“Call me everyday.”
That’s what he said, so that’s what I did.
This was 7 or so years ago and my 2nd of many AA Meetings. The man who told me to call was a man I met that very night.
I asked him to be my sponsor that night, too.
That’s how these things work: Bottom out and ask for help. It doesn’t matter who you’re asking as much as people think it does, so long as you are willing and desperate.
I was wholly desperate, partially willing.
What followed was 5-ish years of sobriety and loads of stories. Those rooms and the people in them and principles of this program are solely responsible for crafting me into the adult I am today. Not the man. Not the person. The adult.
It’s no wonder that something stuck. Most of it.
Mostly the calls.
Calling my sponsor everyday, along with about 5 or so other guys became THE HABIT for me that first year.
If somebody didn’t pick up, I saw the opportunity in their voicemail. I needed to speak. I needed to be heard. I needed to tell a stranger that I was hurting. Friends don’t work that way. Not always. Friends want to make you feel better. Strangers want to help.
I did always hear back, but most of the time, the articulating out loud to somebody else’s voicemail box was balm enough for what ailed me.
There was something to this.
Maybe it was magic.
This past summer was a difficult one for my family. My mother and I had issues that we’re still having. A woman who was living in our home, proved to be dishonest and invited all the tumult that follows dishonesty, and the stress of 2 young children and a third on the way was about as difficult as that can often be for a reasonably young couple.
I remembered my phone.
I also remembered another gift of Alcoholics Anyonymous:
The altruistic kind.
The kind that you do for others no matter what.
The kind that you offer up in the middle of crisis, heartbreak, trauma.
No money exchanged, no promises, no expectations.
And so I asked people to call me.
What was I offering? The same ear that was offered to me.
What it became was something else. And not.
I’m still offering that same ear of mine, but my ear is more finely tuned. I relate this to the practice that this very process provoked in me as a listener.
The process of deconstructing the convervational format. What it means to host and hold a conversation. Dismantling it, rebuilding it, and confronting and interrogating the way we ask for space and the way we provide it to others.
I didn’t invent anything new.
I identified the parts and set them apart. I paid homage to the singular beauty of each distinct phase of the conversational cycle.
You’re saying something/anything to me sending it through the cloud (or however these things work) and I can’t say anything. I can’t offer you anything. I can’t tell you how to say it better, or do it better. You are simply left with you and your voice.
I’m listening and that’s all that I can do until we talk and that’s all I should be doing, because that is what listening is.
And what happens when we finally talk?
Most of the time I just read back to you what you voiced to me. I just tell you what I heard. And most of the time that is enough.
Most of the time you are enough.
There is something to this.
Maybe it is magic.
What it’s come to be for today in its current iteration is the structure of my weekly calls with my students.
Each week they call me everyday and leave me 7 voicemail messages.
Each week I call them back.
Most of the time I just tell them what they already told me.
Most of the time this is enough.