11 min read

25 Marbles

Hey Brené Brown I don't expect you to necessarily see or respond to this, but I've been saying for years that I meant to tell you how much your TED talk "The Power of Vulnerability" radically altered the trajectory of my life.
25 Marbles

Anybody who has been subjected to enough of Phillip Hocking knows that I have watched Brené Brown's TED Talk "The Power of Vulnerability" thousands of times and I describe my weaponized autism/lack of filter between thoughts and speech/writing to be an extremely strict literal (and what she probably would suggest is unhealthy or maladaptive) interpretation of her research on shame, blame, authenticity, vulnerability, and self-worth. Even with years of therapy and abstinence from drugs and alcohol, I still have a substantial amount of behavioral health issues that I do my best to navigate. I'm still my own problem, and the only times I manage to achieve a good outcome tends to be when I either get out of my own way, or just let my true feelings fly and damn the consequences.

This started out just as a comment on her LinkedIn thread celebrating and looking in retrospect at 25 years of recovery, and was a poignant reminder that while she has 25 marbles in her jar, I only really have six in mine. I had been telling folks for years that I wanted to tell her that her research completely altered the trajectory of my life and now I am living a life beyond even my most wildest imaginings with undeserved blessings and favor out the wazoo. I hit the character limit on a LinkedIn comment though, so I figured I would flesh it out and put it out into the world in hopes that she becomes aware that I was broken beyond belief and while I believe the Triune Spirit intervened in my life via miraculous and divine intervention - this simple fifteen minute talk planted a seed in my soul that a decade later has me walking a path of love, reverence, and fulfillment.

My Family!

She's obviously critically acclaimed and respected with worldwide renown, but I don't know if my story is unique that it was not just inspiring but literally completely transformative in its impact and conclusion. I figure either way, she deserves to know and if I put the story out there, whatever happens happens.

25 Marbles for 25 Years
I rarely think about my sobriety in terms of years. For me, celebrating 25 years of sobriety is about reflecting back on “trying to do the next right thing” for the past 9,125 days or, more honestly, for the past 219,000 hours.

Hey Brené Brown I know this is a super popular public LinkedIn post with a crapload of public comments and don't expect you to necessarily see or respond to this, but I've been saying for years that I meant to tell you how much your TED talk "The Power of Vulnerability" radically altered the trajectory of my life. It is very possible that if you had not walked your recovery journey that I would not be walking mine.

Eleven years ago when I first watched the video, I had just lost my job as an engineer at a large technology firm as a result of my rampant substance use disorder (meth/alcohol) and the terrible disease of addiction. I became homeless and suffered the typical travails of the unhoused and disenfranchised learning really quickly that my previous wealthy white male privilege and resulting manner in which I interacted with the world was woefully inadequate once that privilege is obviated by becoming 'the other.'

Jumped while on the streets

I had been up for like a week on a really good runner when I first saw this video, and it immediately struck me as the most important lesson that I ever had encountered in my life despite my drug-addled state. I continued to watch it, many times a day, and even though my life was a complete wreck and I was completely disconnected from anyone and everyone, I became aware as an ontological truth that my negative core belief I was not worthy of connection was the antecedent of being so disconnected.

I had a crappy rat-box apartment in a rough neighborhood with a slumlord landlord that was paid for via a re-entry voucher having just opted-out of a court-ordered treatment program because "fuck it there's not enough time hanging over my head for me to keep going to all this goddamn treatment twenty hours a week!" Even though I didn't buy into the treatment and therapy, I unabashedly even when still in active addiction had committed to transparency, honesty, and authenticity. I refused to lie and say I would be compliant with the treatment expectations, and what was initially a fifteen day sanction in a DOC facility dragged out to four months because I refused to move into an Oxford or sober living house as I did not intend on staying sober. The DOC facility would not release you even once your sanction had been served unless you had a "release address" - so until I convinced a landlord to rent to me with this voucher, I was stuck at that facility. If I just wanted to get out and was willing to lie, I could have left at any time... but I didn't.

Bumming Around

Once I was in my apartment, however, I was loaded that very night that I got the keys and was released. I spent my four months in that apartment before my drug-induced antics resulted in my eviction running a "trap house" basically, letting people come over and have a safe place to kick it and get high as long as I did on their supply. I was kind of weird though, in that I made them watch "The Power of Vulnerability" on repeat... because I realized my answers were there. I continued to watch it constantly and try to integrate it into every facet of my life. After my eviction, I was literally on the streets homeless constantly in and out of jail and institutions for 'lifestyle crimes' as I was unwilling to commit 'real' crimes in furtherance of my habit. I wouldn't steal from people, or burglarize houses, or shoplift... but I would panhandle and try to work and hustle to get whatever I could to try to scrape by on the streets.

Smoked Out

In the interest of brevity, I caught a case that turned into a civil commitment at the state hospital in lieu of criminal penalties and was found to be incompetent to stand trial despite preferring the felony charges as the maximum sentence would have had me sent to be classified and immediately sent to work release where I would have had my Maslow needs handled - allowing me to find a job and try to put my life together. It took so long to get my bed date at the hospital that I was in jail for months before spending another four months at the hospital, and then being discharged to an inpatient substance use disorder treatment for a 28 day stay.  By the time I hit the doors of rehab, I was probably more psychologically sound than I had been in the better part of a decade, and I had a voicemail on my phone from someone who met me downtown and had offered to give me a room at his place so I could try and put my life together. That worked well for several months and I spent a lot of time attending AA and NA meetings and participating in the greater recovery community where things started to be pretty good for me until his landlord found out I was there and I was unhoused suddenly all over again despite "doing everything right."

I was completely crestfallen, and the first night I was outside again in downtown Spokane all of my possessions (laptop, phone, clothes, hygiene supplies) save for an old 80s steel road bike (that was way too tall for me) I got from some dude I was day laboring for. One of the homies who I used to 'run and gun' with woke me up early one morning sleeping on the sidewalk with my bike locked up to a light pole. He said "hey man, do you wanna ride our bikes to Seattle?" During my years on the streets I would tell everyone my goal was to ride a bike down to San Diego as I thought due to climate it would be a great place to be homeless at. I took all the cash I had to buy some tubes and a patch kit, and we set out headed west.

Zakk in his element

I never had ridden more than like 50 miles in a day, so going on a tour across the state was most certainly a learning adventure full of elation, disappointment, and massive highs with crushing lows. Six days later we were in Seattle though, and even though Zakk and I ended up parting ways there, I continued on to Tacoma, Olympia, and landed in Portland. During my time there, I met some incredible and generous people who believed in supporting a man on a quest, and one guy who even paid to completely overhaul my bike and another to help me affix a rack to get my possessions attached to the frame instead of hauled on my back which was hella difficult to manage.

Roadside Chapel

After a month, however, even though I found more connection in the Portland bike scene than I had anywhere else in a long time, I knew it was necessary to move on. Afterwards, I travelled through Salem, Corvallis, Eugene, and made it all the way to Klamath, California.

I found out the "fun" way that I had a misdemeanor warrant for public intoxication out of LA county, and much to the chagrin of the tribal police who had detained me, they said they wanted me to be sent on the chain all the way down there - which meant these poor cops had to drive nearly 30 miles from Klamath to Crescent City to drop me off at jail. I lost all of my possessions and my tour/spirit quest ended here because they only send you to jail via transport with whatever will fit into a small Ziploc bag. I spent a few weeks in Los Angeles County Jail or "Twin Towers" which is actually the largest on-site jail facility in the world. LA is a terrible place to be homeless, so when I was released from county - I went to Santa Monica with no plans or agenda other than sleeping on the beach with hopes I wouldn't get jumped or hassled.

I went through a few things and ended up staying with an old colleague who was just as caught up with substance as I used to be; despite his best intentions and the fact that leaving meant I was back outside again, I left and again was adrift. I was panhandling for malt liquor and found a broken down bike just left outside, and was in Newhall, California so drunk I ended up passed out behind a church not even knowing what day it was. I was awoken by the pastor who had a plate of pastries and a cup of coffee who told me he would be honored if I joined them for their service. This was October of 2015 and they had a "harvest festival" (because of course good Christians can't have a Halloween party lolz) after the service with a chili cook-off fundraiser. Many people did their best Christian duty to try and make me feel welcome and accepted, but of course - the event was drawing to a close and everyone packed up the chairs and headed to their cars. An old cat who kind of looked like the Marlboro Man walked up to me and handed me $20 with a kind of disgusted look on his face. He said "hey man, do yourself a favor and don't get loaded. Go buy yourself a steak at Dennys, or do some laundry at the 24h laundromat, or take a shower at the truck stop. Just do something man!"

Hobo Phill

I took the $20 and bought a pack of teal American Spirits and two 40s of malt liquor. I drank myself into a near stupor, but had pulled up the nearest AA meeting hall in the area and somehow managed to get myself there to pass out in front of it. The next day, I went to the first meeting there and every other meeting they had that day. I spent that whole week just going to meetings and bumming a buck or two here and there and going to Jack in the Box, fishing a receipt out of the trash that had a "do a survey and get two free tacos with any purchase" so I could buy four deep-fried tacos for $1.08. I didn't get loaded, but the "regulars" certainly were tired of me stinking up the place and bumming anything anyone would share. A dude gave me a phone number for a guy who flipped houses and said maybe he could put me up and give me some work. I worked for him for a couple months and continued attending meetings and maintaining abstinence. I made friends, I learned some humility, and became completely convinced that perhaps there was a better way to live and these people had found it.

Eventually, the woman who is now my wife and the mother of my child wanted me to come back to Spokane in the aftermath of a divorce. As a result of the thousands of times I had watched this video, I believed in my most Brené Brown sense that a willingness to take the risk of fully investing in something that very well may not work out was essential for it to possibly succeed. It was scary going from the safety of the Santa Clarita AA community right back into where I was running the streets for years with only a couple months clean under my belt, but nothing ventured nothing gained - right?

The Hockings

I probably could continue to ramble on, but today I work at an agency where I have a rewarding and fulfilling career serving the needs of people in my community who have behavioral health issues just like me. I'm financially comfortable and have far more good days than bad. I'm healthy and have an active lifestyle and save for carrying too much weight, have a lot more years ahead of me than behind. My wife is amazing and my son is a joy, and I owe pretty much everything to the grace of God and sticking to the course of radical authenticity to the extreme of outright transparency. I'm not saying my extreme approach is necessary to reap the benefits of authenticity in your life, but it is the only way I can swing it - because my particular issues I still work through make it really difficult for me to transact socially the way that is natural for most folks. I get by on pure sincerity and willingness to just help people achieve their ends, but I frequently get hung up on the fact I struggle to regulate my emotions and am easily flustered or 'triggered' even though I think that word somehow disavows responsibility for the outcome of allowing oneself to become dysregulated.

I couldn't have made it here without enormous support from friends, family, and even just occasional randomly blatant acts of kindness and generosity.

If I managed to convince Brené Brown to read this, I just hope she knows how much her research and 'storytelling' impacted my life, and that I'm going to continue doing my best to navigate this stressy, blessy, messy life and try to just enjoy it instead of cleaning it up and organizing it neatly into a bento box!