Fight, Flight, Freeze
by Christie Daugherty
The Call

eptember 5, 2008, is the day the world as I knew it was over. The call was brief but to the point. “Hey, it’s Linda from the bank. I wanted to give you as much notice as possible that the FDIC is shutting down the bank. I know that this is a complete surprise, as it is to many of us, and to be honest, I am not sure what the next few days and weeks will look like. So please do what you can to handle what you can in preparation.” What happened over the next seven years redefined everything I knew about myself, my strengths, my unknown weaknesses, and my inability to move.

Paralysis and Change
The fight-flight-freeze response is our body’s internal and natural response to danger and the fear of harm. Typically, we think of this response as being “in the moment” and in direct reaction to a specific threat. Once the threat is gone, so is the response or reaction. In reality, some circumstances and our responses in the moment can ingrain into our subconscious a fear which remains long after the threat has passed. What transpired over seven years starting that dreadful day in September has caused me to struggle in many areas and situations that one would not expect from the commonly known fight-flight-freeze responses. One that became a struggle for me was success.
As owners of a large contracting company, developers, and a broker of commercial real estate, my husband and I held every aspect of our financial lives within the workings of the bank. Payroll accounts, lines of credit, development and equipment loans, and the mortgage on our dream home were amongst all things uncertain. In a matter of hours, everything was frozen and untouchable, and the entire future of our lives, our employees’ lives, and many others were left dangling off the edge of a very steep cliff.
Success Becomes a Stranger
The few days following the closure, the entity that regulates the banking industry took over control of all accounts. They assured everyone that all would be handled expeditiously and justly. They began the transfer and servicing of the non-commercial accounts, deciding to hold off on the commercial accounts for an unknown period of time. These commercial accounts involved a majority of the developers, contractors, and subcontractors in the state, including us. We all continued to attempt to reconcile with the entity, looking to transfer loans, secure “take-out financing,” and pay the monthly payments that became due. All attempts were rejected. Days turned into months, and eventually a year had passed.
The fight-flight-freeze response is our body’s internal and natural response to danger and the fear of harm. Typically, we think of this response as being “in the moment” and in direct reaction to a specific threat. Once the threat is gone, so is the response or reaction. In reality, some circumstances and our responses in the moment can ingrain into our subconscious a fear which remains long after the threat has passed.
We moved out of state due to the foreseeable crash and were forced to purchase a home that had to be seller-financed. You see, we had no access to any funds, and as a result we could not qualify for a loan. Without going through the interim details, what eventually happened was unprecedented and shocking. The federal entity had turned over all of the commercial accounts and loans to a public/private group for “servicing”: They had entered into a public/private partnership with this group, giving them full control, financed with forgivable funding, and gave them the same umbrella of protections that are held by the government. In reality, this group had not received a book of accounts to service, but rather had negotiated to acquire a portfolio of assets and property.

Most of the commercial loans and lines of credit were 24- to 36-month term notes. They had kept all frozen until just after each was into the default period. Stepping into action, the correspondence from the group came quickly and with a heavy tone. Our properties, including offices, developments, vacation properties, and homes, were being foreclosed. We, and all of the other principals that had been held off for so long, were forced to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Moving Forward
Having lost everything and feeling humiliated, we pushed forward to begin a new chapter with our family in a new state. Though tough to get used to, the slower day-to-day life made us realize that we hadn’t taken enough time to enjoy our boys and take deep breaths. For these lessons, I was grateful.

In the midst of these changes, another event occurred that set me on my heels, a letter from an attorney stating that the group that had taken everything from us and forced us into bankruptcy was now filing fraud charges against us. Fraud?? We had never engaged in anything fraudulent. Many friends and business acquaintances involved with this servicing group were also being accused of fraud.

It took much research to uncover the mindset of this group. Why accuse us of fraud? In short, if this group could try to get a fraud conviction, for any reason, the bankruptcy would be void, and these balances owed, although challenging to collect, could remain on the books as receivables, therefore creating an asset to this group. They went after everyone, accusing us all of various acts of fraudulent reporting, whatever they thought a judge would listen to or we would succumb to. Every word and accusation was untrue. In fact, they had never had access to any information, documentation, reporting, or reference of any kind to the items or circumstances they alleged were fraudulent in nature. They continued to fabricate horrible and humiliating reason after reason as to why we and the others were frauds.

Many, running out of funds to defend themselves, were found guilty by inaction and summary judgment. This seemed to be the looming future for us as well. I found a fantastic attorney, but there was only so much that we could do. The reality and magnitude of what could happen if they won by default was mind-numbing. Not only the eternal monetary judgment against us or the inability to own anything in the future, but, horrifically, if they were to get a fraud conviction by summary judgment, I would not have the ability to hold a real estate license.

By what I can only credit to the grace of God, we received an unexpected check in the mail. A payoff of a lawsuit that our contracting company won—five years prior. This check allowed my attorney and I to get creative and submit an offer of settlement that, surprisingly, they accepted. As a result, I would finally be rid of the gloom that had taken over my life for so many years.

Recognizing Reality
This resolution, something that should have relieved all of the stress, burden, and lack of vision for the future, suddenly became the thing that paralyzed me and my ability to succeed again. I was able to return to commercial real estate but lacked the drive and will to succeed that I had always dedicated to my career. I was telling myself excuse after excuse as to why I wasn’t achieving. In truth, I was frozen. It would take another six years to realize that I was terrified of success and the heartache and trauma I was convinced it would bring. I had come to see every horrible thing that happened as a direct result of acquiring success, earnings, assets, and achievements. It was easier not to have success, and all that success brings, than to risk entering another comedy of errors like the one that had taken so much 13 years before.
Looking Ahead
As leaders, we need to allow the time and put in the effort to process the traumas in our lives rather than push through them. The paths forged in our subconscious by all kinds of trauma can elicit future responses that cause us to limit our ability to rise to achievement without our even realizing it.

As I reflect on the events that have transpired and the effect they have had on years of my life, I am in the midst of my most lucrative and successful career year. Through self-reflection, fantastic coaching, and continuing to realize the importance of learning how our subconscious affects every aspect of what we do, I am and will continue to be more successful and fulfilled than I have ever been. I will continue to fight, to take flight, and never freeze again.

Christie Daugherty
Christie Daugherty, CCIM, is an associate broker and director of the commercial division for EXIT Realty Success in Utah. Daugherty has been dedicated to the industry for more than 19 years and is currently based in Salt Lake City. Specializing in commercial/investment real estate, and a 15-year designee of the Certified Commercial Investment Member organization, Daugherty’s experience in development and contracting have earned awards including the DESI Award for custom residential design/construction, Top 20 Most Innovative Projects (by the Tilt-Up Concrete Association), a Las Vegas Parade of Homes award, EXIT Realty Corp. International’s Silver Award, and Agent of the Year.

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