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Through the Red Door

Red Door

In the early days of the Church, when the front door of the parish was painted red it was said to signify sanctuary – that the ground beyond these doors was holy, and anyone who entered through them was safe from harm.

In the lives of many recovering people, it is through these same red doors that sanctuary is found on a daily basis. Initially that sanctuary may not have started in the rooms with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, but in the basements and back rooms of churches where 12-step meetings are held.

This blog was created for recovering people to share the experiences they found walking through those doors of safety, refuge and peace.

 
To submit a entry to the blog, please click here for the details or contact us at info@episcopalrecovery.org.

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  • 07/19/2017 9:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Promises that appear in the Big Book after Step Nine are presented as a payoff from the work done in the preceding steps.  That effort includes an inventory, admission of character defects, and righting wrongs to the best of our ability.  Recently, I have witnessed several heartbreaking events that resulted from not conducting a thorough review or not facing character defects.  Each time, the phrases “We will not regret the past…” and “…we will see how our experience can benefit others” were running through my head because they were not true for the individuals that were hurting.  I had to stop and review why they were for me.

    My late sponsor, Janie, saved me from myself by pushing me through the first nine steps.  The fear of opening the door on the wreckage of my past almost killed me.  Those doors held back shame, guilt, humiliation, degradation, and every secret I drank away.  They also held me hostage, endangering my very fragile sobriety.  And yet I desperately wanted what she had, so onward we marched!  She cared more about my sobriety than my feelings.  We stuck to a firm schedule until I had completed the step through my first round of amends in Step Nine.  It was years later before I understood completely the necessity of not setting up camp in the wreckage but going through to recovery.

    The chapter in the Big Book where these Promises appear is aptly named “Into Action.”  Opening the doors on my past brought sunlight to a place where there had only been darkness.  For me, it was the beginning of a healing process that accompanied my recovery even today.  At the age of 20, I entered the rooms motivated only to stop the overt death spiral my life had become and had no belief that recovery was possible.

    The Promises did come true and have become more of a constant companion to me instead of a fleeting moment.  It has taken work, trust, faith, hope, prayer, and time to lose the feelings of regret.  It is a gift from God and the steps that my past does not continue to create tragic stories for me.  I am not haunted by the wreckage of my drinking or the mistakes from my 27 years of sobriety.  I use the tools in the steps to make necessary course corrections immediately.  That was Janie’s gift to me, and my gift to others I meet along the way.

    So, if you are holding back, not quite ready to “Clear away the wreckage of your past,” consider that we are with you in the “Fellowship of the Spirit.”  You are not alone!

    FHS, L


  • 07/06/2017 6:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As we celebrate Independence Day, I have encountered the words, “Freedom isn’t free.”  How true that is to me in my recovery.    There was some work I had to do in this world to get me back to where I could live freely.  I had to make some conscious decisions that I would go to any lengths to get my freedom.

    At the point that I had gotten in my alcoholism, I really didn’t have a problem admitting that I was powerless over alcohol.  I had grown up in the church, so again it was not a far stretch for me to believe that God could restore me to sanity. But turning my life and my will over to God, well that didn’t sound very much like freedom.  In my head, I felt that I had already done that.  I went to church. I gave when the offering plate was passed. You know, I was “giving” of my life to God.  In my heart, however, I knew that this was not the case.  As I worked the steps with my sponsor, I pretty much went right to step three.  With my lips I said the words, but my ego would not let go.  My sponsor left me a copy of the third step prayer and I read it.  I could identify with the principle and I had the desire, but not that last little bit of will power, you know freewill.  It was an example of saying, “Let go and let God,” and then taking back the reins to my life after about five or ten minutes. 

    As the days progressed, I found that I could let go for longer and longer periods of time.  In evening prayers, as I recounted the days that I was able to do this, I had been happier.  A low level headache that had been my norm, disappeared and I was frequently less irritable.  I was able to see progress in my recovery, my life became more manageable. When praying, I could honestly thank God for taking away the obsessions that had plagued my life.  I was in a word, happier.

    What I have found is that while “Freedom is not free,” God’s Love is.  Somewhere in my surrendering, I experienced an entirely different level of God’s mercy and Grace.  The progress that I have made has not come without cost, nor has it been easy, but it has been simple.  I have found that by regularly offering myself to God and submitting to His will, I am better able to discern what is His and what is mine.  Retrospectively, the lengths that I have gone to achieve this freedom don’t seem that arduous, and it is worth so much more than the cost.   

    -Chad

  • 06/07/2017 8:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Our friend was approaching end-stage alcoholism: dehydration, extreme weight loss, malnutrition, and bouts of delirium tremens. Then in her weakened state, she fell and broke her foot, injured her shoulder, and sustained lacerations – deep purple hematomas swelled beneath her skin. Even so, patched and propped up in an armchair, she defiantly refused treatment. “No!” to the hospital ER and detox; a vehement “No!!” to rehab; and at the last resort, a mute, dismissive smirk to a bit of egg, a bite of toast. Some hours later, a counselor briefed her family on an array of worst case scenarios, with only a hairline allowance for grace to intervene – a margin we know to be more than enough.  That’s why we pray for  it.

    The details are now sketchy and in any case, no litany of them could explain grace’s workings. But, providence shimmered and our warrior painfully breathed a “yes” that sped her to the hospital for primary treatment, and from there to detox and the senior unit at a well-regarded rehab for a six-week program of recognition, acceptance and, hopefully, eventual recovery – one day at a time.

    Her husband of many years is, himself, in the throes of retiring from retirement – choosing a setting for their independent living, then advancing through assisted and nursing care under his own life’s end- game arrangements. He is her elder by a fair margin and it has always been assumed that he would “precede her in death”. Perhaps so; perhaps not. Addiction is no respecter of plans and dreams.

    Recovery from anything implies a gateway to something else. As we recover from our addictions, we encounter ourselves and all the hurts we’ve accumulated inside. We have been wounded “too much, too often and too long” – our heroine’s own words at the depth of her demise and further proof that at its essence, recovery is an inside job. As raw apprentices, we take up the twelve steps, tools to strip the veneer of our personas, our crafted identities, our layered coats of avoidances and pretense and copingclumsy or sophisticated, awkward or artful. We scrape and sand to arrive at the natural grain of our timber, its rings, fibers and resin. We discover, too, that we’re not the only tree in the forest and that if we are all to somehow thrive in the grove of marriage and family, we must all grow together. It may come as a shock to co-dependent “others” that they also must take the rasp to their painted strata, their cosmetic devices. At any age and in every time, the only way to recover, share and cultivate our authentic selves is to expose the heft and color and grain and texture of ourselves to each other and to our God as we encounter him. Lignum Vitae: the Wood of Life

    Ultimately, it is in peeling away the glaze of self and our mirrored affects that we engage, as never before, God as the author of creation, the artist of our creation, whose only desire is for us to recover our lives in the embrace of his animating love.

    -Martin McE.
      

  • 05/24/2017 8:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” Philippians 3:12-14, The Message

    By the Grace of God, and this fellowship of recovering souls, I gave thanks for 20 years of recovering life yesterday, May 23. On this day, I always hold the promise before me that states “we will not forget the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” So I remember looking out the window of my room in the rehab facility that first morning of May 24. I remember still being unable to not stop sobbing uncontrollably about what had happened, what I had done to my family and myself, and the certainty that all I had worked for so long would be ruined from this day onward. I remember looking at my intake photo – bloated, red-faced from blood pressure numbers through the roof, bleary eyed, and hopeless.  I have since shredded the intake photo, but  it is and will be ingrained in my soul’s hard drive, and with gratefulness.

    I had no expectation of making 20 days without alcohol, let alone 20 weeks, or 20 months. Yet now, by working the program of recovery physically, mentally, and spiritually, by giving away what I have to help the other wounded ones coming in those doors, I gratefully stand with 20 years sober living. While still basking in this double digit marker in this recovering life, I am quickly grounded by “Trucker Jay,” my dear friend and companion at our home group meeting. Bright and early we gather, 7 a.m. each day, coffee with friends, and much, much more. While many in the room offered handclaps and handshakes in congratulations yesterday, “Trucker Jay” looked me in the eye with his semi-perpetual scowl and said, “Yeah, yeah, BIG whoop! You got another day like the kid that just walked in the room today. Go help him with what you have been given. Double it down, &*$*%#” Jay is a truck driver, so you can fill in his closing word. It is pretty much the same words every year of the almost 10 years as part of this home group. Yet there is always this slight wry smile and twinkle in his eye that says, “Good working it! I’m proud and happy for you.”

    This is the gift of the recovering community for me. We celebrate, we give thanks, and then we double down into another new day! As I come to the end of my service in full-time ministry to the parish I serve now, and those I have served for 25 years, I am grateful that over three-fourths of my work life in ministry has been living the recovering life. Perhaps some of the gifts of the Twelve Steps, of the deep and profound friendships and fellowship of the recovering communities I have been a part, might inspire others no in the rooms to live into and serve out of the greatest gift of Love for all. For we all are recovering from something, day by day.

    Grateful always, in peace

    Paul G.+

  • 04/19/2017 7:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    1)   Admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
    2)   Came to believe that a power greater than us could restore us to sanity.
    3)   Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

    I am writing this blog post on Monday of Holy Week and I am more aware than usual how fortunate those in 12 step programs are to live in a quite incarnate way the mystery of the cross and resurrection. Very few people can claim to have suffered in exactly the same way as those who’ve found their way to the rooms; very few can know so fully the power of resurrection that occurs through fully embracing the cross of addiction. This is true across the board, whether for those in Alcoholics Anonymous or those in any number of other programs that have arisen in the shadow of AA using the same 12 steps. It doesn’t seem to matter what one’s difficulty or addiction might have been; those who come to the 12 steps and take them seriously are those who’ve confronted the stark and inescapable cross of their own powerlessness.

    Christ, too, knew powerlessness. When he asked the night before his death that the Father might take his lot from him, he knew powerlessness of the sort that those who’ve come to the end of their suffering in addiction and compulsion know well.  In his passion and crucifixion and death, Jesus knew the kind of soul wrenching terror of those who know they cannot continue living as they have, that something will need to die if they are to go on living.

    Did Christ come literally to believe that God would restore him to life in the resurrection? We don’t know, though we do know that Jesus seems to have had complete faith in the Father till the end of his earthly life. We do know that he completely turned his will and his life over to the care of God from the cross when he prayed, just before dying, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.”

    Jesus rose from the dead after a process that very nearly mirrors the first three steps of the 12 step program. It is often said by persons who have longtime experience in a 12 step program that the first three steps are the only ones that can be completely taken and that they are the primary ones that keep individuals in recovery on a day to day basis.

    For those in 12 step programs who are also Christians, there is great solace in knowing and understanding that the recovery process so closely patterns itself after the central mysteries of the faith. The path of loss and recovery that those in 12 step programs tread is the same path taken by Jesus.  It is not uncommon to hear Christians state that “WE ARE AN EASTER PEOPLE!” Perhaps this is no more evident than in those lives that have sought and found recovery through the 12 steps.

  • 04/12/2017 10:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Jesus answered, “…I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

    “’What is truth?’ Pilate asked.”1   Pilate dithered between his own certitude and the Jews’ insistence that Jesus die.  Jerusalem was jam-packed on this high holy day and, for the Roman governor of this volatile hell-hole, it was easier to snuff out one life than quash an uprising, so in the end, Pilate set aside the truth and caved.  On that day, no one listened to Jesus, heeding instead the imperatives of self-preservation and privilege.  Ouch – a little close to home for a recovering drunk like me. 

    Truth is incidental to addicts and alcoholics, sometimes expendable entirely.  Truth interferes with our addictions and the ideas and attitudes and behaviors that sustain them. Truth is our addictions’ enemy, which is why “rigorous honesty” plays so prominently in recovery: “Those who do not recover are …usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. … They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a way of life which demands rigorous honesty.”2

    In isolation, we reinforce and exaggerate the lies we tell ourselves, the lies that excuse our addictions and demand our manipulations to feed them; lies that affirm our delusions that we are “fine”, repelling any impulse to seek help and dismissing every hope of a way out.  We recover the truth together, because when we are lost in ourselves, the truth doesn’t stand a chance – Pilate knew this and so did the Jews.  Alone with our fears, facing a drink, we are swept into darkness.

    “Martin, if you’re talking to yourself, you’re talking to the wrong guy.”  Early on, my sponsor explained this simple fact of recovery.  It stuck, though it was years before it penetrated the armor of my self-sufficiency.  In time, talking with friends in recovery, I began to open up and began recognizing, then listening for Jesus.  As I continue to engage intimates in recovery, the truth of my venality and self-centeredness, the truth of my fears and resentments, the truth of my innate gifts and swelling graces are revealed.

    I am the heart of Christ…The self of you becomes itself in me. …Pray to me.  Few words need be said.”3  

    “What is the truth?”  In the words and actions of people who are not only regaining sobriety, but reclaiming grace, we learn to listen for Jesus.  In prayer and meditation (Step 11), through scripture, tradition and reason, and in the silence of our hearts, we learn to listen for Jesus.  It is in his “experience strength and hope” that we learn the truth.  In him, we learn to live in the truth.  -Martin McE.

    1  John 19:37-38, NIV
    2  Alcoholics Anonymous [Big Book] GSO World Services, Fourth Edition 2013
    3  I Am the Heart of Christ, George Gaston
  • 04/05/2017 9:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” 
    Seen on a poster on the office wall of a Crisis Counselor.

    I had believed the trauma of my childhood, the nightmare of living with a continually drunk alcoholic stepfather for several years were far behind me. In fact, I sometimes wondered if

    I had been affected at all.

    Then one night as I shared some of the crises our family was experiencing with my small church group one of the members spoke privately with me as the meeting ended. “It sounds like you have a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior. I’ve come to see that as one of the symptoms of adult children of alcoholics. I go to an ‘al anon’ group for adult children on Monday nights and you’re welcome to come with me.”

    “High tolerance”? that sounded like a compliment. It took time for me to hear the ‘inappropriate behavior’ part of what she said. In the days to follow I became aware that my understanding of appropriate and inappropriate behavior was very limited and I couldn’t/didn’t often make the distinction. My need to know and my desire to control and fix things motivated my decision to accept her offer. The following week I attended my first meeting.

    Attending ‘Al Anon’ meetings and working the 12 Steps became part of my weekly schedule.

    There were days when I felt elated and liberated but there were times when my childhood terrors, fears and shame began to surface and I felt panic stricken. When my stepfather left I was 9 years old and my mother said “that chapter in our book is closed.” We didn’t talk about him. As I attended my first few meetings listening to each person share their experience, strength and hope, I was amazed as I heard my own unvoiced thoughts and feelings being expressed.

    If it’s true that “we can’t heal what we can’t feel”, it is also true that we can’t heal what we don’t remember. Memories that I had been able to bury for most of my forty-something years began surfacing – it was liberating and frightening. It sometimes felt like a light going on. At other times it felt overwhelming. Moving away from denial to honest self-disclosure felt very awkward. However, staying with the program helped me to come to terms with my past, understand the effects of childhood trauma and begin to get acquainted with my real self.

    My big question, as I reconnected with my inner child, was why my alcoholic stepfather was so angry with me. The answer my sponsor gave me – “He was an alcoholic. His anger had nothing to do with you. You just happened to be there. The anger was in him.” That acknowledgement and assurance marked the beginning of my recovery. My denial came to an end and I began the hard work of recovery. Ernie Larson says, “If we hang on to anger for more than 10 seconds it becomes a resentment. A resentment is a poison we take to hurt someone else.” Today I’m thankful to have traded my resentment of my stepfather for compassion.

    Today I know that life is for growing - mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I believe, too, that working the 12 Steps of AA is a daily guide to help us grow and heal.

    -Anonymous


  • 03/08/2017 8:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I tripped this morning while running and fell. I run almost every morning (it's an addictive behavior with far more positive benefits and risky side effects) and sometimes toward the end of a run, I'm fatigued and not as careful picking up my feet.

    I was almost home, just a block away and running in the middle of our narrow residential street, where the road is smooth and flat. I saw one of my neighbor's car headed my way so I veered toward the sidewalk. My toe caught momentarily on the lip of the curb and I pitched forward.

    A runner's forward momentum makes it nearly impossible to avoid a fall at that point. I've done it many times in the past, scraping knees, calves and even breaking a pair of glasses once. This time was different. I fell well.

    Many years ago I took karate briefly and one of the things we had to learn to do is fall well so as to avoid injury. This morning, for some reason, I remembered to twist my torso so that I landed at an angle which allowed me to "roll" through the fall. I bounced right back up with no damage. My neighbor slowed down to make sure I was okay and saw me sprint right off, no worse for wear.

    As a recovering sexaholic, I have had to learn to fall well in my progressive victory over lust. Unlike a recovering alcoholic who can avoid bars or liquor stores, I can't ever leave my brain behind, so I have to be vigilant about things that trigger me, such as an attractive jogger, or any number of provocative images in media. So I know that I'm going to be triggered constantly: taking that second glance, or wanting to click on a pop-up on my smartphone screen. I will trip, but now I am more aware and astute of falling well and resuming life after I've tripped up.

    I know that I will never be free of lust and its constant allure, lurking in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to trip me up. But when it does, my Higher Power and program of recovery remind me how to fall well.

    Scott

  • 02/22/2017 9:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I often joke when I speak at a meeting that God brought me to recovery and recovery brought me to God.  But it is my absolute truth.  As we wind our way through Epiphany this year I have been so conscious of the influence of the Program in my life as an Episcopalian and now as a seminarian.  It seems like every encounter with scripture, every sermon I hear and encounters with others I have are enriched by the gift of the Twelve Steps in my life.  

    This is especially true, as we have encountered Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew over the past few weeks.  The counterintuitive nature of the Beatitudes, where high is low and low is high, poor is rich and rich is poor, where humility is celebrated, and death is transformed into life, punctuates for me the radically transformative nature of surrendering to win that I have been shown so dramatically in my own recovery.  Sobriety is not only transformative; it is God’s gift of new life each precious day.

    I don’t think I have ever been so grateful for the “rooms of recovery” and for our Traditions and singleness of purpose.  Being in a meeting is safe harbor for us.  With the current turmoil in the U.S. and the caustic rhetoric that seems to have invaded every corner of living, being “in the rooms” has never been such precious sanctuary as it is right now for me.  It’s much the way that the apostle Paul describes who we are in Christ, “neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free”.  When I am at a meeting, I can leave the pervasiveness of politics, political partisanship and differences in viewpoint at the door.  They will be there waiting for me when I leave, but oftentimes I find that simply setting them aside for an hour allows me to once again bring the focus back to living out my faith and my recovery, with the help of my Higher Power.

    And while I can find blessed peace and centering in a meeting, I am also so aware, perhaps more now than ever before, that my program is meant to be lived out in this crazy world.  The road to happy destiny holds no promises of being without challenges.  Thank you God for the Steps and my companions along the way!

    -Sandi A.

  • 02/01/2017 10:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    At my weekly AA gathering it is customary, after hearing the daily readings and instructions for our time together, to go around the circle and introduce ourselves and share our experiences and/or reflections on the literature, etc. This is pretty much standard practice in most meetings, I suppose. Last week I especially noticed how many participants began their allotted time by saying something like: “my name is _______ , and I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic, and thankful to be at a meeting tonight…”  

    Grateful. Thankful. What important words these are. Even more, what an important attitude. The Psalmist encourages and challenges us to offer gratitude and thanksgiving to God in every situation: “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”  (Psalm 34:1) St. Paul advises the congregation in Ephesus: “Do not get drunk with wine… but be filled with the Spirit…giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)

    And the apostle Pauls’ parting words in his first letter to the Thessalonian believers seem to settle the matter: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

    At all times? For everything?

    This has indeed been a struggle for me as I continue in recovery. What am I to do with all the wasted years given over to addiction, when my life, it seemed, was spinning out of control? Should I be thankful for all the grief and loss my family and I have endured in the past? And what about the present? Should I be grateful when there is a temptation to relapse? Should my first response to challenging  circumstances like these really be to simply give thanks, or to fight- to make holy war on the disease that has robbed me of so much? I must confess my first inclination is to fight.

    Here’s where Step One of the AA Twelve Steps can be a source of wisdom and encouragement to us:

    “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

    Power-less.

    I have a pastor friend, a mentor, whom I’ve known for over thirty years. He concludes all his letters to me not with a “sincerely yours” or “be blessed!” but with the command, “stay weak!” This is truth that is counterintuitive; none of us wants to be weak. We want to be capable, self-reliant, powerful, certainly not weak.  Yet this is exactly what Christ became:

    “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

    Father Richard Rohr, in his thoughtful book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, observes: “What humiliated and wounded addict cannot look on the image of the crucified Jesus and see himself or herself? Who would not rush toward surrender and communion with such a crucified God, who against all expectations, shares in our powerlessness, our failure, and our indignity? Who would not find himself revealed, renamed, and released inside of such a God?”

    A suffering Savior? Inconceivable to the first-century mind. A scandal, and utter foolishness to most, says St. Paul; the majority prefer their deity to be invulnerable, powerful.

    Yet those of us who have been slaves to addiction are continually invited to fall into the arms of the one who himself became a slave; the one who gladly gave up his privilege and position in order to forever redeem us from the powers of sin and death – and addiction.

    I’m convinced, too, that giving thanks and daring to rejoice in our powerlessness is a spiritual discipline.  It’s a valuable thing to go around the circle at meetings and echo the words “I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic…” It’s like the words of the liturgy; you hear it, and repeat it enough times and eventually it seeps down into your soul and ultimately you believe it. This is important work. Gratitude is an attitude, yes; but it’s also something we must practice. If you really want to learn something, you practice. As a musician, I know this. Scales and arpeggios. Arpeggios and scales. Played over and over until they become a part of you, until they are literally hardwired. Continually acknowledging God’s care for us and his presence, even in the midst of our pain, reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles. Moreover, giving thanks also reminds us that even the most hopeless circumstances and wounds are redeemable, and can be occasions for grace. Julian of Norwich wrote:

    “First the fall. Then the recovery from the fall. And both are the mercy of God.”

    Be grateful. Give thanks. It won’t always be easy.

    And stay weak!

    Fr. Richard W.
    Goshen, Indiana

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