succumbed to addiction as they had, I had seen drugs and alcohol destroy the lives of people I loved. In fact, up until this point, I held a particular disdain for addicts. I judged them as irresponsible, selfish, and foolish—and I had zero empathy for them. I had decided long ago that I was never going to bring that misery near my life again.
Initially, I was filled with regret (and fear) for having agreed to work with this group at one of the largest recovery centers in the country. I even told my husband that God picked the wrong person for this project.
But it’s funny how God works.
For much of my life, I managed to keep my painful childhood neatly tucked away—or so I thought. I worked hard, found success in many aspects of my life, and had learned to charge forward with a brazen courage that belied the existence of a scared little girl still somewhere inside of me. From the time I was a teenager, I donned the perfect mask for myself with make-up, clothes, and war paint when necessary, to try and shield myself from the harsh judgment of others.
Yet in that raw moment of vulnerability, I resonated with the woundedness of those seated in that auditorium and I was finally able to take off my mask of perceived perfection and reveal who I really was—traumatic, chaotic past and all.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” After the experience of helping that recovery group, I began to fully unpack the baggage from my past and heal my wounds. I never felt the urge to hide my real self again.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? If so, what would it take for you to put down your shield, remove your own “mask” and reveal the amazing, strong, and unique person you really are? I encourage you to use a journal and do some introspection. Consider these questions:
- Who is it you are trying to please by pretending to be someone you are not?
- What is it you are afraid of letting others know or see about the real you? What would they think of you?
- How harshly do you judge and criticize yourself, and how does this serve you?
Finally, if your childhood was traumatic, I highly recommend you work with a professional therapist to help you deal with your past. Although it may be difficult at times, it can be very liberating and allow you to emerge with a true and renewed sense of self—no mask needed.
The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child is written by New York Times bestselling author, neurosurgical ICU trauma nurse, and vice president of Amen Clinics, Tana Amen. In this compelling and candid memoir, Tana shares how she was able to find healing after experiencing a terrifying childhood of abandonment and abuse and how she became a champion for others who have experienced trauma. It offers an inspirational look at what’s possible for anyone in need of healing and hope. Order your copy here.