Share Magazine


Share is the official magazine of Alcoholics Anonymous in England and Wales, and is published monthly. Its thirty six pages are a source of sober views and ideas on the world-wide fellowship and its programme of recovery from alcoholism. Each edition focuses on a Step and Tradition as well as a special theme and is divided into articles reflecting experience, strength and hope. All content is written and edited by members of AA.

Here are two articles – friendly to the non-theist in Alcoholics Anonymous –  from Share Magazine.

Nine Thousand Four Hundred And Eight Hours

By Karen
January, 2015

Recovery from alcoholism has been definitely one of the best decisions I could have made. I believe it was my decision to get sober, not anyone else’s. It had been suggested by friends and well-meaning others that I perhaps should cut down or stop drinking altogether. I’m not saying I didn’t listen to the advice on offer but ultimately it was only when I wanted sobriety in my life that I got it.

I guess I was putting it off during my 30s as I felt I needed alcohol to have fun or to dampen out uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. For a while alcohol did just that and often I had lots of fun drinking. However, over time the fun stopped and the anaesthetic properties slowly began to dissipate. I was left with the rawness of those uncomfortable thoughts as well as a sore stomach. Alcoholism began making me very unwell, affecting me both physically and mentally. I also stopped socialising at drinking events as I became a liability to myself and those around me.

Deep down I knew I couldn’t do controlled drinking but defiantly I gave it a go; the last year of my controlled drinking was agonising. I just couldn’t stop, well at least I thought so. I had heard of Alcoholics Anonymous a few years before getting sober and had attended a few meetings. I instantly felt it wasn’t for me as there was much talk of Higher Powers and God. Not being a believer in God I was unable to take those meetings seriously and quickly decided AA was not where I needed to be. Sadly, this meant I headed for the familiar local off-licence, I knew them well and they always welcomed me; no talk of Higher Powers  there.

August 2013 I woke up after a blackout drinking episode, scared and in pain, knowing I needed help. I self-referred to a local alcohol and drug service where I received invaluable support and help. After a year or so I managed to stop drinking! I think I got to the point of approaching 40 and I felt I had to stop drinking or else i would end up dying from alcohol-related illness, or succumb to a horrific accident. Either way I was very scared and didn’t want my life to end so prematurely, not if I could do something about it.

As with many free alcohol and drug services the help available is time limited. I needed to find support elsewhere. This is when I realised I could get support from AA so off I went in search of meetings where I felt comfortable. At first the meetings were very similar to those I had dismissed years before. Though, this time I did keep going back, as was suggested by those who had already managed to get sober. After a few meetings I realised I honestly couldn’t relate to all the talk of God or believe in a Higher Power, not as a supernatural  entity.

I managed to seek out a local atheist and agnostic meeting and still attend these weekly meetings. I really feel that the understanding I receive at these AAAA meetings is helping me to remain sober. I can relate to other people who attend who also don’t have faith in a God and I am certainly encouraged by the fact that such members of AA have several years’ sobriety. At the time I write this I am fortunate to have 9,408 hours’ sobriety, with the support and fellowship I have found within AA. This time around I am sure I will keep coming back!


An Agnostic-Atheist View

By Nick C.
March, 2015

On the back of every chip that we receive for another year’s sobriety is that statement “to thine own self be true”. This is the guiding principle of my recovery.

My drinking past I guess is much the same as yours as otherwise we wouldn’t be in the same Fellowship so I think it’s best to spare you the details. I would prefer to talk about how I approach my recovery as I hope, in part, it will serve as a message of hope for others who are in the same position or feel the way I do.

When I came into recovery I was blessed with knowing other people for whom AA had worked. When I sat down in my first meeting I paid little attention to what was written on the scrolls as I knew the Steps were something that I had to do if I wanted what long term sober members had.

I threw myself in with great gusto, doing everything that was suggested without question. To be honest I was too broken to argue and too tired of my drinking thinking to get involved in mental debates about the nature of what I was doing. Some things frightened me from the outset but I pushed them out of my mind: “You won’t get sober or stay sober without a Higher Power in your life.” All too often it was clear to me that these words Higher Power were being used as a way of meaning a Judeo Christian concept in particular. Some meetings even featured the Lord’s Prayer, which further compounded this feeling.

Keep your head down, I thought, you need this to work. Don’t rock the boat. I tried to follow the suggestions and got on my knees and pray but didn’t feel the solace the others found from it. Quite the reverse, it just felt dishonest. Like I was doing something that I was meant to do because “that’s what you do”, not something that felt right for me. I became increasingly convinced that if there was a God or Gods my communication with them actually mattered very little. What did my prayers matter against the universe? I knew I wasn’t running the show but I felt trapped. This situation went on for four years.

Halfway through year four-five the feeling of lying and being trapped intensified to such an extent I realised my sobriety depended on my rigorous honesty. Just like when I came into recovery it had felt like the options before me were to get sober or die. I had to admit to myself and others that I felt that for me what others called “acting as if” had become lying.

I was sober, I attended meetings, I had a sponsor, and I had worked the Steps to the best of my ability. My life had changed for the better but a Higher Power of any sort was not a feature of my recovery neither was prayer. I knew I still had a place in recovery as it was working for me. But “to mine own self” I also knew I had to be true.

I came to a way of thinking that if I existed there must be others like me who felt the same. Moreover I felt a sense of duty to others in the same position as me to be rigorously honest about my position – maybe this would help others not feel as lonely as I had done or even prevent them from leaving. It was about this time that I found the agnostic and atheist rooms of AA. How had it taken me that long to realise there was a whole group of people who felt like me?

I was hesitant at first however. Were they secretly trying to bring down AA from the inside? Did they secretly hate us? I was and still am very grateful to AA and I didn’t want to be part of anything that compromised the Fellowship. Some of my friends warned me against going to agnostic-atheist meetings for this reason but I decided that I owed it to myself to find out for myself.

What I found there were people like me, long sober but who remained unsure about God’s existence or simply did not believe in any God concept. One thing that stood out for me about these meetings was just how helpful they were for newcomers who often, but not exclusively, had tried AA in the past and who had been put off by the God concept. Bluntly put, people who would otherwise be “out there” were attending meetings and finding sobriety.

These days I attend a variety of meetings both atheist and agnostic and more mainstream. I have no issue with anyone believing anything they like. It still puzzles and amuses me though that the same isn’t always the case for other members who find my atheism challenging. All I have is my truth. It is crazy pretending to be something I am not.

Coming up to eight years sober, I am living proof that long-term sobriety is possible for the agnostic-atheist member. I have seen no proof that the members of agnostic-atheist meetings are more likely to relapse or go back out there than those attending regular meetings. For me the key to my sobriety is an admission of my ongoing powerlessness against alcohol and the sense of humility in Steps Two and Three that I am not in charge (even if I don’t believe anything else is).

Our British friends have much less difficulty with religion in AA than we alcoholics do in North America. They often seem a bit perplexed by the problems we agnostics and atheists encounter in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous in Canada and the United States.

There is a reason for that. The British are in fact less prone to religiosity and this includes at AA meetings. A recent worldwide poll demonstrated this. Here is a link to a story published by The Telegraph: Britain one the “world’s least religious countries”, says poll.

Thanks to Laurie A. for all of the above.


12 Responses

  1. Duncan says:

    From the British Humanist Magazine: Religion and belief: some surveys and statistics

    In 2004, the BBC commissioned an ICM poll in ten countries examining levels of belief; participants from the United Kingdom tended to display markedly less religious belief then many of their counterparts. In response to the question ‘A belief in God (higher power) makes for a better human being’, 43% participants from the UK disagreed with this statement, substantially more than any other nationality.

    In the United States the picture of belief is quite different. However, it is important to note that in the USA, as with most of Europe, there is a marked decline in the level of belief; according to Gallup polling the number of people identifying as non-religious was 15% in 2013, up from 6% in 1995. A 2014 Pew poll, meanwhile, found that a third of 18-29 year olds now have no religious affiliation.

  2. Laurie A says:

    Belated PS: 53% not religious, 13% atheist probably reflects AA membership. Many talk of a higher power of sorts, hardly any are church-goers.

  3. Victoria says:

    Greetings from Australia – long time Agnostica reader here, and my first comment.

    I have to concur with Duncan’s analysis of the British situation, as it seems very very similar to what I’ve experienced here. Admittedly, my AA membership and participation is hardly a nationwide sample – namely, I spent the past 3 years in AA in mostly the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne and occasional forays into the inner city. Nevertheless, my, um, ‘sociological’ antennae kicked in throughout, so I can honestly proffer that there is very very little support for AAAA style among most members.

    On one hand, Central Office in Victoria did list the ONE and ONLY Australian secular meeting that started around a year ago (or was it two years?). Indeed, I went to its first or second meeting, but was unable to return due to night-time travel across several suburbs which is really hard for me (eyesight probs). Around and after that time, whenever I would call out its existence during meeting announcements time, the sniggering around the room confirmed for me the extent and depth of adherence (mostly blindly, at that) to the dominance of the conceit: ‘we’re spiritual, not religious’ and its many variants. All blatantly dishonest and immune to questioning.

    I am currently enduring one of several relapses of the past few years, and awaiting getting treatment in a rehab again. I am very conflicted within myself as to whether to even return to AA, as it’s come to feel more psychologically unsafe than therapeutic / healing for me.

    This is even made harder by the apparent surge of Back to Basics cabals in and around most meetings in my local area, including my old home group close to where I live. Indeed, the sponsor I took the Steps with during my 7 months sobriety last year turned out to be one of them: she took me through the Steps over 10 weeks or so, using the bloody Wally P workbook. She had us both reading in call and response from it, including saying the friggin’ 3rd Step prayer with full godly harmonics and language :-). I did refuse to kneel. I also attended a ‘Steps workshop’ one Saturday – it too turned out to consist of a hardliner old-timer guy reading verbatim from a similar script. All but me present declared the session over half a day ‘amazing! wonderful!’ I just felt like I’d endured a robotic class in a cult. Hideous.

    My apologies for ranting a bit. But if I can’t say it here, then where????

    Thank the ‘powers’ or whatever anyway, for Agnostica and all who sail in her.

  4. Duncan says:

    Laurie I think it is fair to say being an atheist in the UK is now commonplace whilst it was not some 37 years ago. However to be a religious extremist is not.

    North America still has that problem to come.

  5. Duncan says:

    Hi John L, I don’t have a copy of the video but I will ask around to see if anyone has. It was presented by Cliff Michelmore. Perhaps Laurie A might be able to find one. I could only guess that this video was produced about 1986 or so but maybe even earlier. It was of course on old video tape.

  6. Laurie A says:

    I was member of the Share editorial team from 2001-7 including three as editor and read hundreds of stories submitted by readers. There were very few from atheists/agnostics – but also very few from hard-line religionists. My anecdotal experience from attending thousands of meetings over the past 30 years is that it is not about God in the sense that it seems to be in some areas of the US. Most meetings are pragmatic and recovery based, though of course we have our share of fanatics. When AA started in Britain it rejected the Lord’s prayer as a way of ending meetings and substituted the Serenity prayer, which didn’t disturb even Dartmoor Bill, a lifelong atheist who was Britain’s longest sober member (53 years) when he died in 2006. He and other pioneers like Plaistow Bill, Jewish Joe (who thought the Steps were ‘a load of nonsense’ when I asked him about them) just went to meetings, made friends and helped the newcomer with comradeship. The British fellowship had no Big Books when it started in London in 1947, so Bill W. visited Britain in 1950 and arranged for a number of copies to be sent from New York. We speak as we find and my limited experience suggests AA is not that different from when I arrived in 1984. The most unwelcome development has been the fundamentalist Road to Recovery and Primary Purpose groups, but they are a small minority. Nothing to be proud of certainly, but nothing to be ashamed of either.

  7. John L. says:

    Very interesting. I’d love to see the video. If it’s a video cassette tape, these are easy to convert to MP4 or other video formats.

    You mentioned that when you came in, “there really was not much religion involved at all. Things like the Big Book were seldom mentioned to newcomers as the priority was to get people sober.” This was my experience too, when I got sober in New York City in 1968. The 24-Hour Plan was top priority, while the Big Book was often mentioned condescendingly, at least in the Perry Street Workshop. Even the more religious groups, like New Day, had a lot of irreverent humor. On my website I’ve added a statement on the 24-Hour Plan, taken from A Manual For Alcoholics, Akron ca. 1939 or 1940.

  8. Duncan says:

    Whilst it is true that we in UK don’t have the extreme religious problems you have in North America and it is also true that Britain is one of the least religious countries in the world, I must ask why is this not so in AA. Why is AA in the UK, apparently, so holy? Why does AA not represent the religious views of this country?

    One thing I am absolutely certain about is that it not an age related thing and that the younger generation will take over and do newer things than the old ones did. When I first came into AA in UK in 1977 there really was not much religion involved at all. Things like the Big Book were seldom mentioned to newcomers as the priority was to get people sober. I can remember when the biggest religious debates seemed to be to tell Catholics how not to drink Communion Wine etc… Of course some meetings were “heavier” than others but essentially AA was pretty much religion free. I think that was why the UK is so far behind North America with Atheist/Agnostic meetings as really there was little requirement here. It really was a case of if you had a God then utilise him or her and if you did not then take from AA what it could give you. If it had been Godlike as it seems to be in North America I would not have touched it with a barge pole as I have always been atheist. However what it did do was to make me tolerate religious people especially those who suffered from alcoholism.

    I remember too the official AA UK video to introduce AA to the public. When it came to the God question it put it very simply. I would say this was about 1986. It said many in AA accepted the Christian traditional God, yet more turned it into a Higher Power and made their own conception but for many more the word God had no meaning whatsoever. You could take your pick God or no-God just get sober. Now I could not imagine anyone today in AA who has only about 15 years-20 years of sobriety in UK even contemplating such an official AA video even existed.

    Why is this? Even the material sent by Laurie A by Share magazine does not represent the ratio of believers to non believers in UK. This is probably about 2 shares over a 3 month period when about 18 or so were admitted in the same time scale. It is totally false and is why so many are at risk in the UK or will find other methods to stay sober.

    OK we don’t have the same problems as you do in North America but we have nothing to be proud of.

  9. Lon Mc. says:

    Thanks, Roger, for Laurie A’s selections that make others’ AA experiences a great comfort to witness. It is much easier for me to continue to grow in and enjoy sober living when it is not handicapped by my own prior efforts to incorporate disbelieved and sometimes deleterious religious dogma. The greater visibility of fundamentalist Christian influences in AA in the USA does not feel good when it is used to suggest that I cannot stay sober if I do not re-establish a God-belief and practice a religion generated morality in AA. I’m told that not only will I not stay sober, but according to some I will go to hell when I die. Well, not only has my 31 years of sobriety in AA given me longevity in truly sober living, it has permitted me a clear head to understand that a well considered secular morality is more pure, “rational” and easier to live by than a religion-based morality that uncomfortably conflicts with reason and is contaminated by sometimes destructive dogma.

  10. Dorothy D. says:

    Keep up the good work.

  11. Roger says:

    Early on we had a technical glitch and couldn’t post comments. Sorry about that folks.

  12. Thomas B. says:

    Wonderful articles from a society and culture that is more enlightened and civil than we experience here in North America. I especially enjoyed also the Telegraph article about Britain being one of the least religious countries. Don’t think we can say the same about the good, ole US of E and our neighbors to the north. I read an article this week on Huffington Post last year that 61% of American support prayer in schools.

    At the Beyond Belief meeting in Portland this morning one newcomer celebrated 60 days, another was at his second meeting and two people shared who are returning from recent slips. Each of them mentioned in their shares that they were so grateful to find our open, non-religious meeting and felt much more comfortable with us than at other meetings where the focus is on God and more god…

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