Episode #24: Lean Back

Often the more stressful, overwhelming and out of control things feel, we hold on too tightly. And in doing so, we separate ourselves from other people and from a larger power in the world that both have our best interest and well-being at heart. When I was brought to my knees by mental illness, I lost my financial independence and my ability to rely only on myself for survival. And still, I was held and provided for in ways I would have never imagined. And in the midst of the struggle was a beautiful lesson: Trust that you will be well, you don't have to hustle to make it so.


Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode. 

I am pretty excited to announce that this is my “podcastiversary” episode. I have officially been podcasting for a year.  So thank you to everyone who has joined me as I share my stories and thoughts and lessons learned.

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So, as I write this episode, it was my 47th birthday. And for the last five days prior to that my little heart space had been talking to me. Not about my birthday specifically. But I had been so grateful for the reconnection because I lost it temporarily. I don’t even know that I was aware that I lost it . . . but in hindsight, which is always so, so much clearer, I realized that connection that I have come to rely on was temporarily disabled or, more likely, just clouded with the interference that comes when we slip into survival mode. 

As I brushed my teeth, I was contemplating money . . . or my lack thereof, in my checking account on my birthday. Money is a long, hard topic for me. My father went bankrupt twice, and twice, we lost our home, although I am too young to remember the first time. In between the periods of famine, there were definitely periods of feast. Times when money seemed to flow abundantly . . . at least in the direction of the things that my father valued. But perhaps more on that another time. 

For now, I will also add to the context that I have had the “opportunity” to re-build my personal income stream from scratch not once, but now 3 times in the last 4 years. This is not a humble brag. Frankly, I wouldn’t recommend it . . . but I also cannot deny the lessons and gates that I have walked through, that I needed to walk through, as part of this process. 

I have trauma around my birthday. Last week I told a relatively new(ish) friend, that I have “baggage” around my birthday. But that, in fact, is not entirely accurate or a true and honest acknowledgement of what I actually carry with me. I have TRAUMA around my birthday. Just two years ago I spent my birthday curled up on the couch in a depressive episode that had been triggered by my birthday. I have both looked forward to, and dreaded, my birthday for many years, and not because I really give one whit about aging (except for my achy joints of course).

First, as with many things in my childhood, birthdays could be both amazing and terrible. Sometimes there was a genuine blowout to celebrate the person whose birthday it was. Sometimes. 

Other times, I was being punished in or around my birthday. “Punished” at my house, among other things, included being told that a certain gift had been purchased for me but then given to another kid because I had been bad. “Punished” might be spending the day at the golf course with my father while he played 36 or more holes of golf just miles away from where the rest of the family played at the beach or the waterpark during our annual summer vacation that often fell on my birthday week. “Punished” might be plans or outings being canceled altogether.

When I turned 16, there were no adults there to punish me, and there hadn’t been for some time. But there were no adults there to celebrate me either. I made my own cake, and invited a few friends over and threw my own 16th birthday party. 

So back to the morning of my birthday. As I brushed my teeth and contemplated my lack of funds to do something celebratory, the message came loud and clear . . . LEAN BACK AND LET THE UNIVERSE HOLD YOU ON YOUR BIRTHDAY. 

Now before you feel too badly for me, I did treat myself to something for my birthday that I talk more about on episode 23 of the podcast. My financial reality is that I am still digging out of the financial backlog of several years of mental health crisis, and so when funds are generated, they immediately have somewhere they need to go, even though I also haven’t used credit cards in a number of years.

But, back to my story. One of the outcomes of my childhood and young adulthood was an overgrown sense of independence. As I have mentioned, I thought I was a freaking superhero before I crashed and burned. And I was. Less the cape. 

The thing I trusted beyond all other things was my ability to take care of myself. And if I am being completely honest, I didn’t trust anyone else to do it for me, even for a minute. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t test those waters from time to time, usually when I had waited until I was in total crisis to ask for help (hmmmm . . . pattern), but it always seemed that the person I was looking to would inevitably disappoint me or decide not to show up the way I thought I wanted and needed, or sometimes might even tell me why I didn’t actually need the thing I thought I needed or why I didn’t deserve it. Now, if you are paying attention, there is incredible complexity in the dynamic I have just described--it is neither simple, nor black and white nor wholly attributable to the other person. It does takes two to tango after all. But that is not the point of this podcast either.

When I became mentally ill, I lost the thing that mattered most to me in the world in terms of my belief in my ability to survive. I lost my ability to trust myself. To trust my mind, which, for me, was the most powerful tool in my arsenal. But the Universe wasn’t done with me yet. 

In the final descent into mental illness and even in the beginnings of recovery, I lost my financial independence. I lost my ability to hold a job because when you don’t know if you will be able to get out of bed, dress appropriately, leave the house, think clearly and tolerate social interaction on any given day, you can’t exactly commit to showing up for an employer 40 hours per week; much less at the level to which I had worked myself in my career. 

I lost my ability to be the sole provider of my needs and wants both financially and otherwise. I HAD TO RELY ON THE UNIVERSE TO PROVIDE because I had no other choice. This has been an extraordinarily challenging part of my journey. There have been days I didn’t know where the food was going to come from, or the gas to get to my next work appointment, or a car for that matter, or money to get a haircut, or pay my rent or utilities, or to pay for my medication or something my kids needed. I have had to make the decision to have one prescription refilled but not the other. To buy just a few pills at a time. To leave food on the conveyor belt at the grocery store. I have met people for coffee and not had any coffee. I have had to tell my kids no countless times. I have fed them but not eaten myself. I have deferred annual check ups and preventative care for lack of funds. 

And yet, every step of the way, and not always in the way I would have imagined . . . actually MOST OFTEN not in the way I would have imagined, the Universe has held me, and provided for me: through the generosity of other people who sent work my way, loaned me a car for 6 months, paid my utility bill in a crisis, bought me a meal or a cup of coffee, sent me gift cards for groceries or put gas in my car, or treated me and the kids to a trip to the beach, and everything in between, I have been FORCED and I mean FORCED to trust that somehow, some way, the things that I truly needed would be provided, and if it wasn’t provided, then there was some other solution to the problem or need that I just didn’t see yet. I have been forced to learn to trust and cede more deeply and completely than I ever had before in my life. 

And this is coming from someone who could clearly articulate even as a teenager that while we might “think” we had some semblance of control over our lives, that was just bs because there were clearly things at work beyond our influence and comprehension.

Part of me wishes I hadn’t been so freaking stubborn that I had to literally and figuratively go to my knees in order to learn this particular lesson. But here we are.

And so, as my mind started to even think about spinning a story about what a bummer it is that I don’t/didn’’t have cash on my birthday, my heart clearly and loudly said, LEAN BACK AND LET THE UNIVERSE HOLD YOU ON YOUR BIRTHDAY. And what this means for me is less about “stuff” as I have a somewhat dis-associative relationship with stuff at this point in my life. What this message really means to me is this--trust the Universe to hold you HEART on your Birthday. Trust the Universe to hold your HURT on your Birthday. Trust OTHER PEOPLE to hold space for you on your Birthday. YOU DON’T HAVE TO PROVIDE IT ALL OR HOLD IT ALL JUST BECAUSE IT IS YOUR BIRTHDAY. Let your fierce, independent, I can do it all myself thank you very much part of self take a break and just relax and let go. Trust that you will be well. You don’t have to hustle to make it so.

Sometimes, and in fact often the more stressful and overwhelming and out of control things feel, we hold on TOO TIGHT. And when we hold on too tight, we disconnect from other people and deny our interdependence on each other and on something larger than and outside ourselves. Sometimes we actively push people away. We disassociate. We deny. We may inadvertently send other people the message that they cannot help us or that we will not let them help us. That we don’t need them or want them or trust them. We put up walls and wonder why other people won’t do the work to scale them. We hunker down in our personal bunkers and then we wonder why we feel all alone. 

We are an interdependent species. We weren’t designed to do “life” all alone. We were designed and are dependent upon human and spiritual connection to survive and thrive.

SO, this is a tale of caution and hope. When we are tempted to push forward and take the world on our shoulders, perhaps the true opportunity is actually in leaning back, opening up our hearts, and trusting that we will be held in ways we cannot even imagine and better than we might design if left to our own devices.

For a handful of years, I have been FORCED to receive in a way I never thought possible. And somewhere along the way, I have slowly settled into this idea that what I need, truly need, will be provided. Now there is a difference between being totally passive and receptive. But the truth is, we like to pretend that we can control a lot more than we can actually control. And some of us, like me, like to pretend that we don’t need anyone or anything else. This is about doing the work AND trusting all at the same time. 

So, as I embark on my next trip around the sun, I want to explore the difference between being FORCED to cede and trust and CHOOSING to lean back, cede and trust. I encourage you to observe the patterns and places in your own life where you may be holding on too tight and perhaps even blocking your opportunity to RECEIVE what other people or the Universe may want to do on your behalf. 

Take a deep breath, lean back, and notice what happens. 

And if you are wondering...I had a truly wonderful birthday.


For more information about the work that I do with individuals, groups and organizations go to boothandrews.com. You can also find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @theboothandrews.

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I look forward to being back with you next time!