What I Learned about Listening from AA

“Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.” –Charlie Kaufman

We communicate in many ways. We use touch to say unspoken words. Our eyes are the “windows to the world” and our bodies turn and gesture in an intricate dance of conveyance.

Addiction found me sorely wrapped up in myself and my conversation topics followed suit—I talked about me! “I need, I want, give me,” seemed to be all that was on my inebriated mind.

A Lesson on Communication

I learned many things in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotic Anonymous. One huge lesson was on how to communicate effectively. Learning that my words could sting or that they could soothe was paramount to obtaining my sobriety.

“Take the cotton out of your ears and stick it in your mouth,” was told to me in the beginning. Listening and not just hearing was difficult.“

My initial take on the meetings was to reject what I was hearing. After all, I was a competent, fairly bright woman who had been around for four decades. What did these strangers know?

But as they shared their experiences, strengths and hopes, I miraculously began attending to their words. These folks were letting me into a place that was certainly familiar. Of course, some were what I would label obnoxious, but the majority of the members were making a concerted effort to get well and used language as a way of doing so.

How I Listen Now

I began to realize that my listening skills were poor. After more AA meetings than I can count and a bit of research, I realized that in order to listen, a few things need to happen:

  • I have to stop talking.
  • I need to prepare myself to listen and pay attention.
  • I need to remove distractions and show that I was listening.
  • I need to defer judgement.
  • And finally, I need to empathise and respond appropriately.

Over time, using these guidelines, I became less me-oriented and welcomed the words of my fellows. Again another miracle occurred… I realized that these words, these contacts, could save me from myself.

All that I had to do was not drink or drug, be attentive, not be afraid to let my feelings show, and know that most of the advice that came my way was well-meaning and accurate.

Author: Katie H. is a writer, recovering addict, and mother based in Connecticut.