We are now three-quarters of the way through our study of the Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous. We have completed our examination of "the forgotten steps" - Steps Four through Nine - and from here on out we will be talking about those steps which help us maintain our recovery on a daily basis. As we will learn this week, however, it is impossible to work Step Ten unless we've already worked Steps Four through Nine, because Step Ten is really a repeat of those steps, done over and over again. It is as we work Step Ten that a whole new set of promises begins to come true. In my opinion, Step Ten has some of the most beautiful sentences in all of our AA and OA literature; many of them are my favorites.
Step Ten says we "Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it." This step, unlike some of the others, is not very complicated. The OA 12n12 describes Step Ten as the daily repetition of actions we have already discovered were effective - that is, we already know they work - in order to achieve some sort of permanence. The step says that we continued to take personal inventory; this obviously means that we have already taken a personal inventory in Step Four, so we know how to do it. Step Ten is not talking about the kind of hourly self-castigation and self-flagellation I engaged in before I came to OA (and occasionally still indulge in). The AA 12n12 notes that "self-searching becomes a regular habit" (p. 88) and the OA 12n12 refers to "on-the-spot analysis and action" (p. 85; emphasis added) - that's what prevents it from becoming rumination. (If you aren't familiar with the word "rumination" it literally means the action of a cow or goat chewing its cud. The rumen is the stomach of a particular kind of animal. These animals chew, chew, chew, then swallow and regurgitate - that's right, vomit back up - what they have chewed and chew it again. That's rumination. Sound familiar?). The AABB points out that at this stage of our recovery, "Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness." (p. 84). So how do we do this?
There are, as far as I can tell, four settings in which we take Step Ten. There are the spot-check inventory, the end-of-day Tenth Step, the annual review, and retreats. Let's start with the spot-check inventory, because being off-balance due to any event(s) during our day is what is most likely to send us back to needing to make amends, to send us back to the food, to give us an "emotional hangover" (AA 12n12, p. 88). Although when I hear people in meetings talk about Step Ten they are most often talking about the end-of-the-day kind, the AA literature devotes much more time to the spot-check. Here comes some of that beautiful language: "It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us." (AA 12n12, p. 90). Really? What if the shipment that we were promised would arrive today without fail and that we really, really needed in order to do our job didn't arrive? And the shipper admitted it was his fault? And we're stuck without the supplies we needed? And people are angry with us even though it wasn't our fault? Whaddaya mean, there is something wrong with me? Ah, but there is. Life happens. Remember the Serenity Prayer? This sounds like one of those things I cannot change - and that I must ask for the serenity to accept. So there is something wrong with me if I don't accept that things go wrong and people screw up, and if I get bent out of shape over it. And let's not even talk about how wrong (not to mention useless and ineffective) it is if I eat over it! Step Ten is our way of striving for emotional balance (OA 12n12, p. 84). "Today's spot check finds its chief application to situations which arise in each day's march." (AA 12n12, p. 90). My personal favorite, that should be tattooed on my butt: "Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen." (AA 12n12, p. 91). But of course I'm going to get destabilized, upset, angry, fearful - the AABB says I will need to "Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we God at once to remove them." (p. 84) right at that very moment. Fortunately, "We shall look for progress, not for perfection." (AA 12n12, p. 91). Oh, look! There it is again - spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection! (It's important to remember that "progress not perfection" doesn't refer to physical issues. Nowhere in the literature is it suggested that we can keep right on eating and practice the Twelve Steps and call it recovery).
The spot-check inventory, by the way, isn't only for uncomfortable situations. Excitement can destabilize me as well. I got some really exciting news yesterday and watched my spirits soar and my tongue start to flap. I giggled, I made jokes at inappropriate times, I chattered away. Of course this isn't awful and no amends need to be made, but the spot-check inventory (ooh, listen to me! might want to slow down, there) was helpful in getting me back to a place of balance.
The end-of-the-day practice of Step Ten is where we "search[ed] our hearts with neither fear nor favor..." (AA 12n12, p. 95). Yum, such gorgeous language! Lots of us write the Tenth Step each night; it dovetails well with our tool of writing. For years I wrote every night before bed, even if it was just a word or two (there was a point when I simply scrawled "NO!" for days on end). I went through a period of being very angry with HP and didn't want to talk anymore so I got out of the habit of writing daily. That hasn't stopped me from doing an end-of-the-day check-in with myself, but it is much less formal now. My Tenth Step consists of reviewing the day (in writing or simply in my head) and looking for the places where my brain stumbles over an event, feeling, memory of something I said or did. The AA 12n12 instructs me, "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." (p. 94). This is a good place to point out that since I go to bed at about 10:00 p.m. I rarely - if ever - make my amends right then. (That might be seen as a hostile act by the other person). The exception is if I owe the amends to my husband; I do make those before going to sleep. The AA 12n12 returns to the theme of how inventories include our assets as well as our liabilities: "Even when we have tried hard and failed we may chalk that up as one of the greatest credits of all." (p. 93).
I used to do an annual review and honestly, I can't tell you whether it was a Step Four or a Step Ten - nor does it really matter. I generally use a Step Four format for my Step Ten: what happened, what was my part, which of my character defects got activated, and are any fears involved? By persistently practicing Step Ten I have found that I have become less likely to build up a head of steam and develop a resentment against another person. I think this is because doing Step Four - even though I have done about five of them - just isn't sufficient. The AABB says that with respect to my disease, "What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent upon the maintenance of our spiritual condition." (p. 85). Just like cleaning my house, or washing my dishes or clothes, I have to maintain my internal environment as well. Now, of course this doesn't mean that I am on some higher plane. I tell you what, there are some things that just totally tick me off and I can get a good grumble on about. Of course I still experience anger, fear, shame/guilt, and sadness (and their subsidiaries, such as resentment, irritation, frustration, anxiety, worry, embarrassment, depression, loneliness). Last week I was, as the AABB says (p. xxvi), "restless, irritable, and discontented." One day this week I was, to quote the AA 12n12, "in a state of mind that can only be described as savage." (p. 25). The OA 12n12 reassures me, though, that I'm not expected to stop feeling, and that "We have found that all of us inevitably encounter these feelings, and it only makes matters worse if we deny we have them or try to will them away." (p. 94). In my periodic reviews, I look for patterns. For example, this year my Tenth Step showed me that I have for a long time expected my family of origin to behave in ways that they are never going to behave. They continued to do what they do, and I continued to become hurt and angry. Sigh. The Tenth Step was useful to me (this one I both talked and wrote about) because, "Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong (AA 12n12, p. 92). It was helpful to recognize that my family members were wrong, but... that wasn't going to change, so ... now what? Boy, I tell you what, Step Ten really moved me forward! I talk to my dad each week and I get much less agitated when he behaves in ways that I know good and darn well he is going to behave. I remind myself that he is emotionally ill (that is, emotions make him ill). I can more quickly find compassion for the fact that he is an aging curmudgeon who, at one time in my life, was really there for me. Step Ten got me there.
Some of us use retreats - OA and otherwise - for periodic Step Ten work. The advantage to a retreat, of course, is that it is not real life. You don't have to cook or clean or walk the dog or do the laundry or answer the phone or your email. You can focus just on you and your recovery.
The AABB says, on page 84, about Step Ten: "This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime." And then the AABB goes on to list the Step Ten promises. I like these even better than the Step Nine promises. Here they are: "And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone -- even [food]. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in [food]. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normall, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward [food] has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the mracle 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 our experience. That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition. " (pp. 84 - 85). The OA 12n12 reminds me that stubbornness is an asset when it comes to Step Ten, since my pig-headedness is what keeps me coming back, continuing to face up to the real problem. Because the real problem isn't food. The problem is me. Step Ten helps me continue to maintain me and my fit spiritual condition, which are requirements for maintaining my abstinence. And abstinence is the most important thing in my life, without exception.
QUESTIONS FOR STEP TEN:
1. What actions do you take daily to further your recovery? Please be specific.
2. What do you think the purpose of Step Ten is?
3. Can you describe a circumstance under which you recently did (or wish you had done) a spot-check inventory? What happened (or what might have happened if you had done it)?
4. How do you work Step Ten (or how will you work it if you haven't ever done one)?
5. Do you take a personal inventory at night before going to bed? What form does this take?
6. When you are "wrong" how do you "promptly admit it"? What if it's midnight and the person you wronged is asleep? What if you are the person you wronged?
7. What if you don't owe any amends, but you were wrong? How do you (or might you) work Step Ten then? (Example: someone many colleagues at work have had difficulty with approaches you asking what you are going to do about X but X is nothing to do with you and you say so, politely. The other person gets upset with you and raises her voice, saying, "You're a goody-two-shoes!" You calmly turn and walk away. You are upset for the rest of the day and keep replaying the scene in your head).
8. How do you continue to work your program when you are discouraged because it "isn't working"?
9. Have any of the Step Ten promises come true for you?
10. Which of the Step Ten promises are you most eager to experience?
The Twelve Steps