In one of his July emails, my brother mentioned that when his father (my adoptive father) was a small child, he thought there was a holiday by the name of "Forchuly." He was raised in the Bronx, and that's how everyone sounded to him, when they were talking about the Fourth of July.
It started me thinking about how difficult it can be to understand someone at a meeting, when they have a very soft voice, or don't enunciate well. Over the years, there has been the odd person who may as well have been speaking another language, for all I was able to understand a word of their share. At first, this annoyed me. Why didn't they speak clearly, or raise their voice a bit? Time and experience has taught me that for some people, that is all they can manage; fear, or a wobbly self-image, inhibits them.
I may not be able to hear what they say, but that doesn't mean I can't project the same acceptance and love towards them as I would to anyone else - we are equals in the rooms of Al-Anon.
When I chose many years ago to volunteer for the local Crisis Line, I was trained in what they termed "active listening." It requires effort to learn to listen with our focus and attention solely upon the other person, and not upon what we want to say next, what we need to get for dinner, what happened at work to cause us anxiety.
I'm grateful that I did my stint on the Crisis Line before I joined Al-Anon; I think it helped me to listen more carefully than I may have been able to otherwise. When I was a newcomer, I had no concept of how to go about implementing the wisdom imparted to me, and, many times, I was in such a state of anxiety, anger, depression or frustration that I heard what was said at the meeting, then forgot it all the moment I walked out the door to go back home to the alcoholic.
But that early training in focused listening has stood me in good stead. I believe it has helped me in my sponsorship, in relating to others at meetings, and in being empathetic to those who still suffer.
Listening to newcomers takes me sharply back, to the terrified and confused woman I was when I was new.
I try to extend a warm welcome. I don't leap upon them to fill their ears with all the advantages of Al-Anon, because I was so shy and self-conscious that I found all that warmth and love a little too much to take at first, and would rush out the door after the Serenity Prayer, so as to avoid being hugged. I had no trust, and hugging relative strangers made my weird meter leap to "overload."
Listening well is an art. I think many old-timers in program are good listeners. We all need a safe place, and someone with whom we can speak, knowing that our privacy is assured, our sorrows are shared, and we can unburden ourselves in the knowledge that we won't be interrupted.
An Al-Anon meeting is a safe place.