All Episodes

December 28, 2023 66 mins

Her paternity. Her health. Her very self. For many years, these are all mysteries to Kimberly. As she reckons with this myriad of unknowns, she learns more than she ever expected to know.

See for privacy information.

Mark as Played

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Family Secrets is a production of iHeartRadio. I'm Danny Shapiro
and this is family Secrets, the secrets that are kept
from us, the secrets we keep from others, and the
secrets we keep from ourselves. My guest today is Kimberly Warner.

Kimberly is the founder, director, and producer of Unfixed Media,
a production company with a focus on people with chronic,
uncurable conditions. Kimberly's is a story of an unfolding life
that contains within it big secrets and big consequences. It's
also a story of courage, resilience, and making meaning out

of very hard things. And by this I don't only
mean personal meaning, though that would be plenty, but rather
the meaning that comes from illuminating and changing the lives
of others through advocacy, generosity of spirit, and art. Tell

me about the landscape of your childhood. I grew up
in Wisconsin in the mid seventies and eighties, and everyone
thinks of Wisconsin, and we think of football and cheese.
But we were more like the tofu eating goddess groups
type of family, so we didn't quite fit in. My

dad was a cardiac surgeon in a small college town
in Wisconsin, and my mother was a psychotherapist, and they
through a tumultuous slash growthful marriage. They went through about
five wedding bands, which might explain the sense that they

were falling out of love with each other, breaking commitments
to each other. They actually had five years where they
or exploring other relationships in an open marriage and made
it through all those years, but also learned a lot
of tools, and so they became kind of leaders. And
I knew this as a child. This wasn't a secret

to us. So I knew that my parents were very
much into teaching conscious loving workshops and growing through the
pain that they had experienced together. So there was a
lot of growth, a lot of yelling, a lot of
big emotions in the house. That said, we also were

sort of the perfect family. And I'm making air quotes
as I say that, because of the status of my
father and my mom and the sort of the leadership
roles that they carried. My brother was very popular. I
was a straight A student in Ballerina. We lived in
a beautiful log home on a lake. We were kind
of looked at as the perfect warners, and I shied

away from that big time it was very scary to
feel that label. I didn't feel it in myself, and
that is probably where most of the truth lies. It's
just there was a really big schism between this deep
onnoored sense that I felt in my own identity, in

my own being, and the confidence with which our family
was presented to the world as a child. How did
you understand that schism inside of you? You know, sort
of the outsides not matching the insides. That's a great question.

What I did is I buried it. I became a
people pleaser. I validated myself through my surroundings instead of
through my own intuition. I made sure that everyone else
around me was valid and happy, and I would became

so good at it that I really didn't feel that
schism myself. Eric is three years older, and it was
a very popular, charismatic, just social guy, extroverted, and I
couldn't have been more opposite than that. I was the introvert.
In fact, we were just speaking the other day and

he said when our parents would argue, when it would
just blow up downstairs, he found an escape route through
his window, and that was his way of dealing with
it because it was just too much to tolerate, and
I remember those arguments too. But my technique was to shrink.
I call it sort of the shrink wrapped version of

myself or the fight fight er freeze. I was the freezer.
So I would just freeze and shrink down as a
coping mechanism. So your brother would literally leave the house
and you would of yourself exactly. It's kind of an
amazing irony that your parents were leading these conscious loving

workshops and at the same time had this really volatile
relationship themselves. I mean, I don't know what a conscious
loving workshop is. Did you know as a child? Did
you Were you aware of kind of what your parents
were doing as leaders in that community. Partially I knew
that it was very psychological. My mother would bring in

that aspect of it through her marriage and family counseling training,
and it was also a lot of stress management techniques
that my father was bringing in through his work with
as a cardiac surgeon. But extending beyond that into more
of the energy medicine, biofeedback, some of the things that

are more common now, breathing exercises, they do, these crash
courses of Okay, we've got a weekend workshop coming up
at Wagging Wheel, and we need to bullet point what
we're going to be discussing with our couples, and so
I would these large, colorful blodderboards and they would basically
have exercises, techniques, a lot of eye gazing, a lot

of journaling, a lot of truth telling. Later. I know
that my father got involved with the Tantra community in Hawaii,
and while they didn't teach Tntra, I know that my
dad was learning a lot from that community as well.
My mom was a little more hands off with it

and so it wasn't brought into their work as leaders,
But I know that my dad was learning a lot
from that space as well. Tell me about your mom,
I mean, the mother of your childhood. Oh my mom. Well,
this is hard to talk about because I love her
dearly and she was young. You know, she was a

good Christian when she met my dad. In fact, she
was called Parson Larsen at university and their first kiss
Haddock Bible between the two of them. So for them
to abandon Christianity, study Buddhism, make a meditation room. You know,
in the progression of her evolution as a spiritual, loving

human being, was quite dramatic. What I remember from her
reminds me a little bit of Betty Draper from mad Men.
There was so much pain beneath the surface, but she
had to keep it all together. My dad was very
chaotic with his emotions, with his schedule, his commitments, and

so for her, she did her very very best to
raise a good family, help Eric and I feel safe,
but at the cost of feeling like there was a
truthfulness in her own being and therefore, by default me
feeling like it was safe for me to feel truthful

with my feeling like it needed to be a certain
way in order to keep up the appearances of this,
because if one thread was pulled, the whole thing would unravel.
And she, to her credit, dug deeply into this place

of forgiving over and over again with my father because
of the affairs and trying to grow herself with this.
This is my partner, this is what he's going to
be doing, so okay, then I might as well do
it as well. And let's open this marriage up, let's
go to therapy, let's figure this out. And if you're
going to have affairs, then I'm going to have a

relationship too. And she needed to grow herself. And I
know she said that, but I think my brother calls
it we were a little fearal, if that makes it,
because there was so much drama in their relationship. My
mom did a great job at making sure the meals
were there, the ballet classes were paid for, the family
trips were planned, the house was beautiful, But emotionally, I

think my brother and I were pretty fearal, left to
figure it out on our own, if that makes sense.
Kimberly doesn't just freeze and leave herself as a teenager.
She starts to exhibit some pretty severe anxiety symptoms and behaviors,
only she doesn't know what she's anxious about. After all,

despite her parents' arguments, they are seen as a model
couple and the Warners are a model family looked up
to by their community. All is perfect on the surface,
but definitely not perfect on the inside, so Kimberly is
left to come up with her own solutions. My solution
was to control everything within myself, because if something was

even though it didn't appear on the surface, then I
decided it must be me. The thing that's wrong must
be me, And I know I'm not alone in that.
When you can't identify the trauma out in the world
when the secret is buried. I don't think it's the
only way, but I internalized it and said, something's wrong
with me. So I did a pretty good job for

a while until I couldn't fixing the thing that was,
whatever that flavor of the month was that was wrong.
I had a few earlier traumas with my body with
a developmental need disorder, but that eventually passed. But I
remember the first thing that really got me was when
I started getting pimples, and it was so I felt

so helpless, and I would lock myself in the bathroom
for hours and hours and hours and pick at my skin,
tried masks and scrub and I even started taking my
brother's tetracycling, even though it wasn't my prescription. I just

popped them like pills because I heard that was supposed
to help. I would plead at night. I would leave
the bathroom after just an inflamed face of skin picking
and scrubbing, and I wanted nothing more. Deep down, I
couldn't tell this to myself, but deep down I wanted
to be held and loved for who I was, for

the big mess that I had just created. I was
like bringing the mess inside out to the surface, and
I wanted to be witnessed in it, and I wanted
to be loved in it. But of course that's not
what I did. I would belining it straight to the
bedroom and make please with the universe that my skin
would get better. And this tormented me for years. And

I'm not even I didn't even have acne. I mean,
this is to the level where I would probably we
talked to junior high friends and high school friends and
then goa, what you didn't have skin or whatever. So
I was really really anxious and agitated and becoming more
and more hyper vigilant around any sort of tiny little

change that I would sense in my body because that
was the only thing I felt like I could control.
Did you know it was anxiety? Did you have that
language or that knowledge or it was just you know,
these kinds of obsessions and compulsions and behaviors that were
like I have no idea why I'm doing this, but

I have to keep doing it. That's exactly what it was.
And it was really just goal oriented. It was I
have to fix my skin. I mean I didn't even
allow room for why am I doing this. I would
feel the pain afterwards of why did I do that,
But in the compulsion, it was just this, I have

to fix it. There's no option here to be broken.
There's no option here to feel the chaos that I
feel inside. And I think that was a direct mirroring
that my mom was feeling. There is no option for
me to feel this absolute chaos in this marriage because

I have to hold it all together. And what were
some of the other ways in which the anxiety expressed
itself during those years you've talked about, you know, sort
of the freezing up, the inability to make decisions, that
making yourself as small and invisible as you possibly could

yeap and really getting a sixth sense for what other
people wanted to hear and feel and see. And so
I aversion of the shrink wrapping. Nobody probably would say
I was introverted, because I also developed a really good

social extroverted self in order to please the people that
needed me to be that way. So I definitely had
a chameleon quality that was ultimately the goal was to
protect that fragile, vulnerable truth that was me, and that

was the part that was never allowed to surface. The
chameleon could surface. So it varied. The techniques varied based
on the environments that I was in during this fragile
and vulnerable time. In Kimberly's teenage life, she and her
mom are on a walk one day when her mom

tells her in a very blunt and academic kind of way,
that it's possible her father isn't in fact her biological father.
So I was seventeen, and the way my mom tells
it is that my dad had had one night experimental

situation with person after they had already closed their open marriage,
and so he was feeling ashamed, and on the heels
of that, he said, well, I think you need to
tell Kim about the possibility that I'm not her father.
So this is something that your parents kind of sort

of had a inkling about, but then shoved that inkling
away and didn't really discuss it with each other. Certainly
didn't discuss it with you. No, and they but I
also get the sense that they put it away the
night that the conception happened in Canada. My mother came
home the next day. I told my dad I was

born eight months later, and it was buried. At that point.
My dad remembers once looking at me as an infant
and feeling like wishy mine, and he felt like, psychically
or something that he was worried. I could hear his
thoughts or feel his insecurity, and so he put it away.

You know, of course nothing gets put away that easily.
But the way that I've been told, and up until
the age seventeen, it was not discussed. There was there
was not even a question in my mind you know
who my dad was. I have a pretty good delete
button on some memories in my life, so I guess

you couldn't call the memories if I'm deleting them. But
I remember that it was around the lake, and I
remember that it was an overcast day, and I I
was a little confused by why my mom wanted to
take me for a walk, because usually it was more
of a jogging type of thing where she took the

jogging movement happened in the eighties and she took that
on and so that's usually how we would spend our
time together. And this was a walk. And I remember
as we sort of turned the corner around closer as
we emerged towards High Cliff, which is got like a
golf course and a country club. She said, I your

father wants me to know that there's a chance that
he's not your father. And in that same breath, she said,
but isn't it wonderful knowing that you belong to the mystery?
And I sensed a very strong need for this to

be a happy story, for this to be a positively
beautiful thing. And of course she's trying to protect me. Ugh,
I mean, okay, I've got to tell my daughter this.
So I don't think there was a fraction of a
second where I allowed myself to really fall into what

she had just said. I quickly went to how am
I supposed to respond to this? And she gave it
to me. She fed it right to me. She said, well,
it's cool you belong to the mystery. And I'm like, yeah,
that's cool. Right. It was as if the executive functioning
of my brain turned off, and you know, just tell

me what to say. So later in life, you know,
my mother says that that's actually not what happened. That
it was me that said isn't it cool that I
belonged to the mystery. I just don't remember saying that.
But I also don't leave that as out as a possibility,

because again, I was trying to read what I needed
to be in this situation, and I very clearly knew
that I needed to be optimistic and positive and that
this is a beautiful story. So that's where it was left.
And I truly I don't remember talking about it with
my dad, none of my friends. I don't even remember

thinking about it after that walk, Right, you put that
beautiful story away. I put it away. Yeah, that lovely
story away. So was that lovely story tucked away? Life
in the Warner family continues in its usual fashion, school dinners,
the planning of trips, but then tragedy strikes. In my

senior year, spring break, we have a family vacation to
go to Mexico. My brother's meeting us from Colorado University
of col Colorado. He's there and he's going to fly
to Cancun and meet us all there. My dad. The
night before we are to drive to the Milwaukee airport,
which is about a two hour drive, he was at

a retirement party for one of the nurses at the
hospital and he had to or was dressed up as
Willie Nelson. His two partners were also dressed up, and
I think they sang some tunes, and of course there
was drinking, and somebody from the party actually asked if
he would like a drive home because they noticed he'd

been drinking more than usual. And they said to us
that he grabbed the keys and said, I'm my own man.
And I thought that was interesting. That was a choice
that he made to take it on and be responsible
for his commitment to just being the man that he

thought he was supposed to be. He got in the
car and he drove home, which is probably a twenty
minute drive, and we had already left because he was late,
and my mom in a frenzy. I remember gathering our
bags in the house and it's almost it's two am.
You know, we're supposed to be at the Milwaukee airport
at four am. And he's not here. He's not here,

he's not here. She scribbled off a note that said
meet us at the airport. I'm pissed and underline, underline, underline,
and left it on the counter or on the bed
or something. He got home about thirty minutes later and
found that and threw a bag together. So he got

on the highway and I think he was nearly to
the Milwaukee airport. It was probably forty five minutes from there,
and he got tired, and as my mother said he
would do when he was tired, he would put his
hand through the sun roof and sort of get some

fresh air on his hand. Happened to be that the
sun was rising at that moment, because the car behind
him had seen this. He waved at the rising sun
and then swerved over and hit a mac truck head
on and was killed. We did not know. We got
on the plane and received a little napkin on the

plane that said call this number. It was this is
the flight attendant had given it to us, and you know,
we just thought it was some one of the cardiologists
saying Dave will be late. He'll be on the next light.
So when we finally got to the Cancoon Airport and
got through customs and my mom was able to call
the number, this I do remember, maybe clearer than any

memory I have from childhood. She turned to me and
her beautiful mouth, with her lipstick stained lips, said, Dad's dead.
If this was the coroner's office from Fredonia, Wisconsin. And
you know, that was the end of chapter one in

Kim's life. That moment, that something ended there, and of
course I didn't know how to feel. That my coping
was denial, and I denied it all the way home.
We waited for my brother to arrive, watched him fall
to his knees and scream and felt all of their

very open emotion, which made me feel smaller and smaller
and smaller, because I didn't have space for my way,
nor did I know what my way was, but it
wasn't their way. So I went into denial and then
also justification, and just decided, well, he's closer to me
now because he's dead. I really didn't leave room for

any pain or sadness, real pain or sadness. I went
through the motions, I went to therapy, I cried, I
wrote letters to my dad, I shared something during his
memorial service, but I didn't really feel the deep, deep
ache and chaos. It was too much. It was too

much for me. Did you in the next period of
time did you return to the question of whether he
was your biological father? Or did that lovely story stay
buried for that period of time, gone totally gone, not

even if there was any bit of it that was
still lingering in my psyche even before his death. His
death obliterated it. I can remember walking through all the
different stages of losing him and then grieving him when
I went to college, and it was my alliance was

one hundred percent to him, and in fact my confirmation
of our similarities and how I was going to live
out his destiny and you take his DNA where his
abbreviated life couldn't take it. I was all on my
shoulders and that was a way for me to stay

close to him. So those years in college, how would
you characterize the schism? Well, fortunately I did early on
connect with my first love, my first lover, i should say,
and we were together for three years, and he also

lost to father. So a lot of our bond was around,
and you know, writing letters to our fathers and making
them larger than life and speaking with them and burying
the letters, and the Colorado Rockies, and so there was
a way that this gives them got bigger. The sense

of my truth and my ability to feel what was
going on inside, I think would come forward every once
in a while through the tumultuous love that I'm talking about.
With this man named Ali. He was violent, he was aggressive,

he was passionate, he was everything that I wasn't and
so I would feel bubbles of my own truth coming forward,
just because it had to in that kind of relationship.
But ultimately it was like little firecrackers, you know, just
the little ones that you put out on the pavement,

not the big ones, just the little ones been around
it circles. It was like I would have these little
berths of oh, this is how I feel, and then
water would get poured on top of it and it
would go far far away. The schism and the sense
of who I was. It got buried. Also because I
declared my major the first month I was there, and
I was going to be a doctor. My job was
to live my dad's life. I was at a wonderful

liberal arts school that had all these incredible creative classes
and professors. I didn't touch those outside of the requisites.
You know, I had this deeply creative life inside, but
I didn't allow that to come to the surface because
I was supposed to make my dad happy in the afterlife.

He did not want that for me. This was not
something I ever felt the pressure from the outside. This
was something I created myself. We'll be right back when

Kimberly is twenty one she's just graduated from college when
she's diagnosed with something called autoimmune Graves disease, an affliction
which in many ways results from being in a near constant,
hypervigilant stress state. It is one hundred percent like being
on twelve cups of coffee. I didn't drink coffee to

this day, I can't even drink green tea. But my
nervous system was so wired into the sympathetic state that
my brain at that point was feeling like something is
always wrong. I wouldn't cognizantly say something is wrong, but
my nervous system was on a red al alert all

the time. And I'm sure you know I read books.
When I first was diagnosed with Graves disease, of course
I wanted to fix it. That was my solution, and
their solution in the nineties is to cut the thyroid
gland out and medicate for the rest of your life.
I was losing weight rapidly and eating just gobs of

calories every day, and it just was not handshaking, armpit sweating,
just not sleeping, insomnia. It's almost as if I was
lifting off senator. So the solution was to cut it out,
but I did not want that, and I attacked my
mom and dad's library of natural health cookbooks and gosh,

herbal books and psychotherapy everything on their self help shelves,
and I took some dietary measures, but I also read
some where I'm not sure if it's medically valid, but
I also read somewhere it's probably Louise Hay actually, I
want to say, because she would take diseases and then
connect to them with the psychological attribute or that what

potentially was the cause cause of that? And she said
it was grief. And at the time, all of this
was the bible to me because it was a form
of control. Oh it's grief, Okay, well, then I better
go do more grief work. What wasn't being talked about
was trauma, PTSD, nervous system that's stuck in sympathetic mode,

and none of that was being talked about. It was
more about how do we control this and how do
we eliminate the cause. So, yes, Graves disease is something
that I managed, but erratically managed, and then it definitely
hit its worst state when I was twenty six and

my cortisol levels dropped to zero and I was unable
to stand up. It was a nightmare. Fortunately, I was
in Portland at the time and I had a really
good physician who was also trained in naturopathic medicine. He
gave me steroids because he said, you have no cortisol
in your body, which was a result of the thyroid

just running, running, running, running, running, And within two days
of being on steroids, I felt like a normal person again.
My nervous system had burned me out. And some would say, oh, yeah,
the grief that caused that, but I think this pattern
was set way away earlier, the hypervigilance and the anxiety.

When I moved to Portland, Oregon in two thousand and
one to start the naturopathic medical program, I just took
a Craigslist job. It was at a documentary film company,
and I knew nothing about film. But they handed me
a box of phs and CDs and said, watch all

of these and log them. And what they were creating
was a twentieth anniversary video for the Dougie Center. The
Dougie Center is a wonderful international organization that's based in
Portland for breathing families, and I would spend eight hours
a day watching children talk about their father's dying of

suicide and murder and cancer and watching mothers deal with it,
and the woman who founded the Dougie Center would discuss
sort of the background of grief, not necessarily the stages,
but the importance of being able to vocalize and find
community through grieving. I was watching one of her talks

and she was discussing with a group of teachers what
to watch for, and she said, I'm not too worried
about the kids that are acting out after a parent
or a close loved one dies. And I'm not too
worried about the ones that sort of withdraw because we
can identify that they're suffering. There's something happening. She said.

The ones I worry about the most are the perfectionists,
the ones that actually become overachievers and they do everything
right and nobody notices them because they are continuing to
excel in everything that they do. Of course, if this
were played in a movie, this is when everything would
slow down. As I'm watching this and hearing over and

over again her talk about me, and she said, these
are the people that usually five ten years later end
up their body's breakdown. And that was the summer when
my thyroid went bsserk, and that was the summer that
I found that doctor that saved my life, because, like

I said, at that point, I was I so lightheaded.
Every time I would stand up, my heart would shoot
up to one hundred and fifty beats per minute, and
it was a scary time. But I knew that I
was going to natropathic school in the fall and everything
was going to work itself out. Because that's what I

still was doing. I would just go through the motions.
I did sign up to train with the Dougie Center.
I wanted to be a facilitator. I was still skirting
around the truth of me. I was doing everything on
the outside that looked like, oh, kid's really dealing well
with life and grief and everything, but I was still

doing a really good job at burying it. So I
started naturopathic school and a month later, nine to eleven happened,
and I used that as an excuse to drop out
because I didn't want to be there. And I still
this day don't really that doesn't sound like me, you know,

like I'm still a little puzzled as to how I
felt so convinced after all these years of training and applications.
I just wow, Okay, I dropped out, and I'm proud
of myself when I think about that thing. Good for you,
because that probably was one of the first things I
ever did that might have been a little bit of

my own gut telling me what I wanted. Yeah, that
makes a strange kind of sense. And also I think
that when there's a tragedy on a mass scale like
nine to eleven was, there's a way in which if
there's been, you know, a tragedy in an individual life

or suddenly and there's this collective grief, this national global grief,
there's a way that it can ship away at and
create kind of a ripple effect with individual grief. After
Kimberly drops out of her program, she ends up dabbling

in the film industry again. She isn't certain that this
is the right path for her, but an editing job
comes along and she takes it. During this time, she
begins to develop another dangerous compulsion born from her perfectionism.
She develops an eating disorder and disappears into boleimic behavior,
purging toward an impossible goal, as she had done in

the past with her skin picking. I wanted to be empty.
There is a stillness that happened after I would purge,
where I would look in the mirror and I would
feel myself again. I would feel the pain and I
would feel like, oh, what did you do? But I
would feel like I was looking at myself and in

a weird way, it connected me with that person. It
quieted things down. So the behavior would come and go.
It was usually around my period, and then sometimes it
would be gone for months and then it would rear
its head again. But it definitely had a sense of like, wow,
I thought this was over, and then here it is again.

So that was a period of two and a half
three years where I was flirting with the bulimia, working
in the industry a little bit, and also reapplying to
go back to a naturopathic school because I didn't know
what the hell am I doing. That's also when I
started modeling, just locally for fashion shows and catalogs and

things like that. But it ended up being a good
source of income and I actually enjoyed it. I enjoyed
finding that part of myself that wasn't ashamed and it
felt playful and joyful. It was more of like the
athletic Portland's full of athletic catalogs and stuff. So it
was playful, joyful, goofy. Not nobody was talking about herbs

or pills or supplements or medicines. It was just frivolous,
and I found some freedom in that s as I
took my life so seriously, so there was actually some joy.
Strangely enough, that came the authentic joy that came from
just doing something that I never would have allowed myself

to do six years earlier. So between thirty and forty,
I drop out again. I go to this naturopathic school,
transfer to the Chinese medicine school and do two and
a half years there, and then drop out again, and
then fall in love with my current husband. We developed

a deep bond together. I navigate his intellectually disabled daughter,
who was eleven at the time when we meet, and
we sort of navigate that chaos and also so grow
into a pretty thriving modeling career and mostly as we joke,
kind of like midwestern old lady catalogs. But boy, we

had fun and just travel the world and met some
wonderful human beings and enjoyed that part of being a
woman and celebrating my body in a way i'd never
had before and having friendships that felt deep and rich.

So that was all happening for those ten years. Do
you think that you're you know, thriving modeling career? I
mean during that period of time, were you dialed way
back in terms of you know, self harming behaviors or
those kinds of behaviors. Did that Did that change during
that time? And if it did, what would you attribute

that to? Yes, all of it went away. It literally
went away. I still carried a lot of anxiety, but
I attribute it partially to finally exiting the pressure I
was putting on myself to become a physician, and even
more so to the partner who is now my husband,

because he really rejected the fix it world. In fact,
I did it with his daughter when I first met her.
Oh she's got an election disabilities. Let's put it on
a gluten free diet. What's her you know, Let's take
her to get reikie, Let's do all these things. Let's
fix her, fix her, fix her. And he was like,
I want to love my daughter the way she is.

And I was really attracted to that part of him.
I always described him as like this warrior in the forest,
but his sword was down and he was dented, you know,
his gear was dented and bruised and dirty, and he
was not running, but he was looking at the trees

and noticing the light pouring through the trees, and there
was something that was I was really drawn to this
man who was very surrendered to a pretty hard story
and not happy a lot of the time about it,
either really in pain about it, but not trying to

make it anything else either. So I wasn't doing it
myself yet, but I was in his presence and it
was teaching me, little bit by little bit, how to
be that way. I also picked up photography, absolutely fell
in love with being on the other side of the
camera and finding my creative life, finding that part that

was the ballerina who wanted an outlet and needed to
express myself. I began in those ten years to express myself.
The modeling was like one way, but that wasn't the
real joy that was coming from filmmaking and photography and
discovering a language that made sense to me and often

was a preverbal language that was more about composition and
light and story, the story that came with the image.
So I think I was finding something inside of me,
finally that knew how to express herself. Kimberly's dented Warrior
is named Dave. In twenty twelve, she and Dave take

up cycling together. They spend their weekends biking a twenty
six mile loop around Portland, stopping to lie in the
grass and enjoy each other's company. When winter comes, it's
too cold to ride, so they take a break from
their weekend ritual. In fact, Kimberly has another winter time
ritual ever since her dad passed. She and her mom
spend a week together in Mexico. So February of twenty fourteen,

we were in Mexico taking our morning long walk and
she starts RETI telling the story which we've heard before,
of this wonderful one night stand she had in Toronto
at the Maripos and Music Festival with a man named Charlie.
And of course this is post her telling the story

around the lake. When there's a chance that your dad
isn't your dad, this was tied, you know, this story
that she would tell about Charlie and Toronto was tied
to that. So if there ever was a father that
wasn't your father, this would be the man. And I
ended up just listening to her tell the story, but
she brought out so many more details. On this walk.

She remembered his last name. She remembered that he had
a television show in Wisconsin and it was called Long
Ago Is All Around? And I was like, what an
interesting guy I remember. On the flight home, I had
a layover in Denver and I googled his name finally

the full name. Was never able to google the full
name before, and up pops one of his albums. He
was also a musician and a poet, and the album
picture took my breath away because it was the male
version of me, and I didn't say anything. I flew

home the last leg, pulled up the photo as soon
as Dave picked me up at the airport, and I
didn't without any context. I showed it to him and
I said, who does this look like? And he said,
I don't know, but it could be your dad. And
something opened up in me of like, hm, I need
to investigate this more. I have more information. And so

fast forward to Mother's Day of that year. I visit
my mom for Mother's Day and on the way home again,
I guess I do a lot of things in the
airport finding out the producers of that album, and it
was the University of Wisconsin, and so I called the
University of Wisconsin mibray from the airport, and I said,

can you find I had any more information about this
man named Charles Brower? And she said, oh, it's you know,
eight o'clock at night. I have nothing else to do.
Let me get on it. I received an email that
Monday morning that had his obituary in it. Charles Brower's obituary.
He died in a sailing accident in nineteen eighty five

when he was thirty six years old, so I was
ten years old, and he was never found. His body
was never found. He started to go through the roof
that week, breathlessly, almost impulsively, trying to get as much
information when I could about this person. We'll be back

in a moment with more family secrets. Remember Dave and
Kim's bike rides. Well, the weather is nice again, it's
springtime in Portland and they're on their first ride of
the season. It's been a whirlwind of a week for

Kim making all these discoveries about her biological father, so
she's happy to detach for a bit and get outside.
But things don't go exactly as planned. We were going
down the main straightaway before we pulled over to get
onto the waterfront path, and a young woman opened her

car door in the bike lane and I flew over
the door and landed in the street and cracked my
pelvis and hit my head and had a concussion. And
that ends chapter two. If the other one was my
dad said this one ended chapter two because everything changed

after that point. I was on deadress, so I had
a lot of time to digest this and think about it.
I corresponded with the librarian a little bit more. She
sent me a few of his TV shows that I watched.
This suspicion grew inside of me, and as the suspicion grew,

I started to feel like what it was the hyperthyroid
symptoms before, like I started to feel this deep vibration
that wouldn't settle, even as I was on twenty four
hour by address. It wasn't until August of that year
and I'm still at home in Portland and Davis making
me smoothies and scrambled eggs every day that I took

the DNA test. My brother got it for me, but
I also remember him handing it to me, going, yeah,
you know, like really, what are the chances? And so
that's weird to say, because on the one hand, my
body's vibrating and on the other hand, my brain is
going no way, not chance. And the DNA test came back.

It was like three weeks and it came back as
my brother was my half brother. And that was a
shock for everyone. People have asked me, was I a
shock for your mom? Yes, it was a shock for everyone.
I went upstairs actually when I first got the email,

and I just brought my phone up with me, and
I straddled Dave because he was still sleeping, and I
just shoved at the phone in his face and it
said half brother, Eric Warner, half brother. And I think
what I do when I feel so unmoored and so ungrounded,
as I again try to find other people's responses and

find how am I supposed to respond here, you know,
And also fortunately he's porous and bigger boned, and I
just like my body needed something to ground me. So
I just wrapped myself around him and the weight of
his response because his response wasn't gonna be like whoa,
holy shit, wow, you know, his response was huh, okay,

you know, like, let's digest this. So I needed him
desperately to ground this experience for me. That's when the
dizziness started. The dizziness did not come directly after the
bicycle accident, unfortunately, because a lot of the doctors. When

it did come, which started in March of the next year,
a lot of doctors were like, well, concussion syndrome, you know,
delayed concussion syndrome, something with your neck that happened. Everyone
was pointing to the accident because there was nothing else
for them to point at. I would bring up this,
you know, well I also got the DNA test, and

you know, just would just scratch his head and dismiss it.
So unfortunately that delayed the diagnosis for me big time.
But the dizzyness started intermittently. I remember walking on the
sidewalk and it was like dropping out underneath me, and
then that grew from the floor of bouncing under my
feet occasionally to half a day, and then about a

month later it was all day, every day, NonStop, lack
of sleep. I was starting to feel out of body.
This was a scary, terrifying out of body experience, where
it was as if my body was literally running its

own course, completely dysregulated. I was terrified to go to
bed at night because I would just lay there and
feel the feelings of the bed bouncing up and down,
and my sympathetic nervous system was contracting so much that
I got up to go to the bathroom twelve times,
over and over and over again. It was just hell.
It was just absolute hell, and I was only getting worse.

I was trying to find doctors that would help me.
They kept pointing towards concussion syndrome or something in my neck.
No one was talking about panic. No one was talking
about anxiety. No one was talking about, you know, any
sort of vestibular migraine disorder that can come from a
severe panic disorder. So I did the best I could

with it, but then I ended up having to get
on a plane and live with my mom for seven
months because I was a mess. I couldn't even walk
across the street without someone holding my hand, and halfway
across the street, I'd say, let's turn around. I got
to go back inside. You know, someone would knock on
the door and I would It was as if getting
shot in the chest. It was frightened all the time,

and in hindsight. And I've said this many times. I
should have been sedated because my nervous system couldn't reset itself.
There's one silver lining to Kimberly living with her mother
for all those months. In all that togetherness, a moment
finally arrives in which her mother is not managing Kimberly's

reactions and telling her that it's lovely and wonderful to
be part of a mystery. Instead, her mother actually apologizes
to her. My mom doesn't cry a lot, but when
she does, it gets my attention, and her jaw starts
to tremble, and her beautiful, glassy eyes get even glassier.

And she was about six inches from my face, and
she grabbed my arms and she looked in my eyes
and she said, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I
didn't protect you, protect me, meaning tell you the truth.
Not that she even knew, because I truly believed that

she didn't know. But what they didn't do was take
that next step to find out the truth. So she
was more concerned about keeping things together than finding out
the truth and potentially having everything fall apart. So wow,
I took that in. I really took that in. Danny

it was healing and at such an overused word these days,
but it felt like a calm bath to me to
hear her and feel her and see her eyes looking
in my eyes and feel I felt her fragility. I felt,
Oh my god, you were doing the best you could.

You were truly doing and you wanted all you ever
wanted was to protect me. All you ever wanted was
to protect me under a really, really, really challenging situation.
And of course, in the magical thinking world, I would

hope that that moment would be the moment where the
dizziness would go away. Oh I's on my feet again.
Wouldn't it be nice if everything was that neat and tidy,
wouldn't it? I had a lot of those though I'm like, Oh,
this is it, here's the moment, this is it. I'm better.

But no, that didn't happen. But it did deeply connect
me to her story as a young woman trying to
figure things out, the chaos, the insecurity, and it helped
me feel compassion for her and also for myself through
all of that. It just softened everything. When did you

actually receive the actual diagnosis, the actual syndrome, reason that
this was happening years later, years and years and years. Well,
it happened in the pandemic. It was twenty twenty because
I was able to find a neurologist who specialize on
this in Texas and he was doing telemed so I

didn't have to fly to Texas to see him. And
he heard, you know, listen to me for thirty minutes
and said, you have mallet deparkment syndrome. And it was
a spontaneous onset, and spontaneous onset happens typically when someone
goes into a deep state of panic and the neurotransmitters
just get really jumbled up. So this was years. I

found lots of different ways to cope with this, but
it was tormenting me for six years total. I'm on
eight years now and now I'm I have medication that's
helping tremendously. But I've also found psychologically a way deeper
relationship with the chaos within myself and allowing it and

being compassion with it and loving it that it basically
tells my brain I'm not in danger anymore. You know,
when I stopped trying to fix myself, my brain said, oh,
you're not in danger. So you know that Charlie has died,
but you do at a certain point contact his brother,

your uncle, and begin to learn something about his family,
and in fact seem, you know, to be embraced by
his brother and his whole family. That happened very shortly
after I took the DNA test. Like I said before,
I am impulsive, and I think that's how I learned

how to deal with all that anxiety. I would just
jump in and then figure out how to swim once
I was in there. So I wrote him a long letter.
I found him because he's a filmmaker of all things,
with two sisters who are artists. And I wrote the
letter to his studio and gave a lot of qualify

fires in there that said, please throw this away if
this is bringing up too much trauma. You know you
think I'm a lunatic. I'm sorry. Just hear me out.
I don't want anything from you. I just thought you
should know I won't feel have any hard feelings if
you don't reach out anyway. Qualifier qualifier qualifier. He read
the letter, and then his sisters were visiting a couple

of weeks later. He printed it out, shared with them
and wanted to observe them reading it, and all of
their responses were. First of all, we kind of thought
this was going to happen, because apparently my biological father
was quite a ladies man, and they wanted it to

be true. They loved their brother deeply. A couple of
years ago, Dave asked, my uncle, how did you respond
when you first read that letter? Was the very first
thing you thought? And he reached his hand out to
me and looked right in my eyes and said, I
wanted it to be true. You know, for this big

hands and sixty year old man to say that to me,
it just shook me to the core, Like, oh, and
Matt is true for the whole family. It's a giant family,
you know, first cousins, second cousins. I've met them all.
They all gather once twice a year. They are deeply

loving and at the same time really casual, you know,
like there's no big deal my family, the Warrners, let's
sit down and like light candles and psychologize it. They're like,
let's open a beer and go swimming. So I felt
at home and I still feel at home with them.

We visit every year. That said, the very first time
I met them was right after the dizzyness had started,
and I had already bought the tickets for Dave and
I to go, thinking this dizziness is going to go away.
I don't know what this is, but it's not going
to last. Kept getting worse and worse and worse. The
night before our trip to visit them all, I had

to email them and say, I just got to let
you guys know, I'm not myself. I don't know what's
going on. I haven't had a doctor's appointment yet about this,
but I feel crazy and I'm scared. And they all
emailed me back and said, we love you as you are.
Just come even if we see you for five minutes
and give you a hug and then you go sleep
the whole time, that's fine with us. We love you know.

It was just like, don't worry, no big deal. So
we went and I was scared the whole time and
also deeply loved in that, which is kind of cool
to feel like. When I first met them, I was
a mess, absolute mess. I mean I even went to
urging clinic once it was bad, and they just were like, cool,

let's go for a road trip. Let's go drive, you know,
and drop you off when you need to, and here's
a snack, and you know it was. It was very
sweet and healing, and that continue used to this day
to be my experience with my new family. Meaning in
purpose is really important when we are navigating chaos. But

I do feel that this I am in a best
place I've been in my entire life. And I can
honestly say that's because of all of the hardship and
the dysregulation and the pain and the suffering. It's brought
me to a place of peace now. And I'm still dizzy,

not as dizzy as I used to be, but I
am peaceful in the dizziness. And it's because I finally
stopped caring, not stopped caring about life. I loved my life,
but I stopped needing to fix myself. I stopped needing
to be a certain way in this world. The dizzyness

forced me to be exactly as I was because I
could not fix it. Twenty nineteen, I started a documentary
project called Unfixed, and this was before I was medicated,
but I was realizing that I was done trying to
find doctors to fix me because I spent too much
money and I was not getting any better. So I thought, well,

I'm just going to find some people that are living
with chronic illnesses that are doing the same thing, because
I don't know how to do this. I don't have
all I have on my shelf or self help books,
and I don't know how to un self help myself.
So my first subject was an als patient and my
second subject had tried geminal neurologya, which is so known

as the suicide. To these people that were living with
excruciating and actually terminal disorders, I was asking them, how
are you embracing this and what does it look like
when you hit rock bottom? What do you tell yourself?
And how does your heart feel when the disappointment continues?

And I'm just really trying to understand this process again,
maybe in a way because I couldn't find my own
feelings still, I'm trying to find what I'm feeling by
hearing other people tell me and oh, yeah, that sounds right.
And then the pandemic happened and I had twenty subjects
for this film and I was unable to continue doing

sort of the large film crew situation, and I was
desperately looking for their answers. So I decided to start
having them record their answers into their smartphones, and we
turned it into a docu series for two years. Every
month they would reply to questions as profound as would

you let go of everything you've learned since you're diagnosis
in order to be healed? Or as simple as what's
food like for you? And we just finished one a
couple months ago on sex and what's intimacy like? And
it's just was a deep hand and shake with humanity.

I got the experience of feeling my own brokenness in community,
and while they were submitting their videos and answers, I
would submit them my answers so that they didn't feel
like they're just sending them into this black box. And
so we learned about each other, and Unfixed became so
much more than a documentary. It became a community. It

became a way for me to unwind my nervous system
into allowing instead of fighting. And what really became clear
was that once I finally just allowed the brokenness and
the dizzyness and the anxiety to just be there, my

brain didn't feel it was in danger anymore, because it
can only feel in danger if I'm trying to get
rid of it, and so my nervous system was like,
oh cool, it's okay. And that's why I can say
now that, yeah, I'm actually quite dizzy today because I
definitely get dizzier when i'm nervous, and I was excited

about this call, and yes, the room of moving around,
is it bothering me? No, because my brain knows I'm
fine and I'm not going to do anything to try
to fix it. I'm just going to enjoy this conversation
with you. So this, the dizziness specifically, has been a
profound teacher for me in allowing experiences to be as

they are and to hold them and to love them
and have compassion for them, and conversely or simultaneously see
and hold and loves that in others as well. So
I feel it's such a solidarity with humanity now that

I never ever experienced before. I'm calm and I'm happy
and I'm peaceful. Never thought this was possible given the
way that I used to feel in this body mine.
What an extraordinary way to think of it, that our

traumas can be our profound teachers to experience them, hold them,
love them, have compassion for them, and see and hold
that in others as well, such beautiful and wise words
from Kimberly Warner. To check out Kimberly's work, go to
unfixedmedia dot com. Family Secrets is a production of iHeartRadio.

Molly Zacour is the story editor and Dylan Fagan is
the executive producer. If you have a family secret you'd
like to share, please leave us a voicemail and your
story could appear on an upcoming episode. Our number is
one eight eight eight Secret zero. That's the number zero.
You can also find me on Instagram at Danny Ryder.

And if you'd like to know more about the story
that inspired this podcast, check out my memoir Inheritance. For

more podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

Family Secrets News

Advertise With Us

Follow Us On


Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro

Show Links


Popular Podcasts

Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing with Bob Pittman

Math & Magic: Stories from the Frontiers of Marketing with Bob Pittman

How do the smartest marketers and business entrepreneurs cut through the noise? And how do they manage to do it again and again? It's a combination of math—the strategy and analytics—and magic, the creative spark. Join iHeartMedia Chairman and CEO Bob Pittman as he analyzes the Math and Magic of marketing—sitting down with today's most gifted disruptors and compelling storytellers.

Dateline NBC

Dateline NBC

Current and classic episodes, featuring compelling true-crime mysteries, powerful documentaries and in-depth investigations.

Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.


© 2024 iHeartMedia, Inc.