I have a drinking problem. While I was drinking I had an obsession of the mind. My alcoholic life seemed the only normal one. I was restless, irritable, and discontent unless I could experience the sense of ease and comfort which came from taking a few drinks. Every time I drank, the phenomenon of craving was reinforced. I had very little hope of recovery. Self knowledge and will power did not overcome my drinking. I couldn’t imagine life with or without alcohol. I came to a jumping off place; not sure I wanted to continue living if nothing was going to change but not knowing how to change.
I also have a thinking problem. I could not see how I could change my life and I hadn’t learned to ask for help. I wasn’t told that I couldn’t ask, but in the environment I grew up in, it was quite apparent that communication was tricky. If I wasn’t careful it could backfire making my life very uncomfortable. Out of fear, I quit trying to communicate early on; I decided that I needed to figure things out on my own and I hid within myself. Then, around age 8 or 9, I began altering my consciousness. I’ve heard that emotional growth stops when we start drinking or using and this seemed true for me. I arrived in AA at age 38, missing 30 years of emotional development. I now have nine plus years of sobriety, which makes me 17 or 18 emotionally. I am early in my development and I’m not perfect; but I’m still learning.
This is not my first attempt at sobriety. I tried many times before reaching AA. I tried drinking beer only, never drinking during business hours, switching from tequila to vodka, swearing it off forever and more physical exercise. The first time I came to AA, on November 2, 1996 at my wife’s suggestion. I went to meetings, and chose which of the 12 steps I liked. I wrote a personal mission statement listing the character traits and principals I wanted in my life, I read the Bible, prayed and didn’t drink.
Life got better, but I did not stay sober. It wasn’t a bad day, it wasn’t a good day; it was just another day. I left work, went to a meeting, left the meeting and ended up in the bar where I used to drink. Page 24 of the Big Book explains the insanity behind our thinking when we choose to drink again despite previous experience. We may rationalize the insane decision to pick up, “Or perhaps he doesn’t think at all.” the big book says. That was my story that evening. “The thought of those almost certain consequences did not crowd into my mind to deter me”. That first day, I just had a beer and went home. I told my wife I had stopped for a beer. I’m not sure what she thought; maybe that AA was working, since I only had one beer! But it’s not about how much I drank, or when I drank, but why I drank. I drank for the effect produced by alcohol. It loosened the knot in my stomach, the knot that had been there since childhood when I learned to hold my tongue and figure things out on my own.
After experiencing many negative consequences, in February of 2000 I was court ordered to treatment which required AA participation. I was not excited and had no real hope of change. My outpatient treatment was on Monday evening, so I drank all week long, stopped on Sunday and went to a Sunday night AA meeting. After treatment on Monday I would start drinking again. Sunday, March 19th I drank most of the day then went to the WFS meeting. For the first time in my life, the illusion that I would get things under control was replaced by the realization that things were not going to get better. During the “burning desires” time, I spoke up. I don’t remember what I said, but afterward God did for me what I could not do for myself. I asked someone to be my sponsor and I have not had a drink since.
My sponsor said he was willing to help, if I was willing to go through the Steps with him. We set a time to get together which was the beginning of my journey in sobriety. My home group is WFS; the format we read at each meeting states that sobriety is freedom from alcohol through the teaching and practice of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. That is my experience.
Step 10 says we “Continued to take personal inventory…” This suggests that I have learned about inventory taking in previous Steps. One of the differences between my first time in AA and this time, is that I no longer carry the shame and guilt from my past behavior. Taking inventory, sharing it with my Higher Power and another human being, becoming willing for my Higher Power to remove my defects of character, asking Him to removed them, becoming willing to make amends to those I’ve harmed, and making those amends has given me freedom from alcohol. Step 10 helps me make the 12 Steps a working part of my life. It is a commitment to my-self, to my emotional growth and wellness, to honesty and to remaining teachable.
Step 10 is also an active part of Step 9; my decision to make direct amends wherever possible. By applying the AA 12 steps to my life, I’m making a living amends to everyone I’ve ever harmed. Somehow, I had acquired the ability to take YOUR inventory, but prior to sobriety, I did not know how to be honest with myself. I had honed the tools of justification and rationalization, but Step 10 reminds me that I am the problem. Every time I am disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with me. I’ve become better and quicker at seeing my part in things, but I still need an unbiased person (my sponsor) to help me to see my true self. I naturally tend to exist on the negative side of ego. My mind tells me that I am less than, but Step 10 reminds me to include the things that I’ve done well in my daily inventory for a complete and accurate appraisal of where I am at this moment.
The Big Book suggests that I pause when agitated or doubtful, to ask for the right thought or action. It suggests a spot check inventory. I do this when I am feeling something, before acting or reacting, which saves myself and others from a “tornado”. The 12 and 12 says that one unkind tirade or willful snap judgment can ruin a relationship. Before sobriety, I was good at this. I was very afraid and quiet; I hadn’t learned how to tell you what I was thinking or feeling. As I grew older, I learned to mask my fear with anger and rage. I became exactly what I didn’t want to be; loud and intense. I had several disagreements with people about my definition of yelling. I tried to explain to them that I was far from my full volume, that I was just passionate or that they were not listening. Through practicing Step 10, I’ve gotten better about my tone and volume. At times in sobriety, I’ve started falling back into silence or giving the cold shoulder. With Step 10’s continued inventory, I’ve spotted these defects creeping back in and I continue to ask my Higher Power to remove them. I’m learning to communicate honestly, and my relationships are improving.
Step 10 helps me look at myself honestly. I like how George used to say that he did not make mistakes, he just had learning experiences. I don’t need to beat myself up, I just need to be mindful of the true motives for my behavior, and change my actions. I cannot do this on my own. The Big Book says that after making my review, I ask God’s forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures to take. I see that Step 10 leads right to Step 11. In reviewing my shortcomings, I pray, asking for forgiveness. I then enter my day mindful of the challenges I create for myself and others. This knowledge and a High Power to redirect my thinking; give me a good chance of not running into myself! Practicing step 10 helps me face life without that knot in my stomach. It works-it really does!