Episode 37: Step 10 with Benn and John

By John S.

It was nice to catch up with Benn and talk about Step Ten, the first of the three maintenance steps. This step calls for us to continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong, to promptly admit it. It can be done as a review at the end of the day, or as a spot check inventory during the day. It might also, according to the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, include a semiannual or annual housecleaning.

I believe this step is vital to my sobriety because it keeps me grounded in reality and free from anger, resentment and fear as much as is possible. It’s dangerous for me to get too carried away with resentment because that’s how I lie to myself and the most dangerous lie that I’ve ever believed was that somehow this time, it would be different, that I could drink and get away with it.

It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.

—Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 90

Though it’s referred to as a “spiritual axiom”, one can think of it without the modifier, as simply an axiom. It’s an idea or a principle, a simple truth to remember. When I am angry, resentful or afraid, there’s something wrong. There’s something to which I need to pay attention. There is some action I need to take to settle down the emotional storm that’s brewing inside of me, and this is where Step Ten comes into play.

As I interact with people, I will inevitably encounter conflict and sometimes I may not handle myself appropriately. This may result in feelings of anger or fear and may even lead into resentment. As soon as I start feeling these emotions, I can stop and check myself to see why I feel as I do. I can ask myself where was I selfish, self-seeking, dishonest or afraid? Once I understand my part in the situation, then I can take action and for me that means admitting to the person where I was wrong. I do this too. I don’t merely say that I’m sorry, but I tell the person that I was wrong for what I did, what I said or how I reacted. That to me means much more than an apology.

In some cases, I may get in an argument with someone and be absolutely right. However, being right doesn’t mean that I won’t get resentful. In fact sometimes being right makes it even more difficult because my anger is so justified. In these instances, I can go to the person and acknowledge where my actions were wrong. Yes, though I may feel that I am right about something, that doesn’t give me the right to lash out at another person or to spoil my other relationships by continuing to replay the resentment in my head.

Today, I am very much in tune with my feelings and emotions and I know to stop and reflect on what is going on, and when necessary to admit to another person when I m wrong. This helps me live with integrity, to develop self-honesty and to continue the long process of character building. That I think is the essence of Step 10.

I hope you enjoy the podcast. Thank you Benn for all of your help and support in putting these together.

Mentioned in the Podcast

Rev. Ward Ewing’s Talk at WAAFT IAAC in November, 2014. Reverend Ewing is the Chair Emeritus of the General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was a keynote speaker at the first We Agnostics, Atheists and Freethinkers International AA Convention. Two years later those of us who were in the audience are still talking about his speech.

WAAFT Central provides an international service network and a central location for sharing resources to support agnostics, atheists and freethinkers in AA, and to make AA as a whole more inclusive. We hope to eliminate the cultural bias against nonbelievers that sometimes exists in AA, and we feel that through sharing our experience, strength, and hope as nonbelievers, we will help widen the gateway to recovery for all, making AA even more accessible and welcoming to a greater number of people.


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  1. Peter T. November 10, 2016 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    By the way… another great podcast.  I agree. with a few years of sobriety – and I like to substitute “maturity” or even “stability” for that word – I find I don’t have to review my day each day.  I can catch myself as soon as I’m about to do something in the wrong, pause and think about a more enlightened action.  If I have misbehaved, I know it and it stays with me until I address it, I don’t have to wait until it’s inventory time.

    I can’t wait to hear your take on step 11 🙂  It recently dawned on me, step 11 is a great argument for eliminating the Lord’s Prayer from the rooms:  It’s beyond “praying only for knowledge etc.” but a bit of a grant me this/that list.  It also paints a picture of god as you should understand him, not how you might.  I’m looking forward to sharing that at my local step 11 meetings 😉


    • Benn November 19, 2016 at 11:58 pm Reply

      Thanks for the feedback Peter and great to meet you in Austin … and thank you for lunch! Look forward to keeping in touch online!

      Yes, I have thought about how The Lord’s Prayer violates the “praying only for knowledge of HIS will for us …” 🙂 So contradictory, all this AA mumbo jumbo 🙂

  2. Peter T. November 10, 2016 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    Sorry to hijack forums for this… you can delete this after today (11/10).

    I’m in Austin (at the Crowne Plaza) but didn’t think to make connections ahead of time.  John – you said you were going to be coming to Austin Thursday, hoping to meet you if you get in early enough and aren’t too tired from your trip.

    If anyone is here in Austin and wants to connect, please reply here or send me an email






    Peter T from Vermont

    • John S November 10, 2016 at 5:02 pm Reply

      Hi Peter, I am in my way. I am in Oklahoma City right now in an RV with others from my group. I should be there by 11:00 pm tonight.

      See you soon.


  3. David B November 1, 2016 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    Hey, John:

    I’m an agnostic (meaning: I really have no opinion about God one way or the other) and a member of AA. I attend meetings regularly, work the steps, have a sponsor, and have been sober for a little over two years.

    I started listening to your podcasts mainly so that I might hear AA’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions from an agnostic/atheist/non-theist point of view. Sadly, however, the pattern seems to be (and this episode is a good example), that you and your guest might start on a topic, say the 10th Step, and then spend the majority of the podcast just beating up on AA and talking about how fucked up and wrong it is. I get that you don’t share the religious POV of like 80 per cent of the membership, but I also think that the 1st Tradition is helpful here: Our common welfare should come FIRST. Personal recovery depends on AA unity. Much of what I hear (and I have to admit to having been turned off to the podcasts in general) is just useless complaint and, ironically, a “holier than thou” attitude about how much “better” AAs you are than the rest.

    I really don’t mean to be critical, I just felt motivated to be completely honest with you about how your programming strikes me–and I’m part of your key demographic! Maybe it’s me; maybe I need to do a 10th Step on this whole thing and get to the bottom of why it’s bugging me, but I really would like to hear more about the Steps and Traditions and less about why y’all disagree with AA. I’ve managed to reconcile my buddhist practise, the AA programme, and my agnosticism quite ably, but it’s taken a lot of time and discussion, and it’s taken an open mind.

    I wish you all the best, and will continue to listen with a hopeful ear.


    Yours in Service,

    David B.



    • John S January 2, 2017 at 11:04 pm Reply

      I appreciate the criticism. We may look at doing in the near future a more serious study of the Big Book from a secular perspective, it’s something that I’ve been interested in for some time, and I think there is a need for it. The conversations that Benn and I have are totally unplanned
      and unrehearsed and take on a direction of their own.

      I’ll need to listen to this one again as I don’t quite recall where we went astray. I know that we do offer criticism of some aspects of AA, but we also try to bring the Steps to their essential core action. I think the actions we take are far more important than the beliefs.

      I’ll let you know as we get close to having that study of the Big Book. I’m not sure if I will be the one doing it or not, but I like the idea.

      Thanks for listening and for giving us your feedback.

    • Benn B January 2, 2017 at 9:22 pm Reply

      Sorry to hear you feel that way David. You have the right to feel that way and have that opinion. I don’t believe we are asking anyone to agree with us. It is merely a discussion about our personal experience and what we have learned FOR US (for me) that is working for us (for me). If anything I hope the podcast allows people to have their own perspective … whether that’s agreeing with us or not.

      Yes, unity is important in AA, but I don’t think that means we have uniformity in AA. It’s OK to disagree. I personally don’t feel like I need to edit myself or my experiences for the sake of the ideal of unity. I don’t think that’s the purpose of Tradition One … also the traditions are not rules, moreso “best practice” from what Bill W learned from what helped lead other sobriety minded groups astray in the past.

      Quoting “Tradition One” from the 12 and 12:

      We believe there isn’t a fellowship on earth which lavishes more devoted care upon its individual members; surely there is none which more jealously guards the individual’s right to think, talk, and act as he wishes.

      Bill Wilson himself said many things that seem to contradict early AA theology as he grew and evolved in recovery. I certainly don’t believe I’m better than anyone else in AA, but I’m also not going to diminish my growth and knowledge gain for the sake of keeping peace. This fellowship was designed to evolve and incorporate new knowledge about alcoholism over time, but that hasn’t seemed to happen for the most part. The early members got a lot right about “alcoholism” but there’s also a lot that has been learned since then.

      I do appreciate the feedback. My comments in reply by no means represent John S or AA Beyond Belief’s opinions but merely my own thoughts. I will leave a few quotes from Bill Wilson over the years.

      Co-founder of AA, Bill Wilson, wrote in 1958: “Today, the vast majority of us welcome any new light that can be thrown on the alcoholic’s mysterious and baffling malady… We are glad of any kind of education that accurately informs the public and changes its age-old attitude toward the drunk. More and more, we regard all who labor in the total field of alcoholism as our companions on a march from darkness into light.”

      “To some of us, the idea of substituting ‘good’ for ‘God’ in the Twelve Steps will seem like a watering down of AA’s message. But here we must remember that AA’s steps are suggestions only. A belief in them as they stand is not at all a requirement for membership among us. This liberty has made AA available to thousands who never would have tried at all had we insisted on the Twelve Steps just as written.” – Bill W.

      Bill W, AA Grapevine, Vol. 2 #2 (1965): “Newcomers are approaching AA at the rate of tens of thousands yearly. They represent almost every belief and attitude imaginable. We have atheists and agnostics. We have people of nearly every race, culture and religion. In AA we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a common suffering.  Consequently, the full individual liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy whatever should be a first consideration for us all. Let us not, therefore, pressure anyone with our individual or even our collective views. Let us instead accord each other the respect and love that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way toward the light. Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive; let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of AA, so long as he or she so declares.”

      So long as there is the slightest interest in sobriety, the most unmoral, the most anti-social, the most critical alcoholic may gather about him a few kindred spirits and announce to us that a new Alcoholics Anonymous Group has been formed. Anti-God, anti-medicine, anti-our Recovery Program, even anti-each other — these rampant individuals are still an AA Group if they think so!”

      In a 1966 letter, Bill Wilson wrote: “There are few absolutes inherent in the Twelve Steps. Most Steps are open to interpretation, based on the experience and outlook of the individual.  Consequently, the individual is free to start the steps at whatever point he can, or will.” (As Bill Sees It, page 191)

      We had to become much more inclusive and never, if possible, exclusive. We can never say to anyone (or insinuate) that he must agree with our formula or be excommunicated. The Atheist may stand up in an AA meeting denying God, yet reporting how he has been helped in other ways… we make no religious requirement of anyone. All people having an alcohol problem who wish to get rid of it and make a happy adjustment with the circumstances of their lives, become AA members by simply associating with us. Nothing but sincerity is asked of anyone. In this atmosphere, the orthodox, the unorthodox, and the unbeliever mix happily and usefully together, and in nearly every case great spiritual growth ensues.
      Pass It On, Pages 172-3, Quoting Bill Wilson regarding the split from the Oxford Group, 1984

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