A Tenth Step Annual Review

A brief observation:

In the Big Book, there are two different types of inventories mentioned in Steps Ten and Eleven:

  • the moment by moment/spot-check inventory, talked about 6 times
  • the day’s end inventory, mentioned only once and only in the context of Step 11

In the 12 & 12, there are three types of inventories mentioned in the context of Step Ten (and none in the context of Step Eleven):

  • the moment by moment/spot-check inventory, mentioned 15 times,
  • the day’s end inventory, mentioned twice,
  • and there is a new one, the monthly/annual inventory, mentioned four times.

So…. There is considerably more emphasis on the annual and semi-annual review than there is on a daily journal/ diary style inventory, and still more on “the quick inventory… aimed at our daily ups and downs, especially those where people or new events throw us off balance and tempt us to make mistakes” (Twelve  91)

Here’s a fun discussion question to bring up at your next 12 step meeting:

Why do we talk about the 10th step as being a journal/diary writing exercise when it is mostly described  in the literature as being either (1) something we do in the middle of the day, right when we experience emotional upset or  (2) something we do once or twice a year?

Another fun question:

Why is the daily inventory discussed in the context of step 11 in the Big Book but not so in the 12 & 12 (written fifteen years later)?

What we are looking for in an inventory

Here follows a general guide to the annual review I’ve been doing for several years, a way of checking to see if I have indeed “entered the world of the Spirit.” It is based (at least initially) on a thorough understanding of Step Four’s “fearless” investigation of resentments, fears, and sexual misconduct. It then touches on character defects, takes stock of who in my life needs an amend, and then checks to see if I’m doing the deal – If I’ve been GENUINELY attempting to live a more spiritual, recovery-oriented lifestyle (or just playing at it).

I started completing a yearly review during the month leading up to my recovery birthday as a way of examining three areas of my life:

  1. Assets: Recognizing growth and new opportunities for gratitude
  2. Liabilities: Taking an honest look at the areas in my life which are not in balance, character defects which have grown, new fears or resentments or selfish attitudes which have taken root while simultaneously noting which character defects have diminished but might still need work.
  3. Direction: Asking God for guidance; specifically: where should I put my energies next?

My annual review is based on the literature but is by no means the only way or even the “right” way to challenge complacency and take stock of growth — what follows is only what I do and have done in the past.

Feel free to steal it, change it, or ignore it completely. Here is my suggestion: look at a few questions taken from the reference literature, then write out a response. I suggest you make each series of questions a prompt for targeted writing.

Some may be tempted to use this guide as a conversation starter.

Don’t do that.



(Note for the sticklers: The color is OF COURSE unimportant. Use white and blue, or white and purple, or whatever… the color ink you are using matters not at all)


Here we go!

Now 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.

(Twelve 92)

  • What has God done in my life during the past year?
  • How have my circumstances changed for the better?
  • How has my attitude and outlook on life become increasingly positive?
  • What was I like a year ago and how am I a more solid member of recovery, more well-rounded, serene person today?

The consideration of long-standing difficulties had better be postponed, when possible, to times deliberately set aside for that purpose.

(Twelve 90)

  • Are there any residual issues I’ve just not been dealing with?
  • What have I been delaying?
  • What have I neglected (by mistake/on purpose) to talk about with my sponsor?

Finally, 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.

(Twelve 92)

  • How have I become more (or less) tolerant?
  • How have I practiced “real love for my fellows?”
  • How am I allowing myself to get hurt or angry by people who are suffering the pains of growing up?

Courtesy, kindness, justice, and love are the keynotes by which we may come into harmony with practically anybody.

(Twelve 92)

  • How am I getting better (or getting worse) at practicing courtesy?
  • Kindness?
  • Justice?
  • Love?

We feel that elimination of our drinking is but a beginning. A much more important demonstration of our principles lies before us in our respective homes, occupations and affairs. All of us spend much of our spare time in the sort of effort which we are going to describe.

(BB 19)

  • Have I treated AA as a means of stopping drinking and getting on with a self-centered (now I get to do what I want) kind of life?
  • Have I treated staying clean and sober as a necessary but ONLY initial step?
  • Have the people who’ve listened to me share at meetings think I’m dedicated to growth or comfortable in old success and complacent?
  • How have I been doing at passing on the message of recovery? Do I need to do better?
  • How has my home and work life been altered by living the principles of the program?
  • Is much of my free time devoted to helping others find a solution to their problems with addiction or am I stingy with my “spare time?”

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.

(BB 84)

  • How has selfishness continued to control my behavior?
  • In what ways do I tend to practice dishonesty?
  • What new resentments have I piled up during the past year? Are there any resentments that are carried over from years past that I’m just not addressing adequately?
  • How am I practicing the code of love and tolerance?

Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. “How can I best serve Thee, Thy will (not mine) be done.” These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will.

(BB 85)

  • What is my vision of God’s will for my life?
  • How has that vision changed over the past year?
  • What areas of my life am I withholding from God’s will?
  • What areas of my life do I neglect to mention in prayer or never think to pray about at all?

What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life?

(BB 86)

  • What habits did I get into which were helpful? destructive? self-serving?
  • How am I getting better in terms of thinking of others first, thinking of myself second?
  • What am I contributing to the welfare of those about me?
  • How am I ‘packing something good into the stream of life?”


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.

(Twelve 93)

  • What permanent assets am I seeking?
  • Have I sought any assets at all or have I just been “making do?”

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

It is only a jump start— each of us goes through periods when a particular area of life becomes more important than others or when a particular issue is more challenging. This is completely normal and does not mean the sky is falling….

Remember: Balance!

I know of at least one person who turns their tenth step into a piece of ART THERAPY. It’s a great idea if you are so inclined. Here’s an example:


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