Compassionate Listening and Adult Children of Alcoholics

Reno Friends Meeting hosts several community groups in our Meeting House, providing space for organizations that share our Quaker values and have no home of their own. For the last year, members of the Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families have gathered inside our space on Thursday nights. This 12-step fellowship program is designed to promote healing for those who struggle with neglect, shame, abuse and other legacies of growing up in a home led by alcoholic or dysfunctional parents.

One recent Thursday, I decided to join them. I was curious about the program and wanted to extend a Quaker welcome. That night, twenty people showed up, of all ages and types. They knew each other well, greeting one another by name and chatting a bit. When the program started, they shared readings about how alcoholism and dysfunctional parents can torque a family. One of particular interest was the “Laundry List” of traits common among adult children of alcoholics, such as low self-esteem, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility or the need to seek approval from others.

Over the next hour, the attendees took turns sharing their stories. Some spoke of harrowing moments in their childhood and how they had responded. Others talked of how they struggled in the present to respond differently to trying situations. Some even shared little victories, such as using meditation and prayer to calm down, or drawing a boundary between themselves and someone taking advantage of them. The stories were interesting, and many made me think of moments in my own life. No one, after all, grows up in a perfect family.

But what struck me most was how the group listened to each other. They paid full attention, and no one else spoke until the person had finished. Then they all said “thank you.” By agreement, they do not “cross-talk,” defined as giving advice or commentary, which allows each story a compassionate space. Watching them, I suddenly saw what a profound gift it is to listen attentively, wait until someone is done, and then thank them for their story. How often do we do that for the people in our lives? How often do we listen without being distracted by our own thoughts, our own response? How can we learn to let go of what is in our own head and really hear what someone is saying?

At the end of the evening, several in the room came up to thank me for the use of our Meeting House. I left grateful that we are able to provide a quiet space for them, and also for the insights they gave me.

If you are interested in attending or have a friend who might be, the Reno group meets from 5:30 to 6:30 pm Thursdays at our Meeting House at 497 Highland Avenue, Reno, NV 89512.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.