This daylog is tenth in a series chronicling my path through the 12 steps of Al-Anon. I’ve been recording my personal journey because it helps me to clarify my thinking to write it all down. This entry marks Step 10.
Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
This is my favorite step. When I first heard the Twelve Steps at an Al-Anon meeting, a little over three years ago, I balked at the powerlessness mentioned in Step 1 and at the idea of turning my will and my life over to the care of God (Step 3), but even at that first meeting I had no argument with Step 10. Imagine a life where you recognize and admit your mistakes—promptly—and then just move on. What an astounding concept! What a way to live.
I place a lot a lot a lot a lot of value on being right. I wish I didn’t, but there it is. Being seen as smart is a whole lot more important to me than being thought of as pretty, or nice, or just about anything else. So being wrong—ADMITTING to being wrong—is not so easy.
In the past few years, I’ve seen my life change for the better because of my involvement in Al-Anon. I’ve become more patient, more mellow, less rigid. Not consistently, of course, but more than I was pre Al-Anon. I looked forward to the day when I’d arrive at Step 10. Every time this step was read, at the beginning of a meeting, hearing the words would give me a feeling of hope and serenity.
Of course, that was before I actually got to Step 10. When I actually got close, I realized that continuing to take personal inventory and when I was wrong promptly admitting it was a hell of a lot to live up to, an ongoing struggle. I've found, however, that like most things, it gets easier with practice.
In order to be able to take a daily personal inventory, I have to be aware of my actions. I have to be alert to the part that I play--whether I'm making conscious choices about my behavior or just reacting to the people and situations around me. I have to be honest with myself and work to not justify my actions, and then I have to swallow stubbornness or pride or whatever it is—fear of being seen as wrong—that erects that gigantic road block, and make amends. Sometimes the amends takes the form of an apology; other times it consists of me changing my behavior. Between home and work (teaching teenagers), I get a lot of practice with the whole “Awareness, Acceptance, Action” cycle. I want other people to admit they they’re wrong and apologize to me, but it’s hard living on a two-way street.
Taking Step Ten gave us the opportunity to spare ourselves the consequences of being stubbornly opinionated.1
About that word promptly. Like many people, I use the end of the day, as I’m falling asleep—or sometimes the ride home from work—to review my interactions with people and decide what I could have done differently, better. So often my idea of promptly admitting my wrongs means talking to the person(s) involved the next day. This gives me a chance to calm down, to get a little distance and perspective. If I’m really angry about a situation, I can’t make a sincere apology right away-- it’s going to take at least overnight for me to get to the point where I can see my contribution to the whole mess. I know intellectually that chances are good that the situation was at least partially my responsibility, and that I’m better off fixing mistakes and righting wrongs sooner rather than later, but that doesn’t change the way I feel. When I’m all worked up and feeling self-righteous, the best I can do is pray for the willingness to see a wider point of view. I ask my Higher Power for help, and then I wait. Sometimes, I write about what's bothering me, or drop a note in my god box. Turning it over helps to stop that manic cycle of blame that my brain likes to engage in.
Part of being aware and trying to make amends means learning to keep my mouth shut now so that I don’t have to go back and try to fix the situation later. I used to be a believer in Phyllis Diller’s “Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.” If something seemed wrong, I’d pick and poke at the tender spot to “get everything out in the open” but that no longer seems like the best plan (it never worked all that well to begin with). I’ve found that sleeping on it, what ever it is, often helps. I don’t have to respond to every instance of moodiness or crankiness. Other people’s bad moods are not my business, or my problem. I’m learning to assess situations for my part, and if it’s not my job to fix something, maybe the best thing I can do is to just let it go.
[ Step 10 has ] helped me come to grips with the knowledge that being right is not good enough. Right facts with a wrong attitude is wrong. It’s not really so much an issue of wrong vs. right as it is fear vs. love. When I’m acting out of love, you can say anything, and it’s okay with me. When I’m acting out of fear, I argue. I have to prove I’m right. I have to get the book out and show you.* When I’m acting out of fear in a classroom or business setting, I feel challenged if people ask questions, and I come down hard on them to put them in their place. When I’m acting out of love, I understand that they want affirmation, or confirmation, or maybe just information. Quite a difference in attitude. Quite a difference in perspective. 2
I am at my worst when I feel rushed or pressured, when I am preoccupied, when I am not living in the moment. I am at my best when I am aware of the viewpoints of others, when I stop feeling like it’s me vs. them , when I’m able to look for the humor in the situation. The more frequently I can take inventory and remind myself of where I want to be, the better. Stuck in traffic, I can fret and fidget and wish to be elsewhere, or I can sit quietly and enjoy the view. In the classroom, I can fuss at a student for humming under his breath, for being off task, or I can take a minute to recognize the tune and ask him about it, and make a connection with him.
I am very fond of the concept of karma and of the Wiccan idea of getting back what you put out, threefold. I’m trying to become a better person, someone I have an easier time living with, but none of these changes are happening in a vacuum. I’m not doing what I’m doing to influence others, but it does have an impact on those around me. Part of the Al-Anon meeting opening states that the family situation is bound to improve as our attitudes change, and it has. I’m grateful.
Sometimes I feel stuck, or I feel that the task in front of me is too daunting. One of the things I’ve learned in Al-Anon is that that’s okay. I can take things slowly, and eventually I’ll get to the point where it feels right to take action.
I spent most of the day yesterday working in my yard.
It had been neglected I had neglected it for too long, and parts were seriously overgrown. I trimmed azaleas, boxwood, and forsythia, and yanked out all manner of weeds and vines, including poison ivy. I couldn’t sleep afterwards, excited about finishing the job and moving on to the planting stage.
Gardening—at least the major overhaul that I’m subjecting my yard to—works better as a metaphor for Steps Four, Five, Six, and Seven. The daily upkeep, pulling the small weeds before they become firmly rooted—that’s the analogy for Step Ten. Unfortunately, I’m not the kind of gardener (or housekeeper, for that matter) to perform consistent maintenance. My life goes in cycles, and I garden and clean in fits and starts. Hopefully, my adherence to Step Ten will be steadier. I read somewhere that it takes about a month to form a new habit, or get rid of an old one. I’ve been working on Step Ten—trying to live it—for months now.
Clearing the yard felt good. I got rid of a lot of undergrowth that was choking the rhododendron and the peonies and other flowering plants that, given enough space and light, will bloom. I know the weeds will be back and that things will get overgrown again before I make another big sweep, but the yard is in better shape than it was had I not done the overhaul, and looking at it now I get ideas of how I’d like it to look later. Each step in the right direction clears the path for the next.
1Al-Anon’s Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions
, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1981, page 64.
2 How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics
, © Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. 1995, page 298. *Side note: Right around the corner from my parent’s kitchen, there’s a bookcase filled with reference books. We often get up from the table during meals and go get the book we need to prove our point.
step one |
step two |
step four |
step five |
step seven | step eight
The Twelve Steps