One day in December 2014, a close friend and work colleague suggested that I watch Brene Brown’s TED talk called “The Power of Vulnerability”. He knew that my marriage was in a bad place and that my son was not doing well. I began watching at my desk. I broke down. I called him up in the middle of the TED talk and said: “What the hell are you doing to me?” That same night, my wife and I were having a session with our family addiction therapist and the counselor said to me: “You should watch Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability.” Two people, who knew a lot about me, on the same day, made the exact same suggestion. I sat down a second time, and a third time, and a fourth and watched this incredible talk (56 million views and translated into 52 languages).
According to that TED talk, relationships and personal connection can only be as deep as the participants’ willingness to lay bare their vulnerabilities to each other. Throughout my life, I rarely showed vulnerability. There was always an answer, and I knew the way. But, my family life was crumbling. Now, everything was different: I wanted to change. My lack of connection to my wife was so troubling that I began implementing Brene Brown’s advice and evolving from being the answer man to sharing my weaknesses openly with her.
While I was working on my marriage, I was also regularly attending parent group meetings and sharing my fears and mistakes with strangers. Very quickly, I noticed that as participants shared their fears and mistakes, we all began to develop true empathy and felt very connected to each other. When someone else’s child did well, we all felt good and vice versa.
This vulnerability thing was remarkably powerful.
Along the way, I attended open AA meetings. There, the “Alcoholics” (that’s what they call themselves) shared their deepest and darkest moments and their most shameful actions, with everyone. Recovery has a lot to do with accepting truth and having accountability for your actions. It is impossible not to notice that these people had incredible connections to each other. They were all fighting the same intense battle and made themselves completely vulnerable to each other.
I do not wish this disease on anyone. But, I will say that recovery offers the possibility of a wonderful new life for the person with the addiction and for engaged family members. Those in recovery are some of the most connected, empathetic, happy and productive people filled with gratitude for those that have helped them attain recovery. Family members who have gone through the process are forever changed as well.
This harrowing journey has also delivered an unexpected and extraordinary gift to me of personal growth. I am now totally willing to show and share my vulnerabilities. I am willing to accept that I do not have all the answers and that I need help. I am much more understanding and empathetic of people and their circumstances. I now understand that people allowing me to help them is a gift, to me. I am more connected and happier than I have ever been.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I asked Stevie to read a draft of this content. I was so nervous about how he would respond. I needed to know his comfort level with the graphic personal stories. If he was not comfortable, I would kill that content. To give him options, I created three versions: one with no personal stories, one with watered down personal stories, and a version with the actual personal stories. His answer: “Version three, because it is the truth”. I pushed back to make sure he was comfortable. He told me: “Dad, that was seven years ago …. I talk about these events all the time in my recovery work and my job. I am very detached from those events and a completely different person.” That conversation confirmed to me that Stevie’s addiction was in deep remission and that he is strong and healthy. What a beautiful gift!!