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Step 10 of Alcoholic Anonymous

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Let’s get real: the emotional work of sobriety is hard. It’s tempting to shift blame for our emotions or reactions elsewhere, in order to protect our egos. But being honest with yourself and others is critical in maintaining your sobriety—which is where Step 10 of Alcoholics Anonymous comes in.

Step 10 marks a shift in the 12 Steps of AA, moving from dealing with your past behavior into applying what you’ve learned to your everyday life. It requires the awareness and self-discipline to continually assess your mental state and own up to your thoughts, feelings, and actions without judgment or blame.

What Is Step 10 of Alcoholics Anonymous?

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

AA’s Step 10 turns the idea of personal accountability into a consistent practice that you’ll implement throughout your journey in recovery. After all, it’s not enough to look at yourself in the mirror a single time and declare yourself cured.

Step 10 establishes self-examination as a healthy and routine part of your daily life. It stems from the principles of honesty, perseverance, and self-discipline—you’re committing to regularly checking in with your emotional and spiritual well-being, and honestly admitting to any mistakes or triggered reactions you find there.

The first part of step 10 focuses on maintaining a continued self-inventory. But what does it mean to “take inventory?” During this process, you’re looking to identify any emotional triggers, reactions, or mistakes that might cause you to slide back into harmful habits. This can be done intentionally throughout the day, or as a “spot check” if you sense harmful feelings rising to the surface (like pride, anger, helplessness, or resentment). The process of self-inventory helps you curb knee-jerk reactions (especially those that spiral into drinking) and instead assess where your feelings are coming from and make mindful, and positive decisions.

Taking personal inventory doesn’t mean strictly focusing on your errors or poor reactions, either. Acknowledging the healthy decisions in your life lets you see just how far you’ve come in managing your inner self, as well as how much value you bring to those who care about you—something that’s easily forgotten when you’re in the depths of addiction.

The second part of AA Step 10 requires mindfulness of your actions in the moment, specifically of mistakes you should quickly admit to. The prompt acknowledgment of your own wrongdoing is critical to AA Step 10 because it keeps you honest about where you are in your recovery and washes away any resentment that can build up because of your actions. Everyone makes mistakes—what’s important is to own up to them quickly so that you can settle the issue and move on. The act of admitting your shortcomings as they arise also helps you notice any patterns that lead to these situations. Next time, you’ll be more equipped to head them off at the outset.

Step 10 builds upon what is often a particularly difficult and painful Step 9—making direct amends to anyone harmed by your addiction. Hopefully, though, Step 10 will normalize this process for you, making it easier each time to recognize a fault and cop to it instead of shifting blame or beating yourself up for your reactions or mistakes.

Practicing Step 10 of AA

Think of working Step 10 the same way a computer consistently scans for viruses and threats to its system and isolates any that it finds. When you take personal inventory, you’re regularly scanning your own thoughts and feelings to identify any that might cause harm to yourself or others. When a “threat” pings your attention, you’re able to identify it, examine it, and own up to it without judgment or blame.

The Big Book of AA has some recommended ways that you can work Step 10 into your every life, including:

  • Designating a specified time of day to take inventory of your spiritual state—perhaps in the morning when you wake up and again before you go to bed.
  • Discussing any emotional triggers with a loved one, friend, sponsor, or other trusted confidante as soon as they arise.
  • Doing semiannual or annual “house cleanings” with your sponsor or AA group to review your progress.
  • Consistently checking in on the state of your relationships with friends and family, and making amends quickly if they reveal any hurt or issues.
  • Asking yourself whether you’ve noticed any of your old habits creeping in today and identifying how to pivot away from them.

Benefits of AA Step 10

Step 10 serves to keep you aware of your emotional and behavioral patterns while instilling the self-discipline necessary to combat your addiction throughout the rest of your life. This lack of perseverance is often a huge reason why we simply couldn’t make past our recovery attempts stick—we’d give in to our reactions and let the addiction take hold once again.

With Step 10, you’re called to practice the type of self-discipline necessary to maintain a hold over your disease.

Step 10 also helps you keep your spiritual slate clean. When issues are left unaddressed, they can easily snowball into anger, resentment, and irrevocably broken relationships. Alcoholics Anonymous calls this an “emotional hangover“—when your unresolved actions and negative feelings from yesterday seep into today, tomorrow, and thereafter. Step 10 heads off the emotional hangover by ensuring you handle your mistakes immediately as they arise, without continually beating yourself up about them as time goes on.

Myths and Misconceptions of AA Step 10

There are a number of myths surrounding Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12-step program. A couple of the most common misconceptions about Step 10 of AA include the following.

You’re in a Constant State of Apology

Admitting your mistakes doesn’t mean walking around saying you’re sorry all day long. In fact, this process may be entirely internal at times—noting to yourself that you had an unhealthy reaction or made a poor decision. This process of self-reflection serves to keep you honest with yourself so that you can remain honest with others in your life.

You’re Not Allowed to Get Angry or Frustrated

We’re all human—it’s simply not feasible (or healthy) to suppress every negative emotion that surfaces. Instead, Step 10 helps you work on controlling your reactions to your emotions. Even if your reaction is entirely normal within its context (like someone stealing your long-awaited parking spot!), Step 10 reinforces the idea of taking a breath, assessing your emotions, and making a conscious assessment of whether they are appropriate or dangerous for your recovery.

After AA Step 10: What’s Next?

It’s important to recognize that Step 10 doesn’t really “end.” Rather, it’s meant to become a part of your daily life moving forward. Any alcoholic knows how fragile recovery is. It takes constant diligence not to backslide or lose any ground. Step 10 is the ongoing practice of honesty and vulnerability—with yourself and with others.

As you settle into practicing Step 10, you’ll want to look ahead to Step 11: strengthening your connection to your Higher Power and using that connection to maintain a peaceful, accepting way of life. Step 10 helps prepare you for Step 11 by establishing the idea of routine activity—your continued self-inventory paves the way for daily prayer or other spiritual practice.

How to Start the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous offers an achievable path to lasting sobriety through its 12-step program. There’s no cost to join—all you need is a genuine desire to stop drinking and lead a healthy, fulfilling life. Your fellow AA members have all been in your shoes and can offer the empathy and support to see you through your journey out of addiction.

Use the AA directory to find an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting near you. If you need additional forms of support, like detox facilities or rehab centers, call [phone to speak with a treatment specialist about other options that fit your needs.

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