Bill H - Step 5 Set Me Free
A very important person in AA once told me, “Understand what the ideal relationship is, and if the one you’re about to enter into it isn’t like that, don’t enter into it”. If I don’t follow that guidance I end up lying to somebody and if I lie to one person I usually end up lying to everyone. He also tells me that when I’m feeling restless, irritable and discontented, that I should, “Sit with it Bill and the answer will come”. What does sit with it mean? It means just that. Fear has to be felt to be understood and to feel it, one has to not fight it, just sit with it.
The book says that we had to tell someone our whole life story. Everything, especially the things we feel so embarrassed about and so guilty about that we wouldn’t tell anyone under any circumstances what we did. That doesn’t mean I had to write a life story it means I had to tell someone everything, and most especially the things I felt guilty and embarrassed about. I did that and I was afraid of doing it, but I was more afraid of drinking. When I told my sponsor some of the stuff going on with me I was frightened that he would reject me out of hand. I was always scared that I would be rejected, that’s the main reason I drank and the main reason I lived so many lies. I wasn’t good enough as I was. I didn’t fit in because I was inferior to everyone else. So telling someone that my whole life was based on lies, that my whole being was one big fantasy, that I had done some horrible things to people, cheated, lied and manipulated everyone in my life to do things I wanted them to do, was big stuff for me. I was about to be exposed. All the stuff I hid behind was about to be torn down and I was scared shitless. But I have seen what it has done for people in the rooms. I could see what happened to those who have done these steps and I trusted the programme and more importantly I trusted my sponsor.
There is nothing that I have done that many of you guys haven’t done as well, though I took some convincing of that. I had to get over the illusion I have of myself that I’m something different. I’m no different to anyone else in the rooms, I’m just another drunk, no more, no less and the sooner I accept that and get over myself, the better. Step five was new territory for me, an unfamiliar path, but then this whole process is unfamiliar and scary. During the process I felt belittled and judged, but the only one judging me, was me as it happens. My sponsor was able to identify what was going on with me, was able to point me in the right direction, so I could see, what I was unable to see. What I have come to realise through taking others through the same process is that there is no threat to me or anyone else in a step five. The only threat, is to my ego. If I have some “take it to the grave” stuff, I put it at the front, because if I put it at the end, I will not be thinking about the wrongs I’m talking about, I’ll just be thinking and getting more fearful, about what’s coming and what will happen at the end. So if I want to be effective about this I take the worst stuff and talk about it first, so I can get past it and take notice and see what the rest of my inventory looks like.
What were the areas keeping me out of the sunlight of the spirit? What do I see in there that is preventing me from being close to GOD? That’s the kind of information I need to take into step 6 and 7 because if I don’t, I won’t know what it is that I’m asking GOD to remove and it’s about the willingness to be rid of these things. Where my sponsor was really helpful was in nailing exactly what the defects were, what the common thread throughout was, which for me was irrational fear. My dishonesty was caused by fear and ultimately that dishonesty caused even more fear. My resentments were born from irrational fear, my sex stuff and harms were all based in fear. So now I know that, I can be willing to let GOD remove it from me. So it’s important for me to understand the difference between fear and irrational fear. If I’m going to jump out of an aeroplane with a parachute, I’m going to experience fear, that’s a healthy fear because it’s not a natural thing to do and I can get over that fear if I really want to. Irrational fear has no basis in reality and is therefore less easy to identify and sometimes more difficult to get over, or at least it was with me. It blocks me from GOD and it stops me doing things. That’s the kind of fear I have and ask GOD to remove from me.
So once I had done this stuff, laid my life bare on the table, it was like someone I had been giving a piggy back ride to for years had just leapt off my back. My feet felt like sponges. The fifth step promise is that I will be able to look the world in the eye. And I could. Nay can. It is my experience that every step has a promise and if I do that step to the best of my ability it will come true. It has never failed me yet.
How free do I want to be? How desperate am I to remain the way I am and how much will I let my ego, get in the way?
When I’m afraid of something most of the time it is ridiculous, it doesn’t feel like it’s ridiculous, it feels real, otherwise I wouldn’t be afraid, but generally it’s fictitious, it’s unreal and it’s usually a lie. What do I mean by that? I go to sea for a living. I went to sea to run away from my life, in what I now understand to be a whole series of geographical’s. After I’d been ashore for a couple of years I found AA and I got stuck in the rooms. I was scared I’d be unable to walk into a room full of people, let alone a room full of alcoholics. I was scared to go back to sea and what I would find there. I would be surrounded by booze, cheap booze, the pressure would be on to drink and the position I was taking up meant I had to tell people what to do. I would get fearful because I know my natural reaction to pressure is to manipulate things, to lie and to control, just like the book says in “How it works”. I spoke to another member about it and she said to me. The answer is in that passage Bill. The clue is in the words. I am like the actor. It’s not OK for the actor to do that stuff, but you will be the director. It’s OK for directors to direct, it’s what they do. Just take the programme with you and do it with love. Well blow me down with a feather.
What I have learned through sponsorship myself is that there is nothing my sponsees have done that a whole heap of people in the rooms haven’t done too, and it’s the same for me. What I think is big stuff, keeping me blocked from GOD are lies, and in my case are based on unjustified fear. They are not real. I make them up, just the same as I made my life up.
I lied so much to myself and everyone else that it became impossible for me to tell the difference. Even today I don’t know if some of the things I say happened to me, actually happened or not. Parts of my past are just one big blur. I have learned in this fellowship that it’s not what has happened to me, but my perception of what happened to me that keeps me ill. Dishonesty has no place in my life today. The fear creeps in at times but with a little wisdom from some friends or with an intuitive thought from GOD the answers usually come if I give them time.
In May 2010, sober for 2 years and 9 months, I eventually went back to sea and joined a ship in the Falkland Islands. I have spent the best part of two years of my life on and off in that place and in my head, it was just one big piss up. Nothing any good happened and all the people were as bonkers as me. Well it wasn’t true.
I decided when I was in Port Stanley to visit the slipway where we discharged cargo from our landing craft. There was a little house at the end of the slipway where a kindly old gentleman lived. I’d forgotten all about him. But when I got to the slipway I remembered him. He used to bring tea out to the lads every hour on the hour, 24 hours a day, every day for nearly two years. He was a lovely man, Harold. Well it transpired that he had died and left his house to the Troop as a rest and recuperation centre. In turn they had bought a bench with a brass plaque. The plaque was a bit tarnished so I went to the shop and bought some brasso and polished it up. I also thought I’d like to remember him and so took a photograph of the bench and the plaque. What I inadvertently got was the sunset reflecting in the now shiny brass. It was one of those beautiful moments when I felt safe. All my worries drifted away and it was almost as if Harold wrapped a blanket around me and was telling me, “don’t worry Bill it’ll be OK, It’s going to be alright, You are going to be alright. What will be will be. And of course I was, indeed I am. Beautiful.
Now please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say because I need the people in AA as much as I need air to breathe, but it is not going to meetings that keeps me sober today. I need meetings and I need to be with you but it’s not what keeps me sober. Identification in the meetings is what got me there in the first place, what set me off on the steps and convinced me that was what I had to do, but it is the steps, sponsorship, service and a loving GOD of my own understanding that keeps me sober today. When I was bobbing around on the sea last year miles from anywhere, no meetings to go to, just me, about 75 other people and an awful lot of sea, I needed more than a meeting. I needed a faith, an utter belief in, and connection with, a power greater than myself, and thanks to some beautiful bits of conduit to GOD, I have the trust and faith in my GOD, not anyone else’s version of GOD, but my very own. Beautiful. Thank you for reading.
I first met Brian in a house we shared, a home for the ‘bewildered’. We had both suffered catastrophic events in our lives, largely of our own making and, were willing to find a solution and hopefully recover.
Brian was so grateful to the staff at Hawkins House in Farnham for all their support and care. He would say he had ‘the best room in the house’; up in the attic, his window overlooked the East end of St Andrews Church. With a roof overhead, regular meals and Fellowship, Brian was able to rebuild his life one day at a time and eventually moved to his own flat and loved working as a mini-bus driver at the Gostrey Centre in Farnham.
But before then, Brian may not have been with us at all (just maybe, he really was an angel). Almost 15 years ago he suffered a massive internal haemorrhage and was rushed to intensive care in hospital where he received the ‘last rites’. Brian fondly remembered the actions of his daughter; Rachel, who saved him from that pit of terrible despair and called the ambulance. Miraculously, Brian survived and found himself in a treatment centre in Edenbridge, Kent. They call this the ‘Garden of England’ he said – they’re going to plant me and see if anything good turns up! Brian often recalled the love and attention of his sister’s; Jackie and Jill at this time. He made this poem in his own inimitable fashion; Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a broken Brian. Brian had fallen down and broke his crown and, couldn’t get up in the morning! He was always able to laugh at himself and not at others.
And, slowly but surely, Brian began to recover.
Brian embarked upon a 12-step treatment programme; a journey of self-discovery, part of which included being ‘bussed’ to church every Sunday. One day the driver noticed something remarkable about Brian. Upon leaving the church, Brian appeared to be glowing. The driver said; I don’t know what you’ve got but you better hang onto it. Anything is better than the way you were. Brian chose to practise his new-found faith at Farnham Baptist Church. Brian arrived in Farnham on; 28th February 2003, a date that became significant with every day that passed, working the programme and attending as many meetings of the Fellowship as he could find.
When I arrived to observe Brian for the first time, he had that ‘old’ shoe shuffle’; he could barely walk and yet, with a ‘Mona Lisa’ smile of contentment, he laid out the chairs for the meeting. He told me what the matron in the treatment centre said whilst he was confined to a wheelchair; ‘Young man, don’t you know it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile’. So, Brian learned to smile and it became infectious. He had something I needed and when asked, he produced a prescription from a doctor called Bob, who had written; Trust God, Clean House, Help Others.
Simple but effective; something Brian was to carry with him, for the rest of his life.
In particular, Brian loved to be of service to others. For example, I once arrived at a meeting to find Brian manning the access barrier to the car-park. After greeting and much hugging, Brian served the tea and coffee and when we sat down for the meeting; Brian held proceedings as secretary! His sponsor later said to him; ‘Brian, don’t you think you do too much?’ and Brian replied; ‘I can never return all of what this Fellowship has given me. I have a life today and it is beautiful’.
Brian ‘lost baggage’ to admit he could neither read nor write when he came into recovery, despite having worked for the post-office for some 19 years. However, by listening to the ‘tune’ of some readings in meetings, especially what is called ‘The Promises’, he learned to match sounds with letters and words. Brian then went to Farnham College and study English language which he passed with distinction; for the student who tried the hardest and persevered the most.
Brian continued service within our Fellowship, starting as perennial ‘greeter’ at meetings, to become secretary and then ‘graduated’ to group service representative, a role that required attendance at committee meetings. Brian’s last service position was as representative for our region of Fellowship; A role which he regrettably resigned due to ill health.
I cannot express how much Brian was grateful for the opportunity to resurrect his relationship with his daughter, as she had seen him at his worst and hopefully would again see him but, at his best. It was with immense pride that Brian attended the wedding of Rachel and her husband John and more especially; to drive the wedding car! He loved to drive anyone, anywhere but, this really was the ‘icing on the cake’! Brian was then blessed by the birth of his grand-daughter Eleanor, for whom he relished the opportunity of giving of himself that which had been denied to him and others before.
Brian would attend a certain meeting in the Surrey country-side where he came upon a fellow; ‘Cricketer Mike’ (who now sits with the umpire in the sky) who said; ‘be careful who you sit next to in a meeting, you might just end up marrying them’. And in 2009, Annie duly appeared. With much love (and permission from their respective sponsor’s), Brian and Annie married on the 31st August 2013 in this very church; a joyous occasion of love and devotion. Brian asked that his memorial be held in this church as he felt he had come’ full circle’. I had the honour of being best man and as I am today; wearing their favourite colours of yellow and white.
Brian was delighted to support Annie with her two daughters; Fiona and Lucy and even more after Fiona and Woody married last year, to share the news they are now expecting their first child.
Brian had no less than three ‘home’ groups, one in Farnham and two in Guildford. He was particularly fond of a ‘newcomers group’ where he tried to carry the message of recovery by sharing his own experience, strength and hope. Brian kept things simple by focus upon the fundamentals of recovery. He used slogans as a guiding light, the means by which to live an honest and purposeful life. He had many favourites, not least; ‘Denial is not a river in Egypt’. He would also say; ‘The only thing you need to know about God is that it is not you, so let go’. And, (as we all do) he tried to remember; ‘first things first’, ‘live and let live’, ‘take it easy’ but do it.
Brian and Annie attended many Fellowship conventions both home and abroad, like Hayling Island and the Isle of Wight and more recently, enjoyed holidays to Rome and only last year; cruising round the Eastern Mediterranean. Brian had the most profound expression of joy for all these experiences, he would simply say; Wow!
To close my tribute to Brian is to quote an old friend called Bill, who in his own farewell address to our Fellowship, said;’ I salute you and thank you for your life’. I know that Brian would extend this sentiment to you all, which leads me to say; Thank you Brian, for without your life I would not have mine.
Thank you to MacMillan nurses and especially Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice in Farnham for their wonderful care of Brian in his last days. He could not have wished for a more comfortable place. I will always remember Brian’s last words to me, when he said; I will save you a seat in the rooms upstairs and, I will put the kettle on.
And finally, Brian’s favourite prayer is by a man who like us went through the emotional wringer and came out of that painful experience to express what he then could see, feel and wish to become;
Lord, make me a channel of thy peace
That where there is hatred, I may bring love
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony
That where there is error, I may bring truth
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith
That where there is despair, I may bring hope
That where there are shadows, I may bring light
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted – to understand, than to be understood – to love than to be loved.
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.
Read Tony's Story
My name is Tony, and I am an Alcoholic.
I was born into a happy, loving family of 5 and there is no history of alcoholism in my family, apart from one uncle (who “did a geographical” to Australia!). My parents rarely drank, although we had the traditional drinks cabinet full of weird, coloured souvenirs from holidays abroad, which used to gather dust and were never opened.
Being drunk was frowned upon, but once I was 18, going to the pub for a night out was fine. And that was how my drinking started, socially in large groups in pubs on a Friday and Saturday night – it was normal. I am not someone who needed booze to fix me. I am confident, outgoing and a high achiever. Drink just made things bigger and brighter, I enjoyed it and there were few consequences.
My career went well, I got married, had children and owned my own business. All material things were in place, but as the drinking progressed, I became more and more unhappy.
My story is one of an increasingly alarming toboggan ride into addiction over 30 years. As many will say, I do not know when “I Crossed the Line”, but cross it I definitely did. From weak beers at the weekend to litres of vodka every day, 24 hours a day.
In the end, there was absolutely no fun in drinking, it was a physical and mental necessity. I could not go more than 3-4 hours without a drink. I could not eat, nor sleep. I was vomiting, had constant stomach and kidney pains. I was paranoid, and in terror, of what, I do not know. I used alcohol as an anaesthetic to block out the world and numb any feeling. I existed in a fog of booze, rarely engaging with life. My first and last thought was about the Next Drink, and the panic that I might run out. Throughout this, I kept my business, my marriage but there were always (increasingly) outrageous incidents and apologies to make.
I knew that this could not go on. I knew that my drinking behaviour was alcoholic, I just thought I could stop. I knew nothing of alcoholism beyond the Sunday papers, and that ignorance nearly killed me.
My rock bottom came after another spectacularly painful and upsetting family Christmas. I went into blackout and came to naked and screaming in front of my children and relatives. I decide to quit and tried to go Cold Turkey, as I had done before. But now the physical and mental pain was too much – I simply had had enough. I could not go on, and did not want to. I surrendered and gave up totally.
I asked for help. My wife got me into a treatment centre that day.
For odd reasons, I could not do the full course and came out early, with really only a basic understanding of my problem, and the solution.
I had been to some AA meetings in treatment, and was stunned by the honesty, the transformation of broken lives, the love and the hope. So I started going to meetings, but stayed at the back, came late and left early. I stayed sober through terror of returning to my hell.
Gradually, through listening, reading everything I could, lots of meetings and most importantly, talking to other alcoholics, I came to see that it was a 100% deal. Not just putting down the drink, but being involved, doing the Steps, doing service and engaging with others.
I got a Sponsor, who was gentle and patient and let me take my time to make sure I had the Steps firmly bedded in. My fear would not let me move on unless I felt I had done absolutely everything possible to get the Message. I wanted to live and if I drank again, I would die.
That was 5 years ago.
I have had good times since, but equally some of the worst things in life have happened to me in recovery. I realise now that “why not me?” is the answer. Acceptance of my alcoholism has allowed me go on and to accept life and all of its Ups & Downs. If I can relax into sobriety, I can deal with most things. I understand that Surrender does not mean Giving Up. We do the work, but the result is not in our control.
If I do not drink, and let myself embrace the love and wisdom of the Fellowship, I have a fighting chance of survival, and better than that, a full life where I can be of use, I can love and be loved. I am once again a human being.
Read Lindsay's Story
I went to my first AA meeting on Monday 9th November 2010. I had a ‘car crash’ of a day the previous Thursday that made me realise that if I didn’t get a handle on my drinking, the drinking was going to get a very serious grip on my life.
My father was an alcoholic – so I knew all about AA – but never thought I would need it. I was determined not to become like him and, I can honestly say, it was always at the back of my mind, every time I had a drink that I had to take care – otherwise I could!
But, as we all know, if you have the ‘isms’, just ‘wanting’ to not end up an alcoholic won’t work – unless you stop drinking. So the 5th November (Fireworks Day – quite appropriate really!) was the day that I had to face up to the hard reality and realise that, despite my best efforts – I was an alcoholic.
And that realisation saw me heading off for my first AA meeting. But, in truth, I went as a ‘punishment’ for bad behaviour. I went to ensure I stopped drinking – but I wasn’t happy about it. Oh no. Far from happy. In fact, I was down-right furious – almost spitting bullets – when I first walked into the rooms.
I didn’t listen to anything that was said; I looked round the room and hated everyone (they were far too happy – which I immediately translated to into ‘smug’) and patently obviously, they had absolutely no similarities to my life. If they thought they had a ‘life beyond their wildest dreams’ – then they were a really sorry lot and needed to get out more. Yes, I would come to AA – but I was going to do it on my terms because I knew best and I was going to keep AA in its box and continue to run my life as before – minus the alcohol.
I now know I was the perfect example of ‘self-will run riot’ but, thank god (and I now use that phrase the way it was meant to be used!) I kept coming back. They say if you do, it will happen whether you want it or not – and that’s what happened to me.
To be honest (and this is an honest programme) while the benefits of sobriety came very quickly in terms of feeling better and being able to cope with life on life’s terms – my head did not really start to change until I have been in the rooms for two years – at which point, a light came on.
I realised I was hanging onto the outside of the bed. If I really wanted sobriety in conjunction with a sane head – the middle was where I had to be – and I started to really work the programme – handing it over, accepting that I was not the one in control, doing the steps and using my two ears and one mouth in the right ratio.
The change was almost instantaneous. It was almost as if my HP had been waiting in the wings to help and was waiting for me to say, ‘OK, I give in.’ The answers to questions that had baffled me all my life suddenly were answered. Emotions I did not know I possessed came rushing into my life.
Was it joyous and free? No, actually. It was incredibly painful. Hardly a day went by for the next year where my previous misconceptions and thoughts were not being challenged and it hurt – it hurt a lot. This was the kind of stuff I drank on. To face it in sobriety was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Was it worth it? God, yes! I now know what ‘A life beyond your widest dreams’ really means. It doesn’t mean winning the lottery. It doesn’t mean 12 weeks holiday a year or finding the man of your dreams. For me it means recognising that fear was the driving force behind every action in my life. It meant confronting that fear and having the courage to let it go – and let God. And, as soon as I did that – my life changed completely.
I was one of the lucky ones (so I thought). I thought I had lost nothing through my alcoholism. No house, car, family or friends. But actually, I had lost something far more important – any belief that I was worth something.
I had no idea that fear played such a pivotal role in my life. It coloured every action I took. Letting it go has given me a life beyond my wildest dreams – a life where I can recognise bullying when I see it and take the right steps to avoid it; a life where, when things go wrong or accidents happen, I can deal with them. Yes, I still make mistakes. I will never be perfect and will always be a work in progress – but I am prepared, with the help and support of the Fellowship, to meet life on life’s terms without fear. It is the greatest gift in the world – and all down to walking into those rooms that fateful November.
Read Sue's Story
Imagine, if you will, a derelict flat in a walk-up block on a run-down estate in London’s east end, during the long, hot summer of 1983. The sash windows in the flat won’t open, because they’ve been painted bright red, and the paint has caused the sashes to stick fast. The flat has little furniture – no bed – and the occupant sleeps on an old, filthy sofa, underneath a tatty fur coat which was liberated from a nearby oxfam shop. The flat has no home comforts, no food in the the fridge, no pictures on the wall. It is a bleak, forbidding place, littered with the evidence of empty vodka bottles.
It was in these circumstances, on 31st July 1983, that I took my last drink, up to today. I had no idea, as I drank the remains of a bottle of vodka, that it was to be my last drink. I had been attending AA for six weeks, drawn to the meetings by the warmth, the lack of judgement, the identification and the understanding that I found there. I knew I was no longer alone; I learned that I was ill. But I could not stop drinking. That morning, however, I found it within myself to put off having another drink – I decided to wait until lunchtime. At lunchtime, I promised myself that I’d go to the off-licence that afternoon, and in the afternoon, I put it off until after the meeting. I didn’t take a drink that day and I’ve not had one since.
I was twenty-five years old. My life was in tatters – it had been seriously derailed by alcohol. I had no reason to drink – I grew up in a perfectly happy home, I had no dark secrets, there is, to my knowledge, no history of alcoholism in my immediate family. Yet I drank alcoholically from the time I started to drink and it never ended well. I drank my way out of my chosen career, because all I really cared about was getting the next drink. At age twenty-three, I was living in a hostel with other homeless alcoholics. My family and friends despaired, and no one could help. Alcohol dominated my life. Bad things happened – I put myself in harms way and I came to harm.
On the day I took my last drink, my life changed forever. I stayed close to AA and AA stayed close to me. I recovered, as we say, from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. In the years that I’ve been sober, I’ve had an amazing career, a happy marriage, two children who have never seen me drink. I’m a useful, contributing member of society. In short, I’ve had a life.
AA and its 12-step programme have been central to my recovery. I love Alcoholics Anonymous and it has been there for me during the inevitable ups and downs of life. One of the great bonuses is being able to help other women who come to AA and to help them find a way out. I’ve never thought I could do without AA and I wouldn’t want to.
SHARE is the monthly magazine for Alcoholics Anonymous (GB). It is the Fellowship’s Recovery Magazine, produced for members by members. Each month’s issue focuses on the relevant Step,Tradition and Concept with some months having an additional theme. All articles are submissions by our Fellows and reflect their personal journeys in Recovery. Each year’s January issue is of particular relevance throughout the year for newcomers to AA, as it contains members’ experience, strength and hope around Step One.
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