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“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he blames someone else.”
– John Burroughs
Continuing to do anything in our daily lives usually means that we get better at it. And so it goes with Step Ten of AA Alcoholics Anonymous. Nobody ever really enjoys admitting to being wrong, it’s much easier to blame others. Admitting when we are wrong and promptly being accountable for our side of the street is absolutely necessary in order for us to maintain our spiritual progress in recovery. The best part about practicing the Tenth Step of AA in our daily lives is that the more we are exercising self-discovery, honesty, humility and reflection, the less apologies and amends we have to make!
Taking a personal “inventory” in Step Ten means taking stock of our emotional disturbances, especially those that could return us to drinking or other drug use.
As it says in The Big Book, when we are disturbed, it is usually because we find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact in our lives – unacceptable. A typical response to disturbance is to blame our feelings and reactions on other people. Alcoholics and addicts have typically honed the skill of nursing resentments and finding fault into an art form! We tend to give other people control over our lives when we say that they “make us” angry, upset or afraid. The reality is that we usually say or do something that helps to create these conflicts in our lives. Step Ten of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that its time we take responsibility for our actions and to promptly clean up our role in all matters. This requires being willing to release selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, or fear at the very moment that they occur. Step Ten of AA puts into practice the spiritual principles of vigilance, maintenance and perseverance.
Acknowledging what’s working and balanced can also help us to pinpoint what’s out of balance and not working. Continuing to take personal inventory isn’t only about finding out when we are wrong however, because we can’t identify the times when we are wrong, unless we also have identified the times when have handled things “rightly” as a basis for a comparison. Working with our sponsor in Step 10 to identify the times and situations when we do things right really helps us to form a personal value system. This is as much a part of taking a personal inventory as is identifying our liabilities.
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
– Charles R. Swindoll
Working on the Tenth Step of AA means continuing to do all of the things we have been doing for our recovery so far; continuing to be honest, having trust and faith, and paying attention to our actions and reactions. We have learned to pay attention to how our actions affect others, and when the effects are negative or harmful, promptly stepping forward and taking responsibility for the harm caused and trying to repair it. This is what it means to take personal inventory and promptly admit our wrongs.
Even though our lives have changed dramatically through working the first Nine Steps of AA Alcoholics Anonymous, because we have the disease of addiction, we can always return to what we were before. The price for our healthy recovery is vigilance.
Practicing Step Ten of AA will help keep us aware of ourselves and our patterns of destruction long before they take hold. We can learn not to beat ourselves up because we feel badly and instead focus on the positive actions we’re taking. As addicts we tend to make judgments about what we are feeling, and anything that feels bad we immediately want to stop. Sometimes we need to take into account that the way we’re feeling makes perfect sense, when we consider the circumstances!
The AA Alcoholics Anonymous program of recovery is based on spiritual principles and virtues. With Step Ten we focus on the principles of honesty, perseverance/self-discipline and integrity.
The range and depth of our honesty at this point in our recovery is astonishing. Earlier on in our recovery we were able to see our true motives long after a situation was over, and now we are able to be honest with ourselves, about ourselves, while the situation is still occurring. This principle of honesty originated in Step One, and is now brought to fruition in Step Ten.
Having self-discipline & perseverance is almost counter-intuitive for us addicts. When we were using our drug of choice we were probably self-seeking and self- absorbed, always taking the easy way out, giving in to our impulses, and ignoring any opportunities for personal growth. The self-discipline required for our recovery calls on us to do certain things regardless of how we feel. For example, we need to go to regular meetings even if we’re tired, busy at work or play, or even when filled with despair. We go to meetings, call our sponsor, work with others and practice spiritual principles because we have decided we want recovery in AA and those things are the actions that will help assure our continued recovery.
The principle of integrity in AA can be complex, as sticking to commitments and making good on our word is only a small part. Integrity in recovery almost seems to be the art of knowing which principles we need to practice in any given situation, and in what measure.
Most of us discovered when we sobered up that we had never been able to have any kind of long-term relationship, certainly not any kind in which we resolved our conflicts in a healthy and mutually respectful way. Whether it was raging fights with people that never spoke of the underlying problem that caused the fights, or not standing up for ourselves and being conflict avoidant because it seemed easier to burn a bridge rather than work through a problem and build a stronger relationship. These are all parts of continuing to take our personal inventory to reveal our greatest liabilities and assets. Let’s expand on that.
Feelings, Right And Wrong
Step Ten points out the need to continue taking personal inventory and seems to assert that we do this solely to find out when we’re wrong. But how can we identify the times we’re wrong unless we also have times that we’re right as a basis for comparison? Identifying the times we do things right and forming personal values are as much a part of personal inventory as identifying our liabilities.
The Tenth Step tells us that we have to promptly admit when we’re wrong, but that’s assuming that we always know when we’re wrong! The fact is that most of us don’t, at least not right away. We become more proficient at figuring out when we’re wrong with the consistent practice of taking a personal inventory. We use Step Ten to maintain a continuous awareness of what we’re feeling, thinking, and, even more importantly, what we’re doing.
Have you ever noticed how much thought and feeling are attached to actions? It’s really interesting. For instance, many of us have a problem with being angry; we don’t like the way it feels. We may judge it, conclude we have no right to feel that way, and then do our very best to suppress our angry feelings. Yet, we may be experiencing a situation that would make anyone angry, and when we think about it, we start to feel really quite uncomfortable. Then comes the moment when our recovery either propels us forward into greater self-respect or our disease drags us down into a thick fog of depression and resentment. And it all has to do with how we respond to our thoughts and feelings of anger. Obviously, if we scream, curse and throw things, we destroy any possibility of making a relationship, job or situation better. But if we do nothing and bury our feelings, we become depressed and resentful, and that doesn’t improve our situation either. If we take positive action aimed at improving the situation, it has the chance to get better; or at the very least, we’ll know when it’s time to walk away and be able to do so without regrets.
It doesn’t do any good to make a list of our feelings or to become aware of them without tying them to the precise actions that they generate, or in some cases fail to generate. Before beginning a regular practice of personal inventory it’s important to understand what we are assessing in an inventory.
These questions can address the general areas that we want to look at in a personal inventory:
Many recovering addicts from newcomers to old old-timers find an actionable daily analysis of how their recovery is going to be extremely beneficial:
It is a total myth that Step 10 of AA is about constantly needing to apologize to everyone. There are people who get hung up on this step because it involves admitting when you’ve done something wrong. But in reality, it isn’t so much about apologizing to others as it is being aware of thoughts, feelings, words and actions that are harmful yourself and others. It is a very personal process of constant inward reflection.
And here’s the truth: You will definitely continue to make mistakes as you interact with others! But a commitment to Step 10 is a simply a commitment to take personal responsibility for your mistakes. If you examine your thoughts and actions each day and resolve them, then negative thoughts and feelings will not increase to the point where they threaten your recovery. You can rest assured in your progress and trust that practice and patience will ensure continued recovery.
“This thought brings us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the Spirit. Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness. This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime. Action: Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.” Page 85 BB
When we make a conscious decision to check our motives and our hearts each day to see if we’ve been acting out with even minor things like judging, being snippy or insulting, we can quickly make amends and go on living a life in peace and harmony. This is one of the ways we stay sober. This is how we enter the “world of the spirit.”
So far in your step work you have been building a conscious awareness of yourself and a Higher Power. Your daily reflections, step work, meeting attendance and fellowshipping have been prayer and mediationin action. In Step 11 you will work on seeking to improve this conscious contact and become aware of the spiritual solution!
As we stay clean and days of continuous abstinence turn into weeks and months and years, we find that taking a personal inventory really has become second nature. With Step ten we notice right away when we’re headed in a direction that we don’t want to go or about to engage in a behavior that’s sure to cause harm and we are able to correct it. The practice of taking a personal inventory is a check-in with the union of ourselves and our higher power and an opportunity for growth, grounding, meditation and progress.
As with everything else in life, the AA Alcoholics Anonymous program of recovery is very much about trial and error. So keep taking the next right action, keep your side of the street clean and remember to stay sober, one day at a time.
Grow or go.