Remembering John Bradshaw
John Bradshaw wore many hats, and most of them fit quite well: theologian, scholar, self-help guru, evangelist, pop psychologist, best-selling author, orator, adult child, counselor, recovering addict, and my personal favorite, the pied piper of recovery.
I first met John in 1987 when I attended a talk he gave on toxic shame in a packed church auditorium in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Instantly, I knew we (i.e., Health Communications, Inc.) had found our next best-seller. It had been ten years since Peter Vegso and I started our publishing company and we had already been blessed with our first NY Times best-seller, Janet Woititz’s Adult Children of Alcoholics (1983).
During these early years, I was privy to hearing some wonderfully talented and skilled speakers on the conference circuit and several joined our family of authors.
Suffice it to say that I had never experienced anything quite like being up close and personal with John Bradshaw. He was on fire with an almost evangelical zeal. He was mesmerizing. Most compelling, and what I will remember most, was John’s humaneness and authenticity.
Although he had already made his mark, most notably with his first PBS television series, Bradshaw On: The Family, he had not yet—fortunately for us—been snapped up by one of New York’s publishing giants. So, as a direct result of that first “Bradshaw sighting,” HCI published his first two mega-best-sellers: Bradshaw On: The Family (1988) and Healing the Shame That Binds You (1988). Together with Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child (1992), these classics taught us that toxic shame is the fuel for all addictions; that until “adult children” of dysfunctional families healed their “inner child,” most would stumble through life, expressing their pain through self-destructive behaviors, and entering into unhappy love relationships with similarly damaged partners, each hoping to find in the other a loving, approving parent.
Bradshaw’s appeal stemmed in part from his own account of his life. He rose from poverty and a traumatic childhood with an abusive alcoholic father and a dysfunctional mother. He had known addiction—to sex and alcohol—and broken family relationships. Everything he wrote about he struggled with himself.
He once said he regarded his role as similar to that of a priest. “If the priestly work is to bring hope and comfort to people, then in that sense I believe I am one. Everywhere I go people walk up to me and say, ‘You changed my life.’”
You changed my life, John Bradshaw. You will be missed but never forgotten.