Thursday, November 12, 2009

Listening Is Not A Passive Exercise.

From the ODAT, page 317:

"We could all make good progress if only we would cultivate the knack of listening - uncritically - to everything we hear at a meeting, or from an Al-Anon friend."

Many of us, (and I include myself in this category) come to Al-Anon completely oblivious to the hundreds of messages we receive daily, from our internal dialogue. It takes effort and determination to learn to be aware of that nattering voice, (or voices) and not just take what it's saying as truth. I think we need to learn to listen critically to our internal dialogue, and uncritically to meeting shares and Al-Anon friends.

How on earth does one go about doing this? First we need to become aware that we have an internal dialogue. If we've never stopped to consider it, it's usually happening half-hidden from us. We will be aware of it now and again, but most of it takes place as behind a sheer curtain, with vague movement and shadow, but not clearly seen, or easily understood.

My first sponsor had me carry a notepad and a pen around on a day I was at home alone, and jot down everything I thought in bullet form. It went something like this:
-dog needs out.
-need buy
-porch board still loose
-break neck on that
-a--hole husband never fixes anything around here
-never change
-drunken fool
-me fool marry him
-phone's ringing
-take meat out of freezer

and on and on it went, with most of it alternating between character assassination of my ex, and bashing of myself, with plenty of negative generalisations and depression mixed in - a viciously toxic stew. (When I next met with my sponsor, and we went over it, I felt hideously ashamed and embarassed, but she read it and laughed in recognition and gratitude - she recalled very clearly when the inside of her head had looked and sounded like that.)

For whatever reason, that one day doing that little exercise jump-started my ability to hear my internal dialogue. I'd still have long periods where I wasn't aware of it, and so was acting on those old messages rather than the new wisdom of 12-Step, but as my yoga tape says at one point, "..slowly, slowly, you begin to open up, and you can reach further."

I learned that some voices seem to be hardwired in - the parental ones - they haven't been silenced in 22 years of working my program, but they've retreated to the back room now, and only shout out occasionally, when I'm feeling stressed or anxious, and I can choose to detach from, or if I'm really lucky, laugh at, what they're saying. I can drown them out by saying the Serenity Prayer over and over, or a slogan, or a reminder from a program friend, or a prayer. I no longer go through my life with that strong chorus of negativity bellowing into my inner ear, poisoning my days and depressing my joy in living.

I've learned that when I share with my Al-Anon group something that one of my parental voices has said to me, and they all howl with laughter, this shared laughter weakens the power of that voice.

I've learned that when I work to close that backroom door, and listen uncritically to sharing at a meeting, I open myself to growth, peace, and serenity. I've heard gems of wisdom which have shoved me forward in a burst of change, from people to whom I'd never have paid the slightest attention, before Al-Anon. I don't build those artificial barriers between me and another person anymore. I don't care how you dress, what you drive, how you style your hair, or where you live. You are one of God's children, and we all have value and worth.


  1. I ALWAYS hear something I can use at a meeting, always.

  2. I wrote about listening today too. I do get a lot from every meeting I go to. I just need to open my ears and quiet my head. God can then enter the room and I hear him speak through others.