"Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth." One of the old timey AA sayings, a bit of (mildly snarky) folk wisdom passed down in the Fellowship as a suggestion to Newcomers in recovery.
It's not a bad bit of advice, really. At first blush I thought it was directed solely towards the belligerent types, but it can certainly be useful to those among us who bandy words as a way to distance, to deflect, to deconstruct so that nothing means anything (that was a good description of me when I was new. And some days I'm not sure I've made it much past those devices).
"Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth" is absolutely a good suggestion, a useful little slogan, to remind new people that when it comes to getting and staying sober, they might benefit more from taking new ideas in rather than voicing their own genius ideas on being sober.
"Take the cotton our of your ears and put it in your mouth" is a great slogan.
Except when it's not.
Some of us have been stuffing cotton in our mouths for most of our lives, stuffing stuffing stuffing every feeling, doubting every thought. The last thing those people need to do is take too closely to heart the idea that they should be quiet. The spirit of the slogan, that it's a good idea to make listening to this new information about getting sober a priority, certainly applies. But to be too specific, to be too literal, and deny their newly found sober voice, would probably be quite damaging.
Another way to look at this is that some of us are asshole drunks and some of us are doormat drunks. The assholes need to sit down and shut up, the doormats need to raise their hands and break through the walls which at one time protected but now only imprison. It's a good slogan, but it's one-size-fits-most. Maybe not all.
Obviously there are only a few slogans which can apply to all of us in every situation. One Day At A Time -- I think we can agree that's pretty universal. Or Easy Does It. (Yet even "Easy Does It" got an addendum over the years: Easy Does It -- But Do It.)
Slogans encapsulate a sound bit of practical advice in a way that, when I'm under duress, can get through my mental agitation and give me a bit of good orderly direction to hang onto.
In Friday's post I offered a slogan I use for myself: If you can't keep the boundary don't set the boundary.
I use this to steel myself when I am about to tell someone No. (Some form of "No" being the stalwart heart of every boundary, yes?) For me, it is very dangerous to set a boundary that I can't keep. Thus, this little slogan reminds me to be realistic and specific when I'm setting my boundary. "If you can't keep it don't set it" is my mantra for preparing myself to hold the line against the potential dramatic siege to cross it, and to be vigilant against the (much more challenging) thousand stealthy, oh-so-reasonable-exceptions which can change a solid line to a dotted one in a dysfunctional blink.
And most importantly, for me, is that it prevents the potentially most toxic of resentments: The resentments against myself.
The Big Book calls resentment turned inwards remorse, but that's too nice a word for it, tinged as it is in what seems like the sepia tones of nostalgia. "Remorse" feels like the kind of thing you experience when looking back at something over time, and from a distance. It's a melancholy blue, not an angry red. For me, when I set a boundary and then I can't/don't hold it, that broken boundary can be the first toppling domino in a devastating avalanche of self loathing. (Oh! Dramatic!)
Seriously though, when I'm already on the ropes, and I have thoughts which start with "you always... " and "you never..." and they're the prelude to an examination of how I wound up doormatting again, that's a dangerous inward-aimed resentment (with self obsession piggy backing on top, complete with spurs riding crop to make pony go faster).
Of course all resentments are dangerous in some way to an alcoholic -- when the Big Book calls it the Number One Offender it's not kidding. (But resentment is not quite exactly the same as anger. In a couple of places here at Mr. SP we've kicked around the idea that anger plus self obsession equals resentment. Anger alone is an emotion which we can feel and hopefully let pass. It's resentment that's covered in velcro.)
I agree with all the wise comments addressing from a variety of angles this particular personal slogan of mine. Yes absolutely the way to get better at making boundaries is to practice drawing them. There is no doubt that a failure to draw a boundary when it is sorely needed is a sure way to begin to resent the person you need to draw that boundary for. (And if you don't, eventually it's on you, and I'm sorry but the longer you don't draw the boundary the more you move to a sort of lying by omission.)
Slogans that we make for ourselves, or that we hear from sponsors and the fellowship at large, encompass one usually important and generally helpful principle. I can't tell you the number of times I've been half-way worked up to a full-on meltdown and the phrase Easy Does It has floated to the surface of my consciousness, a little white buoy on a roiling emotional sea, reminding me to breathe and say the Serenity Prayer.
But we must each, probably with a fair amount of input from sober friends and sponsor, decide in what way a particular sober slogan is best applied to our recovery.
Or, to make a new slogan right here, maybe not everyone should put their cotton in the same place.