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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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  • 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


  • 10/11/2017 9:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The four of us are sitting around my small living room. Four women, four different recovery experiences, four different lengths of sobriety. Different childhoods in dysfunctional families. Different ethnic, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds. Ages: 32, 60, 63, and me, 53. One, nine, two, and sixteen years sober, respectively. Each of them at some point in their recovery asked me if I’d sponsor them.

    Sponsorship in a 12-step recovery program is a weird and wonderful relationship. It’s mentorship with a very specific task: work the 12 steps with someone who needs to work the steps. That’s the wonderful part. The weird part is how complicated this kind of relationship can be because we’re human, we’re complex and we’re alcoholics and drug addicts, and our lives depend on this relationship being a successful one. You’re newly sober. You’re told to go to meetings, get a commitment, and a sponsor. Criteria for sponsorship: you want what they have, but you only know these people from meetings. What happens when they take the show on the road is something you can only know from direct experience of them in their lives. Maybe what they have that you want is a car, a job, a spouse, a house, and kids, if you’re into that. Maybe it’s the person’s relationship with their higher power that peaks your interest, or it’s that they seem kind, generous, compassionate, and honest. Or they’ve just been sober a long time and have lived through the ups and downs of life sober. Until you’re in relationship with them you have no idea how it’s all gonna go. It’s going out on a blind date and hoping it works out. It’s showing up and hoping the person is who you think they are. It’s hoping they can help you get some recovery--both emotionally and spiritually. It’s hoping they don’t turn out to be crazy and controlling like your mom.

    We start reading Step 1 out loud, going around in a circle and sharing our experience of powerlessness and unmanageability in our lives, both in active addiction and now in recovery. The relationships I have with these women started because despite how much fear they might have had, how vulnerable it made them feel, and risking rejection, they asked me if I would walk them through the steps, be a loving and supportive witness to their journey of healing and recovery, and be there any time they might need to be talked down off the ledge. I’ve worked the steps with them, listened, encouraged, and challenged them to grow. Being in relationship with them, I have learned compassion, resilience, patience, and love. They have talked me down off the ledge on more than one occasion and saved my life countless times. These women have challenged me to be a better sober woman. They have what I want in spades. 

    –Holly C

  • 09/06/2017 9:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous1 is a quote factory, a wellspring of meeting topics, sponsor guidance, and – ah, yes! – essay topics.  30 million-plus copies have been sold in 43 languages (no tally for the number actually read), and numerous BB digests and doorstoppers dissect every syllable.   Judging by others’ and my own dog-eared, highlighted, annotated editions, Big Book quotes may rise in favor with the tides, time and circumstance, but a few lines are indelible:  “Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles” from Chapter 5, “How It Works” states the problem. Chapter 2, “There Is a Solution” lays out the remedy: “our very lives depend upon our constant thought of others and how we may help meet their needs.” That qualifies as a spiritual awakening by any standard.  The gateway to this transformation is the practice of the twelve steps, grounded in personal powerlessness and a decision to “turn our will and our lives to the care of God”, as we understand Him.

    As it happens, the original printer’s proof of the Big Book, heavily laden with Bill Wilson’s handwritten edits, is pending auction2, poised to fetch up to $3 million.  The Maine Antique Digest3, June 2017 issue says that the Big Book “must rank as one of the most successful examples of writing by committee ever, and the manuscript is the evidence.” … “Equally important, the manuscript shows how the Big Book, and as a result AA itself, moved away from specifically Christian references.  That decision has made it possible for the book and the program to be embraced not only by agnostics and atheists but by a multitude of religions throughout the world.”  

    The case must be made that the Big Book’s writing committee is still engaged. The steps are “but suggestions.”  We are thus coauthors and, perhaps, “the only Big Book someone in need will ever meet”. The book was edited against the fetters of the mid-20th century that to a considerable degree had already shackled Christianity to conform to narrow social, economic, political and economic strictures.   Today, alcoholism is counted as only one among many destructive addictions, and post-traumatic stress disorder is being applied to an expanding array of conditions.  There is no shortage of suffering in the world.  Though the Big Book’s language is archaic, its principles, especially that of inclusiveness, endure: AA and its many twelve-step progeny are ready, “whenever anyone reaches out for help.”  We invite others to share in our recovery, and do not impose our paths upon anyone, under any condition. 

    Although Christianity was formally edited out of the Big Book, the twelve-step’s spiritual  principles lead, as all spiritual principles must, to a clear recognition of Christ’s constant invitations to follow Him.  His quiet provocations fill the gospels.  This year, during the course of an extended retreat3 and under the patient guidance of my director, I came to recognize, reflect upon and respond to Christ’s persistent, ingenious and sometimes bewildering bids to serve Him, aligning my gifts and graces to abate the world’s losses and grief.  We needn’t be heroic, merely genuine and generous. 

    Christ shows us that we are not in a contest of wills with the Father, but engaged in a loving collaboration with Him to bring healing, justice and peace to all.  As recovering servants, the provenance of our broken selves, the flawed “press proofs” of our lives are rehashed and amended by grace.  Now, within our pages, we carry messages of faith and hope, and evidence of God’s mercy and love.  We are, ourselves, Big Books, open invitations to others in hope of healing.  

    -Martin M.

    1 Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., Fourth Edition, 2001

    2AA World Services went to court in May 2017 to block the sale at auction of the original printers proof with Bill Wilson’s handwritten edits, triggering blowback from some AA members and unwelcome media controversy.  A hearing was scheduled for August 2, 2017 and the outcome of the suit is not yet determined.   new york state supreme court, new york county, no. 652676/2017

    3 Maine Antique Digest, Waldeboro ME, 2017

    4Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, 19th Annotation

  • 08/30/2017 9:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying only for the knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.” -Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 11

    Maintaining a regular time of prayer and meditation can be difficult. I’ve been in ordained ministry for twenty-five years, yet I’ve got a confession to make: I have always struggled with my devotional life. Prayer and meditation have never come easy for me. It wasn’t that the desire wasn’t there; I really did want to spend time with God on a regular basis, and get to know him better. And I certainly felt the yearning in my heart to do so. What was missing was the discipline, the follow-through to actually do it.

    Perhaps you’ve felt challenged in this area of your recovery as well. I’ve had people tell me they don’t know what to say to God when praying or how to actually go about meditating. As Anglican Christians, we are blessed with a rich resource to assist us in making our own ‘quiet time’ more meaningful: The Daily Office in the The Book of Common Prayer. Nearly 500 years ago, in 1549, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer introduced this new book of liturgies, psalms and prayers to the Church of England. Cranmer greatly admired the piety of monks and nuns whose daily lives revolved around prayer, reflection and service. In these religious communities prayers were said up to seven times each day; Cranmer realized that it was probably unrealistic to expect the majority of the faithful to keep such a rigorous schedule. So the Archbishop endeavored to distill these seven prayer times into four daily “offices,” or “duties.” (from the Latin, officium)

    Find a Prayer Book and turn to page 136. There you’ll find “Daily Devotions for Children and Families.”  You’ll see that there are readings and prayers for Morning, Noon, Early Evening, and at the Close of Day. You don’t have to say them all each day; if your schedule works better to begin your prayers at noon, then start there. Perhaps evening, after supper, is a time when you have some extra moments to spend with God. The point is to build some time into each day when you can slow down and take a ‘sacred pause’, giving thanks to God for the strength he’s given you to stay clean and sober, and reminding yourself of the myriad of ways he’s blessed you. St. Clement of Alexandria once defined prayer as “keeping company with God.” That’s all we have to do; simply show up with an open heart and mind, expecting that our time spent in God’s presence will change us and give us strength for whatever challenges lay ahead. Daily prayer and meditation are spiritual disciplines; in our culture the word “discipline” is sometimes viewed negatively, usually thought of as some sort of punishment.  But discipline has a good side, too; and it is through consistent disciplines such as these that Godly character is formed in us. St. Paul writes:

    “…we glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”  (Romans 5:4)

    Those of us who have struggled with addiction have had enough of suffering; now is the time to build, slowly but surely, one step and one day at a time, a new life of freedom.

    Father Richard


  • Sue

    08/16/2017 6:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    One doesn’t need to be in the rooms very long to hear discussions about sponsorship. An alert participant will comment that “sponsorship” is not in the first 164 pages of the Big Book. That is true in a literal sense; the connection of the two founding members of the fellowship is sponsorship without the label. One of the gifts I have received from a life in recovery is the blessing of a sponsor. Not only did my sponsor walk me lovingly but firmly through the steps, but Sue also was extremely active in service. Twelve step calls to other women, participating in workshops, assemblies, and district meetings, and serving on committees were common place with Sue’s sponsees. Taking a meeting to the local jail or treatment facility was expected and part of our responsibility to help others as well as maintain our own recovery.

    Sue was a meeting maker. She was a fixture in the rooms with her needlework and welcoming smile. She shared from the Book, from her experience, strength, and hope that was always rooted in the steps, the traditions, and the concepts. If you wanted what she had, you had to be willing to do the work. Her spiritual connection was obvious to anyone who met her. It attracted women, new (and not so new) in sobriety, to Sue’s sponsorship. Sponsor and sponsored meet as two alcoholics – neither one better or worse than the other. It was hard to feel in her league, though. Sue’s grace made it appear as if she held the key to a spiritual life. And she did – just like the rest of us – she lived one day at a time.

    After almost three decades of sobriety, Sue passed on recently. As my son said, “God lent Miss Sue to us for a long time. It was time for her to go home.” What wisdom! My life is dramatically different today because Sue shared her recovery with me. Knowing it was a selfless gift, I cannot ignore the lesson she imparted to me. Am I giving my recovery to others in the same fashion? Do I sponsor in the same selfless way? I must admit the answer is “not to Sue’s example.” I have work to do.

    If this kind of sponsorship is something you desire but have not experienced yet, step out of your comfort zone and look for the “Sue” in your home group. He or she is there; you will recognize them because they have what you’ve been looking for. It’s yours for the asking.

    and Godspeed Sue ... 

    FHS,
    L.


  • 08/09/2017 10:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The experience of AA is one that is powerful, life changing, and freeing. Before I joined AA I had spent many years drinking and about a month sober - but I was lost. I knew I shouldn't drink because I was an alcoholic, but I didn't know how to live my life as a sober person. I felt alone-wandering angrily through sobriety with a chip on my shoulder that I couldn't drink like everyone else in the world seemed to.

    Enter AA. I met people like me. I started to open up and share my story. People told me that they learned things from what I said just as I had learned from them. I felt the power of a community of people who got what I was going through but pushed me to work a program that would get me out of my "why me?" mentality and into a fulfilling and satisfying life.

    I worked the steps with a sponsor. I surrendered. I did my inventory. I shared my past and acknowledged my defects. I prayed to have them lifted. I made amends. I started to understand freedom in a way that I never understood it before. I had been living shackled in fear, shame, guilt, and sadness. But I gave it all up to my Higher Power and learned what it is for my soul to feel lighter ... and I learned how to "keep my side of the street clean."

    Every day brings fresh challenges. I pray for guidance on the "next right thing" multiple times a day. And I get answers, believe it or not. They come relatively effortlessly... like a whisper of wisdom in my mind.

    Freedom in surrender is a strange concept for some but to me it has come naturally. I surrender my will and my life to my Higher Power and find empowerment in the steps I take as a result. The next right thing.

    I pray that those still struggling will know this freedom one day. I never knew it possible but I am living proof of the power of a program and community like AA. It has given me back my life.

    -Mindy M


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