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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

  • 02/25/2015 7:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In recovery myself for several years, I am reminded of the often slippery paths trod by those "working the Program."  Our addiction is truly "cunning, baffling, powerful" for it tells me I don’t have a disease… and, yes, I’m reminded…

    …of its progressive nature for I personally felt its progression following a period of sobriety in a matter of days to even lower levels of self-hatred. Contrary to my expectations, I wasn't a recovered alcoholic; now I know that the strength of my recovery itself is also a matter of progression coming about only by my daily conscious contact with my Higher Power.

    …that as a youth in the 1950s on the South Side of Chicago, I first read about the heroin addictions of many of the premier players of the modern jazz culture, never suspecting that alcohol, like heroin, was addictive.

    …that many of us really enjoyed playing the game of "chicken" …seeing how far we could go before we plunged over that cliff. We also seem to enjoy manipulating family, friends, even the social workers, psychologists and clergy... all of whom were probably somewhat baffled by the continuation of our conduct.

    …I am reminded of the aid provided by family and others, aid given out of loving concern for our well-being, often excusing my conduct as an unfortunate result of a stressful profession.

     …it breaks my heart to watch someone trod addiction’s path… continuing onward in spite of addiction’s unavoidable consequences… when all the time, help was available… Grace was always there for us… a Grace supporting our working the Program and giving us a  life truly "happy, joyous and free."

    …finally, I am reminded of the Twelfth Step’s call to action of "carrying this message to alcoholics." We've seen progress but work is still needed.

    Again, say that “help is available” to the suffering alcoholic. There’s an easier softer way to respond to life’s difficulties …that help was there for me and is also available to those who seek it today. I must continue to humbly carry that message, for truly, "There, but for the Grace of God, go I."

    Jim A.

    Covington Kentucky

  • 02/19/2015 8:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    A clergy who is an abnormal drinker and ends up killing someone while DUI is Big News. A clergy who is in an ongoing spiritual program of recovery is, thankfully, not Big News. By the grace of God and the fellowship of recovery, I am a clergy with 19 years of sobriety one day at a time. More than that, God, for reasons known only to Godself, has chosen to bear witness to those I would help of God’s power, love and way of life through my experience, strength and hope. The manner in which God chose to use me is not one I would recommend to anyone in recovery unless there is a very clear (and verified through independent prayer for discernment) prompting of the Holy Spirit.

    I was a Spiritual Director on a Walk To Emmaus (think Cursillo with Methodist flavor) with 5 years of sobriety when I received a prompting of the Holy Spirit to reveal my disease to the pilgrims on the Walk. There were several women from my church (it was a women’s walk) who were spiritually mature and powerful in prayer and discernment. I told them what I thought God was asking me to do and would they please, please, pray about it. They did and came back with the answer I didn’t want to hear: “We think this is what God wants you to do.” So I did in a chapel meditation of the scripture popularly known as “The Prodigal Son.” During the time set aside on the weekend for spiritual direction. I had a line of 7 women wanting to talk about alcohol related problems. Well, the proverbial cat was out of the bag now, I thought. There’s a reason why “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation” of recovery and I had broken mine -- so that 7 women could get some help for themselves or loved ones.

    I returned to my “normal” ministry for a year until I was asked to be a Spiritual Director on an Epiphany Weekend. Epiphany is the 3 day spiritual “retreat” in prisons with Juvenile Offenders. These young men and women are felony-level offenders. They were hardened car jackers, gang bangers, and even murderers. What did I, a middle-class white clergy have to say to them that would get past the shell of toughness they had developed to survive on the streets? Despite obvious socio-economic differences, I was still a drunk -- addicted like most of them. Into the simple faith prescribed by the official talk outline was infused my own adventures before, what happened, and what it is like now. That afternoon there were several requests for “one on one” sessions with a spiritual director. Their issues were heart-rending and ranging from “How can I stop Daddy from drinking?” to “How can I stay clean after I’ve served my sentence?” To paraphrase St. Paul, it was not I, but God working through me to break through the hard shell.

    But God was not done putting me through the wringer yet. I was in my 7th year of sobriety and Easter was fast approaching. Another prompting of the Holy Spirit kept poking at me as I was working on my Easter Sermon -- “Tell the people.” Hang on, this could get to the District Superintendent and in turn to the Bishop! “Tell the people.” So I gather 5 of that church's Healing Ministers and ask, once again, for them to take a week and pray for discernment. Naturally, they came back with the dreaded words, “We think this is God’s will.” The Lectionary reading was Mary Magdalene’s encountering our Resurrected Lord. Why would God choose a woman (unreliable witness in that culture) from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ (Magdala) to be The Apostle to the Apostles? Because that’s what God always does. God uses people we probably wouldn’t invite to our next potluck in order to touch and heal a person’s hurts and hopes. God even chooses (for reasons known to God alone) to use this recovering alcoholic of a pastor.

    The custodian of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship which rented space from my church was the first to seek an appointment. He was slipping in and out of sobriety. Then a young wife and member of my congregation came in. In tears she said she was ready to end her marriage because of her husband’s drinking. Then an older lady came in and poured out her worry over her son’s drinking. And so on it went. God’s power, love and way of life was manifested in the weakness of my disease. It’s not Big News, and that’s all right.

    -Lee C

  • 02/12/2015 9:20 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” (Mark 1:31) I love the focus on serving in the gospel of Mark.  My first attempt at getting clean wasn’t successful and was short-lived. One thing about that attempt is that I don’t remember being of service, other than the chores required of me in the rehab center. On my second attempt, I prayed for the willingness and strength to do the things I needed to do to stay clean. One of those things was being of service. I was told that I couldn’t keep what I had unless I gave it away and I believed it. The fellowship I was recovering in was a young fellowship at the time in Memphis, TN, so there was plenty to do.  I came into recovery with little to no self-esteem and found right away that being of service helped me to feel better about myself and I needed to feel better! This was just one of the benefits of helping others. I wouldn't have thought in a million years that opening a door for a meeting, or making a pot of coffee, or answering a helpline call would help ME.

    I was blessed with finding a job working in an Episcopal church early in recovery. One day when opening the mail, there was a notice from the diocese about a local commission on alcohol and drugs.  I was thrilled to see that the church was interested in addiction and recovery!  After sending a message to the bishop expressing interest in this commission, I became involved in this ministry.  Along with being involved locally came news of a national organization – at the time called the National Episcopal Coalition on Alcohol and Drugs (NECAD), now Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church.  Now, I not only was of service in my 12-step fellowship, but in my church also! My church started setting aside one Sunday a year for education, support, prayers, and recognition of this important ministry, and still does.  Join us August 30 at Grace-St. Luke’s Church in Memphis as we welcome the Rev. Rebecca Stevens as our guest preacher and Sunday school presenter for Recovery Sunday 2015.

    The motivation to continue this work has not always come easy.  But when I remember that being of service in my church in this way can be a matter of life and death, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue this work. We, the church, can plant seeds that will bring others out of the bondage of physical, mental, and spiritual addiction - from a life of jails, institutions, and death - and into a life worth living -- a life filled with faith, hope, love, and freedom.

    Just like Mark 1:31, when the fever left me – when I stopped living in active addiction – I began to serve others.  And in turn, the days have added up – over 10,000 days to be exact – and just maybe another addict or 2 along the way has found a life worth living. 

    -Lucy O.

  • 02/04/2015 12:26 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I am new to this website and Ministry but I am not new to the Episcopal way of life.

    26 years ago a loving and caring friend walked me up to a pair of red doors and invited me to come inside. They told me they had a friend at the church who was well versed in addictions and counseling. I was already well versed in addictions, it was the recovery portion I lacked. After 28 years on the street, three failed marriages and not easily employable, I was ready to try anything. I didn’t know I had hit my bottom nor did I know that I would learn a lot more about that phrase in the coming years. What I knew was that I was tired of being sick and tired.

    I was greeted with warmth and an understanding of what I was going through, even though I hadn’t said a word. I thought maybe I had a flashing neon sign on my back witnessing to the world that I had an addiction problem. I immediately wanted what they had and they shared with me what that something was. I was invited to a seminar being put on by the Diocesan Drug and Alcohol Coalition and for the first time in my life, felt like I actually belonged to something.

    Many meetings later and working the steps one day at a time started a string of sober days that became months and then years. I have never forgotten that feeling I had when I was accepted for who I was and not rejected for what I had become. I became very involved in AA and Diocesan events which led me to a new wife and a new life. I have been happily married for over 16 years and according to my wife, she has been happily married the same number of years. That in itself is a miracle. It wasn’t until I learned that I had to become the “right person” before I could ever meet the “right person” for me.

    I used to wish my life had been different, but when I stop and count the blessings of each day that God provides for me, I realize that I had to go through those dark times to appreciate the light that He provides and allows to shine through me. If my life had been different, I would not be married to the wonderful lady I am married to, the ministries I am involved in and the miracles I see every day when I walk with the Lord.

    I am one satisfied customer and would recommend this program to anyone who is not happy with their life on the terms they are trying to live it. Praise God.


  • 01/28/2015 8:33 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    I am not God. This was a huge awareness and admission for me in early recovery. Up until then, I thought I had to be in control because there was no one else I could trust or depend upon. Acceptance was not part of my life plan; I thought I had to stay in control and create a life where I was safe and taken care of. My insight that I was not God opened the way for a Higher Power, God, to enter my life.

    In the final weeks of my drinking, as my life had spun out of control, I was trying to soothe my panic and sensed that I was about to crash and burn. I was 33 years old, married, and had two beautiful young daughters. Then the inevitable happened--my marriage, my dreams, and my life lay scattered in broken pieces around me. I willingly went into treatment; I had no idea what else to do. I could not see a tomorrow, and I could not see any happiness in my future.

    While in treatment for my alcoholism, an elderly Catholic priest told me to fire my old god and to open myself to a new relationship with God. Firing my old god was easy – I wasn’t all that attached to him. I started going to meetings and working the 12 steps. I read, wrote, and made sober friends. I eventually started really talking to others, my family, and counselors. I was able to peacefully part ways with my childhood religion and make room in my heart and soul for a new relationship with God. I became comfortable with not knowing where I was going. I worked on accepting life as it was and not as I thought it should be.

    I’ve come to believe that faith is a choice. As a child I had happily believed and accepted the faith and church given to me by my parents, and as an adult I had rejected that same church. I scoffed at people who believed in God and were part of an established religion. I did not understand how sensible people could be so weak and delusional. I was miserable, lonely, and scared. I missed the faith I had had as a child.

    After 23 years of sobriety, I have come to see my alcoholism as a great gift in my life. Without my descent into alcoholism and the shattering of my illusions, I could not have let go of my old pain and disappointment in God. Without the insights and help I was given in my sober community, I could not have found my way home, back to the God who had loved me as a child.

    I am now part of a church community where I am loved. I know I am loved because I am able to truly love others. St. Francis was right – it is through giving that we receive. By loving people in my community, I realized I was loved. Acceptance and staying out of God’s way are still a struggle at times, but now I have the right tools and the right people in my life to remind me to let go and let God--to love without knowing the outcome.

    --Kay Rawlings

  • 01/21/2015 6:28 PM | Anonymous member

    This week’s blog entry was a deeply moving piece for me personally. It's a story of what one woman learned about herself while praying for the victims in recent tragedies in Paris and Maryland. It’s a powerful testimony of identification and understanding and one that helped remind me how powerful and heartbreaking the disease of addiction can be in my life and in the lives of those affected by it.

    I am thankful that this priest and child of God found recovery for herself 6 years ago. I hope that by sharing her very personal words with you, it will help someone who may be struggling today. I’m grateful to know today that I am not alone and that help is out there any time I choose to reach out. May we all reach out when we need to.

    God’s Peace, Shannon Tucker – RMEC President

    I am Heather Cook (A recovering priest’s response to the tragedy in Maryland) Submitted Anonymously

    "Je suis Charlie" and "Je suis Ahmed" (a Muslim policeman killed in the attack) have sounded loud and clear around the world in response to the horror of the massacres in Paris.

    At the same time the Episcopal Church has been reeling from the hit and run incident involving the Suffragan bishop of Maryland, Heather Cook. As we all know by now, the fatal accident involved alcohol.


    I've been praying for the dead and for the survivors in Paris since it happened. But after the news from Maryland broke, when I tried to pray for Thomas Palermo and his family and for Bp. Cook, I found myself sucked into an emotional vortex. I wasn't able to pray for them in the same clear way I could the people at Charlie Hebdo, and the kosher bakery and the printing shop. My prayers for those involved in the Maryland tragedy shortcircuited and I was left with free floating anger and a kind of despair. I couldn't figure out what was going on.


    A few mornings after the incident as I was again obsessively googling the press reports from Maryland, these words flashed into my mind: "I am Heather Cook." And my heart broke open.


    "I am Heather Cook": I am a priest and an alcoholic. I was actively drinking throughout seminary and nine years beyond ordination. Nothing externally terrible ever happened to me because of my drinking--one minor accident that was settled privately, no DWI's. I was never drunk on the altar or at my office. But every time I was called out at night to an emergency, I knew I was impaired, even if no one else seemed to guess my condition or preferred not to acknowledge it.


    "I am Heather Cook": I live on a road in easy walking and bicycling distance to my small town. One night I drove to town just having drunk a bottle of wine. On the way home . . . I didn't hit someone. Instead grace hit me: I KNEW that I could easily kill a pedestrian or cyclist. I knew it as clearly as if it had actually happened. I drove the rest of the way home as slowly and carefully as I could.


    I've been sober for almost six years. My sobriety date is the night I was given the gift to grasp the power I had, each time I drank and drove, to kill.


    Now I can pray-- for Bp. Cook, the soul of Thomas Palermo, his family, and the Diocese of Maryland. I can pray, because I know now that the anger and despair that were keeping me from prayer for them was really for myself, for the reality of what I could have done. I am not outside this story, but deeply inside it. I am Heather Cook.

  • 01/07/2015 4:47 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Another year has turned to memory.  A new year brings new promise and renewal.  It marks the passing of time and is a great time for me to reflect on past accomplishment and how much work remains to be done.  This is never truer than in my reflections on my moral inventory.

    Several years ago I had the awe-inspiring opportunity to visit the majestic Redwoods of Northern California.  It seems a good analogy as to how we arrive at our fellowship.  We come into the fellowship as little “nuts” (usually having dropped from a great height in crisis).  We are sheltered by the shade of massive Redwoods which shield us from too much sun and too much water.  With time we put down roots and begin to stand on our own.  Over time we grow and take our place amongst the others.  We hold our own value against the wind, sun and rain.  As we grow, we don’t always notice the “rites of passage,” but to those who observe us, they see the growth.

    May everyone find themselves in the forest.  May we be a peer amongst equals with deep roots.  

    -Justin Womer

  • 01/01/2015 7:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    "Happiness is knowing when to avoid perfection" - my law school roommate's refrigerator. When I was in law school, my roommate had a dry eraser board on his refrigerator with that saying written on it. It really did not make sense to me until I came into recovery. When I was growing up, I was taught that success looked like going to the right college, having the right job and doing it all without looking tired or showing any "negative" emotions. Religion for me was about having the right God and the right theology. Happiness was having all of those things together in one neat package. But what about the brokenness in my personal life? What about the stress? What about the repressed emotions? Well that is what alcohol and workaholism were for. That is what working out in the gym for two hours was about. My goal was to numb out or avoid those pesky emotions. Just study harder, work longer, drink more on the weekends and everything will be fine. Unfortunately, my witches brew of unhealthy behavior stopped working for me. I started to consider whether I needed to surrender. I didn't want to. I believed in no surrender. Like the Japanese soldiers from World War II who kept fighting until the 1970's, I was determined to keep living by own creed way after the war was already lost. I might have been fooling other people, but I was not fooling myself or God. I was done. I hit an emotional rock bottom and realized I needed to change. 

    Someone once told me that recovery is like riding a snail and hitting it daily with a horse whip; it is very slow going. He was right, but by admitting to my many imperfections, I have been given three amazing gifts: the ability to show emotion, the courage to be vulnerable, and the humility to ask for help. The snail is finally moving in the right direction. All of these gifts have been God doing what I could not do for myself. Through recovery, I have also connected more deeply with my church and the people in it. I am honored to be involved with the Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church and look forward to helping others who struggle. God promises that we will never have more than we can bear and that there is another way to live free from drama and addiction: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." 1 Corinthians 10:13-14.

  • 12/24/2014 10:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Off we go trailing shopping lists and credit card receipts. Hanukah and now Christmas. We may complain about our errands, but we do enjoy the brightness the holidays bring to our gray December days.

    It’s no coincidence. The holidays that celebrate light, Hanukah and Christmas, are aligned with the seasonal transit of the sun. It’s a leftover from earlier times when the religions of nature led all of the others. There was good reason, then as now, to run from the darkness.

    In recovery we are also moving from darkness to light. We have a similar transit. We leave our pink clouds of early recovery and journey through stages of longer recovery that takes us from darkness to light and to darkness again--as real life inevitably unfolds.

    Spirituality is a way out of darkness and into hope and joy. Just like the ancients our holiday transit is full of mystery and miracle, whether it’s oil that lasts eight days or the birth of a baby in a barn.

    But we still fear the dark. Much of what we do this time of year is about distraction. Not unlike whistling when we pass a graveyard, now we sing and shop and light candles and eat too much. And we complain. A lot. But maybe our railing against holiday chores is itself a part of the solstice. Now when we are oppressed by darkness--when our primitive fears can be felt even through layers of advertising and anti-depressants--we are drawn to lights, and to other people, just as our ancient relatives were drawn to stars and fires.

    The words of this Christmas carol could just as well be a recovery song: Yet in the dark street shineth, the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

    Maybe there is another way to experience this time of year. What if we allowed the darkness and went toward it, daring ourselves to sit still before we light the candles or the tree. What if we sat a moment and just breathed. That’s what the December holidays are about. We can enter the darkness and emerge transformed. It is what we learn in long recovery: Whatever it is, we can stand it.

    This week is Christmas and solstice. The sun is at the most southern point of its transit. Now the days will grow longer again. The cycle is astronomical and holy. On this night we are as ancient as ever.

  • 12/17/2014 9:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    During this season of Advent our lives are enriched by so many objects that symbolize the anticipated birth of Our Lord. As I examine my own life in recovery there are phrases as well as objects that prompt me to dig deeper and to meditate on their significance in my life. Despite the frantic schedules, crowded stores, and demands for time, I find that I really am emphasizing that word FOCUS.

    The fact that the Red Door is such a symbol reminds me that during my long life spent with dedication to the programs of Al-Anon and AA being so important, the door also represented being open for re-entry the few times I faltered in this path. Since my father was in AA I attended my first meeting when I was 12 and always respected and honored his own journey and service to fellow alcoholics. In fact it was someone he had sponsored that carried the message and “opened the door” for me when I first came to terms with my own disease. This happened while living in another country and I was the only woman at first. The door to the General Service Office became of vital importance to me. They provided amazing support and encouragement along with my brothers and their wives. Pamphlets, even phone calls from my “long distance sponsor” helped so much as I began my first sober years.

    Phrases have become important to me and as recently as this past Thanksgiving holiday KISS…or Keep it Simple Stupid became my mantra as my husband and I both in recovery traveled to distant places for reunions with both sets of children and their children. In that rewarding, although heavily charged emotional atmosphere, I would close my eyes and repeat the thought. On our return home we both celebrated that period with our children filled with gratitude for the health of the interactions and so very thankful that God has given us both the gift of reconciliation and acceptance.

    The theme in Rochester and the wonderful “Web of Grace” so aptly gathers the many positive experiences in recovery and illustrates so profoundly the reliance on our Higher Power as the pathway to recovery.

    Most recently for me a new phrase comes to mind as we look at not only the history of 12 step recovery programs and other programs that support the sufferer, but also the family…and to me it is “Connecting the Dots.” This imperative relates to scientific research, yes, but more personally to the many possibilities there are as we continue this journey. This season of celebration with the observance of His birthday can only re-enforce us as we gather with others on similar journeys of recovery. Gifts take on a different meaning. My prayer is that each of us focuses on these symbols and phrases and sees them as God’s great gift to us, and that we take a moment to be strengthened by their meaning, especially in terms of our addiction, and to say thank you.


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