What AA Has Taught Me about the Importance of Listening
When I was younger, I found myself at AA, and the impact it had on my life was slow but powerful in a million different ways. Beyond recovery, AA taught me one of the most fundamental lessons of life — how to listen and be listened to in return.
In college, I had an image of myself in a box inside a box while “real life” happened all around me. I would go days without talking to another person, and even when I was surrounded by people, I would hide behind achievements to forget how deeply lonely I felt.
I was also intensely afraid to reveal that I was gay and consequently, had been doing drugs since 7th grade to numb myself and make friends. Hiding was slowly killing me.
My early recovery came in the form of AA on St. Marks Place in New York City. I didn’t know what it was, yet I was drawn to it-passing by the big, open windows and seeing people hanging out and laughing. Eventually, I found myself attending meetings. When I look back, I remember hugs and smiles and people telling me that I was in the right place. I remember crying and love and affirmation-I had found my people and a safe space.
It didn’t start this way though. I understood that one step behind AA and toward recovery was sharing what you are going through, but felt like what I had was not important enough to share. Even while feeling safe in this supportive environment, I doubted myself.
“I will be judged.” “I am more of a drug addict than an alcoholic so I don’t belong.” “What I have to say is stupid.” These were all thoughts that went through my head on a cycle.
But, things changed. I found a great sponsor, and over time, I began to feel a sense of belonging. I learned that what I have to say does matter, not just for me, but for any who can identify with my story.
What AA taught me is that opening up is scary. There is no manual and not everyone is born with an innate ability to talk about our feelings. AA taught me that listening to others and being listened to in return is a profound exercise in taking a leap of faith in order to build mutual trust. It also taught me that there is nothing theoretical in recovery. The act alone of talking with someone is meaningful and empowering, and all it takes is being willing to ask for it.
In AA, I felt validated and valuable. My pain became my strength because I could share it with others to use toward their own recovery, while building myself stronger. When you share every part of your life with others, no matter how ugly or difficult it may be, you become more present and willing to listen to others in return.
These are not unique or profound lessons, but it did ingrain in me the value of connection. It is what has guided me through life ever since and why I created HearMe. AA was what I needed at the time, and while not everyone is a recovering addict or facing a mental health condition, we all need someone who can listen to us and be there, no matter what.
Your HearMe listener walks you through challenging times and are always available for you. You have the agency in choosing someone who you can identify with and trust. Listeners are a partner to share what you are going through and create a space of mutual understanding. These concepts of sharing the journey, “one step at a time,” empathy and connection are all baked into the HearMe ethos.
What HearMe offers is experiential: The journey is from the head to the heart. It is deeply personal and universal at the same time. It can be a starting point on any journey or a tool to pick up as you want. My promise to you is that with HearMe, you don’t have to share the journey alone.
Originally published in May 2019 at https://www.hearme.app.