Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory

The original 12 steps were scribed by Bill W. when he was illuminated with the idea to establish Alcoholics Anonymous.  No doctor was able to help him in his desperate attempts to end his addiction to liquor.  Only the Holy Spirit instructing him to help his brother was successful.  I say the 12 steps were scribed because it’s my sense that they flowed through Bill as opposed to his deliberate writing of them.  I’m opening the Big Book right now to double-check my facts and I’ll be back to revise them if I’m mistaken.  (In the past, I would have said “if I’m wrong,” but now I spontaneously use the word “mistaken”–much gentler, and, of course, open to correction.)

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

Step 10 grows out of Step 4–Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. After we have written down a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, taking our time to be ruthlessly self-examining, we naturally cultivate a taste for using this process on daily basis.  Part of this process is sharing what we’ve written with God and with a trusted witness.  That person is usually a sponsor in the 12-step program, but in my case it was my psychotherapist who participated in 12-step programs himself, so he had a good understanding of what this was about.

It is crucial that the listener we choose is non-judgmental.  That way, through his ability to see the light in us, we begin to experience ourselves as worthy of forgiveness–this often takes time.  When we do finally get it that we are deserving of forgiveness, we are much more able to extend forgiveness to others.  Sometimes this works conversely: as we notice how generously we extend forgiveness to others, we begin to experience ourselves as deserving of the same kindness, understanding and generosity from others.

It is very similar to miracle principle #3 in A Course in Miracles:  “Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love.  The real miracle is the love that inspires them.  In this sense everything that comes from love is a miracle.”  Doing a 10th step on a daily basis is a way of loving ourselves and others.

There is something I’ve come to believe about the 12 steps which I want to share.  They were written by an alcoholic who got into all kinds of trouble and hurt lots of people along the way.  That is a certain kind of person, and that type of person has amends to make to lots of other people.  But in the case of the codependent, the one who depends on the alcoholic, and often enables the alcoholic, the type of person is more likely to hurt herself.  In this case, the amends and the character defects are most needed toward oneself, rather than others.

This is important because it occurs to me that a customized 10th step for me might read, “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were right promptly admitted it.”  I was right that the alcoholic’s drinking was harmful to both of us.  I was right that the atmosphere of an alcoholic household was toxic.  I was right that my feelings of depletion and despair evaporated when I was in a healthier environment, such as a yoga class, a support group, a spiritual retreat, or with people who were sober and in recovery or psychotherapy in some shape or form.

In other words, for the codependent the essential task is to build a sense of self, to trust ourselves more, to listen to our intuition, and to develop more inner strength.  As we believe in ourselves, we can take better care of ourselves and become emotionally self-sufficient and financially independent.  These are the healing tasks for earnest people like me who unconsciously turned to alcoholics for a more daring, playful approach to life.

Of course I sometimes need to make amends to other people.  Al-anonics, or codependents, tend to feel victimized and so we blame others for being mean or self-centered or emotionally unavailable.  The truth is we need to be a little more self-centered in order to meet our own needs before catering to other people.  We only do that because we hope that once they are well, they will partner with us, or take care of us. This is all well and good if they would–but if they are not inclined to heal, we have to cut our losses and heal ourselves with God’s help.

We are not victims and no one is to blame for anything.  We are all immature in our own particular way, and we are learning to grow up.  Jerry Seinfeld said he liked being grown up because it meant he could eat cookies before dinner if he wanted to!  Many of us feel that being grown up robs us of carefree fun and imprisons us in a life of endless responsibilities and obligations.  But A Course in Miracles says, “Beware of the temptation to perceive yourself unfairly treated.”  It explains that, “You have no enemy except yourself, and you are enemy indeed to him [any person in our life we are upset with] because you do not know him as yourself.”

The teaching is that as we see the Light of Forgiveness in ourselves, we realize that underneath the personality of ourselves and others is a spiritual Light which is our Truth.  As long as we insist that there is someone to blame, we block God’s Light.  This is not to condone bad behavior–it is to empower us to realize that bad behavior is a call for Love.  Sometimes Love means we take care of ourselves first and pray for another without having to take a concrete action on their behalf.

I’ll be writing more on the 12 steps and how I’ve customized them to myself.  I hope this makes their message even clearer and more useful for people like me–people who tend to take ourselves for granted and haven’t realized we’ve blamed ourselves or hurt ourselves in ways that deserve forgiveness toward ourselves.