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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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  • 01/17/2018 10:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I heard something a couple weeks back in a meeting that hit me between the eyes. "I'm a spiritual being having human experiences." I'd never heard that one before, as you guys probably have.  It made so much sense to me, and it's been rolling around my alcoholic brain ever since. My dad always told me that I would start paying attention to and caring about politics when I became a taxpayer. I care less about it now than I did when I was fifteen. I don't have any affinity for watching football, basketball, baseball, golf or any activities of their type. I tried to fake it for years.  

    My thinking runs counter to our societal values and conformity.  I'm not interested in hunting, fishing, or other stereotypical masculine pastimes, and, growing up and into my twenties and thirties, I always thought that my disinterest meant I was generally disinterested. I was a searcher, as my mother-in-law says, but I didn't have the rocks to be an all-out member of the counterculture.  

    So on and on, I developed low self-esteem, felt awkward and out of place, fell victim to fear and anxiety, and started the cycle of mental self-abuse. I was innately alcoholic on a cellular level. Then booze came along and introduced me to the two-drink smooth. It was literally magical.  Alcohol began doing for me what I could not do for myself. Low self-esteem, vaporized. Awkwardness, gone. Fear and anxiety, gone. As one of my favorite speakers says, all of the boxes were being checked. And so began the descent and ultimately the path back to the happy road with you guys. 

    I couldn't have understood back then that I was a spiritual being having human experiences. The journey is required to smash the ego and set the heart in a condition ready to accept the weight and depth of the spiritual life. It’s so clear now why I was the way I was. God does not make mistakes.

    -Lee H.

  • 01/10/2018 8:48 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    The Third Step of Alcoholics Anonymous states “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

    As I sat at my Sponsor’s table and read these words, memories filled with pain and resentment washed over me. Recollections of bullying, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy poured out of me onto my patient Sponsor. He listened to my rant in silence. After I’d exhausted myself he said: “This isn’t about them. It’s about you.”

    I had admitted in Step One that I was powerless over Alcohol and Drugs. I had “come to believe” in Step Two that only a “power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.” Couldn’t that “power” be the 12-step program itself? “Yes” my sponsor smiled, “for now.”

    I started trying to pray. I asked “Whatever Was Out There” to help me stay clean and sober every morning and thanked my unnamed deity every evening for letting me go to bed without drinking or using. Within my first 90 days of recovery I found myself having to ask for help from my still unnamed higher power more and more often. I began to borrow the title “Spirit of the Universe” from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

    Despite the many resentments I had towards organized religion, I have always been spiritually curious and aware. As I gained more time clean and sober, my recovery deepened, and I became comfortable calling my higher power “God”.

    I found myself having a greater willingness to expand my spiritual health. I read daily devotionals and meditation books, along with asking questions of “old-timers” in recovery who were walking spiritual paths that I admired. Although I respected their journeys and learned about different religious traditions from them, I couldn’t stop thinking of myself as a Christian.

    One beautiful spring day I decided that on my lunch break I would attend the mid-day Holy Eucharist service at my city’s Downtown Episcopal Cathedral. The service was in a small chapel off to the side, and there were but a few worshipers there that day. Yet, I felt a great sense of fellowship in the communal readings that we did from the Book of Common Prayer as a congregation, especially the Lord’s Prayer.

    For the first time in a long while, I felt “part-of,” rather than an outsider in a religious body. As I knelt at the alter rail to take the sacraments, I was overwhelmed with an emotion of a God that loved me so much that he sent his Son to us, a Son who endured barbarous agony out of love. Love for us, love for me. In that moment God didn’t seem distant, or “out there.” He was in the room with me, close to my pain, struggles and fears.

    I walked back to my pew and knelt in prayer. I reflected not just on God’s love through Jesus, but the love that Jesus’s mother, Mary, had for her son. She stood by him to the end, even after all those who had pledged their eternal loyalty had fled him, in a supreme act of unconditional love.

    I was struck that this was just the kind of love that I had received from my brothers and sisters in recovery. They had given me welcome and support from the first day I staggered, a beaten pulp of a man, into to their lives.

    When the Priest gave the Blessing: “In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” I found myself making the sign of the Cross like I belonged there.

    I walked out of the Chapel that day into the warm Sunlight of The Spirit. I’ve been walking with Christ ever since.

    -Greg S.

  • 01/03/2018 7:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    This is a response to the insightful reflection on anonymity as it is practiced in AA. 

    It is a painful spiritual maxim to embrace that a life-giving strength may also be a debilitating weakness. For example, do I give generously to bolster a weak sense of self and to receive the acclamation of others so that I might ignore the demons within me clamoring for attention?  Am I regarded as one who loves all because I cannot acknowledge that I do not love myself? As we grow in grace, we find that a loving confrontation with these realities is the path of growth in newness of life and in a more certain future of sober living.

    In my estimation, our rightly cherished anonymity remains sadly necessary because we live in a world where people are quick to demonize and slow to appropriately forgive. I believe our world would be better if we were all able to claim with a pride born out of genuine struggle and not self-service, that, yes, I am an alcoholic or an addict, and I have triumphed over this devil of despair.  I have triumphed not because of anything I have done, but because of the workings of a gracious God in me. And, I know many other people who have the same experience – Come, let me introduce you to them.  There is hope for you!

    We once lived in a world where mental illness was a source of embarrassment because it was ignored out of ill- founded shame.  We once lived in a world where cancer was not mentioned because of fear. We found that talking about these things gave us freedom to heal.  Would that we could begin to talk about addiction in the same spirit of freedom and hope – openly, confidently, generously, and graciously.

    Is this difficult?  Of course.  Is it necessary?  Absolutely.

  • 12/21/2017 11:19 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    A question that has come up regularly in the rooms is dating.  I do not mean 13th stepping.  I am referring to a normal activity of spending time with someone where there is a mutual attraction for the express purpose of an intimate relationship.  The question I am referring to is “do I date someone in the program or a ‘normie’?”  That exact question was posed to me by a fellow member while sitting at my kitchen table just recently.  “Good question” and a smile was my response.

    As with any significant decision, I ran through the pros and cons.  First, let’s consider dating someone else in a 12 step program.  One benefit would be that they get “it;” they know what the 12 steps are and can see the benefits of the program.  There's a common language!  In addition to that, they understand the wreckage of your past.  Our past can be difficult to explain.  In fact, as we put a few 24 hours behind us, new acquaintances may have a hard time understanding why we go to meetings.  We don’t “look” like alcoholics anymore.  Other concerns such as time with your sponsor, meetings, service responsibilities, usually do not require justification to someone else working the steps.  You also are usually safe using the term “Higher Power” without a second thought.

    So what could possibly go wrong?  Let’s look at the odds.  The divorce rate in the United States hovers between 40 and 50 percent.  While this is just dating, the statistic is relevant.  The most recent studies note that there is, at best, a 30 percent chance of long term recovery from addiction.  All we have is a daily reprieve from our disease based on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.  Recovery is not linear.  Having two people with a fatal disease in a relationship together means that the deck is stacked against them, from a probability standpoint.

    Of course, this is all predicated on the assumption that the two individuals considering a relationship enjoy an active, long term recovery program.  Things like step work, sponsors, sponsees, service work, 12-step work are all common place.  Newly sober folks (and not so new) have no business dragging the wreckage of their past into the life of another human being, period.  It's not fair to the other person and it’s time to stop taking hostages.

    “Check your motives, check your program, check with your sponsor” was advice I received early on and it has proved valuable.  Another gem was “you wouldn’t go shopping for a new car in a junk yard, so why would you look in AA for a partner?”

     In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit I have had relationships in and out of the program.  I managed to not drink through all of it.  I can't tell you, even for me, which is better.  I recommend finding someone that is spiritually healthy to date, program or not.  Things have gotten easier for me once I was able to accept the idea that if I truly cared about someone, I would only want them to be happy – with or without me.

  • 12/13/2017 6:14 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Scene 1 – a rousing AA meeting (it gets personal!) on Tradition 11 - “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.” (and now, internet?)

    The 11th Tradition’s emphasis is not shame, but rather humility. Our spiritual foundation is not our “success” in recovery, but our humble gratitude; all our recoveries are as unmerited as any grace.  We share the badge of early Christians: “by their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16), and “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)  Our identity is in “God, as we understand Him”, and for me, Christ as Redeemer.

    Scene 2 – a small gathering of priests and laity to discuss diocesan resources for addiction/recovery

    “Why is a church, a faith community, less welcoming to alcoholics than a 12-Step meeting, or for that matter, a prison?”  Animated dialogue scribed the constraints and opportunities we face in recovery: our positions, our reputations, even our mere accessibility, either inhibit or invite addicts and alcoholics to avoid or approach us. Do we hoist our recovery banners, or are we to strike our colors, surrendering anonymously?

    Scene 3 – a documentary The Anonymous People, Greg D. Williams, 2013 (Amazon, YouTube)

    Advocating for 23.5 million recovering alcoholics and addicts, the National Addiction Foundation (65,000 members) and the Faces and Voices of Recovery (25,000 members) promote openness about recovery, to carry the message widely and lobby for legislative and community support.  They are well-meaning counterpoints to Alcoholics Anonymous’ 11th Tradition. The film features leaders in the contemporary movement, and reports on prior generations’ efforts to take recovery out of the shadows of shame, particularly in the late 1960’s when legislative support expanded insurance, treatment and research efforts (which were curbed in the 1980s-‘90s by the “war on drugs”).  The movement poses a fair assertion, exposed by Twitter, Instagram and identity theft,  “Addicts can’t find help unless we openly proclaim our recovery, our victory over our addictions!”

    Scene 4 – Donning coats in the vestibule after the late Sunday liturgy

    As my wife and I gathered our starving selves to scoot off for lunch, a parishioner arrested her hurried exit to ask a deeply personal question. “Oh, I should talk to you”, she said.  “I’m on my way to the hospital. My alcoholic brother is dying. We haven’t spoken in years and I don’t know what to do.  What can I say to him?” Thing is… how did she know to ask me, presumably as an alcoholic?  A sober alcoholic?  Moreover, if she knows, who else knows, and does the idea that “everybody will know” inhibit a drunk or an addict or their spouse or parents or kids from “reaching out to me for help or hope,” because, well… “everybody will know” if they do?  How vividly is my recovery on display?   

    Yes, I am the parish’s designated Recovery Resources Advocate and have responded to families in crises.  But, I am also a member of the parish, famous for Bandito Bean Chili, helpful with building repairs, active in stewardship, and an enthusiastic participant in liturgy.  All me.  My identity. 

    When I returned from Vietnam, I refused to be defined by that experience. I was drafted, served, returned – life goes on.  But, Vietnam was an event.  My alcoholism is intrinsic, as are my gifts and flaws, those gnarly snags in my character and the graces that offset them to bring joy to my work, love to my family and devotion to Christ.  My answer to the 11th Step riddle is the 3rd Step: … to turn to God as I encounter Him within the span of a day, regardless or the case or place or face before me.  “Lord, show me the work you are choosing for me this day, inviting me to do in humility and love. Amen.”

  • 11/15/2017 5:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Living a life in recovery has provided me with so many blessings – ones I could not have dreamed of when I was using. I have a calm and loving relationship with my family, I have a loving partner in my life, I have the privilege of being paid to do the work I feel so passionate about – bringing recovery into the healthcare system; the list goes on and on. When I take a moment to get still, really still and quiet, what I know beyond a shadow of a doubt after almost 11 years sober is this: the greatest gift I have been given in sobriety is an incredibly grace-filled, loving relationship with God and therefore with myself so that I can show up in the world in the way that I believe God wants me to show up in the world.  

    On the evening of Jan 21, 2007, there was an intersection of what I can only describe as my willingness and God’s grace; some would call it a spiritual experience – I know I do. And it has been a slow unfolding for me. When I first walked into the rooms of AA, my best thought was: can you please help me figure out how to stop using drugs, so that I can drink normally. Yep, that was my best thought. Luckily for me, I was desperate enough and felt so broken that I was willing to listen and follow suggestions. To listen to the others in the rooms, who had more experience than me and, who one day at a time, showed me how to work the 12 steps.

    A lot has happened since Jan 22, 2007 – In 2010, I moved back to the East Coast – I missed my family, I wanted to be closer to them. I also had to put my dog Nicholas down that year (I cried for 2 months straight). In 2011, my best friend’s dad died and while sitting in the church pew hearing the priest say, “Michael is with God now,” I cried and cried and cried, because I really believed it – for the first time I was able to take in the fact that death exists no more, that Michael, that I will be with God forever. In 2013, and when I turned 40, I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The love and care of the fellowship and my parish carried me through that journey.  In 2015, I fell in love, and for the first time was able to truly let someone love me and to fully let myself love another. In 2017, my mom had her 3rd bout of cancer. And today, I am able to say to her, “Mom, I love you so much. I support whatever decisions you need to make for your healthcare.” And 2018…well, as my sponsor reminds me: more will be revealed.

    As I look back over the past almost 11 years, what I know in my heart and mind and body is that, I would not be sober without God and without AA I would not have God in my life. And for all of this, I am feel extremely blessed.

  • 11/10/2017 2:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    On November 3rd I celebrated my 17th sober birthday. Almost legal. It was a hard a year, a scary year, year 16. The rug was pulled out from under me and I ended up being someplace I had never been before. I had been living my life one way and I was faced with the decision of doing something different. It wasn’t a decision really. Maybe on some level there was a moment where I could have done something differently, like drink, but that didn’t seem like an option until much later in the year. My survival instincts kicked in and after 16 years sober, lots of therapy, meetings, working steps, service, prayer, and meditation, those instincts said, keep doing what you're doing, and do more of it.

    A relationship ended. That was all. Relationships end all the time. But this particular relationship at this particular time in my life shredded my heart and left me scrambling to gather the scraps and begin the process of stitching those tattered pieces together. I had worked hard those previous 15 years. I was determined to get well from the time I was 24 years old. Not only was I in recovery from a hopeless state of mind and body but I was recovering from a childhood that had left me with a deeply embedded core negative belief about myself that I was unworthy, easily replaceable, fundamentally defective. That’s why I drank. Sure, alcoholism runs in my family, along with every other -ism passed down from grandfathers and uncles, and the women in my family were emotionally unstable and were living from a place of believing they too were worthy of nothing but scraps, which made it challenging to raise kids with a healthy dose of self-esteem. But I drank because the pain of living as the human being I believed I was was excruciating and made it impossible to face the world stone cold sober. Drinking saved my life and 12 step programs have made it possible to live, not just survive.

    Here in California we celebrate sobriety birthdays with cakes and candles. Tonight, mine will hold 17 candles. It holds 17 candles because I didn’t drink. I put one foot in front of the other and held on to meetings, therapy, prayer, and service for dear life. There were moments when I understood that drinking could be an option and I chose not to drink. Pure ego. I wasn’t going to give alcoholism the satisfaction of taking another one of us down. I was not giving up without a fight. It won’t be the last fight of my life because life is in session and I’m fully engaged in healing and recovering from who alcoholism wants me to believe I am to the person God has always intended me to be. That is a fight I intend to win.

  • 11/02/2017 10:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Somewhere between my departure from New Orleans in 1997 and the turn of the millennium, my mother gave me a book written by Anne Lamott. She is a recovering alcoholic drug addict and a progressive Christian, and a celebrity of sorts in the recovery community. So years later her name pops up in speaker circuits and convention chatter. To me her most remarkable writing came in the form of a tweet: "The world's an untreated alcoholic!" Someone told a story before a meeting a couple months ago about Lamott at one of the NA or AA conventions or larger gatherings. She was part of a panel interacting with an audience, and the topic of labeling non-alcoholics as normies or earth people came up. She said she considers these folks "untreated." I think this is such a brilliant, hilarious and accurate way to describe the larger human condition. The world is totally alcoholic. We are powerless, unmanageable, self serving, dishonest, and inconsiderate. We are restless, irritable and discontented, and none of us can live in the present. But what an awesome journey it is to progress from this state in seconds, in minutes, in inches, and in days. By acknowledging that I am incomplete, broken, and have the worst and the best of humankind inside me, I can accept myself and be a whole person right now, today. There is no waiting in this deal. It's grace. It's free. Its God. It's there if I am fit to accept it

    Lee H


  • 10/25/2017 8:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Malvern Center hosts six meetings a day, from “Wake-Up” every day at 6:30 am to Friday’s Midnighters Meeting.  100,000-plus times a year, an alcoholic, addict or an anon-family member crosses the threshold. Its walls are laden with framed posters of the steps and traditions, slogans, and pictures of Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. Behind the speaker’s desk, prominent among the helpful, hopeful clutter, is a wooden plaque: “Whatever the question… LOVE is the Answer / In memory of Leonard C.”  Many remember Leonard, now long passed, and his mantra encourages and inspires his successors. 

    Like the mute and immutable posters and pictures, the plaque fades into the background. Occasionally noted by a speaker, by and large the sign is just a touchstone for wandering attention. Yet, like water etching a canyon, its message penetrates the intellect, the emotions, the soul.

    “Whatever the question…”  So many questions arise in recovery.  They are shape-shifters, evolving as we progress from newfound sobriety through its adolescence, adulthood and into maturity. The dragons of our addiction grow as they sleep, our character defects and shortcomings adapt with our changing stations and circumstances. As we advance, perhaps even as we stumble, our questions acquire nuance or veiled implications, or launch from new and unpredictable premises. We question our questions.

    As a fledgling consultant, my boss advised: “the answer is always, ‘what is the question?’.” Presuming “love” to be the answer implies the need for sharply defined questions. We must be willing to seek, face and embrace rigorous inquiry. One of the great gifts of twelve-step recovery in combination with our faith is finding the safety to tackle ambiguous, penetrating, ugly questions. In his memoir, the actor Rob Lowe1 encourages us to “face your ugly secrets and inner conflicts.” That only happens from a foundation of trust in the setting, in our companions and counselors, and a conviction of the value of both the need and the opportunity to consider every  fear, misapprehension, distortion and fantasy that lures or goads us into the dead ends of our addictions. Trust is the gateway to truths that are camouflaged, buried and locked inside. Some yield handily, but most we must pry out, and a great many we must wait out over the course of years and decades. It is solitary work that cannot be done alone. Trusted and trustworthy voices around us call out the truth within us.  

    When Philip summoned him to Christ, Nathaniel dismissively said, “what good can come out of Nazareth?”.  Yet, trusting his friend, Nathaniel went and was greeted by Christ as “a true Israelite, in whom there can be nothing false.”2  Nathaniel, a student of Torah,  an honest skeptic and trusting companion, came to believe in Christ’s power to redefine every premise, shape every question and resolve it all in the great commandment: “Love One Another.3

    Leonard’s signature maxim arises from profound questions that are courageously met and reconciled in the trusting community of recovering people. On November 13th, 1985 my first sponsor, John, inscribed my pocket-sized Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions: “This little book will provoke a lifetime of questions, and the answers to a lifetime of questions”.  Christ, Leonard and John agree that the answer to all of them is love. 

    -Martin McE.

    1 Love Life, Rob Lowe, Simon & Schuster 2015

    2 John 1:45-49

    3 John 13:34

  • 10/18/2017 10:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I’m sitting in the back of the chapel.  The children are gathered near the front, the casket behind them.  Between sobs and gasps, I hear familiar words.  “Dad was too young.”  “He was doing so well.”  “I know he loved you so much.”  While not heard, thoughts were present on those faces.  “What was he doing out there, at that time of the night?”  “Why couldn’t he stop for his beautiful girls?”  How many times did he go to jail?”  “It’s just a shame that he wasted his life.”

    George had double digit sobriety when we met 8 or 10 years ago, at a service function no less.  He was full of life and sobriety.  His laugh was infectious and I was amazed at how healthy he was – physically and mentally.  Throughout that year, I would see George at various meetings and events.  I had just moved to town and was still getting replanted in a local group and new sponsor.  It was great to see that familiar face!  He loved his children and just beamed every time he got a chance to talk about them.

    Over time, I watched as work demands increased for George.  He had less time for meetings, sponsees, service, and his sponsor.  His demeanor took a turn towards the negative.  Then an altercation at work left him unemployed.  Shortly after that, word came that he was back in jail and then transferred to a facility upstate to serve time on a weapon’s charge.

    Then we heard that George had been released and was in a transition center not far from the jail upstate.  He had a sponsor again, was hitting meetings regularly, and was working.  Good reports continued to appear periodically, and confidence in George’s recovery grew.

    An extended family member needed assistance and George moved back here after finishing a year at the transition center.  Worried looks were exchanged by a few long-time members when someone shared that George was back in town.  Everyone crossed their fingers and prayed that their guts were wrong.  While George wasn’t making meetings, he was spending time with this family and children so maybe that would be enough to get by.  He turned 50 Friday.  I happily posted Facebook birthday greetings for the big event.  The accident occurred late Friday night, his birthday.

    I would not allow myself to read between the lines as I scanned the news report of the accident.  It didn’t matter what the details were; George was one of us and he was gone.  The tornado running through the lives of family and friends was finally still.  My corner in the chapel provided a disease laden vantage point of a poignant reminder.  We are only promised a daily reprieve, dependent on maintenance of our spiritual condition.  Godspeed, George, Godspeed.

    “We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God's will into all of our activities.”

    FHS, Loretta


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