According to the 2015 membership survey there are 3,650 AA groups in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) with between 33,000 and 40,000 AA members and over three million individual attendances at meetings each year. Share is the fellowship’s magazine for England and Wales; Scotland has its own magazine, the Roundabout.
The first AA meeting in Britain was held in London in March 1947 and Share’s predecessor, the Newsletter, appeared in January 1949, 25 typewritten, stencilled copies. The name changed to Share in 1972 and its current monthly circulation is about 3,500. Share has a similar format to the Grapevine though it has no paid staff, it is produced by AA members who rotate off the team after their term ends.
It is known as our ‘meeting between meetings’ or our ‘meeting in print’. Each issue includes personal stories, articles on the Steps, Traditions and Concepts,, letters, cartoons, news of groups opening and closing and dates of conventions’.
The following two articles were published in Share in the last few years.
We Are People Who Normally Would Not Mix
By Laurie A.
‘We are people who normally would not mix’ (Big Book, chapter two). I used to share at meetings that I worked in a heavy drinking job, I was a journalist. I stopped saying it when I heard a man say, ‘I work in a heavy drinking trade, I’m an undertaker’! I realised then that alcoholics tend to work in heavy drinking jobs. I didn’t have half a pint of bitter or gin and tonic to relax after a hard day, and then catch the train home to wife and family. Once in the pub I was there till closing time.
‘We are people who normally would not mix’. My first AA sponsor was a self-employed building plasterer who left school at 15. My second sponsor was a milkman. My current sponsor is a retired surgeon. One of my dearest AA friends is a Catholic priest, I’m a Quaker and an agnostic; I have a precious memory of saying the Serenity prayer with him while crossing the Sea of Galilee on a boat full of pilgrims to the Holy Land, though my understanding of the word God was nothing like his.
‘We are people who normally would not mix.’ Oh, I’d have mixed with you all right in some sordid bar where I hoped to find understanding companionship and approval. Momentarily I did, but it was the camaraderie of the condemned. In AA we learn that we have to hang together – or hang separately; that we live under a suspended death sentence, with only a daily reprieve from a fatal condition. That is the incentive and discipline which bind us together.
‘We are people who normally would not mix.’ In Al-Anon they say, ‘You might not like us all, but you will come to love us each in a very special way.’ There’s a story about an AA member washed up alone on a tiny desert island. Years later he is spotted from a passing liner and a lifeboat is sent to rescue him. One of the sailors greets him and says, ‘Why have you built those two huts on either end of your island?’ The AA member, pointing, said, ‘That one is my home group – and the other one is the meeting I don’t go to’! In a letter now in the AA archives co-founder Bill W. wrote, ‘AA will always have its traditionalists, fundamentalists and its relativists …’ people who normally would not mix. In a GRAPEVINE article he said, ‘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 that a new AA 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.’
‘We are people who normally would not mix.’ The long form of our Third Tradition states, ‘Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought AA membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.’ (My emphasis) WHERE TO FIND, our directory of AA groups in England, Scotland, Wales and continental Europe, lists women’s groups, lesbian and gay groups, Big Book Study groups, Step and Tradition groups, topic discussion groups, agnostic and atheist groups, meditation groups and others. But there is a vital proviso on the contents page which notes, ‘All groups in this directory are listed on the understanding that they are non-restrictive.’ No group can turn away anyone with a drink problem – or insist on any conditions for attending, such as telling a newcomer they must find God, get a sponsor or practise the Steps. AA’s many resources are freely available for anyone to use – but there are no instructions, no ‘you musts’. There’s room for us all in AA; the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.
‘We are people who normally would not mix.’ The book SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE, which the SHARE team produced to mark the British Fellowship’s 60th anniversary in 2007, and which is available from GSO at York, includes contributions from men and women, young and old, a blind man, gay members, religious believers – including a Muslim, and an atheist. It’s called the fellowship of the Spirit. Of course I have my share of problems, heartaches and disappointments. I’m not excused life’s ‘slings and arrows’ just because I’m sober. Happy, joyous and free 24/7/365? What an infantile delusion! As an active alcoholic I knew loneliness such as few do. In AA I found release from care, boredom and worry; my imagination was fired and life did mean something at last. I’ve enjoyed the most satisfactory years of my existence and made lifelong friends, in a fellowship who have escaped disaster together.
Copyright © Share Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Do ‘Chips’ Help or Hinder Our Primary Purpose?
By Laurie A.
Tradition Six: An AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
I don’t collect ‘chips’, the medallions given by some AA groups to mark members’ sobriety dates, but I made an exception on my 30th anniversary. I went to meetings of three groups that offer chips and collected one each for my wife, son and daughter; if anyone deserves a medal they do for not giving up on me in the dark drinking days and for encouraging me in recovery. They never stopped loving me.
I know some members feel giving and receiving chips is a positive way to celebrate sobriety but to me expecting recognition for staying sober would be like a drowning man calling for a round of applause after grabbing hold of a life-belt. As a US General Service Board committee set up in 1992 to consider the awarding of chips noted, ‘Any attempt to make medallions more than a symbol may lead perilously towards ego-inflation and self-glorification, rather than ego-deflation’ (see Tradition 12).
There are other aspects of the practice that concern me. AA does not authorise or produce chips (or jewellery, bumper stickers etc) and outside bodies that sell them to groups and at conventions are using the AA name and logo without AA’s permission. Do groups who issue them pay for them with money from the ‘pot’, money that should be used to carry the message to the still suffering alcoholic? Of course each group is autonomous, but should AA members be endorsing these products?
As far as I know AA in Great Britain has not had to defend its copyright to the circle and triangle logo in the courts but it was happening in America where the symbol was being exploited by all sorts of commercial enterprises including treatment centres. That abuse prompted the 1992 US Conference to ask the trustees to consider the problem and make recommendations.
The 1993 US Conference decided the use of medallions was a matter for local autonomy, but that it was not appropriate for AA World Services (AAWS) to produce or license the production of sobriety chips.
The committee had commented that ‘a public lawsuit is a public controversy, something in which our Tradition (10) says we may not engage.’ And, ‘The Seventh Tradition reminds us, “Experience has often warned us that nothing can so surely destroy our spiritual heritage as futile disputes over property, money or authority”.’
Of the circle and triangle logo it commented, ‘… we suspect that the belief that we (or anyone) can “possess” the symbol is a fallacy. It actually works against the foundation of the Steps that lead us to sobriety. Ownership necessarily involves control and to argue over that control through litigation takes the focus away from the fact that we are ultimately powerless…’
Immediately after the Conference the US General Service Board accepted AAWS’s recommendation to discontinue protecting the circle and triangle symbol as one of AA’s registered marks. The trustees also reached substantial unanimity in support of AAWS’s statement that, to avoid the suggestion of affiliation with outside goods and services, AAWS would phase out the ‘official’ or ‘legal’ use of the circle and triangle. As literature was due for reprinting, the symbol would be deleted.
The guidelines on copyright and logos in the Great Britain AA Service Handbook notes, ‘The General Service Board recognises only two logos. One incorporates the words Recovery, Unity and Service on the sides of the triangle; the other carries the words General Service Conference inside the circle.’ The guideline gives examples when the first logo may be used for AA purposes, and adds, ‘NB – permission for any other use can only be granted, in writing, by the Board.’
In 1990 en route to the international reunion in Seattle I visited Bill W.’s grave in Vermont. It was covered in chips from grateful members who had also made the pilgrimage to pay respects to our co-founder. Ironically, although Bill accepted awards on behalf of AA he always declined personal honours, calling himself just another drunk.
Copyright © Share Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Photograph of Bill W.’s grave taken by Roger “Hurricane” Wilson
About Laurie A.
Laurie A. is a retired national newspaper and BBC journalist in the UK. His sobriety date is 8/10/84. He served on the Great Britain AA literature committee and edited Share, the British fellowship’s national magazine, and Share and Share Alike, a book celebrating 60 years of AA in Britain in 2007.