Facing Childhood Trauma
In August of 1986, I was basking in the glow of three very successful and exciting film projects: First was the nomination of my then-associate Phillip Borsos’s documentary film, Nails, for an Academy Award; second was executive producing Till Death Do Us Part, a small feature film that received very favorable reviews in Variety, The Toronto Star, and from many of the critics in Canada and the United States. The highlight was executive producing The Grey Fox, an independent feature film starring the late Richard Farnsworth. Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios presented the film. United Artists Classics released it. The Grey Fox received worldwide critical acclaim and commercial success. It won seven Genies (Canadian Academy Awards) and was nominated for two Golden Globes for Best Foreign Picture and Best Actor for Richard Farnsworth. We were on a roll.
Buoyed by these successes, I began producing another feature film in The United States. While the cast and crew were incredible, the film lacked creative and critical cohesion. I accept responsibility for those deficiencies.
The catalyst that propelled me forward was created by the problems I was having with the financing of the film. The financing I was counting on and paid for never appeared in our bank account. We were the victims of commercial fraud. I ended up personally owing US$4 million, which was over Can$5 million at the time, and I believed in my heart of hearts that I was going to be able to pull off a miracle—just like I had so many times before—and pay everyone off.
I thought if I at least got the film finished, chances where I could recoup enough from it to achieve that goal. If I shut it down, there was zero chance of recovering anything, and my company and investors would be out over $1 million of our money. The Grey Fox had run out of money, so had Till Death Do Us Part. And we had recouped every cent, and then some.
Every night for almost three months, I would go up to my motel room, shut the door, and go into a state of shock from fear. There was no one I could talk to because everyone was counting on me to keep the picture going. Every morning, before I went downstairs to start another day of shooting, I went to the bathroom and throw up from fear.
I know from personal experience what it is like to lose everything, to face massive public criticism, and to face an economic recession—and in this case, a self-created financial depression. I survived them all and came away more prosperous, peaceful, and more purposeful than I’d ever been. I have learned how to make my life manageable, keep my word, and reclaim my life despite what appeared to be an impossible situation. In an odd way, at a micro level, my life emulated what is going on in the world today at a macro level. I had allowed greed, self-centeredness, and ego (edge good/God out) to take over my life.
At the time, I just thought I was doing what I had been told by my father would make me successful—and, I assumed, happy. Wrong again! I hate that, being wrong.
Here is what I believed and what I had been told in my childhood: make a lot of money, gain a lot of attention, acquire a beautiful home and an equally impressive car and a beautiful woman—flip the order in whichever way you want. I had all those things in spades. I had met a few wonderful women over a seven-year period, acquired a beautiful home on the Pacific Ocean in West Vancouver, shared a beach house in Malibu, and rented an apartment overlooking the East River in Manhattan and a beautiful townhouse in Toronto. I constantly moved between these four residences. Deep down, because of the violence of my childhood, I had no self-esteem. I didn’t want anyone getting too close to me. So, the lack of material resources was not my problem. My problem was recklessly borrowing money to keep up that wild lifestyle.
In addition to the US$4 million that I personally owed, I had approximately 605 lawsuits launched against me. It was not just the dark night of the soul; it had moved up to bleak, barren hopelessness, and I had nowhere to turn. There is no way to adequately describe the feelings I had at that time. As I previously mentioned, fear ran rampant. I couldn’t sleep at night. I was filled with an impending sense of doom and a real sense of despondency.
Then it dawned on me. I was either going to kill myself or crawl out of the hole I’d dug, which originally had functioned as my shelter in my childhood to survive living in an insane, alcoholic home. I had built an impenetrable wall around myself for self-protection; only now, as an adult, I couldn’t break through the barriers I had erected to protect myself to ask for the help I needed.
Because of that experience, I began to question every aspect of my life. Why did I live in a perpetual state of fear: fear of the future, fear of failure, fear of success, and fear of financial insecurity? When I had these overwhelming feelings, why did I insist on living out on the edge like I did? In my bravado, I used to say I had no fear of debt, but I was terrified of creditors.
I also wondered, despite all the success I’d had, why did I have such low self-esteem? I could never feel how others looked on the outside: confident, gregarious, and well-put together. Others saw me as a success, but I couldn’t. I felt like a fraud.
No matter how well I did, my mind would tell me I could have done it better. Why did I constantly blame others for my troubles? It was not the first time I had sabotaged myself.
The moment I accepted that I was out of money on the film and had no hope of any financial salvation, I knew my life as I’d led it was over. I also thought my career was over, too. The film wasn’t finished, and I was starting to think it never would be.
I didn’t follow the business advice that was suggested and declare bankruptcy. I felt if I did, I would never learn whatever it was I had to learn about managing my finances and my life. Nor would I get to the cause of why my life was out of control, financially and emotionally. If I didn’t take a stand and confront myself about why I’d acted and behaved the way I had, chances were I would find myself right back in the same position again. In this case, once was enough, and I’m grateful to say it was and has been.
Finding the answers to why my life was so unmanageable has been a long, slow process that is still underway today. I was incredibly depressed and wondered if I would ever be able to start overcoming any of the difficulties I was facing. I owed so much money; I didn’t know where to start. Finally, after four years of very intense personal work, I began sending out payments of $5 to various individuals whom I owed thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars to. In the past, it had always just been empty talk and empty promises. At least with $5 (though admittedly a drop in the bucket), it was a real, concrete action and showed my good intentions. One lawyer in New York said I restored his faith in humanity. In the last few years, the payments have risen significantly, but with so many people I also had to prioritize my creditors. There is a whole group I’ve never even begun to repay. I was told to take care of first the people who had stood by me through the difficult years. This is where I still am today. I could sell off individual assets I owned such as screenplays, video rights, and revenues from the film to reduce the production debt to a more manageable level. I have never personally realized another penny from the film.
It was a horrific, humiliating experience for me. I have never felt so much pain, except for my childhood, from that experience of failure. But out of pain comes growth—tremendous growth. I couldn’t see it then, but in retrospect, the film gave me my life back. No one could have told me that at the time, however.
Perhaps you haven’t lost millions of dollars, but you might have lost your job or your company because of the recent economic downturn and the current political uncertainty currently swirling around North America. Maybe you lost your home during the housing crisis between 2007 and 2009 as many thousands of people did. Perhaps you are on the verge of losing your house or your car right now. Maybe you’re struggling with a substance abuse issue. Or, you might be facing bankruptcy, or your husband or wife or partner may be walking out on you because you have difficulty forming and sustaining a long-term relationship.
I know that I experienced many of these feelings and emotions and have had the same questions racing through my mind at various times. Today, I feel as if my life has been utterly changed. It doesn’t mean I still don’t feel angry and resentful from time to time or that I don’t have bad days. But I am no longer as powerless over my emotions and my fears as I once was. I am no longer run by my thoughts about the future all the time. I do have peace of mind a great deal of the time. I also have a life I could never have dreamt possible in the past.
I was married for nearly twenty years, and when my wife and I split, the divorce was done with love and compassion on both sides. I have regained the love of my son from my first marriage and reconciled with my oldest daughter and her family. I have found the ability to forgive myself for my past mistakes. I have been able to set right most those relations in my past where I hurt others—especially my family and friends. I have done the work to heal my childhood trauma, and reclaim my life.
I am happy 80 percent of the time. I also have a mind that, when I’m in the 20 percent downturn, tells me I will always feel that way. My mind lies to me. That’s why today when my mind starts to chatter about all the horrible things that are going on in the world, I just thank it for sharing.
HAVE SOME FUN WHILE AGING!
If you were born between 1945 and 1965 you will remember the refrain, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” We were the generation that created that myth, and we are the generation that can change it. Nowadays, if we are operating out of the same flawed paradigm and applying it to our lives today, we’d say, “Don’t trust anyone under fifty.” I really believe now that nothing could be further from the truth.
OUR CURRENT POLITICS OF WAR
Finding an answer to war - what do we need to do to realize we are operating out of a part of our brain that is millions of years old will never work in our current society? Violence will never solve any problem, and yet it is often the first avenue that we pursue. It is hard-wired into our brains. Our reptilian/mammalian brain is connected that way to save us from aggressive predators. The only trouble is that there are no more dinosaurs on the planet. But you can’t tell that to our brain stem. According to Dr. Paul MacLean, the triune brain stem is responsible for aggression, territorial and reproductive behavior. They are the primary triggers for all of our problems in life.
While it was helpful for our survival, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years ago, it ends up causing us untold grief, regret and pain when we let it control our body and minds. It will have us say and do things that, when we are not in our “right mind”, we should never say or do. Essentially we have outdated software in our brains. That is why we need to utilize tools like the Eight Steps, to reprogram our thinking so we can overcome these ancient triggers that create so many problems for us.
AGING AND MONEY
As it turns out, according to some economists, it is those of us well over 50, specifically the ‘baby boomers’ that are controlling the purse strings of the world’s economy these days. Apparently we are in charge of over eighty percent of wealth on the planet today. We still have a voracious appetite for spending and consuming, on either quality projects like philanthropy, art and culture, or consumer goods. Boomers just love cars, motorcycles, motor homes, vacation homes, travel, food, alcohol and gifts for those we love. But are the latter the only things we should be pursuing? If we believe they are the key to our happiness, it might be a good idea to analyze those beliefs without blindly accepting them as truth.
EGO ( Edge Good Or God Out)
If all you are doing is satisfying an insatiable urge to have more in order to appease your ego, then watch out, as you may not really be a happy camper. The question you might want ask yourself is what have you done lately to make a difference on the planet?
What about those of us who feel we aren’t in a position to help others or the planet? There are definitely those of us who haven’t planned for our futures as well as we should have. What will happen to us? Once again my mind that defaults to nasty lies starts up: “You will end up penniless, a pauper working a corner with a cup!”
If we keep our wits about us, this need not happen. Youth is fine for backbreaking and heavy slugging but, the intellect of those who are more mature, gifted with our wealth of experience, is worth its weight in gold. And we can all realize this with some simple steps and planning. If you can remember back when life was “groovy”, we didn’t have a care in the world. That is a great place to get back to. And it’s attainable.
THE TRUTH ABOUT BEING A BABY BOOMER AND AGING
What is the truth about being a ‘boomer’, becoming a Sage? Many of us still have a good sex drive. It is, however, much more emotional and psychological than physical. In many cases, it is based on true intimacy rather than raw, self-centered sexual satisfaction.
We can try new adventures or new occupations where we don’t have to feel shame or blame if we don’t bat a thousand. In his book, The Spirituality of Imperfection, Paul Kurtz points out that in baseball if you hit three hundred, you will be paid millions of dollars to join a major league baseball team. What that means is that 7 out of 10 times you will miss hitting the ball. Baseball is the only game in the world that recognizes errors as part of the process. We want to liberate ourselves from old beliefs, old self-defeating thinking that we acquired somewhere between the ages of 3 and 12. None of us are perfect, and every one of us makes mistakes – and that includes you and me!
Many of us have unresolved issues from our pasts and our childhoods. It is imperative that we let go of old, self-defeating thinking about our dreams or ideas that we had in our youth that no longer support us. It is important to age gracefully. Many of us had unhappy childhoods; unfortunately they’ve lasted fifty or sixty years. The good news is it’s never too late to have a happy childhood!
For example, holding onto the idea that I need to be liked by everyone is self-defeating. Not everyone will like us. As a matter of fact, what others think of me is none of my business. It’s more important to like ourselves, just the way we are and not worry about what others think of us, period.
The goal is to be mature (hopefully) adults who should strive to be role models of how it is to age gracefully and with purpose. This definitely does not mean trying to act like a teenager by dressing in the current style of young adults or tying to use their vernacular. My advice? It’s best to avoid playing any forms of emotional and psychological Russian roulette. It hardly suits our… well, ‘mature’ selves.
We all should all try to pursue some kind of physical fitness to add to our quality of life. Okay, I already mentioned sex, but what else can we include that’s reasonable for our aging bodies? I try to do aqua fit classes at least two days a week, but three is optimal. I also do 50 push-ups off my bathtub side three mornings a week. I walk everywhere I can. I make a point of leaving my car at home if I can. So exercise is good for mind, body and spirit. Trying to emulate the Y generation is not.
For many of us it is critical to our well being. I want to emphasize, I’m not necessarily talking about religion. I’ve personally been an agnostic a lot of my life. I had great faith when I was young and then I studied and educated myself beyond my level of comprehension. As a result, I lost my childhood faith. It didn’t make sense to me considering scientific and empirical evidence (or so I thought). If you have a traditional faith that works for you, then you are ahead of the game. For a lot of us though, our focus is on a faith in something greater than we are. It doesn’t matter if it’s your local hydro provider, the nearest electrical current or Einsteins theory of relativity. As long as it’s bigger & more powerful than you and it makes sense to you.
The truth is, faith does work. It helps us stay alive, healthy and happy. Research shows time and time again, when we have a community of like-minded people we can spend time with, we are always going to feel improved happiness. Perhaps your community is a power greater than itself that can easily help you connect to a sense of something bigger? As it turns out, isolation is aging’s worst malady. If there is one thing I’ve learned, if you want to enjoy and maybe even have some fun in your ‘golden’ years, avoid isolation like the plague.
What have you learned on a good day? In my case, not much. It is only when I am hurled into a corner, jammed up against a wall with nowhere to go that my ego will finally allow the light of reason in. Imagine how it would feel if your face was squashed up against a panel of Plexiglas. So I can say “okay, what is my lesson?” Here’s a great starting point: clearly what you are doing is not working too well, is it?
Last night I received one of the most beautiful reviews I’ve ever had in my life or career as a writer, producer, director and especially author. It has really got me thinking about the ways that we are all the same and the challenges we all face. If you are interested in reading the review, it is on my website www.davidbradybooks.com under the title Survival: Transforming Childhood Trauma.
I survived a childhood no one should ever have to. In a nutshell, my father, an important professional and church-going man in our neighborhood, while in a drunken stupor, loaded, aimed and pulled the trigger on a Remington Pump Shotgun that was pointed at my mother and I. The gun jammed. It would not fire. What saved our lives was the fact my older brother, Robert, walked through the door and disarmed my father just as the gun jammed. I was only 12-years of age.
That experience, combined with the nearly eight years of physically and emotionally abuse I’d endured by that point, led me first to a life of addiction as a teenager and then into over-achievement in academics and the arts as a young adult. I stopped drinking at the age of 22 and stopped all other mood altering substances a few years after that. I am now in my late 60s. What I didn’t understand then, is that I was self-medicating as the emotional pain was so great. Very little was known about the resulting trauma thirty odd years ago. So many of us are running on information we acquired between the ages of four and twelve-years of age. We have faulty filters: we hear what is not said; we believe (and catastrophize) what is not true, and we interpret what is not meant. These are never ending beliefs that continue running us in our adult lives regardless of what we’ve accomplished or who we’ve become to the outside world. Thank God for my mother. She was sane, sober and had faith beyond understanding. It was her support that enabled me to turn my life around.
After graduate school, I became a partner in a film company that continuously produced wonderful and award winning film, tv series and documentaries. While the success was exhilarating, it would eventually lead to my first of two financial ‘crash and burn’s’. I would end up owing over $5 Million. I was humiliated when the headlines in the New York Times & The Globe and Mail shouted out my failure. In the end, I was a victim of commercial fraud.
How do you turn that into a lesson? At the time, it only felt like an absolute disaster. But here’s what I came to learn with the passing of time: Make sure that you investigate, do your due diligence and have all of your legal agreements prepared in advance. I had tried to do this without a business plan. This is a pretty big lesson if you want to succeed at all in business. Always have a business plan. From that day to this one - over one hundred and thirty episodes of prime-time drama, comedy and documentaries - I have never once been a day late making any loan or production payments.
I learned lots about cash flow and long-range planning because of this, which became the foundation for a successful career.
But what about the personal and emotional lessons? Often these can be just as potent, if not more so, than the financial ones. First, it brought me to a place of accepting I was powerless over the individual who had misrepresented the financing of this film to my attorney and I. I would eventually come to a place of realizing that if I didn’t change, I would go bankrupt and not be able to redeem myself. And after all was said and done, I still went ahead and raised an additional three-quarter’s of a million dollars to finish the film. I had cavalierly started the film believing I would always be able to complete the financing and the film if I had any problems. But the film was a flop. I learned a few things about being overly cavalier without having the evidence to support that I was making a good choice.
But more positive life-altering results than I could ever have predicted would come from these adversities. Because I had returned to Toronto from Vancouver and Los Angeles where I had been working on this deal, I was given the opportunity to make amends to my mother who lived in Toronto, and be in her life until the day she died. What a gift that was.
I reconnected with my older children from my first marriage. It took an enormous of amount of physical and emotional work to repair those relationships but the point is I was given the opportunity. I was introduced to an excellent doctor and a group of like-minded friends who allowed me to start examining my childhood dysfunction. I began to see the deep-rooted fears that influenced most decisions I made. It was also made apparent to me that I kept choosing people who could not give me the kind of support I needed in business – especially in a crisis, with only a few exceptions. I also ended up meeting the woman who was to become the mother of my two youngest children and with whom I have a remarkable relationship today, even though we are divorced. Believe it or not, I am still paying off that debt but I am about ninety percent of the way there! It’s taken me almost thirty years to do it. Those are some pricey life lessons.
Thirteen years down the road, I would end up in another business situation that did not end well, and I am still dealing with the fallout of it all these years later. Here is what I learned from this one: I am limited in life if I don’t operate ethically. There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes or quick deals. Anything that claims to have quick rewards usually has very little ongoing benefits. As you can imagine, today I am very cautious about who I am in business with. I have not repeated either one of those two terrible mistakes, and as a result, I have had a life that has been financially manageable and solvent for the most of the past thirty years.
Adversity is the universe’s way of helping you grow. Or if you are spiritually inclined, it is the stepping stone to peace of mind. Without adversity, there is no growth, no self-esteem, no sense of accomplishment. It is why so many individuals who come from extreme wealth lose it by the third generation. They never had to pay the price their forefathers and foremothers did to get to where they are. No one is perfect and we are all the same. It just depends on the circumstances and the day. My lesson here that I want to share with you – don’t be too hard on yourself for being a human being. Only baseball recognizes errors as part of the game.
Fear is the biggest trigger for most of life’s problems and adversities. Real or imagined I might add. But they seldom become a reality. Usually it has us say and do things we should never say or do. It is our reptilian brain that worked one hundred thousand years ago to protect us from predators, but it is now an ancient and out of date hardware. We need to reload the software in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for our automatic fear reactions, because it is about as useful as the original DOS operating on top of the newest Apple or Quantum Computers. Obsolete, redundant and a tad unreliable. It’s responsible for our fight or flight reaction and our sexual impulses and the little bugger is always creating pitfalls that we must dig out of or else we fail.
What I believe today is that there is no opportunity for genuine growth, true brilliance or genius, no groundbreaking discovery without adversity. We see it time and time again, whether with the Wright Brothers, folks like Steve Jobs or the Space Program. The bigger our dreams, the greater the adversity you will encounter. Welcome it. Make it your friend. Fail fast to get it out of the way.
Am I personally immune from it? I often forget that it’s my friend when I’m in the middle of ontologically imploding. What have I learned after having faced an enormous amount of it from my childhood to losing eighty percent of my memory seven years ago after sustaining a catastrophic brain injury and losing just about everything one could lose as a result? What could I have possibly gained? A new perspective on life including an understanding of what is truly of value. My children and my grandkids. After that, I have peace of mind and a real sense of healthy self-esteem combined with an enormous amount of gratitude because my biggest adversities have been my greatest teachers. I am a better man, a better human being, a better father, and friend because I faced the challenge and rose to the occasion. And yes, I’ve now written three books and I am in the middle of adapting 31 New York Times Best Seller for broadcast in 2018.
If I can overcome a series of overwhelmingly big and challenging setback to find a way back to a better, more rewarding life, than it is my belief that absolutely anyone can.
What Is Real Success in Life?
I have been very blessed and am very grateful that I have had the most fantastic opportunity in life to be the father of 4 incredible children, four beautiful grand kids and many friends in both Canada and the United States, my second home. I've also been fortunate enough to have a successful career that includes university professor and as a filmmaker. The first two-thirds of my life were spent getting. Now, I want to share my journey of overcoming adversity, finding peace of mind and prosperity and real purpose in the second half of life. To do that I have now written three books: Survival: Transforming Childhood Trauma; Success: Reflections On Money, Sex, and Power (the only areas of my life I’ve ever had any challenges with); and last Serenity: Aging With Dignity, Living With Grace. Serenity was released few weeks ago by Post Hill Press and distributed by Simon & Schuster in the United States and Canada. It chronicles my dramatic journey after receiving a catastrophic brain injury and trying to put my life back together.
As I sit here on a beautiful Thursday afternoon in beautiful Puerto Vallarta Mexico, here is what I know today - my life has been incredibly blessed. And here is what I've learned about life, regardless of where we are on the journey. We experience success, more success, a bump in the road, a significant disappointment, another bump in the road,a speed bump, whoa, a big success that leads one to realize - success is not all it's cracked up to be. And if that's all one's life is about; cars, houses, clothes and bobbles all lose their shine very quickly if we don't have a solid foundation under ourselves emotionally and spiritually. Then as we age, the wife/husband leaves, our parents die our best friend stops talking to us. Our business partner shafts us or betrays us; our children have issues, and we feel like life is unfair. And it is some of the time. Then we pick ourselves up, in my case do an inventory to see, "What was my part in this situation?" It's not always eas to be rigorously honest with ourselves. It is always so much more comforting to think "If it weren't for (fill in the name, gender, relationship, slight, resentment or hurt) my life would be fantastic. So my message today is welcome adversity. Embrace failure as a necessary part of succeeding and heed its lessons well, so you don't have to repeat them again. I've never had to face the kind of insanity encountered in 1986 when I ended up owing $5.2 million dollars on a feature film I was producing in the United States. That experience propelled me in a whole new direction in my life. What I thought at the time was the worst experience of my life ended up being the catalyst for the greatest change I've ever experienced, and still benefiting from it today.
I feel so lucky to know the people I know, to have met all the incredible people and to have loved the women I've loved. Not that there has been that many, but they have all been so amazing in their own ways. I am also looking forward to doing some more inspirational and corporate talks on creativity, overcoming adversity and utilizing spiritual principles to grow your business. Producers are the world's most sophisticated salespeople. We sell an idea that has no shape or form and networks and distributors invest an amount of money you could build an office building, apartment building or large commercial complex. All because I had a good idea that morning. And to think that all my high school teachers use to yell at me for daydreaming. Life really is fantastic, and I always tell people when they are in trouble, "Life will shortly be as good as it is bad for you right now." Nothing last forever and life will always change if we don't give up our dreams and have faith.
David Brady has 30 years of experience as an award-winning writer, producer and director of feature film and international television productions. In June, 2015 he founded David Brady Communications and changed his focus on writing nonfiction books.