Aug. 9, 2022

Berend McKenzie is still thriving after an abusive adoptive family, drug addiction, and HIV at 16

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My guest, Berend McKenzie, grew up in a home with adoptive parents that taught him to lie at an early age, in order to make the family look good.  When his lies didn't measure up, he was physically abused.  Berend experienced his life as so painful that he made his first unsuccessful suicide attempt, while in the third grade.  He set the house on fire with the intention of jumping into the fire.  Later, to numb himself from the pain, he started using alcohol at age 13 and it progressed to heavy drug addiction that resulted in him losing all of his teeth at age 21.  He was diagnosed with HIV at age 16 and told he would die.  In spite of all this, Berend had an awakening and miraculously begin to turn his life around.  His story of healing and redemption will truly inspire you.

Berend is a writer, actor, and producer.

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Coach Maddox  0:03  
Hello, Berend McKenzie, and welcome to The Authentic Gay Man Podcast. I'm glad to have you, sir.

Berend McKenzie  0:09  
Thank you. I'm really excited to talk to you. I'm been looking forward to this for quite a while.

Coach Maddox  0:15  
Oh, great. Well, me too. I'm delighted to hear that. So just to tell the audience that the way you and I know each other is you were referred to me by one of our previous guests, Grant Miller. And he spoke very highly of you. And then he kind of connected us. And so just for the audience audience's knowledge, we don't really know each other, we have had one, one zoom call where we got little acquainted, and it was just awesome. And so I've been really looking forward to this a chance to, to dive deeper and find out more and hear your amazing story. One other thing I'd like to say is Varun is a writer, actor, and a producer. So let's just launch right in Barend How would you define what it means to be an authentic gay

Berend McKenzie  1:08  
man? For me, it is about walking into every space and every situation completely and thoroughly myself. It means walking in with no shame or remorse, or, and this isn't, I understand, it's not perfection. But honestly, for me, it's always been about showing up as who I am. So you get a sense of who I am. And you're not finding out all these secrets. Like, I'm not lying, I grew up a liar. I grew up as a liar, trying to protect myself as a child, I learned that line was the best thing for me to do to stay safe in a family environment that was less than And so being an adult now and being a gay man, gay person, it's very important for me to be authentic.

Coach Maddox  2:11  
I love that. Yeah, I love that. And I think, you know, I think everybody's gonna relate to what you just said, because as GBT Q men, the vast majority of us probably lied at some point in our lives in order to stay safe. Or we hid the truth omitted the truth. And of course, to some people, that's the same thing as, as a lie, depending on who you ask, but I agree with you. I'm in a similar place in that. Right now. My goal is to show up authentic in every situation now, I'm a little pickier about vulnerability, you kind of have to pick and choose the people that you're vulnerable in front of authenticity, something you can can do with just about anybody anywhere, and probably feel safe, I think,

Berend McKenzie  2:55  
yeah, ya know, and it's, it's sort of something that can't be when I was a liar, when I lived in the place of feeling an unsafe to be authentic. And to be fully myself. There always seemed to be this sort of feeling that I couldn't really fully connect with people. And as you know, I've survived I'm 54 years old, I've I've survived a lot. And the older I get, the more I'm like, I have to be my authentic self, what's the point in lying? Why, but it is a practice. And it is. So and I slip and I go back to old behaviors, or I, I feel less than or I feel, especially in, especially if I go into like, gay pride or something, oftentimes, I will feel like I don't exist, because I'm now over 50. And, and nobody cares about me. And I'll feel bad because I have a punch belly. And I used to be very thin. And but most of the time, I tend to, it's served me well. Authenticity has served me well, through my career and through meeting people like you.

Coach Maddox  4:09  
Thank you, thank you. Well, you said something a minute ago that I wanted to step back to, and that was, it's not perfect. And you know, quite honestly, I hope it's never perfect. Because I haven't really realized that when perfect is present, the rest of the world can't relate to us. You know, even I went through a period of not being so authentic, and I put forth an image of perfection. And even though I was not perfect, the image that I created had this look of perfection to it, and it made me completely unreadable. unrelatable and, and people found me intimidating, and it was all smoke and mirrors, you know, and I can say that now and I will say I'm not I'm not proud of that. But you know, it was it was part of my journey to get where I am today. I Love Your definition. I think it's absolutely awesome. And I do I agree with you, it's beautiful. So let's dive into the real reason we're here. So, tell me what is the biggest challenge that you've gone through in your life or are still going through.

Berend McKenzie  5:22  
I think though, the biggest challenge I've had in my life was, is the challenge to, to feel like I am worthy. Like I deserve to be here. Like I'm not a mistake. Like I, I wasn't born broken. I think that that for me was the was the biggest I'm from I was adopted in Alberta and calling in from Edmonton, Alberta, treaty six territory in Canada. And I was put up for adoption at birth, adopted by a white bank teller, my mother and a white police officer, my father, and we lived in Alberta, where we lived, it's sort of like the back roads of Texas or any small, you know, this rural areas of middle America. Very white, very macho, and much overly aggressive. I was often the only black child that lived in many of these towns. So I stuck out especially in the summer. And my dad wanted a man, he his dream was to adopt, I was the first son adopted, first kid adopted. And he wanted out man, and I was never the man that he wanted me to be. He wanted a football player, a hockey player, I could play hockey, and I was forced into karate and I to sort of fight the gay out of me. But I spent most of my childhood feeling. Abuse was introduced to my childhood at a very young age, physical abuse by my father, and it was sanctioned by my mother. And I would hear messages from them that if it wasn't for you, our lives would have been better. That was from my mom, my dad, my sisters, and some of my brothers. And I would have to lie because we had a perfect we had a in front of my family, RCMP father, bank teller wife adopting, we ended they ended up adopting, I think five of us, six of us bringing in some trout, troubled kids. And in front of so we had this veneer of perfection around us. So I would get the crap beat out of me before company came. And I was made to sit at a table and say thank you. And yes, please, and no thank you and, and people would look at us and go, Oh my gosh, your children are so lovely. And so well behaved. And then they'd leave and then the abuse would start again. And so I was taught to lie, I was taught to lie lying was how you survive. Lying was how you prevented people from really knowing the true you. And also lying was the only thing that I can control in a world that I couldn't. And so my parents always told me I was a liar. They always told me I was broken. They always told me that I wasn't enough. And so I spent my life trying to fix the broken within me. And that ended up you know,

Coach Maddox  8:57  
you know, I want to say though, I heard you say a minute ago when you started this conversation, I am not broken. Yeah. And I love that. I'm not fond of that phrase at all. So I just, I caught my ear when you said I'm not broken, you know, broken indicates that something needs fixing. And I just don't think that's I don't think it applies to human beings. I don't care how traumatized you were. I think that you may be wounded. You know me energetically. When you're wounded. You heal your broken you gotta be fixed and there's a big energetic the way those those words and that those prices land for me is really really different. So I just, I just really love that you said I am not broken. And I hope you guys out there and in podcast land listening to this. really pick up on this. There's just a much better energy to saying I am wounded because wounds heal. Yeah, when we dress them when we care for them when wounds heal and not all things broken can be fixed. You know if you've ever had a car totaled, you know that not everything can be fixed. Yeah.

Berend McKenzie  10:09  
And I and I agree, I agree with you and it took me a ton of a ton of self loathing failing in school, drinking alcoholic Lee at the age of of starting to blackout drinking at the age of 13. To fit in, try drinking to try to stop being gay. That was a huge thing for me. I am. I mean, if you didn't know, I mean, I mean, I am if you meet me, I use my hands a lot. I use my head a lot. I'm a little bit of a Fraggle and, and anybody that talks to me probably assumes that I'm on the queer spectrum. And I had so much shame about who I was alcohol and drugs. Helped me forget who I was, they helped me fit into places that I didn't think I had a place in. And they caused me to a lot of damage. I use a lot of things to stop my ESET lentic Sal from coming forward. Because I thought my authentic self was broken and unfixable. I used to say, I used to pray to God all the time to help me be like everybody else. I used to pray to God, please, just let me not disappoint my parents. But I was it was beaten into me that there was something psychologically wrong with me. And so as an adult, it was I covered it up, then I covered it up with drugs and alcohol, I ended up getting a I ended up, you know, living through the AIDS pandemic. early days, when we were, we were told we deserved what we got. I remember watching on Oprah, Oprah, and she had this man on there who came on and said, I have AIDS. And a little voice in my head said, you're gonna get that. That was I was I was 16 when I thought that, and then I lived through that. Then I lived through addiction, which almost took me out. I mean, my addiction was to the point where I lost all my teeth at 21. I was my health was failing from AIDS, I could barely walk. I was put on methadone. I was addicted to any substances that would make me not be any who I am. So I think that now it's just about now it's just about coming forward as my true self and showing people that you can actually be authentic and it's okay.

Coach Maddox  12:53  
Well, then it is okay, bear and it's completely okay. So walk me through. How you turn that around. I mean, you're you're telling a really pretty grim story at a very early age, you know that it was so bad. You lost all your teeth, would you say? 2021?

Berend McKenzie  13:09  

Coach Maddox  13:12  
21. What was the determining factor? Or what? How bad did it have to get? You know, they always say it's the darkest before the dawn. And then the other thing you hear is that people oftentimes don't, you know, pull themselves out until they've completely bottomed out. So what what did that look like for you the bottoming out then? And then how did you turn it around,

Berend McKenzie  13:40  
and my bottoming out was I, I ended up getting arrested for theft. I was looking at two years in jail, I was theft from an employer. And my family was starting to my mum specifically was the one that was saying, Baron is doing too much damage when they come to visit. So we they were about to be cut off. I used to go from being the guy that they wanted at the party to don't tell Baron about the party because we don't want I was just a mass I was on like the methadone, cause my trick teeth to rot and the the the arrest, it was just the thing. It was the thing, the moment of clarity. In this world of chaos that I had created. I had, I had made a deal with God saying, If I don't get sober by 30, please help me. If I can't figure it out. And at the age of 21, I was arrested for theft. I was looking at two years. And I that was my moment. And I asked for help. I went into a recovery house. I couldn't imagine at that time, like when people would say that I was 24 hours. sober. I was like, why? Like, why would you want to live through this life? sober and feeling all the pain and disappointment and the brutality of it, it just never made sense to me. That's why I drank and used because I didn't know that you could actually do that. And so my moment in sobriety, the first month of being clean and sober and going to meetings and hanging out with other people, like minded addicts and alcoholics, who had way worse stories than I did. I realized, and they've got five years, clean and sober. Well, if they can do it, maybe I there's hope for me, and I literally did it one day at a time, just one day at a time, just don't pick up that drink, don't pick up that drug, go to a meeting, talk about as honestly as you can about how you're feeling and and who you are. And soon that first couple of days, turned into a year, and I went to court and I got a strict punishment, but I didn't end up in prison. And it's just gone on from that, from that moment on it was hitting bottom alcoholic Lee and everybody's bottom is, is relative, you don't have to hit the bottom that I went to, in order to see the light. But that's how I lo I had to go.

Coach Maddox  16:22  
Well, and when you talked about going to the meetings and being as open about what was coming up for you what was going on inside of you. Now you've crossed over from authenticity and well into vulnerability. Yeah. Yeah. You know, because because when you start sharing stuff like that in a group setting, that's risky, emotionally. I mean, that's what Brene Brown refers to as the definition of vulnerability. It's emotional risk. I love her. She says, Honey, vulnerability is not tweeting your bikini wax, it's not exposure. It is. It it's emotional. Gosh, I just said the word of mitigate risk. Yeah. Yeah, it is you stepped into that emotional risk place? Tell me, can you unpack a little bit of that for me? I mean, I kind of want this is the part where I kind of want the me and the listeners to kind of feel what you're saying. Yeah, let's hear it.

Berend McKenzie  17:31  
Yeah. Um, well, that emotional risk plays has always been something that I've, I've tried to keep very, very privately to myself. And I knew that I needed help. And when somebody said, You need to be honest, I didn't know what that looked like. I didn't know how to be honest, I didn't know how to share honest. Because I was afraid that if I told you who I actually was, you would walk away from me, and that you wouldn't ever talk to me again. And that you would just reinforce the story that I got from my parents, which was, you're a liar, you're a loser, you're broken, and our family would be better off without you. So I knew as soon as I came into the program, as soon as I started working with other addicts, and alcoholics, I knew that I needed to get to a place of sobriety. And the only way to do that was to share a little bit about myself, and you share a little bit, and then you get a little bit you, you you, you realize you're okay, then you share a little bit more. And then you realize you're okay, and then you go back 10 steps, and you shut I would shut everybody out again, because it's too scary. But if I just kept trusting that I was going to be okay with what I should share. I mean, for me emotion, and sharing emotion is, is it's difficult. It's a difficult thing. I think emotion is different than sharing messages of hope and sharing vulnerability. I mean, just by sharing, you're opening yourself up to two possible ridicule possible disbelief. And for me, it's, it's a motion is something that comes naturally and isn't pushed.

Coach Maddox  19:27  
You know, I think it's worth calling out. You know, you're talking about a process of becoming vulnerable. And I think it's important to call out that we don't have to find ourselves in rehab. We don't have to find ourselves in AAA. We don't have to bottom out. We don't have to do any of that to come to this place of realizing that our life would be better as we lean into our authenticity and as we are willing to be vulnerable with others. Yeah. Yeah,

Berend McKenzie  20:01  
and you know, I mean, I've been sober now clean and sober now for 23 years. So a lot of that stuff.

Coach Maddox  20:09  
Let's take a second and celebrate that. That's huge. Let's celebrate that, you know, a lot of people don't make it a year or five years or 10 years, and you're saying 23 years.

Berend McKenzie  20:22  
Yep. And I, you know, I couldn't make it 24 hours, let alone 23 years, but all of the pain that I dealt so much with the pain of what the damage I caused early on in my like, earlier on, before I got sober. I dealt with all that. So the emotion around that is not there. I think what I do feel emotion around now is now just because I'm clean and sober doesn't mean that life doesn't happen. That I've I've been suicidal, sober. And that was very painful. To walk around feeling like you would just be the world would be better off without me in it. When everybody in my life is going, No, you're so amazing. You're so funny. You're so and inside, I feel I feel that broken place. I'm losing my partner in 2019. Those are the things walking around. When we first talked, it was his seventh it would have been his 75th birthday. I we were together in and out of each other's lives. Like, you know, gay partners can be for 28 years, he was my everything. He was my person. He's gone. And my life right now is really about trying to figure out how to make it through the days without him not being able to phone him or talk to him when good things are happening. Or when bad things are happening. Those that's where I'm at right now. I'm trying to figure out the new normal.

Coach Maddox  22:07  
So you've shared a couple of things. Now I know we started this story off with you saying I had this really? I'm not worthy thing going on? Yeah. And now I'm I'm, I'm looking at a man who has been sober for 23 years. Yeah. And I'm looking at a man who has. So is it been three years since your partner passed?

Berend McKenzie  22:34  
Yeah, just for Yeah. 2019. Yeah.

Coach Maddox  22:37  
For Okay. And how has that altered your view? Or your, your? That internal message of? I'm not worthy? I mean, I know you're still in the grading process, but it's been four years and you're still standing? Yeah. Yeah. And I would say you're probably more than surviving. Because you've told me some of the things that are that are going on in your life right now. You're not in survival mode. I still I get that you're still grieving, but there's an aspect of thriving going on in your life.

Berend McKenzie  23:20  
Um, well, Ray, his name was Ray. Ray. Ray's death was so long and prolonged and painful. And cancer ruined what we had as a relationship, like the longer that he lived, the, the more tore us apart, because he, he was always somebody that controlled everything. And I said to him at one point, you know, it's gonna drive you nuts, because you can't control this. And so his death was so painful on almost so many levels, that I promised him that like he loved, he celebrated my gifts. He was so thrilled for me every time I opened a play, or did a talk or, you know, was on on TV or did something he saw me at my worst in my addiction. He thought he was going to lose me for many years. And he celebrated all that I was on every single level. And then the cancer head and it just broke us and I have made the last couple of years be about especially with COVID I don't didn't want the pain that we went through as a couple at the end. And all the life that we live together I did not want it to be in vain. So I have spent the last three years two years especially doing COVID I I moved As soon as he died because Vancouver was a place of memory and trauma, everywhere I went, there was 28 years of memory of him and I together, and I'm picked up and I moved to Edmonton. And I just was hoping to come back to my artistic center here, and to get reacquainted with the people that I grew up with in the arts community, this is where I went to university. And I didn't know what I was going to be doing. And I said to him, before he died, I promised I would start writing. And sure enough, COVID hit. And somebody sent me a Facebook message, it was like it was being sent from Ray saying, You need to write like somebody out of the blue, and I went, Okay, I will. And so I listened to that message. And I just have gotten up every day. And I have just shown up the best as I can every day. The grief isn't always there. But the grief is always there. It's not preventing me from moving forward. Sometimes I feel like I'm flailing and I'm in a deep pool, treading water. And then it's when I start moving, that I remember, my person is no longer here with me that I feel the emotion of his loss. And then I start paddling again. And then I start doing things again. And it's just a process. Grief is such a unique, crazy process that I if you haven't been through it, it's very difficult to explain it. But you have no choice when it hits. It just comes and I get up and I start over again the next day.

Coach Maddox  26:52  
Well, and it unfolds differently for every person, and it's never the same twice. Yeah, no, the way you grieved in one situation might not be the way you grieve. In another situation at all I had, I was having some conversations with a small community of women that I lead recently. We were talking about grief. And I said, you know, I've just come to realize that group that grief is on a spectrum. You know, there's a there's there's big griefs, like the loss of a partner, or the loss of a parent or the loss of a child. And then there's on the other end of the spectrum, what I referred to as micro griefs. Yeah. And we don't stop to think of it this way. But we experience grief, almost every day, if we've had a day where we didn't experience grief in some shape, form or fashion. We ate it. We're unconscious under a rock. Yeah, you know, or, yeah, I think that when I was able to step back and really look at it and go, Oh, my gosh, you know, grief comes in so many different forms. Somebody that promised you that call you didn't call you and there's a level of grief that comes along with that. You made a plan with somebody and the plans fell through. And there's, I mean, we call that disappointment, but if you really want to break it down, yeah, it's it's a form of grief.

Berend McKenzie  28:22  
Yeah. And trauma. Right. I mean, trauma, too. I mean, I think what COVID gave me over the last week is when COVID hit, and then George Floyd died. And I was watching that, like, so much came from being in isolation alone with COVID, I became very aware of my blackness, my shame around my blackness, I became aware of my shame around my gender identity. I and and willing to take the steps to figure it out, and to find my solutions through it. The loss of the world that I thought that I that we went, we went from December, December to December 2020 20, or 2019. March of 2020, the world was a completely different place. Like I have been in grief of that. We're not it's overnight and the grief of friendships and the realization is that people who you felt like you trusted can't be there for you in the way that I need them to be there. And there's grief of that there's hope for for dreams of goals of work and, and, and and opportunity. And some many of those have come true, but some of them haven't. So there's grief for that. I agree. I think that grief is not universal. A grief. Grief is universal, but it's not At the same for everybody. And I, I really have to practice patience with people who, you know will literally say we will re died 2019 Like, oh, you're choosing to stay, stay, you're choosing to grieve. And I'm like, it is a way I describe grief, as you're sitting on your couch watching, you know, Sex in the City, and you get a knock on the door, you're fine, you get a knock on the door, it's this stinky blob of a thing that just suddenly barges in. And for the rest of however long it decides it's on top of you, it's beside you, it, you can't move without it. And then one day you wake up and that thing is gone. And you pick up and you carry on, and you wait for that next knock at the door. And sometimes it's a fight with it. And sometimes I just let it Envelop me. Because at the end of the day, I know as soon as I start to acknowledge that I'm in pain, that I'm still deeply saddened by the loss of this person that loved me unconditionally, probably the first person in my world that loves me unconditionally without doubt. As soon as I'm allowing myself to grieve it, I'm able to move through it quicker. And I stopped beating myself up for it.

Coach Maddox  31:29  
That makes sense to me. That makes perfect sense to me that the more we fight it the you know, I've heard for many years now what we resist persists. Yeah. But when we allow it runs its course and it it passes. You know. Something's coming up for me right now in that. Yes, you're still in grief. And that's absolute fucking lately. Okay. Yeah. And I'm realizing too at the same time that while there's room for this grief, there's also additional room for celebration. Yeah, because you you just described something. I'm 65 years old, and you've just described something that I've never experienced. You had this partner of 20. How many years? 28? Yeah. 28 years that loved you unconditionally and celebrated you every chance he got? Yeah. I have not experienced that. Yeah, the closest thing I've come to that and not to not to diminish this in any way. My mother gave me unconditional love. Out of the family. She was the one that I never doubted her love. She gave me unconditional love. And it was a gift like no other. But I have not experienced that from a partner. I can't I don't even know what that would, would be like. And so I'm feeling this sense of happiness and joy, and wanting to celebrate for just a moment. What you got to experience because there's a whole bunch of people like me that will you know, my life's not over yet. It's not done yet. Yeah, it could still happen. But there are people that live their lives out and die without you having the experience that you're describing.

Berend McKenzie  33:38  
Yeah, you're right. You're very right. And and

Coach Maddox  33:42  
and that doesn't diminish the fact that if anything, it strengthens the fact of why you're grieving so deeply. Maybe the dude that said you're really still grieving has never experienced unconditional love from a partner before

Berend McKenzie  33:55  
then that's exactly how I see it and you're right, it doesn't diminish it what you're saying it is a gray and I shared something very special. He worked the rest of his the end of his life to make sure that I would be okay. And I think you know, I there's a lot of people that don't have that. I wish I have regret I think death has. Like for me life is about living through regret as well. Not just trauma, living room with regret, that you know that you can't do everything right when somebody close to you passes. I wish that I had been more cognizant of the unconditional love that we share for each other when before he got cancer. I just took all of it for granted. i He was just always there. He saw me through the worst. He saw me through the best. He celebrated me when I was in movies and on stage. He saw me just coming out Have a detox. He saw it all. He saw me dying of AIDS really early. I was with him when I was when I was just like, a couple of months after I was diagnosed, I wish that I had been able to appreciate the grant the weight of the love, and the unconditional acceptance that he gave me at the time. Like, I wish, and I wish it in when he died. When he was in his final moments that I had, we had had a relationship where I could have expressed that to him. And I never did, I never did, I never was able to say thank you for everything. And thank you for the love that you've given me through these years.

And that I do regret that I wish I had. I was in so much to watch somebody in that much pain, and not be able to, to help them.

I was so out of my body. And out of myself. I was just going from trauma response to trauma response, trying to get through and be his advocate. And then when he did die, I was at home asleep for two hours. And he died while I was gone. So I couldn't, you know, say that I do regret that I wish I could have had that moment.

Coach Maddox  36:38  
You know, I mean, we all have different things that we believe bear. And I personally believe that we are made of energy and energy has no beginning and no end. It just is. Yeah. And while the physical body called Ray died. Yeah, the energy is Ray lives on. And I don't think it's too late at all, for you to tell him what you want him to know. Yeah. Yeah, I tell is the energy is present. I you know, with all of my being, I believe that my mom has been dead for January will make 20 years and I stop and drop into a conversation with her every once in a while. Yeah. Now, it's a one way conversation. She doesn't necessarily answer back other than, you know, we had such a relationship that I could literally think, how would my mom have responded to this? Yeah. And I know how she would have responded. And so that is almost like her actually responding, and you were with him long enough to know how he would respond. You know, I also I had somebody teach me one time that and of course, we all have different once again, have different beliefs. But if you believe in some type of a higher power, regardless of what you label it, what you call it. But if you believe in either a higher self, you know, I think there are two separate things, I believe there's this higher power this, this bigger being that is responsible for the orchestration of our universe, but then I also know that I have a higher self. Yeah, and what I was taught was to really, like get in a meditative state and really connect with my higher self and then ask that my higher self connect with the higher self of the other person that I'd like to communicate living or deceased. Yeah. And then my higher self conveys the message to his or her higher self. And the times I've done that it's been absolutely nothing short of amazing. Yeah,

Berend McKenzie  38:49  
yeah. And, and, I mean, I think also with death, and this is all about grief and stuff. But I think, for me what I love so I'm, I'm Grant can tell you this, I'm a hard hard lover. I, when I mean by that is I love hard. I love it. When I'm in, I'm in, I am in to a point of like, I don't want any ambiguity that you are special to me. Because I don't ever want to walk away from a relationship. No, or you know, somebody passing without you, knowing that I loved you from the marrow of my being. And I have had loves like that my grandmother was one of those that loved me completely unconditionally. She knew me better than I knew myself when I was growing up. And then I had my friend Randy, who died of AIDS in the early 80s in 85, or 86. He loved me unconditionally, like unconditionally. So I agree. There are times where I will be laughing at something usually an animal video on like on Instagram that like, when I need to shut my brain off. That's what I do I just scroll through funny Instagram animal videos, and I will catch myself laughing like Ray would laugh, because Ray was a was like he got along with dogs and animals better than people. He was an a dog lover on every on every level. So I will find myself laughing as if Ray laughs thinking as if Ray would think I know he would find this. So and I cherish those moments. He's with me always. It's just

Coach Maddox  40:44  
Yeah, it's an apparent the way you describe showing up in these relationships, like all in. I mean, you didn't need to tell those people how you felt about them. They knew. I mean, it's always lovely to put a voice to it. But truly our actions speak way louder than our words.

Berend McKenzie  41:05  
Yeah. And it's not necessarily telling like I do like Grant night. Every time we talk love you love you. Just for me. It's I think before it was all about love bombing to like, you know, try to control people and I love you. So you can treat me like this. But now, as I get older, I start to realize like, I want you to know that I love you. And I appreciate you and I fall in love. I fall in love with people for the moments that we spend, I fell in love with my girlfriend that I that we went on a road trip together and in for those. That week after the road trip. I felt like I we'd broken up like my heart was missing her. I you know, I just I love that I am lucky that I am someone who has been through enough to to recognize when love is in the room.

Coach Maddox  42:01  
Oh, god, that's beautiful. I love what you just said. Like, I I agree I experienced some of what you're talking about. I can spend a few days with somebody. And it's just so amazing that when we part. It's like, you know, yeah, missing them already. And it could be a friend I'm not talking about romance in in necessarily it can. When I connect with people I connect very deeply.

Berend McKenzie  42:31  
Yeah. And on a heart level. It's not it's not about sex. It's not about sex. I mean, I think as a gay man, that's how I thought the you show love by giving sex or getting sex. But most of the time, it's it's really about just, it's the heart. It's the heart connection that I I truly love. And I don't ever want to I have had people pass away that I didn't tell that I love them. For me telling somebody that I love them is very important. But it's not the only way to show love. And

Coach Maddox  43:11  
I agree. I'm way I'm very vocal when I love somebody. But I also know that most of the time because I treat those people the way I do and I give them generously my time and energy. Yeah, they already know. Yeah. Without me saying it.

Berend McKenzie  43:33  
And I also think that for me, I took advantage of so many people when I was drinking and using I used you all I was out for was for myself when they say that elk addicts and alcoholics are selfish people. I was I was so selfish. Everything was transactional. What am I getting it? Why are you giving me something that you worked hard for all your life? Why are you sharing that with me? Don't you know the problems that I've had? Like I use my my abuse and what happened to me as a weapon to get sympathy? It was like I was I was a really? I spent a lot of years transactionally looking for love and a silver stopped.

Coach Maddox  44:22  
I yeah, I What made something you just said made me think of some somebody that recently said to me, we were talking about vulnerability and something you just said triggered that and what this I can't remember it was now that said this, but they said you know there is such a thing as toxic vulnerability. Yes. And it's where you use vulnerability to manipulate others. Yes. Yeah. And that's not something we generally I had never even heard that before. But as soon as he said it, I was like, oh my god, I get it. You know, we also can do something that tends to be a little toxic in And then we, we can be in a group of people where it's vulnerability bonding. Yeah, yeah. And it but it turns into kind of like this pity party and everybody's participating in it, they're so entrenched in their wound and how they all have that wound in common, that it makes it very hard to move forward. Being stuck.

Berend McKenzie  45:30  
Yeah, and I've been, I've been a perpetuator of that behavior. And they think, like, when it comes to vulnerability, for me, vulnerability isn't isn't all one thing or the other. I think vulnerability for me is not about playing the victim and I, I played the victim so much, like I used aids as a weapon. Like, oh, you can't treat me like that. Because I've got AIDS, well,

Coach Maddox  45:55  
anything can be used as, you know, a manipulative piece or a weapon or just just about anything.

Berend McKenzie  46:03  
And yeah, and I, I've spent my life in the last couple of years, especially with Ray, really trying to be right sized about sharing my, what I've been through, but also coming on, like I've come out on, I continue to, on the process of coming out on the other side, right, the older I get, the more I stay away from alcohol and drugs, the more authentic I am with myself and put more trust in other people, and therefore I trust myself more, where I take risks, and don't sit and complain about something, I actually get up and do something about it, the better I am.

Coach Maddox  46:47  
And I want to acknowledge and honor you for your willingness to own your past. Thank you. You know, it's not always pretty to do to hat. And you're really you're owning the good, the bad and the ugly. And that's a really, really powerful place to operate from because what we can't own we can't free ourselves from, you know, I asked a question a minute ago, and then we kind of got sidetracked and I'm gonna kind of circle this back to that question. But I mean, if there's any one thing that's my take away from everything you've said today is just, well, not the only takeaway, but certainly what's coming up for me in the moment is how far you've come, you know, the person that I'm experiencing that you are now is, is not even remotely the person that you describe it from the past. And I want to know how that transformation affected the I'm not worthy

Berend McKenzie  47:59  
I how that transformation affected the I'm not worthy, well, the I, the more I take the steps towards healing, the more the I'm not worthy, is silenced. Right like the the I am not worthy. As I've gotten, when I got sober when I started changing my life, when I started going, living authentically, in my artistic life, when I started sharing honestly and openly about who I am and the mistakes I've made, the more I've worked with others to help them see that they are worthy, the more that work gets done the least the least amount of time I sit back with that little nagging voice saying you aren't worth it anymore?

Coach Maddox  48:56  
Well, and I have to wonder if we have if we're looking at it from the opposite way the way it than it actually is. I'm now wondering the little voice just whispered in my ear. What if it's that what really happened was he began to believe that he was worthy and that was what generated the transformation. That was what moved you from who you used to be to who you are now, leaning just into the belief that I am good enough I am worthy. I do measure up and that is the vehicle perhaps that took you from where you were to where you are now.

Berend McKenzie  49:41  
Yeah. And you know, I just wrote We were in a group together. And and something that was brought up to was just talking about there was something about like talking to your inner child and I used to go to therapists and therapists would be like, you know, you've got to forgive Little Bear and you know he was you and I'd be like, Oh my God, you're so right i So do poor thing. But inside I would be like, but you don't know little barren, barren was a liar barren, ruined everything barren, barren, barren, barren. And then during COVID lat 2021, I got accepted into a thing called the Writers Guild of Alberta. It was a mentor ship program where I was paired with a mentor who had already written a book to write and I have, I propose that I write my story. And I, I decided I was going to go deep into the the stuff around my abuse and what little Baron was like, and I had my first suicide attempt. When I was in grade three, I set my house on fire and was planning on jumping into the fire. That's how bad I was in grade three. After writing these stories for four months, suddenly I walk out of that, and I fully can look at little Barend and say, You weren't at fault. You did nothing wrong. You did the best that you absolutely could, under really difficult situations. I don't blame you for the mistakes you've made. I understand why you became what you became. And I release you from the game and shell the guilt and shame. I mean, what a gift. I mean, what a gift.

Coach Maddox  51:46  
That's beautiful. I love that. And I am an advocate. And as a coach and advocate, but also in my own life. I regularly engage in inner child work ongoing. Yeah. Ongoing, you know. And it's been a game changer for me.

Berend McKenzie  52:07  
It used to make me so uncomfortable. Like when you would talk to me about inner child and Porb. I would be like, yeah, because I could never touch it. And I think that is the thing that being where I'm at in the stage. If it wasn't for Ray, I wouldn't have moved here. If it wasn't for this, I wouldn't be now living my dreams as a writer and an actor, I, if it wasn't an if I hadn't tried to set that fire when I was a kid to try to take myself out of the world. I wouldn't have become the survivor that I've become.

Coach Maddox  52:43  
You know, it's so true. All of our experiences play a role in who we are today. Yeah. And if you're in a place today, where you hate yourself, then there's not a whole lot to be said about that. But when you're in a place where you've come full circle, like you're describing this transformation, and then I can I can I can feel the self love. Yeah, I'm an empath. I can feel the self love. Yeah. And that's when I for me, it came full circle. And I realized all of that pain, those painful experiences and those challenges. Those things forged me into the man that I am today. Eat a man I am today. Without those experiences, I don't want to relive them. I don't friggin want to relive them. But what I tried, I told somebody a day, you could offer me Jeff Bezos bank account. To give back all I've learned through my own personal experiences and my my traumas, my, my wounds, and through all of the personal growth work I've done, you could offer me his, his money to give that all up? And I would say absolutely not, you know, no way. No way. There's no you could offer me to solar system. And the answer is still no.

Berend McKenzie  54:03  
Yeah. And you know, I look at even even just looking at the AIDS pandemic, when that was happening. It was like I was 16 all I finally find a community that I is accepting of me. And then they start dying. And then I'm being well, if I hadn't been through that, I wouldn't have recognized the love that I saw and Ray, and I haven't I I wouldn't have been able to sit back now and go like he's, he's he's in a lot of pain. And he doesn't like me most of the time, but do not walk away from him because I walked away from with people that were dying of AIDS at 16 Because I I just didn't know how to deal with it. Well, I knew with Ray because of that I needed to stick it out. As painful as it was. It wasn't about and made it about me a lot of the time but it wasn't about me. It was about him and his life. And I think That that is why I have worked so hard since his death, I did not give myself a two months or three months to just grieve. Because I was like, if I did that I would have died. I needed to get up. I needed to, to grieve it, feel it, grieve it, acknowledge it, move on for the next moment, and then and then wait for the next time. And I think that's how I made it through was I just, I just, I think there's such a thing in our society about Well, it happened then and you should be letting it go. And well, there's no shadows, we deal with things. The more I acknowledge something for the real honest and react the reality that it is, the better I serve, the better I thrive through it.

Coach Maddox  55:47  
You know, I've heard to all of my life story of you know, the question, how do you eat an elephant? And the answer is one bite at a time. And it sounds to me that is the way you have processed your grief with Ray. It's been one bite at a time. Because if you had just sat in it, you just said I probably wouldn't be here right now.

Berend McKenzie  56:07  
i Yeah, I know. Yeah. Yeah. So you were

Coach Maddox  56:11  
very wise to slow the process down and to, to eat the elephant, one bite at a time.

Berend McKenzie  56:17  
And some people. And I would never say that my process is good for you. Some people, like some people just stop, stop moving stop and that they need that that is fine for you. But for me, I think I think the most universally, I think it's the more I stress. And the more I try to keep something from coming forward. From the honesty of the moment, the true feelings that I have, the worse those feelings get. So if I just allow them to come in, and let them do what they're going to do, understanding that nothing is forever. Ray's life was never forever. My grief for him will always remain but it won't ever be an intent. Like the year he died. It's way better than what it was the year he died. I'm better than I was. I you know, I'm, I'm doing stuff. And that's what Ray would have wanted. Ray would have wanted me to do things. And that's what I've made my my goal. I don't care if I need another man.

Coach Maddox  57:21  
Well, and you're not doing things just to do things either. You've told me a little bit about what you're doing. And it's stuff that you have great passion for. It's exciting stuff. It's not just busy work.

Berend McKenzie  57:32  
No, it's dreams. Like I didn't stay sober, gets to get sober and have the gift of getting sober and staying sober. be given this opportunity at a new life. Have Ray pass without me. I I am determined to live whatever time I have left. Going for anything that I want. I don't want to sit back going, Oh, I wish I had moved to Toronto to write for film, right and film and television. I just don't want to live with that regret. So what am I doing? I have a beautiful home here. I you know, it was a gift that Ray gave me before he passed. But I know that if I stay in this place in this city where I have no connections and don't feel connected to that I will look back next year and go. I wish I had done that when I had the opportunity and the financial support to do it. So what am I doing? I'm picking up and I'm packing next month and I'm going into a massive metropolis of Toronto where I have no clue about anything. And I'm just gonna go for it. I love that

Coach Maddox  58:47  
out of the comfort zone. You know, this is what I call brave space. Brave space. And I'm very inspired.

Berend McKenzie  59:01  
Thanks. I'm terrified. You can ask grant. I'm terrified. Okay. It's okay. Yeah. I talked to you about my favorite saying it saved me once I got sober and got depressed.

Coach Maddox  59:14  
Feel the fear of fear, do it anyway.

Berend McKenzie  59:18  
And the book, the book is so good because it's it's like your life is about fear. And if I read it a gazillion years ago, it is a great book. And it just says you're gonna feel fear. That's normal. And I feel the same around grief or around anything that feels like it might be in a negative emotion. Feel it? It's going to happen anyways, if you try to fight it, it's going to make it worse. If you feel the fear and you acknowledge that it's there and say, Hey, how's it going? Take a seat. We'll be here for a little bit and then you say, Okay, it's gone. Now I can move on. That's what I'm doing. I'm literally putting all of my All of my faith into the unknown right now, and it is terrifying and exciting. And it is the way Ray would have wanted me to live my life after

Coach Maddox  1:00:11  
his death. Well, it's obviously the way you want to live your life as well.

Berend McKenzie  1:00:14  
And it is the way I want to live my life. Yeah.

Coach Maddox  1:00:19  
Yeah. Awesome. Awesome. I have loved your story today. This is just this has been such a treat. And although I feel like you have already dropped multiple wisdom bombs, I'm going to say, you know, what is the what is the one most important wisdom bomb that you would like to drop on the listeners after sharing your whole life story? What's the one wisdom bomb that you'd like to drop?

Berend McKenzie  1:00:46  
Say yes. Before you say no. Say yes, opportunities. When I say yes to anything, especially things that I feel resistant to? If I say yes to it, I can at least let it into my spirit. I can let it into my bone marrow and see how it fits. And then I could say no, everything in my life has been because of Yes. All the positive like meeting you. I was resistant. I was resistant. Grant was like you should meet Maddox. And I saw and I was like, I don't know, like, I don't know. I said yes, I've made a friend. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to like meet you and and say yes to this. And when I'm in Dallas, I'm coming to visit. I can't wait. Say yes. Before you say no, you always have the option to say no. But when when I say no at the beginning of something, the answer will always be no

Coach Maddox  1:01:41  
always be No. That's that's a pretty powerful wisdom bomb. I'm walking away with that. Thank you for that. Because I'm hesitant to say Yes, sometimes. So that's yeah, that's beautiful. Baron, thank you so much. Well, I've totally enjoyed hearing your story. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt the listeners are going to too. I know. Yeah, this is gonna land really, really well. I just feel it in my bones. So now we move to the time of the episode where we do our rapid fire questions. Oh, no. rapid fire questions for Ragnar dancers. Yes, yes, yes. Yes. So don't ever think this just you know, whatever comes to mind. Okay. When was the last time you cried in front of another gay man

Berend McKenzie  1:02:35  
five days ago.

Coach Maddox  1:02:37  
Okay. Beautiful. I love it. What is your superpower?

Berend McKenzie  1:02:46  
I am I am unlikable. And like no

Coach Maddox  1:02:51  
I wish that this is audio I wish that the rest of us could see the smart the no not not the smile because it Why didn't initially smile. The look on your face when I asked that question. That look was absolutely priceless. It was like like fireworks were going off in your your brain. And you came out with it like without even having to really I love it. Absolutely love it. You are likable, you're very likeable. Well, that stands in your way of having more and better relationships with other LGBTQ men.

Berend McKenzie  1:03:30  
Myself, myself, I always get in the way of love and relationships. I'm always afraid I'm going to lose it so I hold on to it really tightly. And then oftentimes I strangle it and then it doesn't want to be around me so I I'm always in my own way all the time. A lot.

Coach Maddox  1:03:51  
You know you articulated that very well. I love that you went on to explain a little bit of it because I know that I can relate to that and I'm I'm sure there are others do others relate to it as well. You know, we squeeze squeeze the life out of things sometimes. Rather than just letting them be and appreciating them and enjoying them. Wearing this has been epic have absolutely loved it. You're welcome to come back on the podcast anytime. Yes, let's do it. We'll do it again. We'll say yes again. Well, there's one thing I want to leave you with before we end the episode and that is just to look into your eyes and tell you that You my friend are indeed an authentic gay man.

Berend McKenzie  1:04:43  
Thank you and so are you and thank you for listening to me and giving me some space to talk about what I what my life is like and it helps it helps to speak it out loud so you're very generous and very lovely and I I've been very easy to talk to you I've really appreciated it thank you thank you

Coach Maddox  1:05:03  
it's been an honor and a pleasure

Berend McKenzieProfile Photo

Berend McKenzie


Berend McKenzie (He/She/They Interchangeably) is an award-winning actor, screenwriter, author and playwright living on Turtle Island (otherwise known as Canada). Berend is a survivor of racism, child physical abuse, the AIDS pandemic and drug and alcohol addiction. For years Berend spent their life being whatever others wanted them to be. This allowed them to always be the victim and prevented them from taking ownership of their own life. Berend's quest to find their authentic self began after they got clean and sober 23 years ago and they haven't looked back. The gift of sobriety has allowed them to drop the mask they thought others wanted to see and find the authentic self hidden beneath. It's not always pretty but it's real. Berend's writing has helped them in their process of self-discovery and has helped them own their place in the past to make a better future.