If I Were Going to Survive, I’d Have to Rely on Myself

…And then, as if my extreme fears of losing Mom had manifested, I learned that Mom had nearly died…. For the first time ever my mother looked fragile, a word I never would have used to describe her prior to that time. 

I’d always thought Mom was superhuman. Larger than life. My days and nights had been consumed with thoughts of her. Logically I knew we were two people, but emotionally I had never made the separation. I didn’t know the term back then, but I lived the reality: we were enmeshed. 

For as long as I could remember, Mom and I had played a game. When she called to say goodnight, to telephonically tuck me in, she’d always say, “I love you more than anything in the world.” 

“I love you more than anything in the universe,” I’d always reply. 

“I love you more than anything you can ever say.” 

And I’d be stumped. 

Being stumped in the “Who Loves Whom More” game somehow made me feel like the winner. But after Mom’s near brush with death, I stopped playing that game. I came up with a new game, one I played solo. 

“What’s the worst thing that can happen?” I’d ask myself. I would picture the most morbid thing possible and imagine every detail of what I would do to get through it…

That’s when I finally realized Mom and I were separate—and when I decided that the sooner I could take care of myself, the safer I would be.

Having been born into a chaotic and stressful environment, my mother was my rock, and her existence was the one certainty I knew in life. But as illustrated in this passage from my new book, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child, one day it dawned on me that she was, in fact, mortal. In that moment, I understood that I needed to start planning how I would survive and move forward if something happened to her. 

Before I was even in kindergarten, my mother made a conscious decision to avoid shielding me from harsh truths in life. On one hand, knowing the reality of what can potentially happen in the “grown-up world” made me incredibly anxious. But on the other hand, I started to absorb some of her grit and slowly learned that it was ultimately up to me to make my way safely and successfully in the world. 

Not that it was easy, by any means.

Challenges are as much a part of being human as successes are. It is how we choose to deal with the challenges we must confront that can make or break us. Persevering in the face of distress can give you a sense of empowerment, which then leads to increased confidence. Conversely, giving up or turning to unhealthy behaviors often results in feeling powerless and ineffective in your life.

There is a term I really like that puts this in a nutshell: Personal Agency. It refers to the capacity to make our own free choices and act independently. In other words, as adults we generally have an innate ability to influence our circumstances—if we choose to. Your back story does not need to control your destiny.

Create Your Future Story

Think about what you want for yourself, your family, and your life going forward. Write down your goals and let them be a compass for you as you move toward them. Whether they are big or small, your goals are what can help lead you to a better life.

Know What You Can Control

As you work toward your goals, sometimes obstacles can get in the way. When they do, it’s important to focus on what you can control in a situation, rather than what you cannot. Too much time spent obsessing about the things that are beyond your control drains your energy. 

Decide Wisely

Be mindful about the decisions you make. Examine your choices about situations and identify which will help you move toward your goal and which can set you back. If you make a mistake, deal with the consequences, and consider what you learned from the experience. We all make mistakes and moving past them is a necessary part of growth. As we learn from them, we become stronger and more aware, thus less likely to repeat them.

It’s Up to You

Recognize that you are the boss of your life, and at the end of the day you must look in the mirror and answer to yourself. No one can do that for you. If there’s a part of you that is waiting for someone to come along and solve your problems for you, I encourage you to give up that kind of magical thinking.  When you choose to set goals and use your own gifts, strengths, passions, and intellect to guide you toward them, you will feel empowered and experience the reward of greater success in your life.

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.

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