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We push ourselves until we crash.

We people please until we lose ourselves.

We hide our truth until we’re crushed from loneliness and disconnection.

Instead of dealing with the stress of our present, the anxiety of our future, or the trauma of our past, we numb out.

We drink the wine or take the pills or binge on the ice cream—and, oftentimes, we cross the threshold from numbing out to addiction.

Not surprisingly, alcohol is one of the first things many reach for to numb the ache. It’s socially acceptable and it’s easily accessible. It takes the edge off. It makes us feel a little less. It helps us find more calm and clarity.

Similarly, some people shop to soothe their pain. Some eat. Some exercise until they drop to the ground. The things that start off as comfort often lead to addition.

And it works—until it doesn’t.

My guest on this episode is Andrea Owen. Andrea is the founder of Your Kick-Ass Life Coaching and author of How To Stop Feeling Like Shit: 14 Habits That Are Holding You Back From Happiness and 52 Ways to Live a Kick-Ass Life: BS Free Wisdom to Ignite Your Inner Badass and Live the Life You Deserve. She helps high-achieving women let go of perfectionism, control, and isolation and, instead, choose courage and confidence.

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • Why Andrea needed to understand and heal her traumas in order to fully unburden the last of her addictions
  • The role community plays in Andrea’s sobriety
  • How grief nearly brought Andrea out of recovery
  • How commitment to her values helped Andrea maintain her continued healing and sobriety

Learn more about Andrea Owen:

Learn more about Rebecca:

Other references:


Andrea Owen: I did have a moment where I was really angry that I knew that the solution was sobriety because I felt like I’m not gonna have anything else. I really have to face my stuff now if I quit drinking.

[Inspirational Intro Music]

Rebecca Ching: We push ourselves until we crash. We people please until we lose ourselves. We hide our truth until we’re crushed from loneliness and disconnection. We drink the wine or take the pills, binge on the ice cream and can often cross the threshold that goes beyond the comfort of numbing through abuse to addiction. It works until it doesn’t. We have so many ineffective ways to soothe our pain, and alcohol is one of the first things so many reach for when we need to numb the ache. It’s socially acceptable, it’s easily accessible, and it works until it doesn’t.

I’m Rebecca Ching, and you’re listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with leaders whose burdens have inspired their life’s work. Our goal is to learn how they’ve addressed these burdens, how they rise from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.

[Inspirational Intro Music]

Much of our culture is based on finding new ways to numb our pain. We shop. We eat. We exercise ‘til we drop to the ground. Instead of dealing with the stress of our present, the anxiety of our future, or the traumas of our past, we numb out. A quick fix can be fine from time to time. I mean, shoot, comfort is needed and necessary, but too often it becomes a pattern, a habit, and that habit can turn into dependency, and it works until it doesn’t. The burden of addiction is taking out way too many leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs.


Now, the burden of addiction shows up along meaningful work, and it can be found in tandem with deep commitments to a cause. The burden of addiction often is justified to help us with deep focus on metrics and results and growth. It takes the edge off the relentless attention to detail and delivering value, and the burden of addiction is often fueled by the desire to win and always be seen as a success.

My guest today is Andrea Owen. Andrea’s an author, global speaker, and professional certified life coach who helps high-achieving women let go of perfectionism, control, and isolation, and instead choose courage and confidence. In this interview with Andrea, she shares how underneath the drivers that move us away from living an integrated life of our loves is undealt with hurts, betrayals, losses, genetic vulnerability, family history, and abuse. She also notes that sometimes it’s simply the desire to take the edge off or to feel just a little less (feeling can be a lot these days) and sometimes just to find more calm and clarity.

Pay attention to Andrea’s continued circling back to the need to understand and heal her traumas in order to truly unburden the last of her addictions: alcohol. Notice how grief nearly brought her out of recovery. And listen for the role of how community and a deep commitment to her values helped maintain her continued healing and sobriety. Now, I am so thrilled to share with you my Unburdened Leader interview with Andrea Owen!


Andrea, I am so, so thrilled and honored you’re here today to talk to me.

Andrea Owen: This is the highlight of my week. I am so happy to be here. Thank you!

Rebecca Ching: Oh, that means so much. Even before we started formally going into this interview, I was talking about how excited I was to connect with you because we know each other. We’ve known each other for several years now. Our lives have intertwined quite a bit. And there’s so much I value about you as a leader and how you lead in your home, in your work, and just your voice. And so, I’m excited for people to get to know you.

You talk about a lot of things publicly in your story, and I think also, too, that’s another thing I respect. You’re very open about your healing and your recovery process, and you talk about it in a way that actually inspires. It doesn’t make people feel crushed by it — yeah, or that was too much. You just talk about such a trauma-informed way. One of the areas that you’re super open about is your sobriety and not drinking anymore.

Andrea Owen: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: I’m curious about what was a facedown or rock bottom moment that still, today, impacts you?

Andrea Owen: If we’re talking specifically about recovery from alcohol, I don’t know if I had one facedown moment. There were a couple of moments. I’m thinking back about those last handful of months where I was drinking fairly heavily, and I don’t even like to say how much because then people listening try to compare how much they drink to how much I was drinking, and the quantity doesn’t matter, really. I mean, obviously for some it really, really does. It impacts their health. But for me it was I had a moment where — there were a handful of them.


My drinking career ended when my kids were toddlers. I walked through my twenties fairly normal. I grew up where you live in San Diego. There are a lot of places to get in trouble down there. We went out partying, and there was some binge drinking, but I hate to say it, nothing out of the ordinary. I could really take it for leave it.

My drinking really picked up when I recovered from the other things like codependency in my eating disorder and my love addiction, which we can talk about. My drinking picked up speed, and there was a moment where I was standing at the refrigerator door. My husband had come home from work, and he was pulling into the driveway, and I had a bottle of Chardonnay in my hand and was chugging a few more ounces, before he came home, and put it back.

There was one time where I filled up an empty can of diet coke with Merlot to go out and pull my kids around the cul de sac in the wagon because I was bored. Really, what was underneath it was I was still grieving and dealing with the trauma from my first marriage exploding in my face, dealing with old childhood stuff that I hadn’t even known was an issue. The drinking was just a symptom still of my codependence that I was hanging onto and a lot of unresolved trauma that I hadn’t even looked at.

So it was sort of the last frontier as far as symptoms, but I did have a moment where I was really angry that I knew that the solution was sobriety because I felt like I’m not gonna have anything else. I really have to face my stuff now if I quit drinking, and I didn’t want to. [Laughs] The facedown moment I think was more symbolism than anything of, “Okay, this is it. Especially if I’m gonna do this work that I do and walk my talk, I have to quit drinking. I have to,” and that means that I’m also gonna have to really dive deep into my stuff, and that was the scariest part of it.

Rebecca Ching: You said a few things that I thought were really, really powerful. Well, first you said the end of your drinking career.

Andrea Owen: Mm-hmm.


Rebecca Ching: Tell me about that phrase.

Andrea Owen: I think that if anyone out there is listening and who identifies as being an alcoholic or an addict in some way, we get to a point where it feels like it’s a career. It becomes a full-time job of not just managing the physical act of drinking but it’s the mental stuff that we go through. It’s the taking inventory of how much alcohol is in the house. If we’re at a social event or a party, is anyone noticing how much I’m drinking? When is this conversation gonna be over with, Rebecca, so I can go back to the bar and get another drink. We’re never fully present at social events when we’re drinking, and the, “Am I drinking too much? Does my husband notice that I’m drinking? Is he gonna notice that I’m gonna have another drink?”

This constant barrage, and then the morning after and waking up and feeling guilt and shame about our drinking. The hangover really isn’t that big of a deal. It wasn’t for me. The physical symptoms weren’t. It was the mental anguish of it. It takes up so much space in our minds that, for me, it felt like a career.

Rebecca Ching: I really appreciate how you talked about how it was the last symptom and the way I conceptualized that. It was the last kind of protector that you had that was keeping all of the traumas at bay.

Andrea Owen: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca Ching: And it wasn’t doing it so well because it was consuming every bit of your life. I really think a lot of people will relate to that. Literally, what protects us feels like it becomes our job.

Andrea Owen: Yeah. There’s a saying in the rooms of twelve-step recovery meetings, “It works until it doesn’t.”

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Andrea Owen: You know, Brené talks about armor, and for me, perfectionism worked until it didn’t, control worked until it didn’t, overachieving worked until it didn’t. That’s what I wrote about (all those things) in my second book, and it was the same thing with the drinking. It worked for a while until it didn’t, and I think that, yeah, I mean, those are all symptoms.


Maybe I spoke too soon. I still have to be careful about work. That’s another symptom, but it’s a noble one, right? So yeah, for me, they were all symptoms. They still are.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, thank you for naming that. We’ve talked about perfectionism before. You’ve had me on your podcast to talk about perfectionism and shame, and you mentioned Brené. We’re referencing Brené Brown. Both of us are certified Daring Way Facilitators. I’ve had the privilege and honor of helping you complete your certification process in that, and perfectionism has always been my joke of choice, and work is its BFF for me.

So I think that, as Brené talks about, if you do perfect, you be perfect, you look perfect, that the armor (again, what I call protection) around that, is not sustainable. It’s not sustainable.

Andrea Owen: It’s not. You know, mine is control, which I always say perfectionism and control are sisters.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Andrea Owen: Who knows, maybe the way we describe those symptoms, they look exactly the same. We just name them different things. And overachieving is like the best friend of those sisters as well. And yeah, it was just a protector because I was so terrified of what people might think of me. I was so afraid of — the way I describe it is what I was really longing for, which I think is just a human thing, is I wanted intimacy and trust and love, and it was also at the same time the things that I was so incredibly terrified of.

My therapist said to me one time, “Andrea, I don’t even know if you know what a trusting relationship is.” And at first I was like, “Hey! You don’t know me,” even though you’ve been my therapist for over a decade. But she was right, you know? I didn’t know what it was, and part of it was because I was too afraid to walk into that. Vulnerability was just the epitome of death for me, so what I did was I drank, I tried to perform, I tried to please and perfect and prove and all of these things that we do because they work for a little while, and then we just get to a point in our life where we ask the question, “What’s wrong with me? Why does it seem like everybody else has their stuff together except me?” I was asking those questions as well.


Rebecca Ching: You know, it’s amazing how comparison sneaks into everybody’s struggles. Circling back to what you said earlier, you said that, really, alcohol was kind of the last behavior as you were trying to avoid dealing with the ending of your first marriage exploding in your face. And then I love that you say, “Childhood stuff that I didn’t even know was an issue.”

Andrea Owen: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca Ching: Can you talk about that more?

Andrea Owen: Yeah, on the outside I had a pretty — it was a great childhood. I had parents that loved me very much. I was the only child of my parents but they both had children from previous marriages, so I had four half-siblings that were much older than me that I didn’t grow up with that much. By the time I was in kindergarten they were all out of the house. And for all accounts and purposes, it was a really great childhood. I often kind of half joke that my parents — our house had one feeling, and that was happy, and if you had any others, you went and did the rest in your room by yourself, and when you were done, you could come out and join the family again. I was, I call it, emotionally illiterate. I didn’t know how to feel any of them.

I remember my mother’s brother passed away. She was in her forties, and it was very sudden. I remember she just didn’t come out of her room for three days, and it was dark, and my dad just said, “Leave mom alone. Your Uncle Gus died.” And I remember one time just watching her walk down the hallway. She looked like a zombie. I later found out the doctor had given her a prescription for Valium, and I was afraid to talk to her. Nobody talked about it.


We had a family friend who committed suicide. I remember watching my dad collapse into my mom’s arms crying, and I ran to my room and cried. It still makes me emotional to think about it because I remember it’s embedded into my mind. So these types of things that are family things that happen to everyone, they might just look a little bit different, no one ever talked about it. I don’t think that my story is abnormal here. I think rarely do any of us grow up in families where the parents — because they just didn’t have the tools — can talk about these types of big things with their children in a healthy way. We just swept it all under the rug.

So when I became an adult, I had all of this stuff happening. It felt like this volcano that was about to erupt and feeling like something was wrong with me. It felt like this volcano that was about to erupt and feeling like something was wrong with me, and really all it was was things that — big, big, big feelings that I didn’t have a place to put them because I didn’t even know that they were okay.

Rebecca Ching: And therefore, all of the protective behaviors. The armor comes in because it’s scary. Yeah, the emotional literacy piece is big. It’s a nice little fancy way of being able to identify and respect and feel your feelings and not feel like there’s anything wrong with you —

Andrea Owen: Right.

Rebecca Ching: — in the process. Normalizing that, and really — our culture has really — I mean, we’re in a reckoning with that, and I think there are some really important shifts but we’re still feeling the effects of that.

Andrea Owen: We are, and it’s interesting. I think when you’ve been doing this work as long as you and I have, we start to sort of see other people’s stuff. [Laughs] It does help. I’m just speaking for myself here, but I’ve come to have a lot of compassion for people. Sometimes that comes after I judge them. I have compassion for them because I’m like, “Oh, they’re just putting up their shame shields,” or they’ve fallen into an unwanted identity and things like that because no one escapes that.


I don’t care if you’re The President of The United States or you’re a mail carrier. You’re shaking your head over there on video. Yeah I try to have compassion. But I just think that we’re all out there just trying to reckon and rumble with where we are in our emotions, and a lot of us just don’t have the tools for it.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and your story is a really, really good example and a really good witness to there’s no other way to be able to be human and tolerate being human other than doing the work.

Andrea Owen: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca Ching: I’d love for you to talk about some specific experiences that really fueled some of — I mean, again, whether it’s rock bottoms or facedown moments, whether it’s with the alcohol or struggles around perfectionism or identity, what are some of the specific experiences that you still look at today and go, “Wow, these really fueled some of those pivotal moments, those darkest moments in my life”?

Andrea Owen: There are a few of them. When I turned 18, about five minutes after my high school graduation, my mom left my dad. I had no idea that they were even having any problems. Looking back now, it’s very obvious, but at the time I didn’t know. A couple months after that, my dad held up a beer and said that he was checking himself into an inpatient treatment center. I was like, “For what?” I thought everybody’s dad drank 12 beers a night. Apparently that’s a lot, and he was a functional alcoholic. He checked himself in, and it was family day, as there often is at these kinds of treatment centers, and the level of shame that I felt sitting in that circle of addicts and alcoholics and their families, I had never experienced that level before where it was very much in my face.


I argued with the counselor and told her — I even remember what I was wearing. I argued with the counselor when she said, “Your father is what we call a high-functioning alcoholic,” and I said, “I don’t know what that is, but we don’t belong here.” And there was another teenage girl there, and she was crying, and her mom was a meth user, and the feeling of wishing you could just unzip yourself and get out of the room, and my mom had her arms crossed over her chest, angry at my dad because we never talked about anything. So this was like holy crap, alarm bells are sounding. This was the biggest thing my family had ever confronted. I was angry at my dad. I didn’t understand mental illness. He also had anxiety and depression, and I was like, “You need to get yourself together.” He had fallen off of his white horse. There were so many different things that were happening all at once.

My throat is tightening right now just remembering it. This was decades ago. It was really the first time my family had started to rumble with all of the things that had been building for years and years and years, unbeknownst to me. Years after that, and still to this day, my mom brings it up, and I have to be compassionate and slow myself down and try not to come at her from a place of the expert because that’s also my protection is to sort of put my coach hat on and my author hat on and talk to her about all these things instead of being her daughter, which oh, my gosh, talking to our families and our parents about hard things I think still is — I would way rather have a hard conversation with my kid’s teacher or my neighbor [Laughs] than my mom.

Another point was I was in a very long-term relationship that ended up being my first husband, and for the first ten years of our relationship, before we got married, I was unfaithful, and he was too, and we had never talked about it.


For me looking back, it wasn’t until years later where I realized that was a true love addiction of what I was doing. I was using men and relationships, you know, very short relationships, as my drug. The cycle was I would go out dancing with my girlfriends, find someone to hook up with. I would hook up with that person. Sometimes we’d have a “relationship” for a couple of weeks. I would feel horribly ashamed about it and need to feel relief for that shame, and so, the cycle would start all over again.

Looking back sort of the wreckage, I mean, those are just two examples of many, but that sort of wreckage and realizing what ended up kind of — when I say exploded in my face, I had two back-to-back relationships that fell apart and that were really dramatic the way they fell apart, and I had to contend with the fact that I was the common denominator in both of those things. Not to blame myself. My partners had done some pretty awful things to me. But I had tolerated it. I had not listened to my intuition that told me these relationships are going nowhere and are bad for me. I had tolerated so much bad behavior. I had participated in bad behavior to sort of try to remedy the pain from that, and that was sort of my awakening of, “Oh, I can no longer blame everyone else for my problems,” because that’s what I was doing. I was looking to everyone else to make me happy, to fulfill me. If they would just change, we would all be happier.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Right? Exactly.

Andrea Owen: And I needed to realize that. That’s what I had to come to terms with.

Rebecca Ching: I can’t remember if this is something we talked about or I heard you talk about, but along those lines, you talked about your marriage ending. There was a lot of betrayal, betrayal trauma in it. Shortly after, there was another relationship, and that pattern continued around fidelity, around substance abuse, and you were all in. I don’t even know if your divorce was final at this point.


Andrea Owen: It wasn’t. I was in that second relationship.

Rebecca Ching: And there was this moment you talk about where no work, your lease was about to end, and you’re on the phone with your sister. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Andrea Owen: So my first marriage had ended. He had an affair with our neighbor and got her pregnant while we were in talks of trying to conceive our first child. That was the relationship I was in for 13 years. I started dating someone new who I thought was Mr. Right, but I was suspicious that things weren’t right, and several months later, it turns out he had lied about having cancer to cover up his opioid addiction. And I had become pregnant by him. He had talked about getting sober, and we were going to move away to another city, and so, I quit my job. I got out of the lease of my apartment. He went away to rehab. And I was hopeful that he could — because it does happen. Some people get sober and change their life and live happily ever after. I was hopeful that was gonna be us. Unfortunately, he met someone in rehab and broke up with me, started a relationship with her.

So I was pregnant. I had left my job that I loved so much, and they had filled my position so they couldn’t take me back. I had gotten out of the lease of this apartment that I loved, and I called my sister, and I was in the fetal position on the floor in my near-empty bedroom. Everything was in boxes, and I’m crying, and I said, “I can’t believe this is happening again. I can’t believe this is happening again. I can’t –,” and you know how we all have those people that we call but we shouldn’t? [Laughs] That’s my sister because she’s so invested. She’s the one who gets in the box with me, as they say in our world.

And I was also realizing in that moment where I’m kind of like, “Oh, no,” you know, “She’s coming down with me.” I kept repeating it and kept repeating it because it was one of those moments where you kind of have an out-of-body experience.


It’s shame. It’s so many feelings where we get kind of tunnel vision and we remove ourselves because the pain is so great. It’s trauma. And I also — when I came out of that, when I regained consciousness, that’s really when I decided I was like, “I have got to change my life. I cannot continue this way, and I don’t know what that’s gonna look like,” but it was also a spiritual experience because I surrendered and looked up at the sky. I had a couple of these moments along that probably six-month period where I said, “I don’t know where I belong, but I know it’s not here at this rock bottom. So whatever it is I need to learn, I’m open,” because my prayer before that had always been specific. I had a list of specifics. “I want this person to behave differently. I want this person to change. I want this person to understand my –,” I was the center of my life. I thought the world revolved around me and everybody else was just messing up.

I realized that I had to give up that belief and it was up to me to change me. I even kept all of my journals, and you can kind of see where I start to realize, “Oh, the only person I can control is me,” and that kind of surrendering and acceptance was painful, painful.

Rebecca Ching: Oh, it’s excruciating.

Andrea Owen: I didn’t know how to do it, for one. Yeah, it was excruciating.

Rebecca Ching: It’s excruciating because you can’t look outward anymore. It literally is what we call in the Internal Family Systems world, the YOU-turn. It is right here just YOU-turn, and yet, that surrender is the most powerful and empowering place to be.

Andrea Owen: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca Ching: Because that’s where we have our agency. That’s where we have our power.

Andrea Owen: I didn’t know that.

Rebecca Ching: No, but you have to literally get everything stripped. You were in a room with no furniture, no relationship, no job. [Laughs]


And all of a sudden it — that moment where you said, “Okay, I know this.” You claimed that your truth wasn’t this —

Andrea Owen: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca Ching: — and that you wanted to not continue it, and then your life shifted. 

Andrea Owen: Yep, because before I thought surrendering and acceptance meant giving away all your power. I thought that meant giving away my power to these men who had betrayed me, you know? And at that point I had been so disappointed by the men in my life I was like, “Fuck this shit. No! I am not gonna surrender. I’m gonna fight until the death to gain power and control.” I’m also an eight on the Enneagram and an Aries, and so, I think my personality just —

Rebecca Ching: I love eights.

Andrea Owen: I am also very comfortable in my anger, and so, it was definitely bleeding out all over the place. And I say that because I don’t think that’s everyone’s personality, especially for women, but I was going to fight tooth and nail to hold onto power, and it goes back to that saying, “It works until it doesn’t,” and I had tried that, and it wasn’t.

Rebecca Ching: Well, what you thought was power, right?

Andrea Owen: Exactly. My definition of it.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, what did you think power was and what did it shift to?

Andrea Owen: I thought it was gaining control of other people, and it wasn’t that I had a conscious — that wasn’t on my to-do list or anything. But it was I looked at other people’s behavior as, you know, the behavior that I didn’t like, that was all on you, and you need to fix that. Because at the end of the day, all I wanted was to be understood and loved and make meaning of my life, which is all we ever want. I thought how I could gain that would be to control situations, control people so they would like me, so they would love me. And I esteemed myself through others’ eyes. So if they were treating me well, I felt great about myself, and if not, then I felt terrible about myself. So it became this cycle where I could never win, nor could my partners. I was setting us all up to fail. [Laughs]


Rebecca Ching: Well, I mean, this is the epitome of your power and your worthiness and your safety was externalized.

Andrea Owen: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca Ching: It was all based on others, how they did or didn’t treat you or think about you. And that moment in that bedroom you shifted and said, “Okay.”

Andrea Owen: I decided to shift. I don’t think I shifted. I just decided.

Rebecca Ching: A very important distinction, thank you. A very important distinction: you decided to shift. Actually, thank you for clarifying that because isn’t that probably the most powerful thing we can do is just decide to change? I mean, look at the long road of being human for the rest of our lives, rumbling with all of that and reckoning with our humanity. But that decision to change sounds like it was one of the more pivotal influences in your recovery.

Andrea Owen: Yeah, because then there’s so much that we have to reckon with before we even take action. There’s a story that says there are three frogs on a log, and one of the frogs decides to jump off. How many frogs are on the log? Three. Because the decision doesn’t mean that you’re actually changing, and for me, what the change actually looked like was a lot of journaling, small action steps. It was setting a very firm boundary with my son’s biological father, and making decisions on that that were for my own mental and emotional health as well as my child. It was having hard conversations with my family, which still — you know, my father passed away in 2016, and there are still things I never talked to him about because they were just too gut-wrenchingly painful to ask him, so I wrote poetry instead. And still to this day, you know, it’s years and years later I’m still doing the work. It never ends.

[Inspirational Music]


Rebecca Ching: So much of what we’ve been taught about struggle fuels doubt, fear of failure, perfectionism, discomfort, and more. These fears try to keep us small and can hijack how we lead ourselves, our businesses, and those in our charge. So instead of hating and trying to kill or will away these struggles, I’m calling you up to befriend these parts of you, which really have good intentions and are simply trying to protect you even when how they protect no longer helps and no longer works.

I created The Anatomy of the YOU-Turn so you could have a dynamic resource to help you map your inner influences, build relationships with them, understand their intent, and eventually lead them instead of them leading you when the echoes of recurring struggles show up. Get on the waitlist for The Anatomy of the YOU-Turn online experience. Go to www.rebeccaching.com/you and enter your email address, and you’ll be the first to receive information when this Unburdened Leader shift tool launches. I am so excited for you to have access to this practice customized for leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs like you.

[Inspirational Music]

Rebecca Ching: I was gonna ask you about your father’s loss, and I know it’s been a few years. How have you cared for your recovery, your emotional, mental, and relational wellbeing while navigating the grief of losing your father?

Andrea Owen: Mm-hmm. You know, I had never lost anyone before when he died, and one, I think, important story that I’ll share about that was when he got sick, it was very, very quick, which I think we got pretty lucky in that way and so did he. I mean, I can’t speak for him, but it wasn’t a long months and months and months of him getting more and more ill.


And I had flown out — I’m from San Diego but now we live in North Carolina. I had flown back to San Diego to see him and spend five days there, and he was deteriorating even in those five days that I was there. I flew back home, and I told the powers that be, I said, “If you know that it’s time,” which I had a feeling it was gonna be probably within a month or two, “Call me because I want to come back out.”

So it was only a week, and I got the call from hospice, and they said, “You know, he’s in hospice now. If you want to come, you should probably come now.” And I had to make a pretty quick decision, and I went back and forth with going home, and I thought, “Well, I already did talk to him, and he was lucid then, and I got to say all the things that I wanted to say,” and I’d kind of decided and talked to someone in my family who had made the decision — this person had made the decision to not see him on his deathbed and had already had a good relationship with him, and they were fine. They kind of convinced me a little bit like, “It’s okay. You don’t have to go see him,” and I went downstairs and I told my husband. I said, “I think I’m not gonna go. I’m gonna wait until the funeral,” and my husband looked at me, and he just said, “That surprises me that you wouldn’t go.” That’s really all he said, and I had to admit to myself that I was running away from the pain.

There’s that Pema Chödrön quote where she says, “That of what is indestructible –,” oh shoot, I’m gonna misquote her — “can be found inside of us,” or something like we find out we’re indestructible by moments like these. And I have a friend who works in grief and death and dying, and I emailed her about it, and she said, “Of course you don’t want to go.” But what she said really struck me. She said, “You walking towards your pain is huge love for your father and for your family.”


Rebecca Ching: And for you.

Andrea Owen: Walking towards it instead of running away. Yeah, and so, I did, and I was there with him when he died, and I was the only one there, and I would like to say that it was beautiful and I climbed in bed with him and held his hand, and I kind of freaked out when he took his last breath and felt like I was seven again.

Rebecca Ching: Oh.

Andrea Owen: You know, because we read about these magical moments that people have when their parent passes away, and I had fantasized that that’s what it would look like, and I completely fell apart. And so, I wrote about it. But when I got home — people can talk about grief, but no one can prepare you for what it feels like physically and mentally and emotionally.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah.

Andrea Owen: I didn’t know there was such a thing as grief brain. I didn’t know that moments would take me out that I wasn’t expecting. You know, we expect birthdays and first Christmas and Father’s Day and things like that. For me, it wasn’t that. It was hearing a Bob Dylan song in the elevator. It was being at a park with my family and seeing a father and a little girl flying a kite. It took me out. I wasn’t — I hadn’t thought about that memory for decades, and here I see this kite, and I’m just down for the count.

But there was a moment in the kitchen when I had gotten home and my kids had gone back to school and my husband had gone back to work, my mom had gone home, and I was alone unloading the dishwasher, and a wave of grief hit me that took me to my knees. That hadn’t happened to me since 2007 when my life fell apart, and I had the thought of, “A bottle of wine sounds amazing right now.” It was like ten in the morning. The next thought was, “Nobody would know. My kids would come home, and it would be okay. It’s just one bottle of wine.” And the truth of it is, I don’t want a bottle of wine. I want to change how I feel.

Rebecca Ching: You got it.

Andrea Owen: I want to get rid of this grief because I feel like it’s eating me alive, and it feels like, you know when people say — I finally understood what people were talking about when they said, “I feel like the weight of the world, like the world is crashing all around me.”


I was like, “Oh, this is what that is,” because I had never felt that kind of sorrow before. I called two friends. I texted one and called another and just told them. I mean, this is what we do in recovery if we are well enough to reach out to someone who understands, because a lot of times we worry that someone’s going to gasp on the other end and make a huge deal about it, when really, if you’re in recovery you understand all that person needs is someone to talk to and get the words out or even just be there on the other end of the phone while you cry. It can be incredibly powerful to show up for someone in that moment.

Rebecca Ching: That witnessing, it’s wonderful to be a witness to someone else’s pain, but when you are witnessed in your pain with just a pure presence and love and compassion and respect, and it stays in your lane, it can stay about you, right, and not go back to the person witnessing.

Andrea Owen: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: There’s something so sacred and so healing in that moment.

Andrea Owen: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: And also it’s oxygen. It just gives us an O2 when it’s hard to breathe. Having one or two of those people in our lives is gold, and being that to ourselves when those people can’t even be there for us, how we can show up for ourselves that way.

Andrea Owen: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Rebecca Ching: Grief is interesting. I often talk about it almost like it’s hydrogen peroxide. It cleanses and it cleans and it clarifies in the most painful, excruciating way, so our brains are like, “It’s gonna hurt, so don’t do it.”


Andrea Owen: Right.

Rebecca Ching: Yet it’s also the mark of being alive, of being all in when we commit to love, to commit to being a part of a community, a family, a relationship, that we are signing up for loss too.

Andrea Owen: Mm-hmm.

Rebecca Ching: It’s not something like — you know, I’m an eighties kid. I mean, the movies I watched did not talk about grief and love. [Laughs] They didn’t, no. It was like Molly Ringwald, you did not give me a lesson on grief! You got the guy at the end! [Laughs]

Andrea Owen: Right, what about your grandma dying?

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] What about your grandma dying. [Laughs] How does this particular grief impact your life today?

Andrea Owen: I think that it has allowed me a window into other people’s pain that I didn’t have before. Also the hardest thing that had happened to me was my parents splitting up, which was so much confusion at that point. I didn’t have any tools or even words to deal with that, and when my marriage fell apart, my relationship fell apart, the underlying feeling and emotion was anger. I mean, obviously it was hurt, but the one that I pulled out from that where I felt the most was fury and rage, really. I mean, anger doesn’t even begin to describe it.

And so, when my dad died, it was pure sorrow, and it allowed me to, the obvious thing is to have compassion for people who have gone through something similar and also in my research around it, part of this is going though the training with you and Brené Brown’s methodology was how different grief can look for so many people and all the ways that we can experience grief. You know, we’re going through grief right now with what’s happening with COVID. We experienced grief with job losses and the obvious ones are death, but so many sort of — I mean, I think in the world they call it the small-t traumas that has allowed me to help my clients slow down.


Just yesterday I was talking to a client, and I was encouraging her to really, really take an extra step into her grief. She’s a school teacher. I just don’t think that we give it enough time and credit —

Rebecca Ching: No.

Andrea Owen: — and presence.

Rebecca Ching: No way.

Andrea Owen: And especially me. I run a brand called Your Kickass Life. I, in the beginning of my practice, was like, “No, let’s turn that frown upside down,” you know? It’s like, “Positive thought!” 

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Andrea Owen: I just didn’t know. Sorry, guys. I didn’t know. But now it’s like it’s not all about kicking ass all the time. It’s not. You can’t have one without the other.

Rebecca Ching: You literally went from bypassing a difficult emotion to, “Let’s go swim in the deep end and face it,” you know?

Andrea Owen: I don’t do anything half assed. I went for it. I also kind of felt like I had to make up for lost time. I mean, this is just my personal experience.

Rebecca Ching: Yeah, yeah.

Andrea Owen: But I’m all in with things. Again, my personality, I’m intense. I run with open arms into things, which has gotten me into trouble in relationships, both my friendships and my romantic relationships. But in terms of this, I think it’s been really fantastic for me, painful at times, and I’ve shaken a fist to the sky many times. Like, “Couldn’t you have just given me the intuition to stay working at the gym?” Because that’s so much easier sometimes. But yeah.

Rebecca Ching: And we’ll do “easier” with air quotes, right? I mean, living a smaller life is safe, but one of the many truth bombs that Brené Brown offers us is we can choose courage and we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both, right?


And you’re all in with the courage. And every now and then we all need to convalesce and just assume fetal position or whatever that looks like without doing harm to ourselves or others. But we need to take care of ourselves.

You’ve talked a lot about a lot of the different burdens in your life, whether it’s, again, the loss of not even knowing how to talk about emotions, not learning that as a kid, your parents’ marriage, your father’s sobriety and his recovery process to relationship betrayal, substance struggles. You touched on it briefly, your relationship with food and your body is a part of your story and struggle. How have all of those burdens inspired your work? You’re a leader. You’re a life coach. You’re an author. You’re writing your —

Andrea Owen: Third.

Rebecca Ching: — fourth book? Third book, okay. All right, I’m just overachieving you. You’re writing your third book right now. How do all of those burdens that we’ve just touched on today inspire your work in all those areas?

Andrea Owen: I think it’s just such a reminder that everybody’s human and life is not a Pinterest or Instagram meme.

Rebecca Ching: It’s not?

Andrea Owen: Nu-huh, sorry.

Rebecca Ching: Damnit!

Andrea Owen: I know, right?

Rebecca Ching: Dangit!

Andrea Owen: But it’s forced me to have a lot of discernment in the self-help industry.

Rebecca Ching: Mm, okay. Talk to me more about that.

Andrea Owen: Well, I just think that we want — and by we I’m making a sweeping generalization here — but we want a spoon-fed version, step-by-step process, surface-level way of being happy and being fulfilled. I quickly found out that that is not the case. You know, within the first couple of years of my work I was like, “Oh, dangit!” [Laughs] “There’s so much deeper work to be done,” and I got sober just a few months into launching my brand, and it’s allowed me to have so much compassion for people and also refer out to people who come to coaching and have continued the same behaviors over and over again.


When I ask them, “When is the first time you remember participating in this behavior,” and they tell me a story of their family of origin or a former relationship, and they haven’t really dealt with it in the way where it deserves to be treated, I can’t just give you a tool for your negative self-talk. I mean, that’s just slapping a Band-Aid on a wound that really needs triage, you know?

Rebecca Ching: Thank you.

Andrea Owen: Yeah, it’s just given me so much respect —

Rebecca Ching: Thank you for saying that.

Andrea Owen: — for therapists and psychotherapists and trauma work, and I do think that there’s so much in the self-help industry that is ignoring that or just trying to put a Band-Aid over it, and I will not stand for that. I will continue to talk about it and call it in when I can. I just think that the people who really believe that’s the remedy maybe haven’t done their own work.

Rebecca Ching: No, I agree.

Andrea Owen: “Welcome! There’s plenty of room here at this table,” but I think to answer your question, I think that’s how it’s helped my work is just to expand it, and I’m lucky enough where I have a network where I can send people to you and other people that I know who are doing this deeper work because it is necessary. It’s necessary, not just an option.

Rebecca Ching: It’s necessary, not just an option for all of us. That’s what I’m hearing you say, and I wholeheartedly agree. That’s why one of the many reasons I value you and respect you is because, yeah, we’ve both seen the damage done of, “You’ve done these three steps and you’re not healed, so what did you do wrong?”


Andrea Owen: And they feel worse about themselves, mm-hmm.

Rebecca Ching: Exactly, and then you and I end up working with people. Kind of climbing out of that is almost the first level of work. “Oh, I’ve already worked on this. I already did my mindset shifts,” and mindset is what you do after you’ve done that. It’s the maintenance work. [Laughs]

Andrea Owen: Which we still do!

Rebecca Ching: Totally. Oh, my gosh. We’re in this world with — I think there’s a statistic I quote back in early 2000s, so I know it’s more today, but there are 3,000 messages a day we hear and about a third of them alone are just even about our relationship with body and food. Just on that. But we have 3,000 in a day. So yeah, mindset work is kind of a non-negotiable in this hyper-connected world. I appreciate you talking about — because there could be even trauma and trying to heal your trauma.

Andrea Owen: Right.

Rebecca Ching: And I see that in the personal development community, professional development sometimes, but mostly it’s the personal development community and this impatience. There’s nothing efficient about healing and about growing and about changing.

Andrea Owen: Or linear about it, mm-hmm.

Rebecca Ching: And we try to make it efficient and a three-step thing and a tight quote, and I get it. But I also think we are doing harm in the process, and I appreciate so much how you are a counter to that dangerous message.

I’m curious, is there a burden you’re still carrying that threatens to take you out?

Andrea Owen: I love this question, but I’m first curious, can you define what you mean by “take you out,” because that could look different from me to you.

Rebecca Ching: Okay, so I want to be the annoying person and say, “What does that mean to you?” I mean, okay, I won’t be that annoying. Okay, so I guess I’ll be broad here and say you’re doing your life, and there’s something your system is still carrying, your nervous system, your story, your belief system. There’s a burden that’s still lingering, and maybe you’re not aware of it, maybe you are to a strong degree or not, and it’s threatening to take you out of alignment with your values, take you out of functioning in your day to day, taking you out, robbing you of your joy and your sense of worthiness. Is that helpful?


Andrea Owen: Yes.

Rebecca Ching: Okay.

Andrea Owen: I could give five different examples. And I think that it’s interesting. I was about to talk about it, and then the voice said, “No, don’t. Don’t brag,” but I’m going to. I’m gonna go with my first gut instinct.

Rebecca Ching: Nice! Do it.

Andrea Owen: I am really proud of myself that I can recognize when that’s about to happen fairly quickly. So just the other day, it was over the weekend, my husband and I were talking about — you know, because the kids not being in school and having to be “homeschooled” (I’m using air quotes) with parents that are sometimes still having to go to work, it’s a mess, right? It’s a mess for so many families, and it’s a bit of a mess over here too. So my husband has been the one who’s been in charge of that, and we have one child with special needs, one neurotypical, two different schools, lots of different teachers. It’s complicated. And so, we’re working with some teachers, and there are lots of emails and correspondence, and it kind of tends to tip the scale with who’s doing the most labor and things like that.

So I’m having a conversation with my husband, and you know when you’re in a partnership with someone and you’re having a conversation, and then it just ever so slightly starts to tip into emotions, they start to kick up, and you — I mean, obviously, you don’t know how that other person is feeling but you can kind of sense it in their body language, in their tone of voice that they’re getting triggered and then you’re feeling it? Years ago, we would have just continued to run with it, the conversation, which would then turn into an argument, but I immediately felt it and felt my throat tighten and felt myself — we were headed into the lane of jockeying for who’s the bigger victim here. [Laughs] A lot of people listening have had that argument with their partner. Like, “No, I have it worse.” “No, I have it worse.”

Rebecca Ching: Oh, man.


Andrea Owen: “Let me tell you all the reasons,” and we just want to be heard.

Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]

Andrea Owen: So we started to — I felt myself starting to do that, starting to launch into, “Here are all the ways that my life is harder right now than yours,” and I stopped us and I said, “You know what? I am sensing that this is a bigger conversion than the topic we’re actually talking about.” And so, I said, “Let’s bring this to the therapist,” and maybe you don’t have a therapist if you’re listening but you know that it’s bigger than what it actually is presenting as. And so, I find that what can take me out are old patterns, and I am triggered by stuff that happened in my former relationship. I am also triggered by things that happened in my marriage six, seven years ago when we were first going through the testing and diagnosis of one of our children, and so, I named it and said it right then and there. My husband would probably not know that unless I named it. He would just still think that we were having a conversation. How is he gonna know that unless I say it out loud?

Rebecca Ching: So what I love about this, and I want to make sure I’m hearing this right, is you’re recognizing because of your story — and you’ve done an incredible amount of work, an incredible amount of healing, but you still have these vulnerabilities, these tender spots where your system still says, “Really?” Whatever that may be, they still hold the echoes of some of these beliefs and these pains, and you’re aware of them. And instead of shaming them and feeling like they should not have a problem at all — this is my summary. These are my words here — you are like, “This is me. Yep. Here’s the tenderness, so I’m going to take care of myself, and I’m going to pause the conversation,” and you do your things, then, so you don’t go down the path of, “No, I’m the bigger victim. No, I have it worse! No, I have it worse,” which is for this example you gave.

So just that awareness of it’s not like you’re 100% over it. I think that’s such a damaging narrative, and it’s like, you know, if someone breaks their leg and even the leg heals, but they still might feel a little off sometimes or when you run a certain way.


Andrea Owen: Right.

Rebecca Ching: So that’s part of trauma too is we can heal but there’s still, in our humanity, those echoes of our story, of the betrayals, of the hurts, of the woundings, and it’s not about us being flawed, but you now are leading yourself. You’re leading your system versus those parts of you leading you.

Andrea Owen: Exactly. Because those other parts that you just mentioned can run away real fast.

Rebecca Ching: They sure can.

Andrea Owen: And I think about John Gottman’s work where he talks about the research that shows once your heart rate gets above a certain level that you’re just not even listening anymore.

Rebecca Ching: Nope.

Andrea Owen: And that’s what I feel starts to happen. Like when I start taking a very, very quick inventory of my head, of past hurts and, “Oh, remember when this came up before, and this is what happened,” and “I know exactly what’s gonna happen,” you know? Once that starts happening and I find my heart beating a little bit faster, I’ll cross my arms over my chest, my throat tightens, I know also what my physical symptoms are, and that’s where I draw a line in the sand. And my bottom-line thought about this is I love my marriage too much to let old, crappy patterns back in the door, where we know and have the evidence to show us where that leads. I’m not here for that. I am here for saying, “Let’s table this and admit that this is a bigger conversation,” at least for me. You know, I can’t speak for him in the moment, and if you have a mediator or a therapist that can help you work through it, then let’s do that. But that just comes from experience and falling on our face a lot in our marriage.  

Rebecca Ching: But what I love about what you just shared too is it’s like, “Hey, I am so committed. I’m all in this relationship, and so, I don’t want to be led by my pain and the parts of my story that kept getting me into dark spaces,” but you didn’t shame it.


You didn’t shame that. You just said, “I’m gonna go take care of myself right now. I’m gonna go sort out what’s going on here. We’re gonna take a pause.” I call it a timeout. I’m like, “I’m sending myself to timeout!” I send myself to timeout a lot. I try and send other people to timeout. It’s not as effective. I usually just need to send myself.

Andrea Owen: Yeah.

Rebecca Ching: I just really appreciate how you said that because I think it’s important nuance there is, “I’m not here for that, living that way,” and yet you didn’t shame those parts of your story in the process, and I think that is such an important part of integration and Self-leadership there. So I really appreciate that example.

Andrea Owen: Yeah, my pleasure.

Rebecca Ching: Andrea, what are you working on today? I want to know what you’re working on, and I want to know how people can find you.

Andrea Owen: What am I working on today? I have a call with my book editor after this, which I’m really excited for.

Rebecca Ching: So exciting!

Andrea Owen: We’re in the beginning stages of this work together. I wrote most of the day yesterday. And then I’m also leading a writing class for the first time with a colleague of mine, which is super fun. I’ve never done it before.

Rebecca Ching: Nice!

Andrea Owen: We have a large group of women, which we didn’t know what to expect, you know, with neither of us having run this type of program before. And so, I’m very excited about that. And then I’m gonna get on my Peloton bike later and sweat it out.

Rebecca Ching: So good. I’m waiting to order mine. We’re gonna be ordering it in May. I cannot wait.

Andrea Owen: I love it!

Rebecca Ching: I’m gonna get a few little things for the garage because —

Andrea Owen: Ours is in the garage too.

Rebecca Ching: I think Orange Theory and my spin classes are gonna be hard to come by for a while.

Andrea Owen: I know.

Rebecca Ching: So you’re writing, you’re coaching, you’re teaching, and where can people find you, Andrea?

Andrea Owen: The easiest place is Your Kickass Life. My podcast is named that, my Instagram, that’s where I like to hang out, and the website is www.yourkickasslife.com (www.andreaowen.com). 

Rebecca Ching: Wonderful! This has been such a joy. I said at the beginning of this conversation, and I’ll say it again, how much I appreciate you, your leadership, your voice. Don’t ever underestimate it.


So many people are making choices to go on a path towards healing and grace and compassion because they’ve been exposed to your life and your work. So thank you so much for being with us today and thank you so much for showing up in life the way you do. I appreciate you.

Andrea Owen: Aww, thank you for your kid words. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you!

Rebecca Ching: Wow, Andrea reminded us today with such detail that it works until it doesn’t when it comes to comforting, protecting, numbing that often turns into addiction. We all have protective parts of us that comfort and numb, but when the alcohol turns from the occasional happy hour to daily required fixes, when the extra boost or pain relief from pills turns to physical need, when the joy of food turns to consuming thoughts, when the dopamine hits from work take you away from your original why of what you do, you know the means to comfort is no longer working.

For those of you hanging around a space that is teetering between comfort, abuse, and addiction, my sincere hope and prayer is this episode gives you some pause, taking inventory right now in the ways you’re comforting. Have any of them fallen into this space of substance or process addiction? Are you getting skilled at explaining away your choice of comfort? Maybe you keep saying it’s not that big of a deal or you can stop or change whenever you want. Maybe you’re often telling yourself or others it’s not a problem, brushing off concerns, or normalizing the way you comfort, pointing to how so many others are doing the same things.

If you think you’re the exception to things getting out of control, you’re very likely already in a precarious place. Now, the world needs your light for the long haul and for you not to be another statistic.


Invite a trusted friend or professional into your curiosity and get some perspective. This can save time, heartaches, and lives. If you’re seeing a loved one or a colleague in this space, don’t stay silent to keep the peace.

[Inspirational Music]

You don’t have to rescue or do their work to heal for them, but an unburdened leader will risk the relationship in order to support the wellbeing of someone struggling. Now I know, this is messy and nuanced and complex, and it requires fierce boundaries, specialized support, and a whole lot of compassion for all involved. So stay engaged. I also want to acknowledge those of you who dared to do the work to unburden addiction in your life. Your courage is contagious, and I see you. Thank you for fighting for your life. The world is better because you chose to feel all the feels and love and live deeply instead of living a zombie life.

Thank you so much for joining this episode of The Unburdened Leader. Make sure to connect with Andrea Owen. I listed all the ways you can connect with her in my show notes, along with some important resources if you or someone you care about needs recovery support. You can find this episode, show notes, and free Unburdened Leader resources, along with ways to work with me at www.rebeccaching.com

[Inspirational Music]

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meet the founder

I’m Rebecca Ching, LMFT.

I help change-making leaders get to the root of recurring struggles and get confidently back on track with your values, your vision, and your bottom line. 

I combine psychotherapeutic principles, future-forward coaching, and healthy business practices to meet the unique needs and challenges of highly-committed leaders in a high-stakes world.

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