A newcomer learns to connect rather than condemn
An old-timer once told me, before my first commitment as chairperson of a meeting, “The best thing about being chair is that it teaches you how to listen.” I was pretty sure I was already an excellent listener (as well as reader, analyzer, interpreter, and orator), but the old-timer had attributes I wanted–serenity, happiness, and wisdom–so I respected his opinion, even though I didn’t think his advice applied to me. I didn’t get what he meant right away, but it’s starting to sink in.
I’m currently chairing a discussion meeting in a nearby town. After I introduced and shared a bit about the night’s topic, the sharing moved clockwise around the table. Everything went fine and it was easy to relate to my fellow alcoholics as they shared their thoughts and feelings. That is, until it was time for T. to share.
I tried not to cringe outwardly, but inside I felt myself contract. A regular at this meeting, T. has been in and out of AA for more than ten years. Despite regular attendance in the rooms, he’s never been able to string together more than a couple of dry months. My alcoholic mind started brewing as he began to speak. “What’s the matter with him?” I thought. “Why can’t he get it?” I braced myself, afraid to listen. “Whatever he’s doing,” I thought, “it’s not working, and I don’t want to pick up any bad habits.”
Everything he said was objectionable to me in one way or another–he started in with cross-talk about what others before him had said and then went on to an unremorseful exhibitionist account of the trouble he’d gotten himself into. Finally, he came to a close, saying, “You know, if you’re doing that kind of stuff, those types of self-destructive behaviors, it’s because you just don’t love yourself. And with that, I’ll pass.”
I relaxed as the turn to share moved to the next person and I tried my best to stay in the moment, to pay attention to each person as he shared, so I’m not sure exactly when I figured out what T. had actually said. It sunk in more and more until I arrived home, and was accompanied by a wave of compassion.
It was subtle, slipped in there right at the end. But the unmistakable message was this: “I don’t love myself; that’s the problem.”
That’s something I can intimately relate to. That problem is at the core of my character defects. It’s why I never felt comfortable in my own skin, why I felt that I needed to drink to fit in, and what finally brought me to AA, where I learned to rely on a Higher Power who loves me unconditionally, even as my ego tells me I’m not worthy.
I’ve heard some old-timers say that when they came into AA, the people in the rooms loved them until they were able to love themselves. While I can’t make anyone “get” this program, I can choose to love them.
My experience with T. has shown me that I’m better able to love people when the storm of my judgmental mind settles, when I understand and empathize with them, rather than criticize and condemn.
And I can better understand when I learn to listen–to really, really listen.