Working the 12 Steps of Recovery: Step 10

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By Scott Brassart

Last week, we discussed how to work step 9 of the 12 steps, along with the benefits of working that step. This week, our focus logically moves to step 10.

Step 10 reads as follows:

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

Step 10 is, in most respects, the logical culmination of steps 1 through 9. The first nine steps are about stopping the bleeding of addiction and then identifying and cleaning up the wreckage of our pasts. Step 10 begins the process of living differently in the present. Essentially, it is an ongoing version of steps 4 through 9, where we take a quick inventory of a situation, identify our part in it, and, when necessary, either self-correct or quickly make an amends. Happily, having worked steps 4 through 9 already, we are familiar with this “inventory, assessment, change, and amends” process. The difference here is that step 10 inventories deal with the present rather than the past, and the schedule for self-correcting or making an amends is “as soon as possible” rather than waiting until we are spiritually fit and the time is right.

For most of us, step 10 is a very unnatural process. As active addicts we rarely (if ever) engaged in self-examination and criticism. In fact, we avoided it like the plague. Even in recovery many of us sidestepped or delayed the process, putting off our step 4 inventory for weeks or months, sometimes even years. Of course, having finally completed steps 4 through 9, we now know the relief that self-examination and self-correction bring us, and we are able to approach step 10 with less trepidation.

Unlike most of the previous steps, step 10 is one that is worked on an ongoing basis, usually every day, sometimes more than once per day. In fact, steps 10, 11, and 12 are all “daily practice” activities. For this reason, these steps are often referred to as “maintenance steps.” The basic idea is that steps 1 through 9 will get us sober and spiritually fit, and steps 10 through 12 will keep us that way. Yes, lots of recovering addicts do go back and re-work earlier steps (especially steps 4 and 5), but usually that is done on an annual basis or some other quite spread out schedule. Steps 10, 11, and 12 are meant to be worked regularly.

Usually, step 10 is done on an as-needed basis and also at the end of each day. Let us examine the as-needed inventory first. This type of tenth step recognizes that if you are disturbed or upset, then there is something wrong with either you or the situation around you and the issue is best looked at right away, before things escalate. For instance, if you are at work and become angry with your boss, a fellow employee, or a client, you can work a quick tenth step—pausing, looking at the situation, and noticing any part that you have played in it. Once you have a better understanding of what is happening and your role in it, you can more easily deal with it in an appropriate fashion.

Most recovering addicts who’ve learned to pause before acting in order to perform a quick step 10 inventory find that doing so typically prevents the types of regrettable behavior that later require a formal amends. For many, the short version of a tenth step spot-check inventory is “stop, breathe, think, breathe, and then proceed.” Eventually, doing spot-check step 10 inventories becomes a reflex reaction to any and all uncomfortable situations. When this occurs, life is much less troublesome and significantly more serene.

Most recovering addicts also work step 10 at the end of each day, looking back upon the events that have passed and assessing how they did. Here you are able to look at situations where you handled yourself with class and dignity, as well as situations where you might do better in the future. Occasionally, you may realize that you owe someone an amends. In such cases, you should make that amends as soon as possible—either right away if it’s not too late in the evening, or as soon as possible the following morning. This end-of-day step 10 inventory is a way to keep your side of the street clean on an ongoing basis, and also a way to uncover character defects that you may not have been previously aware of.

Oftentimes end-of-day step 10 inventories are performed as part of one’s daily spiritual practice. The concept of a daily spiritual practice will be discussed more thoroughly next week with step 11. For now, it is important to understand that step 10 is not a step taken once and forgotten; instead, it is an ongoing, day-to-day (sometimes even moment-to-moment) tool of recovery.


In next week’s post to this site, we will continue our discussion of the 12 steps with an examination of step 11.