Friday, October 24, 2014

What Qualifies as "Gossip or Criticism."

I was raised in an adoptive family in which the major form of humour was sarcasm. I picked it up along with some other bad habits, and used it right into the doors of Al-Anon.

Before progam, I used sarcasm as a weapon, as a rebuttal, as a defense, and to score points in an argument.

 I spoke to my first sponsor about it, and she reminded me that in our closing, we read, "Talk to each other, reason things out, but let there be no gossip or criticism of one another. Instead, let the understanding, love and peace of the program grow in you one day at a time."

I define "let there be no gossip or criticism of one another" very narrowly. Many times, a new sponsee will ask me who my other sponsees are. I don't tell them, because that runs up against my strong belief in keeping confidences. If one sponsee wishes to break that confidence by talking about who their sponsor is, that's up to them. Nobody is going to hear it from me.

I'm not comfortable in hearing about who irritates or bothers you at a meeting, because they are too this or that. I am not at a meeting to sit and fume because someone has a personality quirk I find irritating. I am at a meeting to share the experience strength and hope I have to offer, to bask in the atmosphere of love and acceptance, and to learn.

My experience in this program has taught me right from the start, that it would invariably be the person who was irritating me the most, who had the lesson I most needed to hear at that time.

In my second group, which was a home-group meeting, we went to a member's apartment, and we were no further that just inside the door, before I was silently judging her for her d├ęcor. (I was a supremely shallow person 30 years ago, I lived in anger, fear, and judgement.)

During the meeting, I was judging this same woman for the way she spoke, her choice of clothing, her speech patterns; everything about her, got my goat. The meeting ended, I went home, and found that one thing she'd said, was getting more and more powerful the more I thought about it. It applied to my own character defects, and it stuck in my head all week, like a cocklebur seed to a sock. It poked, prodded, and needled at me day upon day. I finally called my sponsor to complain about this obsession, and we had a very interesting and to me, madly infuriating discussion, in which she suggested, not for the first time, that what most annoyed me in another person, often turned out to be a character defect or personality quirk of my own that I disliked.

I swallowed and muttered and grumped while she explained this idea in greater detail. When she was finished, I didn't have much to say, I was too offended, so I said a stiff goodbye, thanked her, and hung up.

Talking to her hadn't helped me in the way I'd hoped or wanted. I didn't get what I thought I needed from that discussion; instead I was, as so often in the early days with my sponsor, mightily offended. I took offense very quickly when I was new to Al-Anon. My self-image was so negative and so shaky, that even the slightest suggestion that I was wrong could send me into a tailspin for days. After a few months of dealing with this aspect of my personality, my  sponsor suggested that perhaps by being offended, I didn't have to hear what she was saying?

That hit home with a thump, because it was simply, and undeniably true. A large part of my judgement, when it wasn't about allowing me to feel superior, because I didn't do that at meetings, was about being to cut that person out, as someone I didn't need to listen to very carefully.

This woman taught me to listen carefully when anyone speaks during a meeting, because I've learned that the most (to me) unlikely person, may be the one person at the meeting who is carrying the message from my HP, that I most need to hear.

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