A newcomer discovers that it’s never too early to start looking at Step 10
I had been sober for just over two weeks. It was the Thursday Step meeting at my home group, and the topic was Step Ten. Patrice, a woman who had been sober for many years, shared that Step Ten was one of her favorite Steps because the principle of the Step—personal responsibility for one’s actions—was one that could be put into practice at any time in a person’s journey of sobriety. We don’t need to be sober for a certain number of years, or even to have completed the first nine Steps, in order to be accountable for our thoughts, choices, words and behavior. That can start on the very first day of our sobriety. Hearing that in my 16th continuous day without a drink, I decided to give it a try. When I asked my sponsor about it, he said, “It couldn’t hurt.”
At first, I wasn’t very good at this new idea of personal responsibility. I had honed my skills for blaming, shaming, avoiding, evading, denying, rationalizing and justifying into an all-consuming way of life. After all, self-delusion was the centerpiece of my entire lifestyle as an active alcoholic. Even though accountability seemed like a very tedious, unlikely attribute to attain, I gave it a try.
I started by looking myself in the eyes in the mirror as I brushed my teeth at night. (Both of those things—looking into my eyes and brushing my teeth—were new behaviors after years of poor dental hygiene exacerbated by drinking, blacking out and passing out on a regular basis.) As I looked in the mirror, I tried to think of three things that had happened that day that I could thank God for, and three instances in which I could have done better.
It was hard to stop blaming others for making me into a victim, but my extraordinarily patient sponsor helped me, over time, to learn to keep the focus on myself, on my motives, my defects and my harms done to others. It has taken a lot of prayer, a lot of forgiveness of myself and other people, and a lot of surrender to overcome my natural defensiveness, defiance, stubbornness and predisposition toward emotional excesses and extreme behavior.
While growth has often been painful, the process has forced me to learn to admit when I’ve been wrong. “Promptly” no longer means “whenever I get around to it,” but now inspires a sense of urgency, of immediacy, of “as soon as possible.” That’s because my daily inventory, just like my entire sense of the fatality of alcoholism and my whole experience of AA, has continued to evolve over time.
Today, I simply follow the instructions provided on pages 84 through 88 of the Big Book. I consider the questions on page 86 when I retire at night, and write out a daily gratitude list, which I share with my sponsor on the phone after my morning prayers, along with periodic inquiries to my Higher Power about how I might better do his will. This process helps me identify areas in my life that require correction, improvement, and/or an apology in order to maintain a fit spiritual condition. This daily self-evaluation and accountability is the essence of my spiritual progress. It brings me into ever-increasing reliance on God for knowledge of his will and the power to carry that out. And it requires that I pay daily attention to all 12 of the Steps.
The primary benefit of Step Ten is not personal accountability, or improved relations with others, or contented sobriety, or even greater usefulness; those are just wonderful byproducts of right living. The real payoff of continuing to take a personal inventory is God-consciousness, intuition and that vital sixth sense that guides me through all my daily affairs. As the Big Book promises on page 87, “What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind.” The few minutes it takes to continue to monitor the exact nature of my thinking is a miniscule expenditure of effort in exchange for the limitless opportunity to connect with the Spirit of the Universe.