Step Ten

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


My house-mate Mary S. told me in the first year I was in program, "We clear away the wreckage of the past so that we can get on with the wreckage of the present." She had a kind of Katherine Hepburn quality about her and I took it as one of her witty/cynical sayings. But how well she knew me. I was thirty-five and had stunted my growth since my teenage years with food, booze and drugs. As it turned out, I was to re-live my teenage years way into my forties, and some might say Iím not finished yet.

In my first fifteen years in program I was divorced more, fired more, stormed off the job and quit more, got on a plane with a one-way ticket more, and was unemployed more than in the years before program. Others were quite often in the wrong, but I do take note that the single common element in all these disasters was ME. I have not been shot at or handcuffed since coming to program, but aside from that it has been a trial-and-error process with lots of error. In ways I was like a little battery-driven toy railroad engine that grinds its way toward a wall, hits the wall at full steam, grinds away while turning its wheels in another direction, and heads for the next wall. It does eventually get somewhere.

Looking back over the whole adventure, the little engine eventually got somewhere because I was willing to look back, and the sooner the better, on my part in successes and failures, learn from them and make amends where needed. And say I was WRONG when that was the case. The fatal defect, the one thing that keeps the little engine hitting walls forever more, is the need to be RIGHT. Willfulness, self-deception, resentment, fear, dishonesty and the like, all get in the way of the harmonious life, but none of them is as destructive as needing to be right. And needing others to acknowledge it. We learned in Step Nine that feuds of long standing vanish in a single meeting, beginning with one person giving up his/her right to be right.

My sponsor Johnnie had a sponsor Smokey over on Mauíi, an unconventional man to put it mildly. Smokey had little post-it stickers on his mirrors and here and there that said IWTBH. Johnnie asked Smokey what they meant, what they were FOR, and Smokey told him the letters stood for I WANT TO BE HAPPY. Well Johnnie thought that was a pretty hokey thing to do (I do too, donít you?), and he asked Smokey, "Ah... Smokey? Doesnít everybody want to be happy?" Smokey shot back, "No no, most people want to be RIGHT!" When Johnnie told me about that exchange, I thought Smokey had been reading my mail.

It was probably seventies self-help lore, but it was a common saying in my crowd that "You can be right, or you can be happy." It took a lot of drumming to get that insight under my skin, but nowadays itís there a lot of the time.

The Berkeley radical who had the answers to every political question, has come around to seeing both sides of almost everything. When people talk about liberal/conservative or religious/secular struggles, I think, "Yeah, itís a tug-of-war and thank God for the tug-of-war. I hope nobody wins completely."

I have come to believe that we 12-step folks are among the fortunate one percent of the world population that knows that the problem is inside US. At least sometimes we know it. The other 99% of them think itís other peopleís fault and team up to get others to admit their fault and change, and there is no peace.


I want to insert a couple of paragraphs, almost the whole of the Step Ten discussion, from the AA Big Book, and maybe also a few snippets from the AA 12 & 12. There are phrases in there that have become part of everyday usage in AA and OA, and the spirit of the program is captured in much of it.

"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. 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.

And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone, even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition."

I hear it said often that freedom from food is not so simple as the freedom from alcohol AA claims here (and the experience of countless alcoholics bears out AAís claim about liquor). But when I am on a weighed/measured plan of eating, which is what works for me, my definition of abstinence, the cleanness is there with the food as well. The feeling that "...the problem has been removed." No fighting it, no avoiding temptation, no terrorizing newcomers to keep meetings safe from the mention of food.

And as with the promises at the end of Step Nine, there is an IF clause here ≠ " long as we keep in fit spiritual condition." This is the centerpiece of Step Ten. Fit spiritual condition. If we were thorough in our first nine steps, we have made bold moves onto a spiritual plane, "... entered the world of the Spirit" as the AA book puts it. How do we improve and solidify this "fit spiritual condition," how do we maintain it and not slide back? Well, for starters, by cleaning up the wreckage of the present.

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. What that means to me is that Steps Four through Nine become a yoga. A yogi is conscious of the condition of his/her body, and if something is amiss theyíll use the tools they know will fix it. We must develop that kind of sensitivity, learn to recognize the cloud that passes over our head when we make a hurtful remark or tell a white lie. And we must develop the courage to back up, at that very moment if possible, and make the amend or straighten out the story. Itís no small thing ≠ pride and fear well up and we say "Oh itís not important. Sheís grown. Get over it." And then with practice, we learn to say "Iím sorry I said that. That was hurtful and I didnít mean it. Forgive me." And at that moment we walk back out into the sunlight.


A metaphor. Iíve been reading Tom Friedman too much (and my metaphors are not fetched as far as his). This is about maintaining the fit spiritual condition.

Imagine we live on the beach of a beautiful mountain lake, and we spend a lot of our days on floating cushions with a Diet Coke in our hand talking and visiting in the sun. Now at the end of the lake there is a waterfall, rushing over rocks to crash upon big boulders fifty feet below. The lake flows in that direction, but very slowly. I can enjoy the day as much as I want, but I need to keep my eye out just a little to know where I am in relation to the waterfall. It only takes a little effort, a little paddling now and then to keep myself near the beach, but if I let myself drift for too long the current gets stronger and itís harder to get back.

I have gone over that waterfall and crashed on the rocks and I suspect you have too, thatís why weíre here. Step Ten is about not letting that happen any more. Iíve learned that the binge or the disaster begins way upstream, with a little dishonesty or spiritual laziness as we might call it. Or a little arrogance about how right we are, or some persistent justified anger. Step Ten is about recognizing those thoughts or words or actions that set us adrift, and changing direction quickly. Staying current.


And itís not as if all our defects and problems have been removed in the first run through the steps. I have done a major inventory, comparable to my first Fourth Step almost thirty years ago, every couple of years since then. And there were episodes, resentments and fears, things that bothered me and seemingly wouldnít go away even with the steps, that turned up on two or three inventories. And one day they were gone. I guess thatís why the step begins with the word "continued." We persist with it.

The AA 12 & 12 says, "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."

It goes on to say that such a radical change in our outlook will take a long time. But "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."

I have seen countless examples of my heroes in program putting this step into action. Johnnie and I went to a meeting in Oklahoma City and left there following Lightning Eagle who was returning a truck to a rental office. Lightning Eagle was so abrasive that he got into a verbal fight with the man behind the counter at the truck rental and got him fired on the spot. This seemed to be a daily occurrence in his life. I wondered, is this guy a friend of Johnnieís? Well, it turns out that a number of people in Oklahoma AA were doing favors for Lightning Eagle and saying kind things to him and all for the same reason ≠ to erase the resentment from their own hearts because he pissed EVERYbody off.

The 12 & 12 says, tongue in cheek, "We have found that justified anger ought to be left to those better qualified to handle it."


A last thought. The AA 12 & 12 says, "...pain is the touchstone of all spiritual progress." Somebody would quote this, and old Flobird would say "Yeah, except when itís NOT." And we would laugh. But over the years I came to understand, or had it explained to me, what she meant by that. The pain didnít come so much from the failure, the disappointment, the rejection or criticism, as from resisting the obvious, holding onto my right to be mad etc. The pain of a divorce can be lessened a lot by an admission of oneís own part in it. I know. I have held onto the rightness of my position and suffered terrible emotional pain, and I have come clean with my faults and felt the relief.


1. Did you think we were finished when we did Step Nine?

2. What do you think about the prospect of Steps Four through Nine being rolled into a Step Ten yoga that we use for the rest of our lives.

3. What does "Fit spiritual condition" mean to you?

4. Are you ready to put Step Ten ≠ when we were wrong promptly admitted it ≠ into your daily home and work life? A quick apology or straightening out a white lie. Can you try it a couple of times about little things, and report back to us how it went and how it felt?

5. In Step Eleven there is a line "We pause, when agitated or doubtful..." Can you try that a time or two, especially if youíre one of those zero-to-sixty-in-two-seconds types? And tell us how that differed from what usually happens?

6. Is there a Lightning Eagle in your life, at home or at the office or at a meeting even, who pisses you off just being the way they are? Can you devise a strategy to show kindness to this person until you come to see them another way?

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