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to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
As we work the first nine Steps, we prepare ourselves for
the adventure of a new life. But when we approach Step Ten
we commence to put our A.A. way of living to practical use,
day by day, in fair weather or foul. Then comes the acid
test: can we stay sober, keep in emotional balance, and
live to good purpose under all conditions?
continuous look at our assets and liabilities, and a real
desire to learn and grow by this means, are necessities
for us. We alcoholics have learned this the hard way. More
experienced people, of course, in all times and places have
practiced unsparing self-survey and criticism. For the wise
have always known that no one can make much of his life
until self-searching becomes a regular habit, until he is
able to admit and accept what he finds, and until he patiently
and persistently tries to correct what is wrong.
a drunk has a terrific hangover because he drank heavily
yesterday, he cannot live well today. But there is another
kind of hangover which we all experience whether we are
drinking or not. That is the emotional hangover, the direct
result of yesterday's and sometimes today's excesses of
negative emotion--anger, fear, jealousy, and the like. If
we would live serenely today and tomorrow, we certainly
need to eliminate these hangovers. This doesn't mean we
need to wander morbidly around in the past. It requires
an admission and correction of errors now. Our inventory
enables us to settle with the past. When this is done, we
are really able to leave it behind us. When our inventory
is carefully taken, and we have made peace with ourselves,
the conviction follows that tomorrow's challenges can be
met as they come.
all inventories are alike in principle, the time factor
does distinguish one from another. There's the spot check
inventory, taken at any time of the day, whenever we find
ourselves getting tangled up. There's the one we take at
day's end, when we review the happenings of the hours just
past. Here we cast up a balance sheet, crediting ourselves
with things well done, and chalking up debits where due.
Then there are those occasions when alone, or in the company
of our sponsor or spiritual adviser, we make a careful review
of our progress since the last time. Many A.A.'s go in for
annual or semiannual house cleanings. Many of us also like
the experience of an occasional retreat from the outside
world where we can quiet down for an undisturbed day or
so of self-overhaul and meditation.
these practices joy-killers as well as time-consumers? Must
A.A.'s spend most of their waking hours drearily rehashing
their sins of omission or commission? Well, hardly. The
emphasis on inventory is heavy only because a great many
of us have never really acquired the habit of accurate self-appraisal.
Once this healthy practice has become grooved, it will be
so interesting and profitable that the time it takes won't
be missed. For these minutes and sometimes hours spent in
self-examination are bound to make all the other hours of
our day better and happier. And at length our inventories
become a regular part of everyday living, rather than something
unusual or set apart.
we ask what a spot-check inventory is, let's look at the
kind of setting in which such an inventory can do its work.
It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed,
no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with
us. If somebody hurts us and we are sore, we are in the
wrong also. But are there no exceptions to this rule? What
about "justifiable" anger? If somebody cheats
us, aren't we entitled to be mad? Can't we be properly angry
with self-righteous folk? For us of A.A. these are dangerous
exceptions. We have found that justified anger ought to
be left to those better qualified to handle it.
people have been more victimized by resentments than have
we alcoholics. It mattered little whether our resentments
were justified or not. A burst of temper could spoil a day,
and a well-nursed grudge could make us miserably ineffective.
Nor were we ever skillful in separating justified from unjustified
anger. As we saw it, our wrath was always justified. Anger,
that occasional luxury of more balanced people, could keep
us on an emotional jag indefinitely. These emotional "dry
benders" often led straight to the bottle. Other kinds
of disturbances--jealousy, envy, self-pity, or hurt pride--did
the same thing.
spot-check inventory taken in the midst of such disturbances
can be of very great help in quieting stormy emotions. Today's
spot check finds its chief application to situations which
arise in each day's march. The consideration of long-standing
difficulties had better be postponed, when possible, to
times deliberately set aside for that purpose. The quick
inventory is aimed at our daily ups and downs, especially
those where people or new events throw us off balance and
tempt us to make mistakes.
all these situations we need self-restraint, honest analysis
of what is involved, a willingness to admit when the fault
is ours, and an equal willingness to forgive when the fault
is elsewhere. We need not be discouraged when we fall into
the error of our old ways, for these disciplines are not
easy. We shall look for progress, not for perfection.
first objective will be the development of self restraint.
This carries a top priority rating. When we speak or act
hastily or rashly, the ability to be fair-minded and tolerant
evaporates on the spot. One unkind tirade or one willful
snap judgment can ruin our relation with another person
for a whole day, or maybe a whole year. Nothing pays off
like restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered
criticism and furious, power-driven argument. The same goes
for sulking or silent scorn. These are emotional booby traps
baited with pride and vengefulness. Our first job is to
sidestep the traps. When we are tempted by the bait, we
should train ourselves to step back and think. For we can
neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of
self-restraint has become automatic.
or unexpected problems are not the only ones that call for
self-control. We must be quite as careful when we begin
to achieve some measure of importance and material success.
For no people have ever loved personal triumphs more than
we have loved them; we drank of success as of a wine which
could never fail to make us feel elated. When temporary
good fortune came our way, we indulged ourselves in fantasies
of still greater victories over people and circumstances.
Thus blinded by prideful self confidence, we were apt to
play the big shot. Of course, people turned away from us,
bored or hurt.
that we're in A.A. and sober, and winning back the esteem
of our friends and business associates, we find that we
still need to exercise special vigilance. As an insurance
against "big-shot-ism" we can often check ourselves
by remembering that we are today sober only by the grace
of God and that any success we may be having is far more
His success than ours.
we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are
to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong,
and then we approach true tolerance and see what real love
for our fellows actually means. It will become more and
more evident as we go forward that it is pointless to become
angry, or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering
from the pains of growing up.
a radical change in our outlook will take time, maybe a
lot of time. Not many people can truthfully assert that
they love everybody. Most of us must admit that we have
loved but a few; that we have been quite indifferent to
the many so long as none of them gave us trouble; and as
for the remainder--well, we have really disliked or hated
them. Although these attitudes are common enough, we A.A.'s
find we need something much better in order to keep our
balance. We can't stand it if we hate deeply. The idea that
we can be possessively loving of a few, can ignore the many,
and can continue to fear or hate anybody, has to be abandoned,
if only a little at a time.
can try to stop making unreasonable demands upon those we
love. We can show kindness where we had shown none. With
those we dislike we can begin to practice justice and courtesy,
perhaps going out of our way to understand and help them.
we fail any of these people, we can promptly admit it--to
ourselves always, and to them also, when the admission would
be helpful. Courtesy, kindness, justice, and love are the
keynotes by which we may come into harmony with practically
anybody. When in doubt we can always pause, saying, "Not
my will, but Thine, be done." And we can often ask
ourselves, "Am I doing to others as I would have them
do to me--today?"
evening comes, perhaps just before going to sleep, many
of us draw up a balance sheet for the day. This is a good
place to remember that inventory-taking is not always done
in red ink. It's a poor day indeed when we haven't done
something right. As a matter of fact, the waking hours are
usually well filled with things that are constructive. Good
intentions, good thoughts, and good acts are there for us
to see. Even when we have tried hard and failed, we may
chalk that up as one of the greatest credits of all. Under
these conditions, the pains of failure are converted into
assets. Out of them we receive the stimulation we need to
go forward. Someone who knew what he was talking about once
remarked that pain was the touchstone of all spiritual progress.
How heartily we A.A.'s can agree with him, for we know that
the pains of drinking had to come before sobriety, and emotional
turmoil before serenity.
we glance down the debit side of the day's ledger, we should
carefully examine our motives in each thought or act that
appears to be wrong. In most cases our motives won't be
hard to see and understand. When prideful, angry, jealous,
anxious, or fearful, we acted accordingly, and that was
that. Here we need only recognize that we did act or think
badly, try to visualize how we might have done better, and
resolve with God's help to carry these lessons over into
tomorrow, making, of course, any amends still neglected.
in other instances only the closest scrutiny will reveal
what our true motives were. There are cases where our ancient
enemy, rationalization, has stepped in and has justified
conduct which was really wrong. The temptation here is to
imagine that we had good motives and reasons when we really
"constructively criticized" someone who needed
it, when our real motive was to win a useless argument.
Or, the person concerned not being present, we thought we
were helping others to understand him, when in actuality
our true motive was to feel superior by pulling him down.
We sometimes hurt those we love because they need to be
"taught a lesson," when we really want to punish.
We were depressed and complained we felt bad, when in fact
we were mainly asking for sympathy and attention. This odd
trait of mind and emotion, this perverse wish to hide a
bad motive underneath a good one, permeates human affairs
from top to bottom. This subtle and elusive kind of self-righteousness
can underlie the smallest act or thought. Learning daily
to spot, admit, and correct these flaws is the essence of
character-building and good living. An honest regret for
harms done, a genuine gratitude for blessings received,
and a willingness to try for better things tomorrow will
be the permanent assets we shall seek.
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