When I first slithered into the rooms of AA the crusty old-timers used to tell me to take the cotton out of my ears and stuff it into my mouth. At the time I was gravely offended and vowed that this program was not for me - but in time I came to see the wisdom of those words.
As a newcomer I was full of brilliant ideas. Changes needed to be made to the literature. I had ingenious plans to rewrite the Big Book to make it less sexist and dogmatic. I had flashes of brilliance about how the steps could be rewritten to appeal to more people. I would get rid of the 4th step completely because it can be a drag. And so on.
Now I can laugh at the brazen audacity of my early sober self. One of the most important parts of this cotton-in-the-mouth plan was that I had to listen to people that I had previously decided had nothing important or helpful to say. Nothing to impart to HRH Moi that I didn't already know, probably better than they did, thank you very much. Forcing myself to sit still and learning (finally) how to listen - whether or not I "like" the speaker has been a profoundly important part of my AA journey. I needed to really see the adage "principles over personalities" working in my life. Here is just one example of when shutting my mouth, sitting still and really listening helped me enormously.
There was a guy in my home group who I could not stand. I deemed him preachy, rigid and humorless the first time I heard him share. I dubbed him “Church Lady Jim”. I just tuned him out every time he opened his mouth. One day after a meeting someone said "Did you hear Jim’s share? It was so powerful". I scoffed but decided to listen to Jim, if for no other reason than to prove to my friend that I was right about him and that she was wrong.
Jim is a beekeeper and would often share about his hives. At the time, I couldn’t care less about beekeeping. I am judgmental to a fault, and that judgmental nature has kept me separate and alone - in and out of the rooms of AA. But here’s what happened when I made an honest effort to be open-minded and to listen without judgment . Jim was speaking about the different ways to get the honey out of his hives and using that as an anaolgy for living a sober life. Apparently there’s a standard way to inspect the frames and gather the honey and that is by smoking the bees into submission, going in with protective equipment and thick cumbersome gloves. So the hive’s inhabitants are stoned off their stripes and the beekeeper does a smash and grab. Jim explained that this is the accepted "painless" way of gathering the honey. But it is not painless. It just seems less painful as no one gets stung. But the damage done to the honey, the hive and the bees remains. They are left traumatized by the intrusion. The bees and their hive may get damaged but the beekeeper remains oblivious, completely unable to see or feel the total havoc that he is wreaking with his thick clumsy gloves. When we drink and drug we crash headlong through life, remaining numb to the damage we cause to ourselves and others. We can talk ourselves into believing that alcohol and drugs are painless. But deep down, we know that we are not ok.
Church Lady Jim now cares for his hives without smoke and protective equipment. And occasionally he gets stung. But he feels the sting and it passes. Less trauma, happier bees and sweeter honey.
He approaches his life the same way, without the protective equipment of drugs and alcohol.
Jim made this brilliant analogy that I think of to this day, one that I never would have heard had I let my stream of negative judgment keep running. I was able to interrupt that stream and actively listen to Jim, marveling at his logic. Life is like that. There will be delicious honey and there will be sharp stings. Without numbing ourselves, we learn to accept the inevitable stings. And when we learn to really listen we find wisdom in places we never thought we would. We can then wake up to savor the sweet honey of life itself.
I might even start a hive of my own.