5 Things You Don’t Hear (Much) At Meetings Anymore
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5 Things You Don’t Hear (Much) At Meetings Anymore


This post was originally published on September 11, 2014.

When I first came into AA, I heard old-timers say a lot of things that didn’t sound particularly kind or compassionate. But after sticking around for a while, I realized that what they were saying was way more helpful than hurtful. Luckily, they were not usually directing these slogans towards me, but were conveying what was said to them when they were first getting sober. And they told me that their reactions at the time were usually angry or defensive, but once they got over the sting of truth, they accepted the wisdom behind what was said. I am a firm believer that the kindest thing that you can tell an alcoholic is the truth, but I’m also cognizant of the fact that most alcoholics and addicts tend to be extremely oversensitive—especially newcomers. Still, the reality for me was that the only way I could have gotten sober was to hear the unvarnished truth. In my case, kindness would have killed.

When I was coming to meetings drunk (which I did for the first 80 or 90 times this time around), people were very kind to me and would say, “Keep coming” which made me feel good, but it probably wasn’t going to get me to stop, as I was becoming too comfortable showing up that way. It wasn’t until a guy said to me after a meeting, “Hey Kid! It works better if you don’t drink before the meeting” that I got it.

So here are five things that you don’t hear said very much anymore, beginning with everyone’s least favorite…

1) “Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth.”

To easily offended newcomers, this is the C-word of nearly extinct slogans. Unfortunately, it’s one of the best pieces of advice you could possibly take. A gentler version is: “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason,” and an even kinder version than that is “Learn to Listen. Listen to Learn.” The fact of the matter is that if I knew how to stop drinking and drugging on my own, I wouldn’t have to listen to anybody. But my best thinking got me into a church basement on a folding chair, so maybe I didn’t have the all the answers.

If you’re a new person at a meeting, please raise your hand, let people know you’re new, share your pain and then listen for the answers or stick around and talk to someone after. Too many people come in, dump their shit and then either leave before connecting with people or just fire up their cell phones and don’t pay attention after their share. I was also told “This isn’t therapy for a buck,” and that I’d get more value out of listening than sharing at every meeting. Luckily for me, I was shell-shocked when I got into recovery, and was too terrified to speak much. (That is no longer the case.)

2) “Gratitude is an action word.”

I’m not a big fan of “gratitude” meetings as a rule (although I’ve been to some great ones), mostly because I’m still cynical enough to recognize that while most people like to talk about how grateful they are, many don’t seem to act that way—in recovery or not. I tend to believe people who actually behave in a grateful manner rather than just talk about it—people who pick up chairs, clean up, take the time to talk to newcomers or give them rides—and they make a much greater impact on me than folks who talk about gratitude at a meeting and then launch into a litany of complaints right after. One of the best slogans I’ve ever heard came from an alcoholic priest: Gratitude and self-pity cannot co-exist. Which to me means that if I’m helping other people, I generally don’t have time to feel sorry for myself.

3) “T.I.M.E. stands for things I must earn.”

I think that for many of us, as soon as we put down the drink and drugs, we believe that we should get everything back that we think we deserve—right away. Especially the love, trust and respect of our families, friends and co-workers, because hey—we’re not drinking or drugging anymore! It’s as if we expect people to completely forgive and forget all the shitty and insane crap we did just because we’ve strung a little time together, and they’re supposed to just wipe the slate clean. It’s been my experience that it doesn’t usually happen that way. Recently, a guy who was five months sober was complaining to his sponsor that his wife doesn’t trust him. “She shouldn’t,” his sponsor said. “Why would she? You’ve been trying to get sober for three years now and you’ve lied to her about everything, every time. Why would this time be different? Stay sober and you’ll get her trust back. Just not for a while. You’ve got to earn it back.”

4) “Are you willing to go to any lengths?”

This is one that I still sometimes hear, but not often enough. What it really means is this: Are you willing to put one quarter of the effort into getting clean and sober that you put into getting drunk and high? Unfortunately, the answer for many of us is no. Too many people (particularly if they’re not desperate) try to fit recovery into their schedules instead of making it a priority, and they fail. One of the best things I heard in early recovery was, “Build your day around a meeting.” Another great analogy I heard was from a woman who said, “If you had cancer and the doctor told you all you had to do was go to a meeting every day to keep from dying from it, wouldn’t you go?”

The first time I came around, I went to no lengths—no group, no sponsor, spotty meetings, no service—and I picked up a drink and got my ass viciously kicked for four more years (although it’s probably what I needed to be fully convinced). The second time I came around, I did all those things and voila! I stayed sober and have for a while now.

5) “If you ain’t praying, you ain’t staying.”

While I don’t think you have to believe in God or a Higher Power to get or stay sober, praying seems to help most of the people who do stay sober in 12-step programs. And if I’m not able to get or stay sober, what’s the harm in trying prayer? It was the only way sobriety worked for me, so I’m a big advocate. If things couldn’t possibly get worse (which, by the way, they always can for an alcoholic or addict), how could it possibly hurt?

While a lot of these little sayings are shrinking in popularity, they’re still pretty true. The truth isn’t always kind, and yes, when people have told me any of the things listed above, I have wanted to choke the living shit out of them. Could they have said it nicer? Maybe. But I’m not sure I would have listened if they didn’t get my attention with a little sarcasm. Besides, booze and drugs treated me worse than any person ever did, and booze and drugs were never acting in my best interests. I’m just glad someone took a chance on telling me the truth and hurting my feelings instead of just letting me kill myself.

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About Author

Johnny Plankton is the pseudonym for a freelance business and comedy writer/editor (and recovering alcoholic) who lives in Boston. He is also a grateful member of America’s largest alcohol recovery “cult” as well as Al-Anon.