Step 10 – Onward and Upward

Steps 4-9 are the house cleaning steps. We go over our past actions, thoroughly and honestly, and make amends wherever indicated. Step 10 tells us how we can keep it that way by putting them into practice day by day. How I do this follows below.

Every day as I go about my business, I try to be aware of any instances where I am acting selfishly, dishonestly, or resentfully in my relationships with others. When I see any of that going on, I correct it (make amends) immediately or as soon as I’m able.

Early in my recovery, I wasn’t very good at staying aware of how I was acting. So after each interaction with someone, I would stop and do a sort of mini-inventory (Steps 4, 5 and 9). I’d put the of the interaction through Steps 4 and 5. If I found anything I needed to correct, I’d continue as directed in Step 9. Note: I was already ready to work on correcting myself, that’s why I was doing this in the first place. So Step 6 was a given, and as I’ve said before, Step 7 does not apply to me. As for Step 8, listing the person would be a list of one, and I was not likely to forget that I needed to make amends to the person, so I didn’t bother. Also in Step 8, we are to “become willing” to make amends. Also a given from the fact that I was doing the mini-inventory.

As time went on, doing my mini-inventory became habit. Today, I can usually catch myself acting selfishly, dishonestly, or out of resentment at the time I’m doing it, and often before I act at all. It has just become part of how I live my life.

I go through the same process with my interactions on-line. When someone writes something to me or anyone else that ‘get’s my hackles up’, I give my feelings the mini-inventory treatment before I respond. Why am I feeling angry, resentful, envious, or whatever? (My answer almost always comes down to pride.) And I remind myself that “Love and tolerance of others is our code.”

That’s how I practice Step 10. I’d love to hear how you put the step into action in your life.

5 thoughts on “Step 10 – Onward and Upward”

    1. Thank you for the reminder to do Step 10. I often go about my day clueless about what I’m doing or acting. But I like the idea of evaluating each encounter with a mini 10th step. I think I get hung up with the faulty way I treat myself internally with self-talk. I think Step 10 is a perfect exercise to do with all these moving parts in my own brain!


        • Welcome, Molly! I”m glad you found this useful. Yes, our self-talk can be brutal at times. I have a few ways to counteract the tendency, and I’ll be posting about those in up-coming entries. Thank you for the feedback.


    1. I used to go weeks or months before I even would consider I might be acting like an ass, if at all. And if I wasn’t an ass, I beat myself up because I was convinced I was an ass. “As time goes on”, that is my daily reminder. I must be patient and kind to myself. I can catch these behaviors now almost in the moment, I just have to keep reminding myself that there is no shot clock running and I don’t get penalized for the length of time it takes me to correct my actions or thoughts. Also, worth noting, recognizing that are more steps than just #4 reminds me that eventually I must practice 10, otherwise, I can’t check my work. Thanks as always.


        • Learning to be patient and kind with ourselves is hard, especially at first. Self-compassion is one of the topics I just mentioned in my reply above that I’ll be writing about in the near future. Thanks!


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Apology and Amends—Step 9

Having made our list of people we have harmed, Step 9 directs us to make amends to those people, except when do so would cause further harm to them or others.  If there be magic in the Steps, this is where it happens.

Simple, yet daunting, when done from the heart and for the right reasons, we set ourselves free from our mistakes of the past, repair broken relationships, remove much of our guilt and shame, and deepen our self-awareness.  Perhaps most important, proper apologies and amends reinforce in us a humility in which we accept the fact that we are imperfect beings and therefore fallible.  That, in turn, allows us to be more open-minded and to improve our interactions with those around us.  Recognizing when our mistakes have hurt someone, when we have been insensitive or unkind, and accepting responsibility for those mistakes, we can learn to avoid making them again.

But regardless of what we may gain—

Amends and apologies are always for the benefit of the other person.

The focus should stay on the other person and never on us.  Berating ourselves (“I was an idiot to say that, ” or “I’ve been so stressed lately that I just forgot our lunch meeting,” etc.) is inappropriate as it brings the focus back on us and our problems.  While explanations are sometimes needed, keep them as short as possible and never with the intention to gain sympathy.

We apologize for what we have done.  What the other person has or has not done is not part of the equation, nor is their reaction to what we have done.  If I’ve said something that hurt or embarrassed my friend, I might say, “I’m sorry I hurt (or embarrassed) you.”  But I should never say “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt,” or “I’m sorry you were embarrassed by what I said.”  Notice how I subtly shift responsibility from myself to the other person in those examples of non-apologies.

A proper apology consists of:

  • an expression of remorse (I’m sorry, or I apologize.);
  • an explicit statement of what we are apologizing for (…I hurt your feelings when I said those things…);
  • our acceptance of responsibility (…and I was wrong to do that.);
  • and an amends, or restitution, apropos to the offense.  This could be anything from a promise not to repeat the mistake to returning a possession that is rightfully theirs to paying back money owed.  When in doubt, ask them how you can set things right.

Thus:  “I’m sorry.  I know I hurt your feelings when I said those things, and I was wrong to say them.  I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.  Is there anything else I can do to make this right?

And then, of course, I have to make sure I don’t do it again.  I can’t begin to count the times I told my wife “I’m sorry I got drunk last night; I promise it won’t happen again,” and the next night I drank again.  Sound familiar?  Without the effort to ensure against a repeat of the offense, the apology is worse than just another empty promise; it’s a slap to the face of the other person.

The Aftermath

After I’ve made an apology, I have to allow the other person as much time as they need to process through their own feelings about both the offense and my apology.  The larger the offense, the more time will likely be required, and the size of the offense is always about how the other person feels.  Something that I feel is minor might be a major blunder to them, and that call is theirs to make.

I’ve learned that with most things in life I have to act as I believe is right, and then accept whatever results from my action.  Simply put–I cannot expect any particular result.  In the context of this topic, the other person may or may not accept my apology; may or may not forgive me; may, in fact, meet my apology with a new barrage of anger and resentment.  I have to accept that result.

In actual practice, I’ve learned that most people will graciously accept an honest and proper apology.  And why not?  It gives them a chance to let go of any resentment they have been carrying around against me.  Very few people, it seems, want to keep their resentments once they see a way to let go.

When the Situation is Reversed

I’ve also learned to accept an apology when it’s sincerely offered.  It tells me the other person is feeling guilt or shame, and is remorseful.  Even in situations where I didn’t feel hurt, angry or whatever, I don’t laugh it off or otherwise invalidate their apology; I respond with variations of “Hey, it’s OK.  I understand.  Apology accepted.  Thanks for coming to me with it.”

Some Words To Avoid

‘Ifs,’ ‘Buts,’ ‘Mays,’ and ‘Wants.’ As in:

  • “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you,” or  “I apologize if anyone thinks my comments were out of line.”
  • “I’m sorry, but…  (Anything that comes after a ‘but’ negates everything in front of it.)
  • “I’m sorry.  I may have said something inappropriate.”
  • “I want to apologize for…”  (To paraphrase Yoda:  “Don’t want.  Do.”)

Notice how the effect of these words is to deflect or minimize our responsibility in the matter.

The Exception

“Made direct amends…except when to do so would injure them or others.”  I take this exception very seriously.  Some fellow 12-Steppers have told me I take it to the extreme, and a few have told me I’m using it as an excuse not to make the amends.  In the end, it’s a personal judgement call that each of us has to make; a decision we have to live while the ‘advisers’ go on their merry way.

It seems clear to me that amends are made for the benefit of the other person; anything I might gain from the action is secondary.  If there’s any chance that my action in offering the apology will cause further hurt to the person, or cause harm to one or more third-parties, I won’t act.  Better for me to live with the knowledge that an injury I caused has gone without an amends than to pile on more injuries which will require more amends, possibly to more people.

In cases where I believe the exception applies, I make ‘living amends,’ as that is the best way I know to atone for those harms.

How about you?  Tell us your thoughts or experience with apologies and amends.

  1. Great outline in making amends! I certainly have to remember that amends aren’t apologies explicit, that they are a way to mend or repair what damage I have done to someone. Just like you so expertly showed, I do not grovel, minimize, insinuate, deflect or take their inventory. I am there to take responsibility for my harms to them, make the amend, and move on. Whether or not they accept it, is not my concern. My concern is cleaning up my side of the street!

    I have a handful of amends left – I need a shot of step 8 willingness to finish – but in all the amends I have made, I have yet to have someone get upset, storm off, refuse to sit, etc. Everyone has been gracious, lovely, loving, accepting and wonderful about it. Surprising is the word I use most. Like you said, I can’t have expectations, or else I set myself up. I recall one guy, an ex-employer who had no idea why I wanted to talk to him. When he saw me in the coffee shop, he thought I was there to either sue him or punch him out or something else dastardly. When I made the amend, he shared with me a similar process he went through with his dad (this man is not in a 12-step program, but it was similar in intent), and he started to tear up and break down a bit. We then got into a very deep and mutually respectful conversation. it was very moving, and very, very unexpected. I saw a side to this man I never saw before. And all because of this amend. All my experiences have had some unexpected things happen, and I have been very grateful.

    Thanks for this post – wonderful, wonderful stuff. 🙂

    Cheers, Paul


    • Thanks for the great comment, Paul. Yes, more often than not my relationship with the other person is not just repaired, it’s stronger and deeper than before. The amends process is powerful medicine!


Step 8

8.  Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

The List

I had a pretty good start on this list from the inventory back in Step 4.  That’s where we look at our resentments and find our own mistakes in each case.  So I already had a list of resentments along with the whos and the whys, including where I had acted selfishly, dishonestly, or for my benefit at the expense of the other person.  Without going into specifics, let’s just say I had a hefty list and a lot of work to do.  In nearly all of my resentments, and I’m sure it is (or will be) true of your inventory, I was at least partly at fault.  But it was far from complete.

My list wasn’t lacking from thoroughness; it was lacking all those times I’d caused someone to hurt that did not involve resentment on my part—a thoughtless word spoken in anger or frustration, a forgotten birthday, or a case of insensitivity to another’s situation.

Keeping in mind that in Steps 8 and 9 we are dealing with people we have harmed, there may be people on our resentment list who have harmed us in some way while we did nothing to cause harm to them.  A woman who has been raped or a person who suffered physical or sexual abuse as a child come to mind as obvious blameless victims.  No amends are necessary or appropriate where we have caused no harm.  Forgiveness, yes, but that is not what these two Steps are about.  I’ll talk about forgiveness in a later post.

The Willingness

By the time I’d gotten this far into the Steps, I was already willing to do whatever it was going to take, so the willingness wasn’t a huge problem for me.  I will admit, tho, that for several people on my list, I needed to keep reminding myself that they were human, too, and even if they weren’t alcoholic, they had problems, too.  When I could see them as like unto myself, it made the amends process easier.  As recommended in the Big Book, I could say to myself, “This is a sick person.  How can I be helpful?”

And in fact, the other person can benefit from our amends as much as we do.  If they have carried resentment against us, as we against them, it gives them the opportunity to also let go. That’s entirely their call, tho.  My job in the process is to offer to amend the damage I’ve caused.  It’s not up to me to even so much as suggest what they should or should not do from there.  From the Tao Te Ching:  “The wise one acts, then steps back.”  (And accepts whatever the result might be.)

Next up—Step 9, where the magic happens.

Any thoughts or questions about Step 8?  Please leave a comment!

Removing Defects

The 4th and 5th steps gave us an idea of what our faults are, where they might be coming from, and which ones have been the major players in our lives up to now. Once we know what they are, we can start to get rid of them. But how exactly do we do that?

Some of them will be so minor that they seem silly in hindsight. We can simply let them go and that’s that. Something like “I’m jealous of my brother because Mom always liked him best,” maybe. (Remember the Smothers Brothers?) Other faults will need a bit more work. I go through a process of comparing my feelings/emotions of the moment against certain core beliefs and values I have. By the time I’m done, the majority of them drop to the more manageable level of “silly,” and then I can let them go.

Core Beliefs and Values

This is a short sample of beliefs and values of mine that usually play a part in the process:

  • We are not powerless over our reactions or our feelings. We can choose to change.
  • We are all brothers and sisters, each one of us a divine spirit having a human experience.
  • The human experience is to be imperfect. We all have defects, and for the most part, they are all the same.
  • To be human is also to be conflicted. We are both/and rather than either/or, both saint and sinner, beast and angel.
  • What we resist persists.

There are others, of course. You may not have the same ones; yours might even be in direct opposition to mine. It doesn’t matter; we all need to discover and start living by our own set of values and beliefs.

The Process

Anger (along with resentments, which are anger we’ve put into an interest-bearing spiritual savings account) were big on my inventory, so I’ll use that in the example. When I get angry about something, such as something someone writes on the Internet, I stop and go through the following:

  1. I let myself feel it. What we resist, persists. I let it have its way until it subsides enough for me to continue. Sort of like counting to 10, except I observe the feeling without judging it as good or bad and accept it for what it is—the feeling of the moment.
  2. I name it. “OK, I have some anger here.” This lets me own the feeling.
  3. I look at why I reacted with anger. Maybe I was on a forum and someone replied to tell me I was wrong about something. This would affect my prestige in that community, which really means “my pride gets hurt.” Or maybe I hear my bank is going under, and my financial security evaporates. The list is, or seems, endless. (I don’t know yet, I’m still alive.)
  4. I decide whether I want to let it go. If I don’t, or I’m not sure, I look for why I want to keep it. What am I getting by clinging to the anger in this particular case. What’s the payoff? Am I afraid of something? Often, I’ll need to do some contemplative meditation to discover this.
  5. When I know I’m ready to let it go, I plug it into one or more of my core beliefs or core values.This puts it into a proper perspective, usually knocking it down to the more manageable level of ‘silly.’ Then, I can let it go.

The process is not as involved as it appears when written out, and it gets easier and more automatic as I practice it. It’s my way of disconnecting my buttons so that the next time a similar situation occurs, I can act with understanding, rather than react with emotion. The same process works whether I’m dealing with baggage from the past or present, and whether it involves another person or not. The only difference is that if it involves another person, I almost certainly will need to make an amends.

How do you go about ridding yourself of these defects?

  1. How do I go about ridding myself of my defects of character? Very slowly and on a daily basis. Once I got to Steps Six and Seven, I knew that I had no power over what was going on inside of me and that I had to turn it over to a Power Greater than myself. Anger and resentment have always been part of my daily inventory. I have to watch out for my fragile little ego, which seems to think I have to be hurt all the time. After all, I am supposed to be growing in spirituality and there isn’t a timeline where I am finished with this process. Once I realize that it is the small things that get to me, and that it is all small stuff, then I am able to walk through whatever happens to be on my plate that day. My character defects rear their ugly heads not to hurt me, but to help me see who I am and who I can become. I have been in the process of working on one of my glaring defects, that I wasn’t even looking at, over the past few months. Once things were they way they should be, it felt like the baggage that I had been carrying around since childhood just fell away. But I have to continue to work on keeping me right sized and keeping the defects at bay. I am good enough and I don’t have to be perfect, though that was how I was raised: you are never going to be thus and such because of whatever defect of character, personality trait, looks, talent (or lack thereof) was going on in my life. I have to learn to love me exactly as I am: good and bad. When I buy into the idea that I can be better than I actually am, I am buying into that sickness that I was raised with. Good enough isn’t appreciated and it should be.

    Each day that I try to work on being good enough and not try to be someone I am never going to be, I seem to have a better day than when I try to be who I am not. Keeping myself right sized, being able to look at myself and not get all upset about who I see and staying on a spiritual basis keeps me from going off the wall with my emotions.

    • Yes. When I am good enough for myself I am good enough for all who I would call friend.

      For me I had to stop worrying about what I thought others might expect, And start understanding that if I’m good enough for myself I am good enough for anyone I would call Fred.

      • What I meant to portray is that my expectations of myself are at my core, and hopefully some day will all come from within rather than trying to meet an expectation of what I think the outside world would expect. That is my illusion.

        Sorry I posted a reply twice Ron, but I couldn’t figure out how, or if I could edit to add too my first reply,

      • Hey, Gordon, not to worry. I don’t think you can edit your post once you’ve posted it. I think most folks here will understand. Ummmm, who’s Fred? :)

  2. Thanks for your post. It is very interesting to see how someone else thinks about and deals with defects of character. My process is very similar to yours. To me, becoming aware of my defects of character through an inventory and self appraisal is the beginning of being able to be free of them. Once aware of my defects I can see their uselessness. I also think it is a continual process that takes place. I am confronted with situations that give me an opportunity to act contrary to my usual defect-filled actions.

AA’s Step 7–Or Is It?

Step 7 gets nearly the same treatment in the BB as Step 6—a single paragraph of sixty-nine words instructing us to pray to our higher power to “remove every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you [God] and my fellows.  Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding.  Amen.”  It then declares we have completed Step 7.  Cool!

Well,  it would be if I believed in an interventionist god, and if it really worked that way.  I don’t, and more importantly, it doesn’t.  Note what Bill W. wrote in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, in the Chapter on Step 6 [emphasis mine]:  “If we ask, God will certainly forgive our derelictions.  But in no case does He render us white as snow and keep us that way without our cooperation.  That is something we are supposed to work toward ourselves.”  A short while later he writes: “So, Step Six…is AA’s way of stating the best possible attitude one can take in order to make a beginning on this lifetime job.  This does not mean that we expect all our character defects to be lifted out of us as the drive to drink was.  A few of them may be, but with most of them we shall have to be content with patient improvement.” [again, emphasis mine]

So I didn’t “do” Step 7.

What Gives?

The chapter in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions devoted to Step 7 is basically an essay on humility. It begins with “Since this Step so specifically concerns itself with humility…” and in the final paragraph states “The whole emphasis of Step Seven is on humility.”  True enough, when an instructional step starts with ‘Humbly’ [did something], the need for humility is fairly explicit.  But it’s not just Step 7.  The entire program of the 12 Steps is concerned with humility–humbling ourselves (not others, that’s ‘humiliation’) enough to understand, accept, and apply the principles of those steps in our lives.

By the time I got to the seventh Step, I had been humbled enough to admit I needed help; to walk into that first AA meeting; to admit I was alcoholic; to take an honest look at my shortcomings; to talk about those shortcomings with another person (or persons).  I honestly didn’t need to cement the newfound humility by humbly asking a god I didn’t believe in to do something that most (honest) religious folks will say He doesn’t do anyway.  If cement is needed, after Step 7 our humility is tested when we make our amends, continue looking at ourselves, and while being of service to others.

Anyone who does believe in petitionary prayer and an interventionist God would do well to heed this step.  The rest of us can safely pass over this one.


The last page of that chapter does give us one suggestion concerning the seventh step.  It advises we might do well at this point to take another look at just what our deepest objectives are.  That’s worth considering—often and in-depth–and will be the topic of a separate post here at Spirit of Recovery.  Next up will be a look at how I go about the “work” of defect removal.

What are your thoughts about Step 7?  Is it a necessary step? a non-step?  Let us know by leaving a comment below.  Differing opinions, offered with respect, will always be welcome, encouraged and respected here.  Thanks for being here!

  1. I believe we are powerless over our defects of charater hence the need to humbly ask God to remove them! While working toward or putting into action a way to live a better life. The more amends I make the more I desire to change- If we could have removed them without Gods help we would not need to ask God to remove them!
    Little over analyzing the whole deal– maybe not ready or not willing to go to any length! Lets see were that kind of thinking gets you – keep in touch!

    • Hi, and welcome! Thanks for dropping by and offering your view . Your’s is certainly the most prevalent feedback I hear, and that’s ok. We don’t have to agree. And as I said in the post, if those are your beliefs you would be well advised to pray for their removal. Then get to work removing them, as Bill suggested.
      What is disturbing to me is yours is also the most prevalent attitude I get from the fellowship.

  2. I would like to ask a reader to step back outside of there own progress for a moment, and ask themselves the question if all that is done is done for a God that should be conceived the same of every mans image or is it the other way around. A God as individually different as our very own perceptions?

    Now I will share that my humility is seeing that Alcohol, God, or anything else is not my maker, and when I create a God in the image of the man I would like to be it is my true nature seeking to shine. To me it is a mission of finding self, and expression in actions true to myself.

    Thanks for the thoughts.

    • Hey, Gordon. Thanks for the reply! I agree–the program is about discovering our true values (our true Self, if you prefer) and learning to live in accordance with them.

  3. I haven’t done it yet, but it definitely sounds like one of the easiest! There’s this big lure to do step 6 and 7 because some who did them already make it sound like a big improvement came directly afterwards…as if they were finally cured of shortcomings. Later, they’ll say something that lets me know many character defects are lifted over time…some never 100%. It’s a work in progress, which rings true with the positive but gradual improvements I’ve seen in recovery so far.

    I like Bill’s emphasis on attitude with this step. I don’t remember reading that part in the BB before, and I interpret it to mean I need to keep an open, willing mind on doing the hard work ahead.

    Great post.

    • Hi! Thanks for the compliment. Yes, we’re all works in progress. To be human is to be imperfect. Imperfect implies flaws. And another word for ‘flaw’ is ‘defect.’ If all our defects were all completely removed, either for us or by us, we’d be gods, wouldn’t we? BTW, those quotes in my post are from the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. The first part is a commentary on the Steps Bill wrote a few years after the BB was published, and in the second part he introduced the Twelve Traditions to the fellowship.

  4. I remember when I was first getting sober and was going to a 12 & 12 Study group and we did the entire meeting on the first sentence of Step 7 which asks us to think about humility. I think that was one of the most interesting meetings I ever attended. All of us knew that being humble meant getting outside of ourselves, but some of us, the new ones especially, weren’t familiar with how to be humble instead of humiliated. After many 24 hours in the rooms and many times working Step 7, I know that when I do the 7th Step Prayer, each day, I am asking for another layer of those incessant defects to be cleared away. I remember a lovely lady who is now at the Great Meeting who would always remind us that we were never rendered white as snow without our permission. Unless I am willing to let go of whatever defect of character that stands in the way of me being a useful human being, then I run the risk of continuing down the path of destruction that Alcohol put me on. I have no power; tells me so in the first Step. I have to find that power and allow it to help me. Being the willfull person that I always was, I don’t want to ask anyone, let alone Something called God to help me! But, if I will look at my 4th Step, what was brought out as patterns in my 5th Step, and the defects that are still glaring, I cannot do this alone. If I was willing at Step 3 to get a Higher Power, then at Step 7 I should still have that Power and we are in better communication.

    I think that the fact that I do this program a day at a time keeps me from being the perfect little person I thought I was going to be when I was drinking. Working on ourselves, instead of other people, is always hard; yet it is one of the most rewarding things that I have done in my life. I watch people who keep coming in and out and not getting it and wonder why. Keeping my own nose to the grindstone, seeing the defects, talking them over with a sponsor and/or Spiritual Advisor, asking for their removal and then going about making amends to those I have harmed will give me a greater sense who I am. If I am the same woman who came into the rooms, I have not grown. Step 7 gives me the chance to ask to be changed in a positive manner.

    • Hi, Mary. It’s amazing to me how many folks confuse humility with humiliation. I’m writing a post about that now. Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. I just did a personal step study of step 7 recently. I believe that it is about naming our defects of character out loud or more over out of our own heads. I think it is really important to get us what we are learning about ourselves out of thought and into action. Without naming the defects of character and asking your HP to help you remove them you may just miss some.

    • Hi, and welcome to SoR. Thanks for stopping in and leaving your thoughts. I hope you’ll visit often. As you may have guessed, I emphasize the “into action” aspect of the Steps.

AA’s Step 6

Saint Augustine of Hippo, a seminal thinker on...

“Lord, help me to be pure–but not just yet. ”  St. Augustine

(before sainthood, no doubt)

If the Steps were puppies, Step 6 would undoubtedly be the runt of the litter.

The book Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book) glosses over it in one paragraph of 66 words, and 13 of those are lead-in.  If you blink while reading, you might miss it all together.  The gist of the instruction is to ask ourselves if we are ready; if the answer is no, we ask God for help.  That’s it.  Not much to work with even for those who believe in an interventionist deity, less for those of us who don’t.

Not a Step?

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”  I mean, come on already, it’s not even a step!  Or is it?  When someone in the fellowship relapses, Steps 4 and 5 are the usual suspects, and the person is advised “You need to do Steps 4 and 5 again to find what you left out.”  I submit that more relapses occur due to a misunderstanding of Step 6 than any other single step.

I had identified many (not all) of my defects in Steps 4 and 5.  Early in the process, I thought that having done that I’d have no reason not to let them go.  I was desperate and serious about the program.  Why would I not want to get rid of all my baggage?  It turned out to be not so black and white as that.  Many of my defects had been with me for so long, had become so much a part of who I believed I was, that I couldn’t see myself without them.  How would I be able to function at work, at home, at all, without this or that ‘defect’, who would I be, were the questions, fears really, that were running around in my head.

It helped when I read (in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions) that these defects we’ve been talking about are actually natural instincts either misdirected or gone wild–“exceeded their proper function” as Bill W. wrote.  Since they’re natural instincts, they cannot be completely removed.  Pride gone wild can run from arrogance to narcissism; yet properly positioned, it is self-esteem.  Fear and anger are necessary survival instincts, but when they are operating at inappropriate times, in the wrong situations, or left unchecked to swell out of proportion to the time and circumstance, they overpower our ability to take the appropriate actions for our survival.

Not God

Bill W. goes on to explain that while the obsession to drink seemed to be removed by a higher power for the early members of AA, that wasn’t the case with these character defects, and he suggests this is because, while they cause us problems, they do not cause us “excessive misery.”  I would add also that the cause/effect is not as obvious as it was (is) with our drinking.

I know now that my defects lose their power over my actions not through denial or divine intervention, but through my:

  1. accepting that they exist,
  2. awareness of positive values and behaviors, also known as virtues, that can replace them, and
  3. replacing the old with the new.

When the defects lose their power over areas of my life where they have no place, they are effectively ‘removed.’

This is a lifetime effort for me.  I still have issues, but as they present themselves I do what I can to deal with them.  From my personal experience, and from hearing others share their experience with this Step, it is probably universal that our defects come into our awareness one at a time for attention and removal.  Even the Bible points to the fact that one’s defects are not instantly and permanently removed by God; there are things one has to do and keep on doing.  As my defects come to my awareness, I look inside myself to see their exact nature and what benefit I may still be getting by keeping them, such as comfort and security, ego strokes, a perverse pleasure even.  When I can do that, then I can begin to let them go, and replace them with compassion and loving-kindness toward myself and others.

“One way or another, we all have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life, and dedicate ourselves to that.”   Joseph Campbell

What has your experience been with Step 6?  Let us know by leaving a comment!

  1. I am working on another 4th Step, which my sponsor asked me to do, because I didn’t identify a specific character defect I have had since I walked into the rooms back in the late 1980’s! Yes, I agree that we are told to go back and do Steps 4 and 5 again because we have to know where it came from, how long we have had it, and what it is affecting in our life. When I am upset, it is because something is wrong with ME not them (whoever them might be). I have to go through the questions in the Big Book and/or the 12 & 12 on Step 4 to get me to a place where I can actually see what the pattern and my part actually is.

    I have a lady I sponsor who has to work on some of her defects of character and when I asked her the other day what Step she was on (if you aren’t working on a Step you are working on a drink!) she said the 6th Step because of her shortcomings. I haven’t asked her to do anything more than see what it is that makes some people bristle when she talks to them, myself included. I haven’t asked her to go back and look at the relationships individually (which is what you are doing in 4 & 5), I want her to see what she still needs work on and then I would like her to actually work on those things. But I can’t make her do that; only she can do that.

    I am going to have some form of character defect going on for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t be human without it. But when it affects my relationships with my fellows, then I need to see what is going on and why I refuse to let go of that defect. I am a work in progress, but I have to actually progress to get the benefits of the AA program at all. Everything that Bill W. talks about in the literature is true: if you don’t work (and I really mean work) on yourself, you run the risk of falling into one of those black holes we are all warned about in the rooms. Complacency can work for awhile, but when you hurt and are hurting others, then you know it is time that you work the Steps or leave the program.

    I have watched many people do the revolving door syndrome where they come for six to nine months, feel better physically, but then don’t work on themselves and go out and relaspe. A man at my home group has gone out again and this time the consequences are far more serious than he imagined. Yet, in talking, it isn’t him that has the problem, it was everyone else! Unless we get to the root cause of our spiritual malady, we will drink again. Being dry and being sober are two completely different feelings; I know I have run into both of them in my own sobriety.

    My first foray with Step 6 was me writing down the defects of character and sharing them with my sponsor. Then we did the 7th Step prayer. About six months later, I was cleaning out my purse and there was the list: the defects I had listed were still there, but they were much milder than before I did the 6th Step.

    I am not the woman who walked into an AA meeting in the late 1980’s hoping to get someone else sober. I am here for me and to stay alive, I have to work on those defects of character that keep me from the Sunlight of the Spirit.


    • You’ve brought up some good points, Mary. Some food for thought and maybe a future blog post or more. I might be misunderstanding what you wrote, but when I’m upset, all I really need is to recognize that a defect is present and have the willingness to let it go. Whether or not I know where it came from or how long I’ve had it won’t do me any good without the recognition and willingness.
      Maybe others will join in here with their thoughts. Thanks!


  2. I wanted to let you know that your blog was chosen as one of the top 15 blogs on alcoholism by Here’s the blurb:
    Ron, a 57-year-old reformed alcoholic, used self-taught principles from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to successfully recover. He created The Spirit of Recovery as a source of inspiration and motivation for those suffering from alcoholism.

    Ron offers a series of writings on his own experience with the 12 Steps in addition to posts on alcoholism, getting sober, and books and links of interest.

    No one let me know, so I thought I’d spread the word to others who were selected. They didn’t let us know last year, either. I see some people have chosen to put the badge symbol on their site. Still thinking about that.


    • Once again, thank you, Heidi. My computer has been dead in the water for the past few months until I can find someone to remove the virus that’s infected it. Hopefully by the end of this month.


AA’s Step 4 (Part 2)—Getting Started

“Few people have been more victimized by resentments than have we alcoholics. […] Anger, that occasional luxury of more balanced people, could keep us on an emotional jag indefinitely.  These ‘dry benders’ often led straight to the bottle.”     Bill W., Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

Because “an unexamined life is not worth living” and our drinking is a symptom of other, deeper problems, we look at ourselves in Step 4 to get down to those causes and conditions that led to our problem drinking.  While there are many ways to do this, the inventory as laid out in Chapter 5 of the BB is simple and effective.

First Things First

Angry Penguin

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If you’ve ever wondered why AA seems so fixated on anger and resentments, well, there’s a saying that goes–shoot the ‘gators closest to the boat first!–and that’s what we are doing here.  AA’s founders discovered that resentment is “the number one offender.”  Unresolved anger and resentments can kill anyone, if only from the stress they add to our lives.  They’re especially toxic for us alcoholics, and so we list everyone and everything we’re angry with, and take a close look at why we’re angry.

Do not beat yourself up while making this list!  There is no need for judgements or blame-fixing.  To judge ourselves at this point is to miss the point of the entire process.  Be non-judgemental as well as honest and thorough.

“You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.”  Gautama Buddha

Steppin’ Fourth

I’m not going to duplicate the instructions here.  If you don’t have a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous, you can read it on-line atAA’s official website.  This link  will take you to Chapter 5, where the instructions for Step 4 are found.  When you get there, or if you have a copy of the book in hand, the instructions for the inventory begin on page 64, first full paragraph.

Read carefully for understanding.  The authors were writing about themselves in the past tense, so where it says “we wrote,” write;  if it says “we referred back,” you should refer back to the same place.  Whenever it says they thought about, considered, contemplated or whatever, you should take the time to do the same.

Before you even get to the bottom of page 64, you’ll come to this:  “In dealing with resentments, we set them on paper.”  Hey, sounds like they just ‘did’ something!  Since we are going to do what they did, grab some paper and a pencil/pen.  What to write?  The very next sentence says “We listed people, institutions or principles with whom we were angry.”  So start writing them down.  This list will become the first column in your “Grudge List.”  There are two more columns to the grudge list that you’ll discover in the instructions.

To help get started, here are some suggestions for the list:  The ‘people’ referred to can be literally anyone you know, have known, or know about–relatives, friends, exes, celebrities, politicians, the jerk who cut you off in traffic yesterday, even yourself.  Examples of institutions that might make your list could be AA itself, Child Protective Services, church (religion), correctional system, education system, any government agency, marriage, health/mental health system, society-at-large.  Some principles that you could be upset over could include:  abortion, death, disease, honesty, humility, justice (as in lack of), poverty.   Bottom-line is that if it is someone or something that angers you, write it down.

“I had a lot of resentment for a while toward Kim Novak. But I don’t mind her anymore. She’s okay. We’ve become friends. I even asked her before this trip for some beauty tips.”    Kim Novak

  1. Very timely for me as I am having to do another 4th Step, this time on a girl I sponsor. It isn’t what SHE is doing that is the problem; it is was I am doing that is. That is the whole point of any 4th Step, what am I doing that I need to change.

    I have a tendency to be a very controlling person and that is a hallmark of a true alkie. Unfortunately, it seems to have gotten me in a pickle with my physical health and I have to literally let everything go. I have been ‘working’ this program far too long to allow anger, resentment or anything that smacks of ill will to take up residence in my head. All I can do with anyone I sponsor is guide them and show them what I did. If they don’t do it, well fine, go on to the next suffering person. Being the caretaker that I have been all my life, since childhood, I don’t know when to let people, places and things go. So, I have to do a 4th Step to relieve me of the bondage of self and let everything go.

    I love all the little reminders of what anger actually does throughout the reading: it kills the person who is angry not the person one is angry with. My whole goal in AA is to be a more compassionate and loving human being. I am more willing today to write down what causes and conditions are bothering me and what it is that I am doing that needs to be adjusted. Lots of people don’t get the idea that they have to learn to love themselves to really ‘get’ AA and they do just the minimum of work. Then something eats their lunch and they have to do more work or return to the old life. Some drink, others just take a gun and go out with a bang.

    I know that after all the 24 hours that I have been in the rooms, that I have to do the work or I will die. The 4th Step isn’t so bad to do; as my first sponsor said “Just Do It!”

    • Hi, Mary. Another wonderful comment—thank you! I wasn’t looking to become more compassionate or loving when I began the journey, but I did. I think it’s a natural result of doing the Steps. I agree that it starts with loving ourselves.

  2. I have so much to say and yet I am still so new!

    It is imparative I find a meeting, I am so ready!!!

    First, The Kim Novak quote makes me think of Step 9 (Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.)
    When I get there the first person I am going to make amends with is MYSELF!

    Secondly, I have found my strength from a book called:
    “I Want To Change My Life” How to overcome Anxiety, Depression and Addiction.
    Written by: Steven M. Melemis

    My favourite story in this book is about relapse. It goes like this:

    “A Story of Recovery in five Short Chapters”
    Chapter 1
    I walked down a path. There is a deep hole, and I fall in by mistake. It takes me a long time to get out.
    Chapter 2
    I walk down a path. There is a deep hole. It’s the same hole, but I fall in again.
    Chapter 3
    I walk down the same path. I see the hole, but again I fall in. This time I know where I am, and I get out quickly.
    Chapter 4
    I walk down the same path. The hole is there. But I walk around it.
    Chapter 5
    I take a different path where there is no hole.

    These were my thoughts I wanted to share, I hope you see the same wisdom that I did.

    • Nice to meet you, Heather! I haven’t seen the book before, but the story is familiar. It’s a good analogy of relapse. I have the Kim Novak quote in my ‘keeper’ file because it reminds me that when I was taking the Steps and going to counseling at the same time, I complained to my counselor at one point that I’d forgiven everybody I could think of plus more just in case, and she just looked at me and asked if I had forgiven myself. Well, no. The thought never occurred to me until she mentioned it. Also, the quote is a good reminder to stop beating myself up when things aren’t going the way I’d like.

      Thanks for sharing with us! Please feel free to comment when the spirit moves you. Have you started taking the Steps?

  3. Hello there. I love what you have here!

    The 4th step is, or can be profound. Tough but life changing. My sponsor MADE me add MYSELF to the list and for that I am eternally grateful. By the time I was working on the 4th step I was well on the way to sobriety BUT not emotional sobriety. When my sponsor forced my hand and really had me focus for months on how I had harmed MYSELF, I was able to just bust open. I am also an Adult Child Of Alcoholics (ACA) and working the 4th with me in mind helped me come to terms with my childhood and my family of origin. ALL of that is what really led me to seek not just Sobriety but Emotional Sobriety.

    Most of my amends ended up being to me. Weird.

    I finished my 5th step with her in AA and moved to ACA. My 4th and 5th steps showed me that the past had harmed me. That alcohol had done me harm AS A CHILD. I am sober over 20 years and continue to work on my journey through a childhood with alcoholics.

    We kick ourselves HARD. I need to remember to STOP! My anger and resentment are almost entirely based in my childhood. You are right. They will Get Us one way or another.

    I look forward to MORE posts!

    Peace, Jen

AA’s Fourth Step (part 1)

“An unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

I’ve been aware of the above quote since my early teens.  It took Steps 4 and 5 of AA’s Twelve Steps to show me just what Socrates meant.  Together, those two steps are a stumbling block for many of us new to the program.  If our pride isn’t telling us we don’t need to do it, our fear jumps in to tell us we’d better not look.  They were in my case for a long time.  Yet Steps 4 and 5 were the key that opened up the first three steps for me.  I thought I had Step 1 wrapped up, and after much soul-searching I had put Steps 2 and 3 on hold due to a sense of urgency, the “gift of desperation,” that I wouldn’t live long enough to get a handle on those two.  So I plowed ahead into Step 4.

What’s this all about?

Step 4 is about discovering what there is in our make-up that is blocking us from a power that we all have within us, shading us from the sunshine of the spirit.  In the words of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, “…it [our decision in Step 3] could have little effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us.  Our liquor was but a symptom.  So we had to get down to causes and conditions.”

Once we identify these things, then we can face up to them, own them, and let them go.  We can’t let go of what we don’t know we have, nor can we give up what we do not own.  The founders used several terms for what we’re trying to identify, such as ‘faults,’ ‘defects of character,’ ‘shortcomings,’ ‘flaws in our make-up.’  I suggest picking a term you are comfortable with and forget about the those that may cause misgivings.  A rose is a rose is a rose*, after all.

How thorough is thorough?

The step itself tells us it is to be a searching and fearless inventory.  A little later in the book, on page 65, they say “We went back through our lives.  Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty.”  I like to throw in ‘rigorous’ from page 58 and say that this needs to be a searching, fearless, thorough, and rigorously honest inventory.  As to how far back we need to go, I suggest as far back as we have memories of anger and resentment, early childhood for most of us.

What’s in it for me?

Glad you asked!  When the inventory is made according to the instructions in the book, we begin to see patterns in our thoughts and reactions.  This, in turn, allows us to go beyond the surface and get to the root of any problem we may find.  We come to understand our part in the conflicts of our lives, and how to “disconnect the buttons” that turn on our anger and other negative feelings.  We discover ideas and behaviors that need to be unlearned, such as defense mechanisms that may have served us well in the past but are now counterproductive.  We begin to reconnect with our true values, our true self.  We begin to understand out interconnectedness with the human family, and gain serenity, self-respect, and compassion.

And all it takes for us to get there is a willingness to be honest and thorough.  What a bargain!

“Without a willing and persistent effort to do this, there can be little sobriety or contentment for us.”  Bill W.

Please leave a comment, or send me an e-mail, if you have other thoughts on the subject, questions, even complaints!

*– Gertrude Stein

  1. My alcoholism had helped me conjure my flawed way of being into something unrecognizable, (morphed into a way of being that had a direct relationship with my coping ability, my alcoholism). Starting here on the surface with brutal honesty I had torn myself down enough to see what was underneath. At the root of some of my most f**ked up behaviors where the eyes of the innocent child I once was. Interpretations of cataclysmic events perceived in childhood from the eyes of independence for me have made some of the changes almost automatic.

    Looking back to looking back from now, I know that what was on the surface was, (outlandish feats of idiocracy under the influence) my protector my camouflage, my coping mechanism.

    I would say we all have our place of innocence if we look deep enough inside ourselves. I look on myself and know it was worth all of the misguided shame it took to get to where I am.

    Thank you for the original post.

  2. My first 4th Step was done out of sheer desperation and the fact that I wasn’t willing to look that deeply into myself. I continued to believe I had some kind of control over my life and told my sponsor that I didn’t understand what the instructions in the Big Book said. Made no sense to me. So she asked me to write down about the Seven Deadly sins. I did 18 pages on them and yet, in doing that first 4th Step, I didn’t see the patterns of my life or my part in any of it. And of course, I relapsed because I wasn’t willing to see who I was rather than blaming everyone else for what ‘they’ had done to me. About a year after I picked up my last white chip, I did another 4th Step with the same sponsor, but it was quite different and much more thorough in looking at my part in things. I found that I never felt secure, that I was constantly fear-filled and that much of what happened in my life was of my own doing. I also began to see the patterns that ran through my life and the behaviors that I did because I knew no better ones.

    I have tried to do an annual housecleaning with a 4th Step and when something specific comes up, I work on that. I find that looking at who I am and wanting to be willing to change the things I can change, gets me closer to my Higher Power and in turn with those human beings around me. I will never be perfect and I am so grateful that I have the 4th Step to look deep within to see what is hiding in a corner that I missed before. Sweeping clean that which doesn’t work for me has taught me to live a better life and AA was my teacher.

Honest Doubt (cont)

Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism are one, a ...

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At the time I began the Steps, I had long since forsaken the religion of my youth. For a few years I had made science my religion, but found no more answers there than I had in the church.  Humanism and nature-worship didn’t help, either.  I had turned to Buddhism and Taoist philosophy and was moving closer to what I imagined I was looking for when my obsessive/compulsive relationship with alcohol took off, and further spiritual growth all but stopped.

So I had little trouble with the spiritual dimension of the program.  But the Steps seem to require belief in, if not the Judeo-Christian concept of God, at least an interventionist higher power, one that is aware of our suffering and willing and able to help.  This was a major problem for me.

And the advice I received in the rooms when I voiced my lack of belief in an interventionist deity only compounded my dilemma.  That advice boiled down to one of two suggestions: 1) that I “act as if” such a deity existed, or 2) that I “fake it ’til I make it.”  Concerning the first, I never could figure out exactly what “acting as if” meant, and any explanation I received always sounded disturbingly like “fake it ’til you make it.”

“Fake it ’til you make it” is more than just a rewording of ‘act as if,’ though.  In a program where “absolute honesty” is a core ideal and “rigorous” honesty a basic requirement, the notion of faking any part of it is ludicrous.  The Steps work, in large measure, by allowing us to find our true selves and be comfortable living according to our real values, without the masks and role-playing we’ve gotten ourselves lost in.

Then, in one of those serendipitous events that seem to occur with ever-increasing frequency to those involved with the Steps, I picked up a book of essays by Aldous Huxley titled Huxley and God, Essays on Religious Experience.  In the first essay, Huxley wrote about the need for a “minimum working hypothesis” in the context of “researching…purely spiritual experience.”  This was an ah-ha! moment for me.  Where I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) act as if I believed, and abhorred the idea of faking belief, I could certainly ‘test the hypothesis’ that there might be some sort of interventionist higher power out there.

Semantics?  Probably, but very important to my success with the Steps.  From that point on, I was ‘testing the hypothesis’ in everything I did, without needing to be an actor playing a role or faking anything for my own or another’s benefit.  It was an approach that was rigorously honest and all I required to make my beginning.

I still had a long, convoluted and tortuous journey going through the Steps, and today, I still do not believe in an interventionist higher power.  The main results of the ‘experiment’ are that I am recovered from the seemingly hopeless condition of alcoholism, and I have returned to following Taoist and Buddhist practices for continued spiritual growth with inconceivably positive results.

In the long run, we get exactly what we ask for.  (Aldous Huxley in “The Minimum Working Hypothesis.”)

Thanks for being here!  Any and all comments are welcome.

  1. One of the lovely things my first sponsor gave me was the choice to believe in my own conception of a Higher Power. I was raised in a traditional religion and she made me write down who I thought “God” was. I did the old man with the long beard, sitting on the throne with the Book of Judgment open and him scowling. When I told her that she laughed and said, “Really, is that the kind of Higher Power YOU want?” Well, I didn’t. I wanted something that was loving, caring and benovolent, but with a sense of humor. Which is exactly the “God of MY Understanding” today.

    I have dabbled in everything except Islam in my spiritual search since getting sober and I find that most religious teachings aren’t so different. What I have to remember is that I am NOT God and that is what I was doing when I came to the rooms. When I decide that I am in control of the world, then I find that I have taken back everything and I am in turmoil again. The unmanagability of my life is more than I can bear and then I realize that I have taken my will back and not allowed HP to take over.

    I am on a spiritual path, not a religious path and that works better for me. I also accept everyone as having whatever HP they want to have be it a tree, a doorknob, some religious icon or a guru. Accepting the fact that Something got me sober and keeps me sober keeps me from debating the idea of any kind of God-like entity.


  2. I’ve always questioned what happens to those that go to AA meetings and are not devout believers in ‘God.’ I really like that your blog touches on this aspect, in beliefs other than the christian one that seems to surround meetings.
    Great blog!


Honest Doubt

It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a power greater than myself.  Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning.   (Bill W.)

Step 1 brought me to an understanding that my life was unmanageable and that left to my own devices I was powerless to do anything about it.  So the next question was:  Where’s the hope?  Step 2 suggests that I look for a power greater than myself.  Ok, let’s look at it.

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves…    The founders (at least some of them) did not start with belief; they came to a belief.  And they  reinforced this in Step 12 where they said, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…”  Their belief, their faith, came after they took the steps.  I might have saved myself a little time if I had understood that all that was being asked of me in Step 2 was to be open-minded enough to allow for the possibility that there is a power greater than myself that can deliver the goods.  And when I asked myself  the question, “Is there a power greater than me?” it seemed pretty ludicrous to answer “No” regardless of whether I had a clear idea what it might be.

…could restore us…   Here again, I’m only asked to be open-minded enough to allow for the possibility that this power greater than me will have the power to help; an actual belief in such a thing can wait until later.  I needed to open my mind to the two ideas that there was a power greater than myself and that this power could restore me.  Step 2 doesn’t promise restoration, it just asks me to stay open to the possibility.

…to sanity.    Insane?….You callin’ me insane?….You wanna piece of me, bring it on!”  That was pretty much my attitude for a long time.  But really, it was insane to continue trying to find ways that I could drink when I knew the inevitable, predictable result would be more despair and unmanageability than before.  The analogy of the jaywalker on pages 37-38 of Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book or BB), makes it quite clear.  Insane is the only way to describe this behavior–going back to the bottle again and again, each time thinking I’d be able to control it and knowing each time I’d end up worse than before.

To be continued…

There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.    (Alfred,  Lord Tennyson)

Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.  Thanks for being here!