The Twelve Step program of recovery from alcoholism and other addictions rests on a notion of spirituality that is not about having the “right” beliefs. Instead, it is about adopting daily practices that help people stay clean and sober.
These daily practices are the subject of Step Ten of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
Here the word “inventory” means taking stock of our emotional disturbances, especially those that can return us to drinking or other drug use. Step Ten suggests that we watch for these disturbances every day and make an immediate response. Taking a daily inventory is important to all people, but especially to those in recovery.
“After several years of recovery and doing vigorous work in completing Steps One to Nine, I felt I had arrived, that my work was done,” says one long-time practitioner of the Twelve Steps. “I stopped talking regularly to a sponsor. I stopped going to as many meetings. I started going it alone in the fellowship. I was shocked when, after three years of recovery, I used one day. That led to two decades of repeated relapses.”
This woman’s desperation led her to reread “Alcoholics Anonymous” (often called the “Big Book” of AA). While studying the suggestions for Step Ten, she recalls, “I realized something that I had been missing: daily work.”
The Big Book’s suggestion for daily work on this Step is 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”
Some people are put off by the word “God” in the above passage. Remember that AA and other Twelve Step groups do not require members to accept any particular definition of this word. In fact, the term “Higher Power” is often used instead, referring to any source of help that comes from outside ourselves. Your Higher Power might be a friend, a family member, a therapist, or the members of your Twelve Step group.
What’s most important is being willing to release selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear in the very moment that they occur. And this calls for a radical change in how we deal with negative emotions.
A typical response is to blame our feelings on other people. Alcoholics and other addicts are especially skilled at nursing resentments and finding fault. Their logic is essentially this: “I am always right, and my problems will end when everyone else changes their behavior.”
Contrast that with the attitude suggested by Step Ten. “It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us,” notes the author of “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions,” another core text for people in recovery. “If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the wrong also.”
We give other people control over our lives when we say that they “make us” angry or afraid. The truth is that we usually say or do something that helps to create the conflicts in our lives. Step Ten suggests that we take responsibility for this fact, clean up our role in these matters, and practice forgiveness.
“You might find things coming up on your inventory that you have an emotional hangover about—when an anger starts turning into resentment, or fear becomes my life,” says Mark Sheets, executive director at Hazelden in charge of a wide range of continuing care programs. “That’s when you need to talk it through with someone who understands.”
“My problem was not just learning how to put down my drug of choice,” says the woman in Twelve Step recovery.
- “My problem was dealing with life. Here in Step Ten I have a plan to cope with life, a plan of daily action that will work each day that I work it.”
Alive & Free is a health column that offers information to help prevent and address addiction and substance abuse problems. It is provided by Hazelden.