Episode #48: My Filter Came Off

Person with pointer finger to lips to silence

Not too long ago my filter came off. And (this time) I couldn’t blame it on fatigue. I was in a SAFE space. And the space of that relationship made all the difference. Safe places to be seen, in all of our beauty and our mess, are critical to well-being (and any trauma-healing journey).



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 went to visit my college roommate recently to help prepare her house to sell. And the wildest thing--to me anyway--happened. It’s all relative, right?

I talk about safe spaces a lot. About how important safe relationships are to our health and well-being and even to our healing. One of the things I have learned over the last 5 years is that some healing can only happen inside of you (often with the support of a healing professional such as a therapist or counselor) and some healing happens and can only happen in community and relationship. In fact, one of the most, if not the most powerful antidotes to trauma is safe, caring relationship . . .

Why is this the case? Well, I am not the expert but I do know because Brene Brown told me so (and others have said the same) that human beings are WIRED for human connection. We cannot thrive without it. Maybe in our technological society we can “live” without it . . . and that is a BIG maybe . . . but we most certainly cannot thrive without it. 

And let’s be real, much of our trauma happens at the hand of another person, right? We learn not to trust other people because they hurt us. Sometimes on purpose. Sometimes unintentionally. Sometimes as they play out their own trauma. 

Hopefully, we spend the first few years of our lives being told how wonderful and perfect we are and then the rest of our lives being told that we are not enough and too much all at the same time. Between the input from caregivers and teachers, authority figures and peers, marketing messages and politicians, we don’t know who we are, we are obsessed with who we are “supposed” to be and terrified of (or at least distrusting of) everyone else. 

As I have said before, our trauma, unhealed, gets wired into our brain. Hardwired. 

And we forget. We forget who we were before. We forget what the world felt like before. Who were we before the world told us who to be. And who not to be. Before our brains encoded these messages for our own survival. 

I have an extraordinary filter. It lives between my prefrontal cortex and my mouth. It keeps me from saying destructive things. Things that might harm or hurt other people. Things that might harm or hurt ME because if I say all of the things that run through my head, I might put myself in a position to be shunned or abandoned by people I care about. 

I used to be terrified of the darkest parts of me. Even though they are beautiful and poetic in their own right. I was terrified that if I showed the darkest parts of me to others they would leave. I was terrified that if I showed my darkest parts to myself--if I said them out loud or wrote them down--they might swallow me whole. That fear still lingers. Even though to some degree I am building a life and a living by talking about things other people are scared to talk about. And even though I have learned that the darkest parts of me are often doorways into my trauma . . . and my healing. The fear still lingers.

This filter has served me well. It has kept other people on their toes by not knowing what was going on inside my brain. By the way, I used to have a stone-cold poker face too. What a combination! It kept me “safe” so to speak. And distant. And disconnected. 

I leaned heavily on this filter as a leader as I drove forward toward a cultural norm that depended (as all cultural norms do frankly) on consistency, reliability, a measured and intentional response regardless of what the stimulus might be. I used to tell my team that if the filter started to come off, I would be exiting the building to take a break--and I would return when I was able to re-engage that filter. By the way it was not helpful to me or my team when that filter disengaged (and I couldn’t find the reset button) toward the end of my career as a non-profit CEO. Because the chaos in me started to spill out on everyone else. 

My filter is so strong with my family of origin that sometimes I wonder if they even realize it is there. I have been coached or received feedback at times about what it appeared that I believed or thought was true. In fact, I was not confused at all, I just had mastered the art of self-preservation. I knew exactly what not to say. As I have healed and as members of my family do their own work to heal, I have seen the benefit (sometimes at least) of removing that filter and speaking my own and actual truth. And yet, I understand however so painfully that our family of origin is one of the hardest places to be ourselves. 

My filter starts to slip when I am tired. Not just a little tired. But exhausted tired. And so I generally put myself to bed until I feel better. And before I do too much damage with my words.

All of this makes it sound like I have 100% clarity and awareness around my filter. And I have a lot to be sure. It is a device I have used intentionally for many, many, many years. 

But do you remember when I was talking about trauma changing our brains? Hardwiring? Encoding? Essentially re-writing who we are and who we might have been from the inside out? And sometimes, often even, we have no idea what has occurred inside our brain. We don’t realize that every bit of data we take in now is seen with a new lens and processed along pathways that didn’t exist before trauma. 

And if you have been listening for a while, you know that I am living the journey of healing my own trauma, one step at a time, one layer at a time. Sometimes doing the work inside of me. And sometimes in the safe community I am now blessed to call mine. 

My old community . . . the one I had before I crashed and burned was almost decimated just as I burned to the ground. And I am forever grateful for those who stood fast in that journey with me. 

And still, I spent a number of years just picking up the pieces. One breath at a time. One moment at a time. One day at a time. Something no one could do for me and even my nearest and dearest couldn’t really wrap their brains around. 

Mental illness creates isolation in many forms. Some from the outside in. And some from the inside out. 

When I was finally able to return to the gym several years ago, I worked out almost always alone, during open gym, for more than a year before my coach pushed this baby bird out of the nest back into the gym community. 

For the record, I do not blame, although I have deeply, deeply grieved, the loss of some who couldn’t come along. 

So back to my trip to see my college roommate. We have been friends for 30 years. We have not lived in the same city for approximately 20 years. And we rarely talk on the phone. But she is one of THOSE friends. One of those friends with whom you have walked through so much life--the surgeries and the celebrations and the funerals and the imploding relationships and the broken hearts and the picking up the pieces--that the safety gauge is off the charts. 

And within perhaps only 20 minutes of being in her house a comment rolled off of my tongue. So easily and quickly that it surprised me. I didn’t even know the words were there. And I was taken aback. And slightly awe struck. I am one of the most honest and transparent people I know. And still, there are parts of me that remain hidden. Even I do not know they are there. 

Who was this person, this voice, who peeked out from behind the curtain she hides behind to say “Hi! I am still here. I haven’t gone anywhere. I am just waiting for my time. My place. My space. To be seen.” That part of me knew I was safe in my roommate’s house, in her space, in our relationship. A part of me that I am barely aware of as I walk through day to day life. 

Oh, the power of safe relationship. Relationships where you are allowed to be seen for who you are, where you are, how you are. Where no one tries to fix you, but everyone listens. Intently. And with full presence. Not to judge. But just to witness. Sometimes we need a witness. We just do. 

And here is the exciting part. I will be launching a safe community experience later this year--likely in October. It will be virtual--yes, I know, I know, I know that in person is so so so much [more] preferable. And yet, we are living in a virtual world. And I want this experience to be accessible. I don’t want to wait until it is safe again to enter group space. And I want to be able to reach beyond geographic boundaries.

This offering will be a carefully curated experience with a limited number of participants. We will hold space for each other. We will see and be seen. We will practice tools that support presence and healing and safe community. Without performance metrics.

If you are interested in learning more about this experience and being the first to know when it is available, hop on over to my website @boothandrews.com and opt-in to emails on my home page. I cannot wait to see you there. 


Thank you for listening today. And, if you haven’t already, please hit subscribe and remember to rate this podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. When you subscribe and rate, you make it easier for other people to find this content. If you write a review of the podcast, I will share it on air in a future episode.

I look forward to being back with you next time!