Saturday, 7 February 2015

Listening to others, listening to myself

I went to another meeting. Once again, nothing terrifying happened. I think I was right that putting myself face to face (or rather side by side) with other people is something I need to do. I didn't actually talk to anyone or anything as bold as that. There's no hurry. What I did do is listen to the people who spoke, and watch the people in the room, and notice my reactions. And that was illuminating.

Here's what I noticed: my reactions to being there swung wildly back and forth between thinking it was a good idea to vowing I could never come back. And that was just in the five minutes or so before the meeting started, when I was just sitting in a chair, waiting. Also, I was watching people get settled, deciding who I thought was interesting and who wasn't. How hilarious is that? Apparently I know this sort of thing about people on first glance. I didn't know I did that! I caught myself thinking all this, and realized I was reacting to everyone else because I was nervous, and it's way easier to decide who's great and who isn't based on appearances than it is to just feel nervous, isn't it? So for a couple of minutes, I was just uncomfortably nervous. And I survived.

The meeting started when someone read a text, and I once again reacted strongly to the words. Oh, I could argue with that text! But I looked around, and I could see that lots of people seemed to be sitting politely but not getting all caught up in the words, so I thought maybe I could do that, too. I just ignored it, thinking maybe that's not for me right now. No argument required.

Then some guy talked. I managed to stop myself see-sawing between thinking "I belong here" and "I am never coming back" and actually listen. And he said some things that really helped me. Yesterday, Primrose wrote what I thought was a great post about being willing to change, and how that seems to have to include getting connected to other people. I loved what she had to say there. The speaker talked about such similar stuff, so it really resonated with me. Then a few other people spoke, and at different points, everyone said something that struck me deeply. One woman talked about Carl Jung as having said (quoting roughly), 'If you find spirituality in the second half of your life, the first half was worth it.' At that, both me and the young woman next to me teared up and caught each other's eyes for a moment, and smiled. Hard to say why that was so powerful, because the words don't cover it. Words matter, but this is about way more than the words. The experience of sitting listening with people is where the power comes from. I'm not much given to certainty, but I feel sure of this.

A number of years ago, I used to do some serious Zen meditation, but I decided sitting meditation wasn't for me. I spend enough time alone in my own mind, so silently observing my thoughts any more than I do can send me into a spiral that isn't so great for me. More recently, I have tried to listen to the various meditation gurus that get talked about on sober blogs, but they just make me angry. And yes, I know that anger is all about me, not them, but that doesn't stop it from happening. But I try to use the zen training in my own way. For me, it's better to watch my thoughts while I'm out walking or biking, or when I'm sitting in a classroom. It's a kind of meditation in action, and it suits me better. Seeing how I react in real time, that's what I've been trying to do.

And on that score, I think the meeting was good. Because just listening and paying close attention to my own reactions showed me how wildly I do react to what people say, or just the way they look, how quickly I jump on some opinion in my mind, even while I seem calm and balanced. And I could see that when I get uncomfortable, I am very, very quick to interpret my discomfort as disliking someone or something. It's easier, right? If some person or event is annoying and that's why I'm annoyed then I have a kind of equilibrium. It's false, though. And when I caught myself getting annoyed--as I did about a hundred times in the hour--instead of falling into believing that the person talking was at fault, I was able to notice my reaction, and accept that I was feeling uncomfortable, and then try to open my heart to my own discomfort and to the person speaking. And in that openness, sometimes I felt connected. The speakers were uncomfortable sometimes, too. And sometimes they were funny, and everybody laughed. More than once most people were in tears, as was I. Whatever was happening, we all seemed to sit in it together, sharing a little bit of human connection on a rainy Saturday morning.

While I was there, I realized that today I am 13 months sober. It was nice to quietly share that in person with people who would get it. And I did feel like I was sharing it, even though I didn't talk to anyone. So that's my second meeting. I still don't know my way about in all this, but I think I'm OK with that. I'm paying attention, anyway, and sitting with other people. And maybe that's enough.

Thanks for reading. Peace and joy to you. And love.


  1. Cool. That is all. xxx (and some kisses) xxx

  2. Just what a lovely post and huge congrats on you months!!

    Love and hugs my lovely friend!


    1. Thanks so much, Daisy. Love and hugs to you, too! xo

  3. What a beautiful post and beautiful realizations. Congrats on 13 months. Everyday is a blessing.


  4. I LOVED your post!
    13 months is AWESOME!!!!
    Peace and Hugs!

    1. Thanks, Wendy. I'm really pleased you liked this. Peace and hugs to you, too! xo

  5. it happens so often that I read a post of yours and it sparks little germs of thought inside me. and I think, hmmm, I will come back and comment when that seed has grown a little bit and I can do justice to your original great post ;) and then it seems to be a longer time than I would like to come back and comment! so anyway, I am here now. which is perhaps my highest and ultimate aim :)

    I was particularly struck by your ability to recognise if you are jumping to conclusions about others. I am pretty sure that if I were ever to attend a meeting I would be similarly jumping all over the place, so am happy that you could notice that in yourself and to accept it.

    also loved your realisation that you were sharing the experience of a sober milestone just by being there, without having to vocalise it. that's pretty damn cool.

    'paying attention and sitting with other people' - that's a grand aim, thank you! Prim xx

    1. Thanks for being here, Prim. It's lovely to think of you reading and then going away and thinking, as that's what I do with many of your posts, too. What you're saying here relates a lot to what you were talking about in your most recent post. I have been thinking that if I am this reactive, launching to judgement about people on scant evidence, then maybe I am doing that to myself as well. Am I doing it because I think that's what everyone is doing? I'm not sure. But what you are saying about "accepting yourself" is very much in keeping with what I am working on here. I think to accept myself, I have to accept others, and to accept others, I have to accept myself. It seems a tall order, sometimes. But how lovely to be here with other fine people a year away from the booze, questioning what used to seem like the only way to be. I truly am loving this! Thanks for your comment and your wisdom. xo

    2. at the risk of this turning into an off-putting mutual admiration society... this comment is why I LOVE THE SOBERSPHERE!

      because your interpretation of my words reflects an aspect I hadn't even considered which opened up a world of new possibilities in my mind.

      what if, as you say, our acceptance of others fosters our own self-acceptance, and self-acceptance fosters acceptance of others, on and on in an infinity loop?

      because if I can work on how I see other people, as a separate issue to how I perceive myself, then those skills, that empathy, reflects inward too...this is an enormous help to me. thank you!

      re being in meetings with others - or just being in life with others, to be honest - I came across a great post by Mr Sponsorpants recently which you might find interesting about the difference between having an opinion of someone, and judging them. the post is here - and the specific bit I mean is this:

      "But you see, that's how the judgmental part of me gets its foot in the door: By finding a way to legitimize the judgment. I always have excellent reasons for my judgment. (The best is when I judge someone for being judgmental -- which is some kind of ego jujitsu I guess. Okay, I just came up with that right now as I was writing this, and I have to say "ego jujitsu" sounds like either an excellent name for a band -- probably an emo band, actually -- or a really old school Bond villain.)

      Not being judgmental does not mean that I pretend sickness is not sickness -- but it does mean that I try very hard not to decide that I know how someone should be. After all, their sickness comes from the same place all of mine does: Fear. Ego. And in my case, addiction. And so often our sickness is just an attempt -- albeit wildly out of balance -- to protect ourselves.

      To find some peace around all this -- and to not drive myself crazy trying to be nonjudgmental -- because when I was new to AA I thought that "not being judgmental" meant that I had to agree with/like everything I saw, and let me tell you, trying to agree with/like everything you see makes for a very short trip to Crazy -- I had to find a way to sort out my reactions while being true to the goal of being more accepting of others.The shorthand for the process became this: An opinion -- which I was going to have pretty much no matter what -- was that I decided that what you were doing was not right for me. A judgment was when I decided that what you were doing was not right for you. I could live with having opinions -- it was inevitable -- but in sorting out my business/your business I could move towards a less judgmental and more accepting world view -- opinions and resentments not withstanding."

      what is right for me vs what is right for someone else: there's the distinction. trying to keep my eye on that!

      it's so great to be here with you finding new and vibrant ways of thinking and being! Prim xx

    3. Prim, I love your reply! I also am often amazed at how I learn from others and from myself as interpreted through others in this blog world. It's fantastic! And yes, I do think how we see ourselves and how we see others is related. But as you say, it would be wrong to get swallowed up in others. Accepting without judgement but still with discernment is a challenge, but I'm working on that. Thanks for the Mr Sponsorpants quote, too. Isn't he amazing sometimes?

      Thanks so much for being here! I do love being part of this group of people finding, talking with each other as we each find our own way. xo

  6. I think moving meditation is great. Most of my personal meditation is done at yoga. I always have a few minutes before the class to lay down and see how I am feeling. And then I consider the class meditation.

    I have also done sitting meditation. It has helped me at times and made me anxious at times. I expect it is something that will envolve over time. At one time I couldn't even fathom sitting for a moment with my own thoughts. They were so dark and crazy.


    1. Anne, I agree with you on the moving meditation. And after I wrote, I really did remember how sitting meditation had been a big help to me before, something I"d forgotten because it had sometimes gone badly, too. Thanks for your encouragement. I think I'm going to register for a Zen sitting session in a few weeks, and see if I can get back to doing that sometimes, too. Dark and crazy thoughts are hard, aren't they? Mine are a lot better than they were. And I'm easier with them, too, so that helps. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting! xo