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Step Ten

"Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it."

As we work the first nine Steps, we prepare ourselves for the adventure of a
new life. But when we approach Step Ten we commence to put our A.A. way of
living to practical use, day by day, in fair weather or foul. Then comes the
acid test: can we stay sober, keep in emotional balance, and live to good
purpose under all conditions?
A continuous look at our assets and liabilities, and a real desire to learn
and grow by this means, are necessities for us. We alcoholics have learned this
the hard way. More experienced people, of course, in all times and places have
practiced unsparing self-survey and criticism. For the wise have always known
that no one can make much of his life until self-searching becomes a regular
habit, until he is able to admit and accept what he finds, and until he
patiently and persistently tries to correct what is wrong.
When a drunk has a terrific hangover because he drank heavily yesterday, he
cannot live well today. But there is another kind of hangover which we all
experience whether we are drinking or not. That is the emotional hangover, the
direct result of yesterday's and sometimes today's excesses of negative
emotion--anger, fear, jealousy, and the like. If we would live serenely today
and tomorrow, we certainly need to eliminate these hangovers. This doesn't mean
we need to wander morbidly around in the past. It requires an admission and
correction of errors now. Our inventory enables us to settle with the past.
When this is done, we are really able to leave it behind us. When our inventory
is carefully taken, and we have made peace with ourselves, the conviction
follows that tomorrow's challenges can be met as they come.
Although all inventories are alike in principle, the time factor does
distinguish one from another. There's the spot check inventory, taken at any
time of the day, whenever we find ourselves getting tangled up. There's the one
we take at day's end, when we review the happenings of the hours just past.
Here we cast up a balance sheet, crediting ourselves with things well done, and
chalking up debits where due. Then there are those occasions when alone, or in
the company of our sponsor or spiritual adviser, we make a careful review of
our progress since the last time. Many A.A.'s go in for annual or semiannual
housecleanings. Many of us also like the experience of an occasional retreat
from the outside world where we can quiet down for an undisturbed day or so of
self-overhaul and meditation.
Aren't these practices joy-killers as well as time-consumers? Must A.A.'s
spend most of their waking hours drearily rehashing their sins of omission or
commission? Well, hardly. The emphasis on inventory is heavy only because a
great many of us have never really acquired the habit of accurate
self-appraisal. Once this healthy practice has become grooved, it will be so
interesting and profitable that the time it takes won't be missed. For these
minutes and sometimes hours spent in self-examination are bound to make all the
other hours of our day better and happier. And at length our inventories become
a regular part of everyday living, rather than something unusual or set apart.

Before we ask what a spot-check inventory is, let's look at the kind of
setting in which such an inventory can do its work.
It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the
cause, there is something wrong with us. If somebody hurts us and we are sore,
we are in the wrong also. But are there no exceptions to this rule? What about
" justifiable" anger? If somebody cheats us, aren't we entitled to be mad? Can't
we be properly angry with self-righteous folk? For us of A.A. these are
dangerous exceptions. We have found that justified anger ought to be left to
those better qualified to handle it.
Few people have been more victimized by resentments than have we alcoholics.
It mattered little whether our resentments were justified or not. A burst of
temper could spoil a day, and a well-nursed grudge could make us miserably
ineffective. Nor were we ever skillful in separating justified from unjustified
anger. As we saw it, our wrath was always justified. Anger, that occasional
luxury of more balanced people, could keep us on an emotional jag indefinitely.
These emotional "dry benders" often led straight to the bottle. Other kinds of
disturbances--jealousy, envy, self-pity, or hurt pride--did the same thing.
A spot-check inventory taken in the midst of such disturbances can be of very
great help in quieting stormy emotions. Today's spot check finds its chief
application to situations which arise in each day's march. The consideration of
long-standing difficulties had better be postponed, when possible, to times
deliberately set aside for that purpose. The quick inventory is aimed at our
daily ups and downs, especially those where people or new events throw us off
balance and tempt us to make mistakes.
In all these situations we need self-restraint, honest analysis of what is
involved, a willingness to admit when the fault is ours, and an equal
willingness to forgive when the fault is elsewhere. We need not be discouraged
when we fall into the error of our old ways, for these disciplines are not
easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.
Our first objective will be the development of self restraint. This carries a
top priority rating. When we speak or act hastily or rashly, the ability to be
fair-minded and tolerant evaporates on the spot. One unkind tirade or one
willful snap judgment can ruin our relation with another person for a whole
day, or maybe a whole year. Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen.
We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven argument. The
same goes for sulking or silent scorn. These are emotional booby traps baited
with pride and vengefulness. Our first job is to sidestep the traps. When we
are tempted by the bait, we should train ourselves to step back and think. For
we can neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of self-restraint
has become automatic.
Disagreeable or unexpected problems are not the only ones that call for
self-control. We must be quite as careful when we begin to achieve some measure
of importance and material success. For no people have ever loved personal
triumphs more than we have loved them; we drank of success as of a wine which
could never fail to make us feel elated. When temporary good fortune came our
way, we indulged ourselves in fantasies of still greater victories over people
and circumstances. Thus blinded by prideful self confidence, we were apt to
play the big shot. Of course, people turned away from us, bored or hurt.
Now that we're in A.A. and sober, and winning back the esteem of our friends
and business associates, we find that we still need to exercise special
vigilance. As an insurance against "big-shot-ism" we can often check ourselves
by remembering that we are today sober only by the grace of God and that any
success we may be having is far more His success than ours.
Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some
extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong, and then we approach true
tolerance and see what real love for our fellows actually means. It will become
more and more evident as we go forward that it is pointless to become angry, or
to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.

Such a radical change in our outlook will take time, maybe a lot of time. Not
many people can truthfully assert that they love everybody. Most of us must
admit that we have loved but a few; that we have been quite indifferent to the
many so long as none of them gave us trouble; and as for the remainder--well,
we have really disliked or hated them. Although these attitudes are common
enough, we A.A.'s find we need something much better in order to keep our
balance. We can't stand it if we hate deeply. The idea that we can be
possessively loving of a few, can ignore the many, and can continue to fear or
hate anybody, has to be abandoned, if only a little at a time.
We can try to stop making unreasonable demands upon those we love. We can show
kindness where we had shown none. With those we dislike we can begin to
practice justice and courtesy, perhaps going out of our way to understand and
help them.
Whenever we fail any of these people, we can promptly admit it--to ourselves
always, and to them also, when the admission would be helpful. Courtesy,
kindness, justice, and love are the keynotes by which we may come into harmony
with practically anybody. When in doubt we can always pause, saying, "Not my
will, but Thine, be done." And we can often ask ourselves, "Am I doing to
others as I would have them do to me--today?"
When evening comes, perhaps just before going to sleep, many of us draw up a
balance sheet for the day. This is a good place to remember that
inventory-taking is not always done in red ink. It's a poor day indeed when we
haven't done something right. As a matter of fact, the waking hours are
usually well filled with things that are constructive. Good intentions, good
thoughts, and good acts are there for us to see. Even when we have tried hard
and failed, we may chalk that up as one of the greatest credits of all. Under
these conditions, the pains of failure are converted into assets. Out of them
we receive the stimulation we need to go forward. Someone who knew what he was
talking about once remarked that pain was the touchstone of all spiritual
progress. How heartily we A.A.'s can agree with him, for we know that the pains
of drinking had to come before sobriety, and emotional turmoil before serenity.

As we glance down the debit side of the day's ledger, we should carefully
examine our motives in each thought or act that appears to be wrong. In most
cases our motives won't be hard to see and understand. When prideful, angry,
jealous, anxious, or fearful, we acted accordingly, and that was that. Here we
need only recognize that we did act or think badly, try to visualize how we
might have done better, and resolve with God's help to carry these lessons over
into tomorrow, making, of course, any amends still neglected.
But in other instances only the closest scrutiny will reveal what our true
motives were. There are cases where our ancient enemy, rationalization, has
stepped in and has justified conduct which was really wrong. The temptation
here is to imagine that we had good motives and reasons when we really didn't.

We "constructively criticized" someone who needed it, when our real motive was
to win a useless argument. Or, the person concerned not being present, we
thought we were helping others to understand him, when in actuality our true
motive was to feel superior by pulling him down. We sometimes hurt those we
love because they need to be "taught a lesson," when we really want to punish.
We were depressed and complained we felt bad, when in fact we were mainly
asking for sympathy and attention. This odd trait of mind and emotion, this
perverse wish to hide a bad motive underneath a good one, permeates human
affairs from top to bottom. This subtle and elusive kind of self-righteousness
can underlie the smallest act or thought. Learning daily to spot, admit, and
correct these flaws is the essence of character-building and good living. An
honest regret for harms done, a genuine gratitude for blessings received, and a
willingness to try for better things tomorrow will be the permanent assets we
shall seek.
Having so considered our day, not omitting to take due note of things well
done, and having searched our hearts with neither fear nor favor, we can truly
thank God for the blessings we have received and sleep in good conscience.

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