If I kept a diary–and I do not–there might be an entry in it something like this: April 2, 1942: For the first time, I admit I am powerless over alcohol. I know now I can’t safely ever take another drink. I have decided to turn my will and my life over to God, without reservation.
I have seen tonight–in One hall–600 other men and women afflicted as I am. They are leading happy respected lives. If they can find joy in sobriety, so can I. By my voluntary presence at this meeting, I have told them I want to lead a life of continued sobriety. The odds are greatly in my favor. Many times before I have tried to quit drinking and each time failed miserably. If there’s any intelligence left in me, I’ll follow their example, abide by their advice–because they are successful. That, I believe, is what I might have written when I came into A.A.
But how has it worked out during the past five years? Were my admissions and decisions made then enough to keep me sober and happy? The answer is very definitely “No,” because the A.A. Program is not a sign-up-and-forget affair. It isn’t a one-time inoculation against all the ills that may come in the future. It isn’t a college in which degrees are conferred or one that boasts a single graduate. Rather, it is a continuous daily program of living, and I have observed that the happiest and most successful A.A.s are those who take a perhaps brief but daily refresher course.
Every one of the 12 Steps is of course vital, but I believe the Step that has been of greatest help to me is the 10th, which reads: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. For me, that personal inventory must be daily. At the end of each day, I try to review at least the highlights of the day. If anything especially good or especially bad has happened to me I won’t have to dig too deeply. It will be right out there in clear view for me to tackle as I will.
As entries on the wrong side of the ledger loom up, I can at least see where I was mistaken and decide what must be done to not only correct the error, but to avoid repetition of it. Bemoaning isn’t going to help one bit. Self-reproach is silly unless I use it constructively and try to use the mistakes of today to make a better day tomorrow.
In this personal inventory there are bound to be some good and comforting entries. And I think it’s a wise thing to dwell a bit on the pleasant things, too. Activities that are good deserve to be enlarged upon and it’s all to the good if we build good works into permanent habits.
I like to look on a personal inventory pretty much as a storekeeper regards his inventory of merchandise. He has certain items that enjoy a good turnover and are profitable for him to handle. He builds up his stock of those items. Other merchandise he handles may be shoddy or otherwise undesirable. These items not only take up a lot of valuable space on his shelves; they occupy space he should allot to profitable merchandise. The undesirable items grow stale and outmoded–they may even injure his reputation. The wise merchant discards such goods as being unworthy and replaces them with products he is proud to display.
Now, my personal inventory undoubtedly includes such items as selfishness, impatience, laziness, anger and a dozen other very undesirable things. In taking a daily inventory I can see where they cropped up in the day’s business. More than that, I can see how they cropped up and if I’m learning anything at all, I’ll try my best to avoid the occasions of such mental mishaps. On the other hand, it’s possible that I have tried to do some good during the day–perhaps exercised a little self-control or restraint when the going was tough. Perhaps I’ve been a little more tolerant today than I was yesterday. Maybe I’ve benefited by keeping my big mouth shut when my natural inclination would be to tell somebody off. All these things belong on the right side of the ledger and as I look at them in my personal inventory, I know I want to keep them on my shelves and to enlarge my stock.
As I say, I generally take my inventory at the end of the day–and follow it up with a little prayer of thanks for the good things that have come to me during the day–and the not-so-good things I’ve managed to avoid.
It’s not in the cards for me to take the 1st Step just once and say, “O. K., I’ve admitted I can’t drink any more. That’s that.” I can’t do that. I can’t skim over any Step and regard it as being finished, for there is no conclusion to A.A. It would be like an attempt to give up eating entirely after one full meal.
In addition to this daily “examination of conscience” or inventory, I find the regular meetings most helpful. As a matter of fact, I believe they’re actually vital if I am to get the full benefits and flavor of the program. In regular attendance over five years, never once have I come away from a meeting without learning something really worthwhile and helpful.
Personal visits with A.A.s are not only helpful, they’re a lot of fun. During my first year in A.A. another member and I had coffee together practically every day and I found his counsel and example always an inspiration. In the building where I work now there are a number of other members and we meet for a cup of coffee or lunch at least once during the day. These daily contacts are mighty valuable and unquestionably have helped each of us over some tough roads.
Even though A.A. itself is not mentioned (which is rare!) the things we discuss are approached from sane viewpoints and with patience. By each others’ example we try to see life and its problems through eyes other than our own; and even when we don’t see eye to eye, we can disagree without being disagreeable.
Along with the daily inventory, I try to keep always in mind the last phrase of the last Step in the A.A. program: “. . .and practice these principles in all our affairs.” I firmly believe that A.A. should be a part of my daily program of living and often like to recall Henry Van Dyke’s prayer poem: “Let me find it in my heart to say When vagrant wishes beckon me astray– This is my work, my blessing, not my doom. Of all by whom this work might be done I can best do it, in the right way.”