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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.

  • 10/23/2014 2:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Nine years into parish ministry I finally admitted that I was powerless over my drinking.
    I'd drunk daily for years, but was firmly in denial except for 3:00 a.m. shamefests which were conveniently forgotten by the next morning.
    About six years ago, the night before Shrove Tuesday, I was alone at home. My husband was away for a few days--always a time when wine and I could enjoy each other freely. Late at night, after a bottle or so I did what I'd often done before. I got in my car and drove the two miles into town for ice cream.
    On the way back, something happened. No drama, no accident or flashing blue lights. But like the Prodigal Son "I came to myself." I suddenly perceived the condition I was in and the dark rural road I was driving down, and I realized with total clarity that I could kill someone on that brief ride home. It terrified me.
    The next day I called a friend who was a staff member at a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation center nearby and blurted out, "I think I'm in trouble." A few days later we started going through the Big Book together.
    I'd call it an answer to prayer, except that try as I can, when I look back to my years of drinking, I cannot remember ever once turning to God for help.

    Flash forward to the present day: I am retired from parish ministry. And--what feels like a miracle--I am serving as priest at that very same rehab center.
    I meet with "guests" one on one in recovery-oriented spiritual direction, lead groups on prayer and the Steps, and each Monday night, I celebrate Eucharist. As part of every service I read and we all discuss a Gospel story.
    Every week, Jesus' words and works, his healings and exorcisms shimmer into new life in the dim living room where we do the service.
    Because each one of us in the room is addicted to alcohol or drugs we know we are no different from the folks who crowded around Jesus crying out to be healed. Each one of us knows what it's like to be in the grip of an implacable disease, a disease that feels and acts like we're possessed by a demon that controls our lives and seeks to destroy us. For us addicts and alcoholics, the Gospel reads very close to the bone. We're the lepers, the prostitutes, the demoniacs. We're the lost sheep, the lost coin Jesus never stops searching for and welcoming home.

    A few weeks ago we read the story of the paralyzed man lowered through the roof to Jesus' feet. Afterward a young man, a chronic relapser, said, "I felt like the paralyzed man. I looked around to see who was lowering me down toward healing and it was my parents. They've never stopped believing that somewhere there's healing for me." An older woman said that she too identified with the person on the mat. At first she was furious at her family and friends for bringing her to rehab. But as she imagined lying at Jesus' feet she felt herself let go of her embarrassment and anger and feel gratitude for the people that got her here.

    And me? Here's what came to my mind. When I was ordained, I thought I knew what God was calling me to--parish ministry. That was true for a while. Then God dug a hole in my expectations and lowered me gently to right where I belonged--surrounded by fellow addicts, in a place where Jesus loves and heals.

  • 10/16/2014 7:15 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Years ago I read a wonderful book called, “Your God is Too Small” by J.B. Phillips. In it he wrote about how most of us struggle with God or faith because we keep making God too small-we make or imagine him kind of like us or maybe like a human being with super powers. But even if God was a human being with the powers of the whole Justice League of America-it’s still a human construct and hence, according to Phillips, too small.

    I thought about that this week when I was meeting with some theology students and we were discussing some new ideas about God and evolution and how God may intersect with physics and God and Love may be the main construct of evolutionary direction…yeah, that kind of talk.

    At one point I said, “But what about a personal God?” and I got THE look, and someone said, “Well, I used to believe in a personal God but then I studied…”The message was basically that believing in a personal God was kind of juvenile or “early” in spiritual formation.

    I do pick up that slight judgment in other places as well. That look or word that suggests that those who (still) believe in a personal God have not matured in their spiritual development. There’s a kind of spiritual condescension, “Oh, I’m past the personal God thing. Now God is a cosmic force or a New Physics God…blah, blah.

    So me, doing my daily-very personal-prayer starts to feel small-or worse-I feel unsophisticated in my faith.

    But then after confessing to my very personal God that I feel small cause I’m not making Him/Her big enough, start to think, “Whoa, isn’t making (perceiving) God as a distant, cosmic, force of the universe just another way to make God too small?” (Yes, irony: in making God so big we make him small again.)

    Can’t God be a galaxies-wide, loving, impersonal cosmic force and a personal shepherd at the same time? Why can’t God (we are talking GOD after all) be BIG and small at once?

    I think that Hillary Clinton can be the president of the United States and Chelsea’s mother at the same time. So why can’t God be both (and more) simultaneously?

    Think about this: If we really grasp the Trinity and if we swear that we believe in this three-in-one business, then why not a God who is all: all forms, all types, all sizes, all styles, all dimensions simultaneously? That’s a Higher Power worth having around.

  • 10/08/2014 3:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As young kids, my sons toted around four-inch tall plastic creatures called action figures. Some of the figures were from comic book series like Masters of the Universe or GI Joe. They appeared in our house after birthday parties and visits to friends’ houses. These characters were often gruesome and scary in appearance. Their skin tones were white, blue, and brown and their bodies were over-muscled from head to toe. Their weapons and outfits proclaimed power and war and a “don’t mess with me” message. Action figures were about just that: action. “Destroy now, think later.”

    I understand the desire of young children to feel strong and safe and even superhuman. As an adult, I have the same desire. I want to fix the brokenness in the world and in my family. Swift and direct action seems, well, the best course of action to correct the errors of the universe.

    A few years ago I was talking to a friend about how my actions and interference often backfire; they cause more trouble than healing. Without considering my own bad behavior and flaws, I try to take the inventory of those around me and tell them how to improve their lives without a clue how to change my own. Not only is my action arrogant but my advice is often wrong. I told my friend I needed to tote around a non-action figure, a reminder for me to stop, think, and mind my own business first.

    A week later, my friend showed up with a gift for me: maybe the first and only non action figure . This wild-haired seven-inch plastic doll reminds me to consider my actions. She says it with words, duct tape, gloves, and footgear. The Step 1 and Step 2 on her feet refer to the first of the Twelve Steps of AA and Al-Anon:

    1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.
    2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

    For the word “alcohol” in Step 1, I can also substitute just about any other noun. I am powerless over institutions, my children, my spouse, my colleagues, my friends, the government, alcohol… and almost everything in my life except myself. Step 1 and Step 2 remind me that I am not superhuman, that I am not the Master of the Universe; that sometimes I need to surrender my actions to a Power greater than myself.

    Sybil MacBeth is the author of Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God and The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist. She is an Episcopal layperson and lives in Memphis, Tennessee. Action Figures? was first posted on www.prayingincolor.com/blog on September 30, 2014. 

  • 10/01/2014 11:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Living transparently sounds like a good idea, until I actually practice it (usually accidentally). A few months ago, on a dreary, rainy Sunday afternoon, I dragged myself from my self-interest and headed down to our local teaching hospital to visit a very sick kid. I don’t do “sick” well. We have countless stories in our family, some bordering on parental abuse, about all the things I, as a mom, cannot handle. I faint at the sight of blood, I can’t clean open wounds, I completely freak out when I accidentally squish a family pet in the garage door. I lost my peripheral vision while carrying my grandmother down a flight of stairs after she falls in our upstairs hallway, much more attenuated to how I felt than what she needed.

    This overall lack of sturdiness is particularly apparent on Sunday afternoons. By Sunday lunch, I’m often filled with shame and regret berating myself over my inadequate message during the morning worship and harangued by my inner critic who continues to ask questions like, “How dare you try to preach God’s word?” Sunday afternoons are best reserved for a good nap, maybe a leisurely walk or reading a novel that was written for a sixth grader.

    But on this Sunday, I embraced my weakness and soon found myself sitting in a pediatric ICU room with a precious young woman who was fighting for her life, and also, by the way, pregnant. Afterwards, I headed home. I was as tired as tired I could be but still found the energy to pick up the phone when my best friend buzzed in on my cell.

    Did I tell you this is my very best friend in the whole wide world? And did I mention that she never ever calls me on Sunday afternoons because she is the one who is often lecturing me about the value of a good nap, a leisurely walk, and a children’s book to cure my common (and not particularly pastoral) bouts of performance anxiety?

    I answered her call because I would never not. When she speaks, I love to listen. And I really do want to be there for my friend. Sure enough, she had a serious need. Her mom had fallen, broken bones, and was in bad shape. The situation was much more complicated than throwing on a cast and dispensing extra strength Tylenol, as my friend’s mom is in an advanced state of Alzheimer’s. In this addled condition, it is almost impossible to adequately care and treat the injuries of one who doesn’t even know they are broken, fragile and in need of medical attention.

    My friend lamented, and I listened. I sincerely, with all my heart, want to care compassionately for my friend. And if she didn’t know me so well, she’d probably think I had done just that while she moaned, and I muttered sympathetic words of concern.

    Once she pulled into her driveway, she ran off to take a restorative nap of her own. Conveniently, my husband was calling me at the exact moment that she was ready to say goodbye. I answered my husband’s call, without knowing that I had accidentally and by some technological miracle I can never replicate managed to put the three of us: husband, boon companion, and myself into a conference call. Here’s where the transparency comes in.

    “Honey, where are you? You still at MCV?” asked my husband, who just woke from his own siesta to realize it was late and I wasn’t home in my jammies as would be my Sunday norm.

    “Nope, on my way. Just got off the phone with Jean. And you know I love her with all my heart but…” and I began to, yes, I did this…complain. I lamented about her interpretation of her mother’s condition (time has proven her assessment was grim AND spot on). I know I sounded tired and cranky and completely without compassion. And she heard every word.

    Horrible? Embarrassing? Absolutely. If I had known what I actually did! But I did not, so I went blithely along with my daily life, believing that my friend could still trust me, and that I would always have her back.

    Weeks passed.

    One Monday morning, super early, Jean showed up at church and took a seat in my office. She went on to tell me to the last detail the nature of my offense against her. She did so with grace, compassion, and patience. Every illusion of myself was stripped away, and the true nature of my petty, judging, small and hard-hearted self was laid open for Jean and I to stare at in horrified communion.

    I felt a kinship with Eustace, the boy in The Chronicles of Narnia “whose pride and greed caused him to inconveniently become a dragon.” Like Eustace, I ache with the consequences of my ways. Despite his best efforts, Eustace cannot extricate himself from his false Dragon self.  In the end, the Lion tells Eustace, “You will have to let me undress you.” If you are so inclined and care to read (or reread) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader(New York: Macmillan, 1952), pp. 88-91, C. S. Lewis describes in gruesome allegorical fashion the work of the Lion in freeing Eustace from a bondage of his own making.

    That early morning encounter with myself left me feeling as vulnerable and naked as little Eustace, after his extrication from the dragon’s coat. I felt raw and tender. I fell apart in abject misery into my friend’s lap, to ask for absolution for my sin. Her tears of compassion and mine of shame mingled in love.

    I could go on and on about the gift of her love, and the healing power of forgiveness and relationship restoration. But what I need to say, I think, is that living transparently sometimes is less a choice and more an encounter. At the moment when Jean served as a modern day Nathan, I wasn’t capable of living transparently how could I? I was spiritually asleep. But, by the grace of God, when presented with the opportunity to accept the reality of my own nakedness, it was my friend’s honesty, and her long history of faithful loving friendship that allowed me to stay in the moment of truth. It hurt. It still hurts as I write this account today, but this is what living transparently looks like for me. And I appreciate the opportunity to share how awesome and privileged I am to have Jean for a friend. 

  • 09/23/2014 11:59 PM | Anonymous member

    I had preached on grace that morning, as usual. Really, it's hard to avoid preaching on grace, because God's grace is so much bigger than our preoccupations with failure and sin and "being good." At the door a well-dressed woman whom I didn't know said hello.    

    "Do you meet with people?" she asked. There were tears in her eyes. I told her "yes" and asked her to call the office. She didn't, but she turned up the next Sunday. I preached on grace again, perhaps not using that term but (I hope) always getting the same point across: God loves you. At the door, she fell into my arms, sobbing.
       
    The next week, she did come to see me. Addiction had brought her low and nearly destroyed her family. She had come to the turning point of admitting her powerlessness, but chaos was still swirling around her. Over the years, I have learned this is a very tender time of enormous opportunity and enormous danger. I did what I could to support her and her family, and the congregation extended its usual warm welcome.
       
    Some time later, after much work on this woman's part (faithful 12-Step attendance, therapy, and more), our Bishop's visitation took place. The woman asked to talk with the Bishop about what she had been through and where she was now. She told him her story in outline form because time was limited, but she emphasized the role of the church in aiding her recovery.
         
    The Bishop prayed with her and gave her a special blessing. As she left my office, he turned to me and said, "I love it when the church IS the church."  
       
    The red doors many Episcopalians enter each Sunday (and in between Sundays too) can be, and in my view must be, doors of refuge for people dealing with addiction. I'm thrilled that a 12-Step group has met in our parish hall for many years, but my dream is to have the same kind of dedicated spiritual fellowship among the worshippers in the pews. I don't know if that's possible, honestly, because we're so good at keeping our guard up in church. But it remains my dream that the authentic spiritual fellowship of the 12-Step movement be fully embodied in our little branch of Christian community.
       
    Because, like the Bishop, I too love it when the Church IS the Church. 
     
    The Rev. Connie Clark is Vicar of Buck Mountain Episcopal Church, Earlysville, Virginia. 
  • 09/17/2014 12:01 PM | Anonymous member

    “God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

    Change: it’s been said change is the only constant in life.  Why do we alcoholics fight it so much?  Sure, we would like to change other people, our environment, or whatever is annoying us at the moment.  But when a change is “inflicted” upon us, with no solicitation on our part, we seem to assume the worst and immediately expect its catastrophic impact on our life.

    The priest at my church has been preaching a series about change, as he is about to embark on a new adventure at another parish.  He founded our church, one of the fastest-growing parishes in the country, 12 years ago, and many of us have known him longer than that.  Like so many others I am deeply saddened to see him go, and can’t imagine anyone preaching like he does on Sunday mornings.  Yet, as I was reminded by him on Sunday, isn’t God’s plan always better than my own plan?  And doesn’t God’s plan always happen, regardless of what I think about it?

    Take, for example, my sobriety.  When I was defeated by alcohol and completely hopeless, I had to change my actions.  I had to go to a 12-step meeting.  I had to open up and share how I was feeling.  I had to ask for help.  Eventually, I had to start working the steps.  All of these changes were extremely difficult and sometimes painful, and I thought my “life” was over at the ripe old age of 22.  Yet the resulting freedom and new life that I’ve been given are beyond comparison to my old life of active alcoholism. 

    Then I look at the changes that have come about in my sobriety:  meeting my husband at a meeting, having children, giving up my career, getting transferred to another state (and back), changing sponsors, sponsees coming and going, having money, not having money; many of these changes were not conscious choices that I made, but rather seem to have been God’s will.  What I’ve learned over and over and over is that I don’t always know what’s best for me, what will make me happy, joyous, and free.  But God does, and if I am consistently seeking His will, I believe I can have those things.

    There is a Chinese proverb that I love:

    A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

    A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

    Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

    A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

    The proverb reminds me that I am not in a position to judge a situation, that only God can.  The future is as clear to God as the past is to me.  What I can control is my attitude toward change.  I can catch myself when I’m in “stinking thinking” and remember all the amazing things that have come to me when I put my life in God’s hands.   I can actively seek His will and do the next right thing.  And when I’m convinced that the sky is falling I can remember, “Maybe so, maybe not.  We’ll see.”

    Debbie L.  - Plano, TX

  • 09/11/2014 10:31 AM | Anonymous member

     

     If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.  We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.  We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace…. 

    (Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 83-84)

    The opening lines of the paragraph affectionately known as the 9th Step Promises in the Big Book, have always been a great expression of hope for me; a simple formula for complicated me, “if I go through the pain, then I’ll get these results”.  In my experience with the steps, this has proven to be true.  When I honestly work my steps and practice these principals in all my affairs, I do experience a new freedom and a new happiness, I have fewer regrets of my past, and I know serenity and peace.  It’s a wonderful life! 

    This year for the first time I attended the RMEC Gathering which was held in Buffalo, NY.  Being a New York resident, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to get out of New York City and take a road trip to Upstate New York.  So I shuffled off to Buffalo, with the company of a dear friend in recovery, talking and sharing stories all the way, making the 7 hour trip fly by. 

    Along the way, at about the half-way point, we drove by Binghamton, NY.  Now Binghamton is where I went to college back in the 80s, and where I mastered the art of alcoholic drinking.  My school drinking stories are just garden variety, no different than many of the stories I have heard in the rooms.  I shared them with my friend for the remainder of the trip, which led me to start thinking of my last roommate.  My roommate and I shared an apartment for 3 years, attended classes and studied together, and she supported me through some very low points in my life.  But with the progression of my disease, drinking and self-centeredness, we unfortunately had a falling out and lost touch.  I knew she lived in Buffalo but I had never reached out to contact her and I wasn’t intending on doing so on this trip either, in my mind it was a long time ago and it wouldn’t matter. 

    Attending the Gathering was a great experience.  I enjoyed everything about it – Trinity Church and their wonderful hospitality, the people, speakers, the recovery service, our trip to Niagara Falls and our visit to the Hope Center.  I left Buffalo feeling very spiritually refreshed and recharged.  Having planned a stop to visit another friend on my way home, I drove back to NYC alone.  By the time I reached Binghamton again, I was feeling pretty lousy and all the wonderful feelings from the weekend were gone.  Stuck in the confines of my mind, I couldn’t stop thinking of my past, my roommate or my college years; and soon the feeling of deep regret had set in.  Taking a moment to pray to ask God to help me with these feelings, I realized that I needed to clean my side of the street and thus get rid of these regrets once and for all. 

    The spiritual life is not a theory.  We have to live it.

     (Alcoholics Anonymous, pages 83)

    When I stopped for lunch, I wrote a letter to my roommate and sent it out to her as soon as I got home.  It was my amends to her for all the drama that I had exposed her to and involved her in.  I included my contact information and turned it over to God.  To my pleasant surprise, I received a text from her right away and we talked on the phone for hours.  It ended up not being about my apology for the things that I mentioned in my letter, but of a reconciliation of long lost friends.   All the regrets that I had been carrying, both real and imagined, were for naught.

    I now realize that the negative feelings I had about myself on my drive back from Buffalo were just the manifestation of fear and regrets taking away my serenity and peace.   When I opened the door to the past and faced the fear, I was soon rid of the regrets that blocked me from God, myself and my old friend.   I am once again feeling blessed that I’ve been able to recover one more person that this disease had taken away from me, no matter how long ago it was (and yes, it does matter). 

    Sandy B.
    Trinity Church Wall Street
    Diocese of New York City

  • 09/03/2014 4:05 PM | Anonymous member

    Who Has What You Want?

    In early recovery I heard this advice over and over: “Look for someone who has what you want, and ask them how they got it.” That was, I was told, also how to pick a sponsor. It’s funny looking back. I mean how does a really new newcomer know what someone has? Yes, you can hear a sense of humor or see who bathes regularly. But when I look around the rooms today it’s not always the shiny stars or fine talkers of AA who have what I want.

    I’ve been thinking about this because this week I was trying to explain to a sponsee why she should do more step work. “I don’t drink and I don’t want to drink, and I’m really happy about that,” she told me. And I get that, but I tried to tell her that I want so much more than that from AA, and from of my life.

    I want so much more than abstinence from alcohol. And I even want so much more than no more “jackpots”. I want the whole enchilada that I believe is possible: peace, serenity and joy (not daily happiness but real joy.) I also want great relationships: with husband, friends and colleagues. And a great relationship with my Higher Power and with myself.

    But here’s where it gets tricky. Some of that good, changed life comes with longevity more time in recovery equals more exposure to new ideas, concepts and layer upon layer of the Steps. But not for everybody. I still have to look around the rooms and ask myself, “Who has what I want?”

    It’s possible to have 35 years of sobriety and be obese, angry, gambling, smoking or using some behavior or  “legal” substance and still be miserable. I see it and hear it. We share the rooms with folks who have been around a very long time and are miserable in marriage or on the job. That’s not the recovery I want for myself.

    In some ways the pool gets smaller the further we go if we are committed to going all the way. What do you think about this? If you have been around a while what kind of recovery are you still working toward? I want deep change as much --or more --than I want long years. In a sense that is where my deep joy comes from knowing there is some crazy character defect I didn’t even know I had two years ago, that I recognized in myself one year ago, and that I see gradually changing this summer. I’m in awe of that, and I can only want more.

    Diane C, from Albany, New York

  • 08/20/2014 10:25 AM | Anonymous member

    Alcohol & Me

    It has come to be remembered as a day like Pearl Harbor Day or the day Jack Kennedy was shot, one permanently engraved in memory in the minutest of detail, the time, the place, the weather, what I was wearing, how I felt……

                It was my day off and my wife, two priests, the senior warden, and a friend in the parish whom I knew to be a recovering alcoholic came to the house and said they wanted to talk to me. Somehow I knew immediately it was an intervention, and on me. I had participated in interventions on others several times so I suppose it would be understandable that I recognize what was happening. Or perhaps it was that uncanny intuitiveness of a suffering alcoholic when  his drinking is threatened. Or maybe it was one of those rare God-given moments when even denial becomes momentarily transparent, and things are seen as they really are, this time my self-destructive use of alcohol had finally been found out. Six hours later I was in a residential treatment center, the first of 47 days of fear and pain and wonder and hope, the staff there called it ‘discovery’.

                How I got to that point in my life is a story that is perhaps a typical one. We were a large clannish family and we all lived within reach of each other and were together often. We were a manageably devout, Protestant, non-drinking family. In fact, abstinence from the use of alcohol was a religious issue, though there were to be sure family secrets that were useful in maintaining that appearance.

                I learned to drink in college, and we seldom drank with much moderation. After college I was introduced by pieces to social drinking, and drinking at home, and hard liquor, and liquor too good to be taken any way but straight, and the importance of being someone who could hold his liquor well, and drinking alone…… I took readily to all of them.

                I also learned the usefulness of alcohol as medication. It put disappointments in a manageable perspective and helped keep pain at bay and turned fear away and justified anger. It took the edge off, and came to be a hiding place. I became a true functional alcoholic, and finally was drinking a full liter of alcohol every day, virtually all of it in the evening. I drank out of 44-ounce soft drink cups and didn’t count the first one or two or the last one or two, so I could say with sincerity that I never drank more than two, rarely three, drinks a day. I seldom had a hangover, was never stopped for driving under the influence, and drank only in careful moderation when with others. I became quite knowledgeable about alcoholism, always someone else’s affliction and never mine of course, and used it to be of assistance to others and as a part of my own denial system as well. I said my prayers every day, even though it often seemed as if there was no one out there listening. I worked and took care of my children and had friends and lived an apparently normal life. I was, though, terribly isolated in that peculiar way of a functional alcoholic, and as long as I kept the secrets intact who could know the truth? Certainly not me.

                Life in recovery really began for me the first evening at the Meadows when the moment inevitably came for me to introduce myself to a roomful of people like me with the traditional words, ‘My name is Tom, and I’m an alcoholic.’ Until that moment I was there reluctantly and because I couldn’t reasonably do otherwise without paying too-high a price. Saying it, though, was the beginning of my coming to understand that I was there for me, and that the problem here was not alcohol or my job or my marriage or whatever, it was me. Saying it brought an unexpected feeling of relief, and of having stepped across a threshold into a difficult but safe place.

                I returned home with much to fear. I was especially anxious about the parish and whether I would have a viable ministry there after treatment. The parish answered that anxiety with acceptance and support and encouragement. People that I knew in the community and even some I’d never met called to do likewise. My bishop kept in touch with me directly and through others who knew me and was an unexpectedly effective pastor.

                It has not always, however, been so comfortable a condition, this recovering alcoholic as we call it, but then growth is seldom comfortable. I have found much in myself to examine and reexamine and change and give up, a continuing part of the journey. My marriage did not survive sobriety, although it took several more years of struggling for it to finally end. Many parishes are reluctant to consider clergy in recovery but cannot say that so find excuses to not do so, the response commonly, ‘Thank you so much for your interest in our parish but we find that your very considerable skills do not match……’ There are still those who think this is a moral issue that should have been avoided in the first place rather than a treatable disease. I’m surrounded by alcohol and substance abuse, eating disorders, a thriving drug trade, casino gambling, sexual misconduct, physical abuse, all of them broadly seen as separate and unrelated issues, and a continuing need for more resources for recovery to offer those who suffer.

                Mostly, though, recovery has been a blessing. It’s been 28 years now. Much has changed, but the memory of it all remains clear, not least the despairing isolation and aloneness. We do not do this alone. We cannot do this alone.

                Recovery has restored me to a normal place in life with the Lord himself, who it turns out was always there, rather than me and an impaired ego, standing exactly at the center and offering strength and hope and love and wisdom. And for that I am grateful beyond words.

                God bless us all.

    --A former President of RMEC

    July 2014

  • 08/13/2014 6:01 PM | Anonymous member

    …”for the effect”…

    …anonymously submitted

    We often work to help newcomers see that most of us “drank for the effect” that alcohol had on us.  I learned how that had been true in my life after I came into the rooms of Recovery which held the teachings, the hope and the fellowship of the 12 Step Programs.

    Early on in my drinking, alcohol had an effect alright.  I blacked out and had no idea what a blackout was.  I was scared and embarrassed and did not ever want to experience that again.  So, as many of us do, I continued drinking and tried to figure out how I could keep drinking and avoid the experience of a blackout.  It was not successful effort. It took a lot of energy and I spent many years of my life focusing on that objective.

    As those years passed, I drank “for the effect” it had on me when I was scared and alone and sad and overwhelmed.  For a long time it had the effect of diminishing my sense of my own fears and sadness and I got through some difficult years of my life.  When I finally came into Recovery I saw that the effect that alcohol had on my life and relationships had changed.  I realized that I had hurt the people I love the most very deeply.  I had lost a job, spent many years in useless codependence, and made many foolish choices.  Alcohol had an effect on my life for sure.

    So, after I came into the 12 Step Programs, worked through the steps with my sponsors in both AA and Alanon, the meetings, readings and fellowship became a regular part of my new life.  And I discovered something new:  I now go to meetings “for the effect” it has on my life.  I now work the steps “for the effect” they have in my life.  I now choose the have fellowship with people in Recovery “for the effect” they have on my life.  And “the effect” has included growth and healing and many healthy new changes and ways of making decisions.

    Along the way, after coming into Recovery and getting in touch with some healing, I was able to return to church in a way that I could receive the grace and mercy of God.  That grace had never left me but I simply had not been able to receive it.  And another wonderful dimension has become a part of my life: I have discovered that I choose to worship “for the effect” it has on me.  I choose to pray and read scripture within the context of grace “for the effect” they have on my life.  I have discovered that I can make choices from that point of view.  I am very grateful to have found both the 12 Step Recovery Programs and the sanctuary of the Episcopal Church.

    The symbolism of The Red Door is very meaningful to me.  The meetings in the basement of the church and the worship in the sanctuary of the church have truly come together in my life.  I am grateful for Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church and for the weaving together of these truths of change and hope.

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