If you’ve been reading the other articles in this series, it should be quite clear by now that the Twelve Promises all relate to changes in our thinking. Our actions, emotions and thought patterns are all intertwined. The Twelve Promises are generally called the Ninth Step Promises, because our thinking changes quite drastically when working Step Nine. But even long before we reach Step Nine, many of us make great strides toward fulfilling the Twelve Promises. In the case of the Tenth Promise, the key toward progress will be to change the way we define a few things.
Perhaps it sounds a little silly to suggest that fulfilling the Tenth Promise would be as simple as playing with semantics. But language is a powerful medium, one completely unique to our species. Every word has two meanings—it’s dictionary definition, and the way we respond to the word on a personal level. If you were to take a sentence and change out every word for one of its synonyms, the sentence might have the same literal meaning yet strike a completely different tone. Our knowledge of the statement’s meaning would remain the same, but our feelings toward it would change.
Now, imagine applying this idea to your deepest fears. Think of synonyms for everything that worries you or makes you nervous. Then, find relatively harmless ways of describing each thing. Perhaps doing so would reveal that these fears weren’t so terrifying after all. This is essentially the sort of thinking that will help you reach fulfillment of the Tenth Promise. Below, we’ll discuss the Tenth Promise as a whole before splitting it into two parts for more thorough analysis. We hope that this will help you to improve your thinking in a positive way.
Fulfilling the Tenth Promise
As originally written in Alcoholics Anonymous, the Tenth Promise states:
“Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.”
If you’ve followed the other articles in this series, you might notice something interesting about the Tenth Promise. Remember that the Twelve Promises appear on pages 83 and 84 of Alcoholics Anonymous. Also remember that, in prose form, there are only eleven sentences. This is because one sentence was split up to make the Third Promise and the Fourth Promise. But why keep the Tenth Promise intact? After all, doesn’t it essentially present us with two completely different ideas?
Not really. People and economic insecurity might be separate fears, but they share many similarities. First of all, both fears often arise out of selfishness. We fear people when we worry that they may affect our reputation or social status. Economic insecurity sounds like a more reasonable fear, but this isn’t always the case. Many of us feel insecure when we technically possess far more than we need. Not content to live on necessities, we feel that true economic security should allow us to fulfill our wants as well as our needs.
Second, both fears are in many ways illusory. In some instances, a rational concern for people or money might be justified. But we quite often harbor fears that serve no benefit whatsoever. We don’t talk to someone at a meeting because we don’t know what to say. A man fears that he will lose his job because he was passed up for a promotion. In some instances, these fears create self-fulfilling prophecies. Scared of making a bad impression, we ignore someone and come across as aloof. Nervous that he will lose his job, a man has trouble focusing. Soon, his work suffers and his boss lets him go. In both cases, it was the fear itself that wrought consequences. This resembles a quote from the 2008 family film Kung Fu Panda:
“One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it.”
By letting fear run our lives, we accomplish nothing other than allowing ourselves to suffer the consequences of those fears. Fear of other people and of economic insecurity might occasionally seem justified, but not if these concerns cause us to think irrationally. And if we don’t learn to embrace the lessons of the Tenth Promise, the results of this irrational thinking could prove to be quite detrimental.
The Fear of Other People
When we fear others, we often behave differently around them. Addicts and alcoholics often struggle with honesty. At times, they lie when the truth would do just fine. This is especially true when they fear judgment by another person. Such fear causes us to lie about not only outward concerns, but inward concerns as well. Our fear of others becomes so great that we actually begin to lie about who we are. Over time, even we may be convinced of our lies. Fear changes us so much that we aren’t even entirely sure who we are anymore.
Fear of people also results in a great deal of isolation. When we fear judgment by others, it’s easier to simply avoid them. We sit at home and drink or do drugs and pretend that nothing outside our front door can get to us. Every once in a while, life does force us out the door. And when this happens, we put on masks. We either try to blend in with our surroundings, or we try to appear larger than life. Perhaps not every addict prescribes to one of these two behaviors, but many of us do. Either we strive for perfection so as to impress others, or we hide our light under a bushel where no one—including ourselves—can find it.
Chapter 5 of Alcoholics Anonymous (“How It Works”) reminds us that others are not perfect, either. This point is made in what many call the “Sick Man’s Prayer,” a section of the book that tells us to pray for those who hurt us. But perhaps this type of prayer helps us overcome more than just our resentments. We realize that those we despise are dealing with their own internal struggles. What some of us do not realize as quickly is that those we love are dealing with their own struggles as well. No one is perfect, nor does anyone approach life with positivity 100% of the time. When we fear the judgment of others, we fear the judgment of people who are often exactly like us.
By giving ourselves a chance to shine, we give others a chance to accept us as we are. If we’re successful, everyone wins. Everyone gains a new friend, a new ally in the struggle to make it on this world. No fear should deprive us of such a necessary joy. The Tenth Promise means that we don’t have to be alone anymore. Perhaps putting ourselves back out there will be scary at first. But our fears should pale in comparison to our excitement at the joys that await us. The world is only a scary place if we let it get under our skin. This is why we face our fears head-on by going out and being a part of things. Whether in AA, NA, or even the grocery store, we can make new friends at every turn. All we must do is try.
Fear of Economic Insecurity
This part of the Tenth Promise might be just a bit tougher. Economic insecurity is, after all, often based on our reality. When we enter recovery, many of us have lost just about everything. Now, we’re just trying to get back on our feet. It will be a long process for some of us. Naturally, some will worry that everything they’ve gained since sobriety may be lost again at the drop of a hat. We lack faith in our jobs, our employers, and ourselves. Perhaps a few people try to tell us that money isn’t that important. But it’s difficult to embrace this teaching when the IRS and debt collectors are telling us differently.
Before we continue, stop for a second and look around you. Are you at home? Is there furniture there? Do you have a bed to sleep on? What about a refrigerator? Is there enough food in there to get you through the next couple of days? Are there enough clothes in your dresser to get you through the season? If you can afford an internet connection to read this article, you might not be doing as poorly as you thought. These all sound like basic necessities, but they are luxuries to many people.
When we first hear the Tenth Promise, it’s easy to misinterpret it. Is it saying that economic insecurity will disappear because we’ll make more money? If we struggled to find employment while we were addicted, this might be the case. But the Tenth Promise also sees fulfillment when we simply stop worrying so much. Yes, we have financial obligations that must be met. Times may be tough, and we won’t always get by easily. Nevertheless, we can get by if we work hard and sacrifice some luxuries. Don’t focus on the dream life you’d prefer to live in a few years. Focus on what you absolutely need in order to be healthy and happy today. In doing so, you may realize that you actually have very little to fear.
Many will begin to see the Tenth Promise fulfilled in their lives long before they reach Step Nine. Others may see one half of the Tenth Promise fulfilled before the other. Either way, we must remember that there is far more to life than money and reputation. If we focus too much on our financial life, we put the cart before the horse. After all, what good is financial stability if it doesn’t help us to improve our lives? We must find a balance that allows us to fulfill our basic obligations while still pursuing growth of a spiritual nature. In doing so, we become ready to stop worrying and to start allowing the Tenth Promise to usher us toward a better way of life.