The 10th Step and Personal Inventory

In step 10 we “continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” This is the first of what some call ‘the maintenance steps’. These are steps designed to manage our daily lives in recovery to assure a rich and happy life in recovery.

We have made an immense effort to get to this point in recovery. It has included looking at the wreckage addiction has wrought in our lives and the lives of others. Step ten is about the pursuit of consistency and continuity in recovery. In this step and the later steps in general, we look to take these efforts and bring them into our everyday life going forward. Real-life is the ultimate test for our sobriety: can we remain well-balanced and embrace our recovery daily?

Here the inventory we performed in the fourth step, becomes a way of life. Imagine our life when we started recovery as an incredibly messy and dirty house. The first nine steps saw us painstakingly cleaning it up until it was a beautiful home you would be proud to show off to visitors. To keep it aesthetically pleasing, you will need to do chores regularly and keep it up. This is your task now.

Now that you have completed the previous nine steps, a great deal of the baggage from the past is gone. We live with less anger and resentment than in the past. However, every day we still encounter obstacles. We build new resentments or suddenly rekindle old ones. We snap at people and take our anger out on them. Even with the best intentions, in our day to day interactions, we will sometimes fall back on the patterns of behavior from the less inspiring periods in our life.

Even if we remain sober, some emotions can send us into an emotional tailspin which jeopardizes our recovery. These emotions are the usual suspects: jealousy, pride, self-pity, and resentment. Though we feel these things often, and will certainly feel them many times in the future, we try to be aware of their influence in our lives and minimize its impact.

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How is step 10 done?

As we start step ten, and from this point onward, we keep a daily ledger of our behavior and emotions. It can be figurative or a written ledger. What did you do today that befits our life of sobriety? What actions did we take which fed negative and uncharitable behavior? Finally, and most importantly, like yourself, if you treated others as you would want to be treated yourself. Write this down and compare the sum of your positive actions with the sum of your negative ones.

Look at both negative and positive actions throughout the day. Remember that we tend to hide some of our worst behavior behind lofty goals. We rarely admit to ourselves that our goal is to punish or hurt someone else. But our ledger is a good place to be completely open and honest about these issues.

Now try to analyze the motives behind your behavior, both good and bad. You will inevitably discover that many of your best actions were not purely altruistic and some of your worst ones came from understandable motives (even if the behavior cannot be excused).

The goal of this daily exercise is not to get caught up in self-flagellation. It is acceptable and inevitable that we will slip up and act out of frustration and resentment. All humans are selfish and self-serving a great deal of the time. The point is to commit yourself to self-awareness and self-examination, not to strive unforgivingly for perfection.

When accounting for our negative actions and emotions, it is important to take responsibility for our actions. When in doubt over whom to blame, take responsibility. Owning your part leads to self-improvement, while blaming others leads to self-pity and resentment. When others have genuinely done you wrong, work on forgiving them as fully and honestly as possible. Otherwise, we risk developing resentment and feeding our worst impulses.

Do not beat yourself up and remember that you are making a massive effort to improve yourself through self-examination. The idea is to analyze your behavior and make sure you are on the right track, nothing more.

Making ledger works. Once you fully understand the pitfalls of your daily behavior, the pathologies behind it begin to lose their power over you. Just as once we shared our addiction stories, it lost a great deal of its influence in our life, so can our behavior ledger remove the power of some of our flawed tendencies over us.

By keeping ourselves accountable, we end up developing a great deal of restraint and control over our actions. We all know how much damage one biting and unkind remark can cause in an otherwise mutually beneficial relationship. We also now have the experience to understand the harm our pride caused in our relationships. Acting superior to other people is not the best recipe for maintaining a close friendship.

The more we see these tendencies in ourselves and others, the more aware we are of their manifestations. Besides, as we understand that everyone shares the same flaws and maladies, we are more forgiving of both ourselves and others. When we reach a certain level of maturity, we realize that everyone is struggling just like us. Resenting ourselves and others for the most human of behaviors is futile.

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