John’s Recovery: Step Ten

AA Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when wrong promptly admitted it.

My Step 10: Live each day based on the commitment to strengthen each personal relationship relevant to that day’s events.

By John B

What had kept me from drinking for the few months leading up to Step 10 were the examples of sober living and sober thinking demonstrated by my AA friends. What the wording of Step 10 suggested to me was that I had to do my part on a regular basis to keep those relationships healthy and thriving. They were living proof that the ‘average Joe’ could deal with the vagaries of daily living without chemical enhancement. By now I had sharpened my ability to filter out Wilson’s incessant insistence for giving God credit for all recovery successes and here at Step 10 I needed it. First of all, at the end of those Step 9 promises, he leads us into Step 10 with the assertion, “We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”

Very quickly though, Wilson offers us flawed humans the opportunity to partner up with God by saying “They [the the promises] will always come true if we work for them.” (Big Book, p. 84) What a deal, God will reward me if I do the necessary work. In regards to this necessary work we are cautioned to be specifically concerned about any resurgence of “selfishness, dishonesty, resentment and fear”, and if they do show up we are instructed to ask God to remove them. Again, Wilson quickly enters the use of personal will and human power into the equation by telling us to discuss this with someone, make any appropriate amend, and finally, “resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help.”  One more time, God is asked to perform a task but we humans have to harness up and perform the labor. At this time in my recovery the one thing I understood perfectly, with absolutely no equivocation was this: a handful of men had turned their thoughts and gave their support to someone [me] that was seeking help. Not one of them ever told me they had been directed by God to help this newly arrived clueless drunk.

In his letter of support for AA, “The Doctor’s Opinion” (Big Book, p. xxvi), Dr. Silkworth gives us what amounts to a humanistic explanation for this willingness to help. “We feel after years of experience, that we have found nothing that has contributed more to the rehabilitation of these men than the altruistic movement now growing among them.” It’s important to point out that Dr. Silkworth wrote this five page opinion in support for AA without using the word God even one time.

One of the things I like to emphasize about my recovery is how, as the years rolled on, I found support for the secular approach to recovery in sources far afield from the Big Book. In the book, The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are (1995), Robert Wright says this: “Friendship, affection, trust – these are the things that, long before people signed contracts, long before they wrote down laws, held human societies together.” (p. 198) Friendship, affection, trust – a perfect description of the relationships between me and those sober alcoholics who had led me into sobriety. No need for input from outside the human community. Wright also stresses the effects (rewards) of reciprocal altruism, another human proclivity that fits neatly with the concept of one drunk helping another.

On page eighty-three of the Big Book we are told, “ We will be amazed before we are half-way through.” I had sensed some amazement earlier, going one day without drinking had been amazing to me, but I was now beyond that. No longer simply amazed, I was now infused with a sense of faith based on fact. This thing called sobriety was now delivering tangible results. Others were offering favorable comments about the new me, but most importantly, I honestly felt different. I knew I was headed in the right direction, and confidence in my ability to succeed was holding sway over fear of failure.

Step 10 came across to me as the “reminder step”. The first five words,” continued to take personal inventory” served as a reminder to start each day with a focus on the commitments made as the result of all the previous step work. To help with that I was fortunate to have sponsors who were keeping a sharp eye out for any backsliding. Elements of honesty and humility were in play here – even I knew I could not be completely trusted. Focus on the inventory aspect of the step helped me understand the value of the second part. Consciously working on self-improvement was one of those earlier commitments and Step 10 obviously offers the opportunity to do that. Step 10 kept me firmly anchored in the present and set me on course to build a “new past”. Building that new past has been a one day at a time project and I intend to keep it that way. I have come to view one day at a time living as a three for one deal. If I take care of what is on my plate today to the best of my ability, it eases the transition into tomorrow and enables me to glance back at yesterday and see the results of an honest effort. Serenity comes my way if I avoid perfectionism and excessive expectations.

Of all the damaging effects alcoholism had on me, the worst was it generated behavior that violated my own value structure. I knew I was a better person than my behavior indicated. These irresponsible episodes began as an 18 year old college Freshman and continued for 30 years so at age 48 my sense of self-worth was buried in a morass of guilt. Not drinking one day at a time plus active AA involvement was helping to restore self-esteem and Step 10 was a tool that could add impetus to that trend. I also saw this step as a continual reinforcement of Step 1. It serves as a reminder that my previous refusal to accept my vulnerabilities and fallibilities had led to disastrous results. And to make it much easier the required concession here is minor compared to Step 1. All I have to do is admit I am not right all the time and show some respect for the opinions of others. Acting this way over time enabled me to build credibility with those who play important roles in my life and rewarded me with the legitimacy to “call out” the bozos who act like I used to act. That is an enjoyable pay-off. Over time this creates dual rewards: the stronger we become, the more capable we are of helping others. I know I’m right about that!


We are now posting John’s Steps every two weeks, on a Wednesday. Here are his previous Steps:

John’s Recovery


John is an eighty-three year old sober alcoholic with 35 years of continuous sobriety. Married to Helen for 53 years; three kids in their 50’s. Spent 17 years teaching and coaching at the high school level in Indiana and Illinois. Owned and operated a bar and restaurant for 13 years which led to the acceleration of his alcoholism, which led to treatment, and eventually led to a career as an addiction counselor. Retired in 2001 from the Marion, In. V.A. Served as office manager for a major AA intergroup office in N.E. In. for six and a half years. Was an excellent high school and small college basketball player. Still goes to the gym three days a week and shoots 200 three point shots and does some light weight lifting. Passionate about family, recovery, basketball, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Reads 20 to 25 books a year, and three or four quality periodicals on a regular basis; mostly about politics, economics, science, history: about anything going on in the world that strikes his curiosity.


“There are many versions of the 12-Step program of recovery. In fact, there are about as many versions as there are alcoholics in AA who use the program to get sober and to maintain their sobriety.”

The Little Book


12 Responses

  1. Witek says:

    We, in Poland, translate them gradually (with permission from John and Roger) into Polish and plan to edit a special brochure, for our internal use. On March 7th we have a workshop with agnostic speakers from London, so maybe it will be ready. Very useful, giving hope essays.

  2. Larry G. says:

    What I just love about this forum in general is it gives a sound alternative to the standard AA dogma. I get so much out of others experience, strength and hope… and without all the religious mess to sort out. I’ve come to rely on this forum as a part of my recovery. I’m grateful!!

  3. Bob K says:

    I think that in this instance, John’s translation muddies the waters. If there’s a step that needs no alteration, it’s this one.

    • John B. says:

      Bob: Thanks for your evaluation. My intent is always to emphasize a humanistic approach to recovery. Taken at face value the wording of Step 10 implies no divine role, but on pages 84 and 85 in the Big Book, Wilson invests heavily in a role for God in Step 10. My goal was to stress how important people, personal will, and building and maintaining quality personal relationships was to my recovery.

  4. Cameron F. says:

    ‘We stopped fighting . . .”, finally admitting total defeat is when the path to sobriety got clearer. Given the choice to determine what a power greater than myself might be smoothed some belief which had always been there. The Higher Power in my vessel steers for me, but under no circumstance ever takes the oars. At a recent meeting,a lady sharing reminded me that “When I’m in my own head I’m behind enemy lines.”

    AA is the best school I’ve ever attended.

    • John B. says:

      Cameron: AA is one of the best schools I have ever attended also. It has been the kind of school, for me, where I have learned, and still learn from the other “students”. John B.

  5. Dean W says:

    Thanks for sharing your Steps and your recovery experience. I can relate, and it helps.

  6. Steve V. says:

    Step 10 should be one of the easier Steps for us Secular AA folks to take as there’s zero mention of a God or Higher power. Nicely put together John.

  7. Susan V. says:

    Is there any way for me to get “John’s Steps” in it’s entirety?

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