Step 10

This is a chapter from the pioneering book: The Alternative Twelve Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery. It was originally written by two women, Martha Cleveland and Arlys G., and published in 1991. As valuable today as it was then, a second edition of this exceptional work was published by AA Agnostica.

Continue to monitor ourselves, to acknowledge our successes and quickly correct our lapses and errors.

Principles: Perseverance, Integrity

• • • • • •

Step 10 moves us into the maintenance Steps of the program. With it we practice the unfailing discipline of regular self-examination, and we monitor the everyday workings of our lives. Consistently working the Tenth Step is an ongoing commitment to ourselves and our program. We demonstrate perseverance as we continually practice the skills of accurate self-appraisal. Then we demonstrate integrity as we follow through and correct our errors.

Step 10 is a practical approach to self-examination, and it’s a gentle one as well. Our self-correction needs to be loving and firm. We mustn’t attack ourselves with the weapons of self-blame and reproach. We monitor and correct ourselves for our own good, kindly, with great care, the same way we would correct a child we love.

Errors And Lapses Are Normal

There will be many, many times we make mistakes and fall back into old ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. This is to be expected. Spotting an error and stopping that particular thought, emotion or action seldom means we’re through with it. Old ways die hard. We all have troublesome behaviors, thoughts or feelings that we’ve stopped dozens of times. Stopping is the easy part. Staying stopped is what’s hard. Staying stopped means we have to monitor ourselves every single day. And we have to persevere.

We lapse in lots of different ways. We make the same old mistakes and we think up new ones. But we learn from all of them, we correct ourselves and the process goes on. We gain perspective. We learn to ask, “How am I going to feel about this a year from now?” And we learn to encourage ourselves with humor. We laugh with ourselves as we stumble in the same place for the tenth time, and we gently remind ourselves to lighten up and try again.

What Do We Monitor?

We monitor our moods.

A mood is a general emotional umbrella that can cover lots of different individual emotions. Part of Step 10 is to watch out for moods that get in the way of our progress. The list is long – boredom, unusual fatigue, the kind of stress that enervates rather than the kind that invigorates, anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, any of these moods can set us back. The purpose of Step 10 is to catch them early, before they have a strong hold on us. Then we can use what the Steps are teaching us and quickly correct them.

We monitor our emotions.

We must be on the lookout for all kinds of negative emotions. The principal ones to watch for are fear, anger and resentment. These emotions often lie hidden behind our motives and behaviors and are terrific at undermining our very best efforts to change. We can monitor fear and anger by first learning how these emotions feel in our bodies. Stomach tense? Jaw clenched? Face feel hot? Hands feel cold? Sweating? Shivering?

Body clues almost always tell us when we are angry or afraid, even when our head tells us otherwise.

When we monitor our body feelings and trust them, we can start to think about why we might be upset. Knowing the reason helps us decide what actions to take. We may see that our fear is well-founded and that we are afraid for good reason. This helps. We may see that our fear is only in our heads and can be overcome by doing what we fear. This helps, too. When we know why we are angry, we can make decisions about how best to deal with it, what to do about ourselves and how to deal with the situation that triggers our anger.

Then there is resentment. Resentment is an anger that we hold close to our hearts. We stroke it, we love it, it’s our great justifier. Resentment is the secret weapon we use to inflict mental justice on somebody else. It acts as our shield and our protector.

The problem is that resentment always backfires and injures us, while the other person stays blissfully out of harm’s way. Resentment eats at us, limits us, keeps us attached to the person we resent, steals our precious emotional energy and wastes our precious time in dreams of retribution and retaliation. And resentment is like a bad virus. Just when we think we are free of it, we find ourselves sick again. It’s hard to let resentment go.

Usually resentment is the result of not forgiving, so the way to deal with it is to make a conscious effort to forgive. We deliberately practice detachment, an attitude of objective neutrality toward the resented person. We don’t wish them ill, we don’t wish them well, we cultivate objective neutrality. We think about the Eighth Step and all we learned about forgiveness.

Finally, after lots of conscious practice, lots of deliberate detaching, we can come to the point that what happens to the other person is no longer our concern.

We monitor our thoughts.

There are all kinds of thoughts that get us into trouble – so there are all kinds of thoughts we need to monitor. Here are some to watch for:

Obsessive thought. Is there something we just can’t seem to stop thinking about? No matter how we tell ourselves to stop, do we keep going back to it? Do we think about it during the day and when we wake up at night?

Recycling thought. Do we mentally recycle the past, replaying the same scenes or the same emotions over again and again in our mind? Do the thoughts seem to run in circles, like a hamster in a cage?

Denial. Do we get into patterns of rationalization or self-justification? Do we persist in beliefs even though they don’t match objective reality? Do we hang onto old ways of behaving just because it’s more comfortable to do that than to change?

Negative thought. Do we leap to the negative conclusion instead of looking at the positive possibilities in a situation? Do we forget to ask ourselves (and really mean it), “What can I learn from this?” Do we forget that there is power in a peaceful frame of mind and that peace is impossible when we think negatively?

Over-involvement. Do our thoughts revolve around a particular person? Do we plan and think and ruminate about how we are going to “make things better” for him or her? Do we just know we have the answers that will help?

We monitor all these kinds of thoughts – and we ask ourselves these kinds of questions about them. When some of the answers are yes, we do something to charge.

We Monitor Our Relationships.

The way we get along with others is usually a good indicator of our well-being. We need to continuously monitor all the relationships in our lives. Regular upsets in our relationships are a sign that we need some correction. We examine our marriage/love relationship, the relationships with our children, other relatives, colleagues, neighbors, co-workers and friends. These are some of the areas we look at:

Respect                Trust

Caring                  Compassion

Time spent          Play

Sexuality            Reciprocity

Cordiality           Intimacy

Fulfillment         Detachment

Monitoring all our relationships all of the time seems like a huge job – overwhelming perhaps. But we start out slowly, and before too long, this kind of monitoring becomes the natural way we approach a relationship. Sometimes we find the problem lies with us and sometimes with the other. Most often both people contribute. We need to correct our part and only our part. We may need to change ourselves within the relationship, we may need to build more distance into it or, in some cases, the correction requires leaving.

We monitor our work.

Everybody works. Work is what we do. It may or may not be connected to employment and has nothing to do with money. Bank presidents work, housewives work, hermits work – the question is whether whatever we do is rewarding and fulfills us. Are we content with our work? Are we interested? Do we do our best? Would we like to do something else? What we do and how we do it matters to our sense of well-being and self-worth – it matters a lot. If our work doesn’t reward us or make us feel good about who we are, we need to take corrective measures.

We monitor our finances.

How we handle money is an important indicator of our inner state. Do we live within our means? How many credit cards do we use? Do we overspend with them? Is money a problem in our relationships? Do we overestimate our financial resources? These are questions for over-spenders.

Then there are the others who can’t seem to spend money no matter how much excess they have. Do we feel we “just can’t spend that much on a dress,” even though we really need or want it and have plenty of discretionary income? Do we always put off that wonderful vacation until next year “when we have a little more money”? Are we realistic in planning for the future? Do we spend beyond ourselves or beneath ourselves?

Whether we overspend or underspend, monitoring the way we handle our finances can be a very helpful clue to potential problems. An objective moderate approach to financial management is our goal, and correcting our “lapses and errors” is the way to get there.

We monitor orderliness.

Orderliness may seem like an odd thing to be concerned with. But, like finances, it gives lots of cues about our mental condition.

On one hand, we can look for signs of disorganization in our lives. Are we often late? Is our car a mess? Are our shoes scuffed up? Do we mislay things, lose things? Do we run out of clean clothes or groceries or dishes? For many people, a messy environment is a sign of inner confusion.

On the other hand, there are those who are more orderly than necessary. Never are they late. Never does their car need cleaning out or their shoes need shining. Never is a bed unmade or a dish left in the sink. Never do they run out of clean socks. For these people, over-orderliness is often a clue to a compulsive need to control.

We monitor our physical condition.

We can’t realistically expect to grow spiritually if we abuse our bodies. We need to monitor the food we put into them and the exercise and rest we give them. We need to be careful not to overdo or underdo any of this. It’s harmful to be a couch potato, and it’s harmful to be an exercise addict. It’s unhealthy to exist on bacon cheeseburgers and it’s unhealthy to live only on brown rice. We must monitor ourselves so we can correct our mistakes when we make them and live with the physical moderation that is truly healthy.

We monitor our boundaries.

In a sense, personal boundaries are what the 12-Step program is about. We need to learn where we stop physically, mentally and emotionally, and where another person starts. We need to know how to live within our own skin and how to stay there. The Tenth Step requires ongoing monitoring of our boundaries so when we step outside of them, we can correct ourselves.

Do we give unsolicited advice? Do we think we have the answers for someone else? Do we physically touch people without permission, hugging them, touching their hand or brushing lint off their jacket? Do we stand too close? Do we interrupt when someone else is talking? Do we recognize when someone else has overstepped their boundaries? Do we know how to keep them from taking advantage of us? Have we learned to say no and stop? Step 10 helps us to be vigilant – to watch our boundaries and the boundaries of others.

We monitor the balance in our lives.

Finally we monitor both the mental and physical balance in our lives. Balance is one of the hardest things for most of us to come to – and its crucial for a healthy life. Balancing our physical life is probably easier. We can look objectively at the ratio of time among work, relaxation and exercise and make adjustments. Mental balance is more difficult.

In order to find balance in our inner lives we have to attend to all of the things we’ve been talking about – our emotions, thoughts, moods, relationships, work, finances, orderliness, physical condition and boundaries. When we monitor ourselves in all these areas, correct ourselves and find self-respect and moderation, we also find inner balance.

It’s helpful to know that inner balance is probably not a permanent state for anyone. There are just too many influences, both internal and external, that keep tipping the scale. We practice monitoring and with time we develop an automatic sensor that signals us when something about ourselves is off. We learn what it feels like to be “off” in our body or “off” in our emotions and thoughts. We may not be able to put our finger on it, but we know things are not right, and we instinctively know how to make the correction. We bring ourselves back into balance until the next time.

Different Ways Of Monitoring

It helps to have a ritual we regularly follow when we work with Step 10. We may do our monitoring every morning before we get out of bed. Or our ritual may be sitting down with coffee in the late afternoon and checking our days progress. We may ritually write in a journal after we get into our pajamas at night. Or we may have a set time to speak with our sponsor. Rituals help us make a habit out of monitoring. Here are some techniques we can use.

1. We can do a quick spot check at any time. We may be caught in a traffic jam at five in the afternoon. We check out our feelings and correct our impatience and anger. We check out our thoughts and correct our assumption that we’ll be late for dinner and our friends will be furious. We stop drumming our fingers on the steering wheel, take a deep breath and deliberately relax our tense muscles. We practice Step 10, and it helps.

Spot checks are a good time to use ritual language. When we monitor ourselves and know we are “off,” we can say HALT to check whether we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. We can say Keep It Simple, Easy Does It or Live And Let Live. We can say Progress, Not Perfection. We can remind ourselves to Take It Easy, or live One Day At A Time. We can say the Affirmation of Serenity whenever we need to, whenever we want to.

2. A daily review is a more leisurely type of monitoring. We do it early in the morning, during a lunch break, in the evening, whenever we have a few minutes for deeper reflection. We think about how we have worked with the Steps during the last 24 hours, where we’ve succeeded and how we might want to change. We think about the next 24 and might rehearse our corrections or think through a specific plan.

3. A daily “I will do” check list is very helpful to stay in touch with Step Ten. This is an example; we can all make up our own.

Today I will . . .

Do something for someone else

Do something for myself

Do something I don’t want to do that needs doing

Do some physical exercise

Do something that takes real thinking

Take time for reflection and gratitude

4. Another technique is to write in a journal or diary – a journal or diary no one else will ever see. We put down our feelings, actions, motives, thoughts, ideas, seeds of ideas, inspiration, thanks. We can draw. We can write poetry. Whatever we put in our journal, we can review as a way to greater self-understanding. This kind of personal record is also a wonderful monitoring tool – it can make us feel great about the progress we have made or bring us up short when we realize we’ve been running in a circle.

5. Finally, several times a week we can check in with a trusted person who understands how the 12 Steps work. This person can be a sponsor, a good friend or a relative we are sure has our best interests at heart. He or she can guide us while we look for progress and examine problems that need correction. This method often leads to our being able to check with ourselves – we come to understand so well what the other person will say that we hear his or her voice in our heads.

The AA 12 x 12 book tells us that successful self-monitoring calls for self-restraint, honest analysis, willingness to admit fault and willingness to forgive when fault is elsewhere. It’s hard, but we can do it.

• • • • • •

Continue to monitor ourselves, to acknowledge our successes and quickly correct our lapses and errors.

Today I will carry out a plan for monitoring myself. I will acknowledge my successes with as much enthusiasm as I notice and correct my lapses.

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4 Responses

  1. Glenna R. says:

    Very thorough; the lists can be helpful. I could never be this organized, but like Joe C would tend to work on being mindful and correcting what comes from that. The brain does a lot of judging and planning and going over old stories so I usually have lots of work to do. Maybe at a later date, we could have some work on forgiveness.Personally, my thought is that forgiveness is a religious paradigm and just like I don’t like to get worked up about morals(alcoholism is a disease isn’t it?) I don’t usually invest too much time in forgiveness either in forgiving or being the object of it. In case this is all suspect, let me add, I don’t accept violence of any kind. Hopefully, nobody is hitting me on either cheek.

  2. JHG says:

    There is way too much conventional AA thinking in this for me. Calling Steps 10-12 maintenance steps is typical AA drivel. It assumes that I have made it to a plateau and that all the heavy lifting is behind me. That is not a warranted assumption in my experience. Holding out the possibility of reaching a plateau is an insidious promise that is grounded in the religious idea of “deliverance” and inevitably leads to disappointment.

    For me, Step 10 is not about maintenance and monitoring; it’s about awareness, nimbleness, and growth. The point is not that I need to preserve the blessed state of being cleansed of sin that I supposed achieved through repentance, sanctification, and doing penance (Steps 4-9); it’s that being aware and being able to abandon what is not working and to change my course is what freedom looks like.

  3. bob k says:

    There are multiple reasons for viewing AA fundies as pinheads. One is when, at a meeting, in an effort to demonstrate “the spirit,” the robotic declaration is made “I love ALL the steps the same!” Or, “ALL the chapters of our book are soooo wonderful!!”

    I do like the tenth step. It’s been very valuable in my relations with other human beings. I don’t do any nightly reviews, or the like. It’s quite clear when something is bothering me. From time to time, I’ll take a general inventory.

    The particular phrasing used here is good, I think, taking a look at debits and credits. There is great wisdom in the old truism that the two things an alcoholic can’t handle gracefully are criticisms and compliments.

  4. Joe C. says:

    Great essay Chris,

    I enjoy living more consciously and less so in a reactive way. This monitoring process of Step 10 is part of this. I am too ADHD to meditate. Clearing my mind of all thoughts is just not realistic. Then I feel like I am not doing it right.

    Learning mindfulness has really meant the world to me. I have journalled as you mention, checked my “bright ideas” with someone else – these are all good.

    But mindfulness is a process of seeing what’s going on with me. I don’t even have to get to a certain state; I just have to take inventory. What are my thoughts, sensations and feelings. Sometimes just noticing that I have clenched teeth can start me on a process to reveal that I have my meters red-lining even though I don’t hear anything (Sorry, sound engineering metaphor).

    I had to learn mindfulness first from a course. I both took a course and read a book. Once I got used to it, there was no need for a mat or candle or burning incense or mood music. I can be mindful for the few minutes I am waiting for a train or waiting my turn in a line up.

    I was never so unhappy when I was perpetually reacting to live. Of course I still get into these traps today, but I can recognize them – sometimes even in the middle of a passive-aggressive retort.

    AA has a slogan, “Think, think, think.” These are three simple words that remind me that my first impulse may or may not be the best course of action. It’s better to take inventory of – well – all of these things you mentioned above, Chris. And then when I think I got it all figured out, I ask, what a good 12-Step friend taught me, “What else could this mean?” An idea’s only a bad idea when it’s my only idea. Thanks again for a good read.

    Joe C

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