The 10th Step of AA

By Eddie Walker 04/14/17

"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone..." is the first of the 10th step promises. It's also been the evasive one with me.

A man hugging himself and smiling.
Extreme indulgence?

I like the 10th step. I get to think about my favorite subject. At the extreme of indulgence, I might even regard that I'm being invited to muse about myself...infinitely. Consider; It begins, “Continued to...”. Pretty inviting. Rolls lightly off the tongue. More so anyway, than the hard-on losing, “We admitted…,” hmm? Or, the clunker that takes the cake, “Were entirely ready…”?

Back to earth and, if I have the stamina (which I do these days) to read more than five words at a clip, the dream turns somewhat darker. "...And when we were wrong..." - Isn't that so AA? To suggest that one might read both halves of a sentence! Or, adjacent chapters even: How It Works > Into Action. Right? Can't I just, "not drink and go to meetings"? Well, I could. But I might not get sane! Which is one of the things that the 10th step promises. Which, so it goes, is what I wanted to write about.

I was, it seems, doing a little of this step as I went out early today. Emerging from the NYC subway, I had this inkling or strong hunch that I was insane...Well, almost anything 'pathologic' that you could find in your standard textbook on the subject. As I trudged down 1st Avenue, my next instinctive thought was to check whether I was being too indulgent. I was, after all, going to call my sponsor momentarily. If I was suffering delusions of any sort, I certainly didn't want him to be the first to spot it. (Heaven forefend!) So, I did a little checking. Was this self-pity? Self-aggrandizement?

A strange thing then happened. I suddenly dropped what might have become a tedious mental wrestling match. (Was it grace? Was it hard-won wisdom? It doesn’t matter.) My mind had alit on the key word of the instigating thread of speculation: insane! "So what," I suddenly thought. "Who cares" if I'm insane! I don't do any of the morose, cruel, or even, criminal shit that percolates through my brain on a (still too) regular basis. I ran this revelation through my little 10th step spin-cycle ...and I was, by-and-large right! - I don't act out on any of the actual 'Friday the 13th' stuff. Or really, on the various doomsday scenarios illustrating the 'wreckage of my future,' either. I'm sober in AA, for chrissakes!

That put a little bounce in my step. Not too much, however. I didn't want to get... happy, exactly. Or, purposeful. (I've seen those two words appear together in the literature. I try to steer around them.) Those other pairs of words, I do want to remember however. "So what." "Who cares." Used with a dash of self-consideration, they're shorthand for "progress, not perfection." Andy Warhol, I'm told, used the former to great result upon his arrival to the big city. "So what...if I'm single." "So what...if I'm not good at sports." "So what...if Truman Capote throws my flowers in the garbage." You get the picture. Great tools.

"And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone..." is the first of the 10th step promises. It's also been the evasive one with me. Generally cleared of the harshest types of stinkin' thinkin', I often continue to live with an edge. I wasn't exactly born to "live and let live." I have this itch to correct. So, it was nice to get off the battlefield so quickly this morning. So what, if I'm insane. The main thing is that my actions are by-and-large sane (which takes a great strain off the "promptly admitting" part). This bit about sanity and action, is exactly what they were telling me about early on. They said that it would be a lot easier to "act my way" into living sober than it would be to try and "think my way" there. Action and more action, inches me toward the second of those 10th step promises, "For by this time sanity will have returned". - The hits just keep on coming.

The rest of those statements on what I, the alcoholic, might expect as I maintain the work which has gone before, reads to me like the pot at the end of the rainbow. To me they spell release from the deathly Hell I that I dwelt in. The 'damned if you do - damned if you don't' area. They resonate with me more directly than the loftier, and frankly, extravagant promises we hear so often read attached to the preceding step. Those actually do appear (sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly) in my life if I work for them, but don't rivet me the way the 10th step statements do.

I have a pet theory on why the guys (and I use that term loosely), went so far with those 9th step statements. This was the one they had to sell. They predicted, I imagine, that few would, as the circus barkers used to holler, "step right up" to this one. It was also, as they well recognized, the lynchpin of the fellowship. Not the program, mind you, but the fellowship. AA is a "takes two to tango" fellowship. - We don't celebrate Bill's last drink! So, on the 10th of June 1935, in one last desperate attempt to get sober, Dr. Bob manages to squeeze into his busy schedule (in this order) - a bottle of beer, a rectal operation, and what were to become the first nine steps of AA! If Bob comes home with only a list of persons he'd harmed...Bill W likely goes down in history, if at all, as just another sodden crank. Bob attributes his work that day as essential. So, if you ask me, they pulled out all the stops drumming up those 9th step promises. Not that I, in retrospect, mind. I too, am a sodden crank (at best) without both the gift of desperation and the gradual lure of the clunky text they intended to call: A Way Out.

Which brings me to the most absolute demonstration, in my experience, of the core transformative power of the AA work upon my instinctive responses. The story begins with me being tired and alone and carrying some accumulated irritations into a Montmartre cabaret in the city of Paris. Oh, poor guy! I know. I'm not looking for pity, (yet). I'd been sober for a while, but anyone who's attempted the geographic cure, can attest that feelings have no time zones. They crop up when and where they please. So mine are cropping up as I show up late for the show and am crammed into an ancient wooden booth among what must be a bunch of other weary travelers. There, trapped spatially, absent of effective language skills, and sandwiched between the chanteuse and the accordion's blare, I'm nudged by the ample Madame, the complimentary tumbler of house red.

The venue, I need to add, is Au Lapin Agile, whose previous name (prior to 1875, that is) was the Cabaret des Assassins. It is ancient. It is dark. It sits on the ass-ward side of the big butte (no pun intended) atop Paris. No one, absolutely no one knows I'm here. Not that they'd have an easy time locating me if they did - you have to walk between a vineyard and a cemetery to find the place - in the dark. I know that Picasso, Modigliani, and others of their crowd used to drink, and apparently sing here, of an evening. Could I paint a more perfectly sordid, remote or romantic landscape for me toss one back, as they say.

(Relapse, is the other word for it.)

The telling moment is that, stewing in the stuffy languor of it all, before Madam's wrist vacates my periphery, I grasp it. (Did I just do that?) Shocked at the rapidity of my response I'm, somewhat, further shocked that a complete French phrase emerges from my lips as a sort-of stage-whisper. "Perrier, s'il vous plaît." "...We will recoil from it as from a hot flame." Did that just happen? I heard those words in my head, 'Hot flame.' Damn, I thought! That was one of the 10th step promises! In action! All the way over here. The tumbler of red wine was removed by the big French lady. I had a sudden feeling that she couldn't care less what I drank or didn't drink. What a revelation. But not nearly as big as the revelation that I had instinctually acted assertively when my survival was jeopardized. Had I been a mother octopus, protecting her baby, my arm(s) couldn't have moved any quicker. I had been, "...placed in a position of neutrality - safe and protected." "That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition." I had made meetings during that trip to Paris, and I have continued to make meetings there on subsequent trips. I actually had a job one summer, and a flat, a stone's throw away from that cemetery and that vineyard. I still know less than one-hundred French words. I can hardly ever use them in a complete phrase. But on that day in the early summer of 1935, Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson became able to deliver to me and many others like myself a new sort of vocabulary. We have come to call it the language of the heart. And it spells recovery.

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