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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

  • 12/10/2014 3:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    I grew up in an Episcopal church in West Virginia, the one place I always felt safe from the chaos of my alcoholic home---I sang in the choirs and tried to figure out why girls couldn't be acolytes. While in graduate school I met some more evangelical, charismatic types who seemed to have an extra something. When my father died of alcoholism/colon cancer, one of my new friends came to apologize to me because she had not been able to pray for my father to live, since he “was leading a miserable life.” WHAT? Is God so frivolous as to hold some sort of popularity contest in deciding who is to live or die? Did St. Peter count the votes---before the days of “hanging chads”?

    I had very little to do with the church or God for the next decade. Twenty nine years ago, like many, I came into recovery with many misgivings about the role of a higher power in my life. I was told to “act as if” there were a loving presence walking beside me and caring for me. The third step says we turn our will and lives over to the CARE of God. The one who walked beside me would care for me, not protect me from losses, or pain. I had never felt truly supported and cared for, even by my husband, so this was a powerful notion. I acted as if, and at some point it ceased to be an act; it became a reality of my life. God even sent me a letter one time: I received an envelope with “HP” as the sender and saying “redemption enclosed.” Wow! As it turned out, it was a rebate check from Hewlett Packard, but for a minute there…

    Slowly, my HP and the God of my church merged as I began going to church again, and feeling the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. I saw this merger visually as I lay on a gurney waiting to go into surgery as my Priest held my right hand, my sponsor held my left, they held hands and we said the Lord’s Prayer together. We were, in a sense, a circle, and a triangle. For me, this represented the full circle I had traveled from God, away and back. I felt the power of the “we” which is the guiding principle of recovery and of faith in community. There are many people in recovery who will never return to the church or the God of their childhood and they have years and years of recovery through a higher power with a name of their choosing. Somehow, for me, it was important to realize that the God of my church, who had provided a place of safety and peace in my childhood, had been with me through all the darkness and pain, patiently waiting to welcome me home.
  • 12/03/2014 2:09 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    As I grow in my journey I get to learn daily what “live and let live” means to me. It was easy to learn what this meant for my addictive nature. I can’t drink and others around me can. At first I needed to not be where alcohol was served or I needed an exit plan. My sponsor told me to keep my keys in my pocket so I would literally have an exit plan. It also served as a reminder that I have choices in each situation that I am in and just feeling those keys in my pocket was all I needed to get through an event with alcohol.

    Applying “live and let live” in a much broader way is inevitable when I continue to work my program day-by-day. If one of my adult children tells me they have a plan and then they don’t follow through, I remind myself that it is their choice. Not saying “I told you so” when it doesn't turn out as they had planned because their actions didn't follow their words is my opportunity to let them make their own choices and learn for themselves.

    Recently the opportunity to practice “live and let live” is happening in a volunteer project I am leading. It is taking off in a positive way with more energy behind it than plans to implement it. People will come up and say “you need to do this and you need to do it quickly.” My first thought is to act out of their urgency. Then I remind myself (and am also reminded by my sponsor and those in the program) to let them live their path, which may include quick actions and making demands to get results. My way to “live” is to move in a day-by-day manner, making decisions that are thought out and prayed over before making decisions! I’m thankful for the keys in my pocket to remind me that I have a choice in my actions.
  • 11/26/2014 5:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    So we must stumble and fall, I am sorry to say…we must actually be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide.” (Richard Rohr, Falling Upwards, p.66).  While flying across the country in route to a long needed vacation, these words sang true as I sat in the back row of the plane, trusting the pilot to safely bring the plane back to earth.  Even with something as simple as walking on the plane, I needed to give up control and trust that someone else, a skilled and trained pilot, will guide the plane on its necessary course.  All I needed to do was to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.  And in fact, I did as the flight attendant directed.  Somehow, when it comes to flying in the sky, I am able to enjoy the flight.  Before recovery from addiction, there was no way I could do so.  I needed to fly the airplane!

    The wonderful and scary paradox of this quote from Richard Rohr, is the necessity of falling, of stubbing the toe, of being put off balance to the point that we must ask for help, and accept the help that comes our way. He even apologizes for having to name the obvious.  The human condition is to avoid any action that might otherwise suggest that we are not in control, or holding the reigns, or simply making life look “easy.”  Falling is a part of life.  My grandfather, who taught hundreds of children to ski, would say the only way to ski is to fall down, and get up again. It is a simple paradox every toddler knows by instinct.  It is a simple paradox any growing creature accepts just by living.  We must stumble and fall, so we know what stability feels like.  If we choose not to stumble, we lie on the floor until death comes our way, even if sustenance is three inches beyond our reach. We must stumble and fall if we want to stand up straight to see the sun.

    Ten years ago I could no longer pretend to fly my own airplane. Even more paradoxical is when I thought I was standing mighty straight and tall, I was in fact a heap on the floor.  No words, no wisdom, not even a whisper of truth could have brought me to lift my head. Ten years ago, something broke, and I started seeing how broken I was, how deep the hole was, and how my life was such a mess!  But could I accept it?  Could I, even in the middle of the mess, the middle of a career melt-down, a family crisis, a world of chaos, could I accept the fall and learn to stand again? Could I apologize for the obvious, accept the reality, and take up a new walking stick?  Could I learn to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight of life?

    In recovery, and only in recovery, could I hear and know what this quote means.  But, I am a slow learner.  In one year’s time, I first spent six weeks at an inpatient treatment center, and five months later, I returned for another five months.  One fall was not hard enough.  The road since has offered me opportunities for continued training wheels, returning to the basics and building up steam again and again.  Sobriety is more than abstinence, it's a place to see and know and find God at the center of life.  Today, I live not with a crutch or even training wheels, but trusting the “Real Guide” to give me hope for another day.  Today I can listen to the flight attendant over the intercom remind me, “sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.” --Anonymous 

  • 11/19/2014 1:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    In long-term recovery we often lean back into moments from our early recovery that help and sustain us. And sometimes in early recovery we have glimpses of what staying in recovery might mean for us later.

    Here is one of mine:

    When I was very new to the rooms of recovery I heard a woman share in a meeting in a way that made me truly want to be deeply in recovery. The woman was telling the group that the day before her daughter had been hurt –hit by a car in front of their home. The woman said that she got into the ambulance with her daughter and she began to pray that her daughter would be okay and she was praying that God would fix this situation.

    And then, she said, she stopped and she changed her prayer. Instead she began to pray, “God help me to get out of your way.”

    I was stunned by her words. Just stunned that anyone could have that prayer come to mind in such a scary situation. I knew in that moment that it was recovery working in that woman’s life. And I knew then that I wanted what she and those Twelve-Step people had. I understood that what this woman did came from being in this program.

    That was more than 30 years ago and that moment of realization and revelation has stayed with me. I still want that. It’s why I continue my recovery.

    God help me to get out of your way.  

  • 11/05/2014 12:24 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    I think one of the most beautiful traditions of the Church is our commemoration of All Saints’ Day. It’s the day where we, in the Episcopal community, pause and remember the many who have gone before us and celebrate the lives they lived. It’s also a day where I inevitably get choked up trying to sing a song I have been singing since childhood. If you don’t know I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, click here to listen to a 2012 recording on YouTube of the Children's Choir of St. John's Episcopal Church in North Haven, CT. It’s only verses 1 and 2 but I couldn’t even get through this short version without my eyes welling up with tears and my heart welling up with a familiar feeling I now know as gratitude.
    So why does a children’s choir singing a very simple song about doctors and fierce wild beasts elicit such strong emotions for me and the folks on the video and so many other people at my own church this past Sunday? My first thought is a personal one, that it reminds me of the connection I still have to my own father, who died 11 years ago this week. It takes me back to the memory of his life and of the connection we can still share when I bring my thoughts to him.
    My dad is probably not the most likely person to think of when remembering the saints, since he was rarely at church and didn’t share much about his own spiritual life with me, but there it is. The feeling that he is with me still, guiding me with his wit and wisdom and practical nature. I can see him in my mind’s eye being proud of me and cheering me on in my recovery and in my life. I can feel him urging me to apply myself and to work hard and I can hear him consoling me, saying, “It’s hard to be a Rebel fan,” after my football team loses a tough game.  He is still with me, every day.
    During our services yesterday and in our All Saints’ evensong last night, my mind drifted toward other saints who have toiled and fought and lived and have made a difference in my life. I think of Rick who met me on the first day on my recovery journey and has been shining a light and holding a mirror for me ever since. I think of Coni who taught me that her “flow of life” higher power was not in contradiction with my own concept of God. I think of Tara Mae and Whitney and James and Michael and Matt and Matthew and many others who have taught me more about the process than I have ever taught them. I think of Terry who told me to breathe, and I think of my mother who is about as close to a saint as you can get from this side of the veil. I think of my sister who is the spark that lit the fire that got me into recovery in the first place and my brother-in-law who is the patient glue that holds our family together. I think of their two little girls who were 2 and 6 when I found recovery and who I couldn’t imagine a life without. I think of my partner in life and love who never knew me before recovery but still knows how to hold the string that connects me to the ground when I sometimes want to float a little too far away. 
    My hope this week is to remember and honor all saints in my life, those here in body and those watching over me in spirit. And my greater hope is that I can remember that I really do mean to be one too.
    They lived not only in ages past,
    There are hundreds of thousands still.
    The world is bright with the joyous saints
    Who love to do Jesus' will.
    You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
    In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea;
    For the saints of God are just folk like me,
    And I mean to be one too.
    Who are the saints in your life today?

    I Sing a Song of the Saints of God


  • 10/29/2014 1:26 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    It is almost Halloween: a time of scary stories, horror movies and dire safety warnings.  What we miss in all this get-the-candy rushing about is what we’re celebrating and where it comes from. Yes, the religious right might ban Halloween because they think it’s pagan, but even they forget their heritage on this dark holiday.

    Halloween or some version of Souls Day Eve is celebrated all over the world and in some places All Hallows Eve is a solemn and austere time.  Our Halloween is really a combination of Druid practices with a lot of other religious beliefs thrown in.  We are winking at the Druidic past and what underlies the origins of our faith.

    As with almost all Christian observances - new religious rites were deliberately laid on top of ancient festivals. Halloween emerged from an act in the 8th Century when the All Saints Chapel in Rome was dedicated. That new holy day suppressed one of the oldest Celtic festivals called Samhein –a harvest festival - always celebrated on the last day of October. In a sense it is not unlike how Alcoholics Anonymous was built on the Oxford Group practices.

    But what else is going on around Halloween? Except for the candy, October 31st doesn’t leave much for grownups. Being scared of goblins lost its sway when I got old enough to lose people that I loved.  I think that’s true for many of us as we age. Baby Boomers - so mobile and with access to technology - have been a generation that has always been able to stay in touch. And maybe we still expect to even when our loved ones have died.

    That’s what this holiday is about. There is a belief that in the days near the end of October the veil separating this world and the next is thinner and so we are able to be closer to those who have died.  So we create rituals and customs and yes, Halloween.

    A ritual is a way of ordering life. In recovery our meetings are rituals and our step work, service work, and giving anniversary chips, and celebrating milestones are kinds of recovery rituals. And in our faith communities too--Purim and Advent, hearing Mass or saying Kaddish, are ceremonies that help us sort and reframe our memories. When someone dies the relationship doesn’t stop, it’s renegotiated, literally re-conceived.  This is especially important as we continue in recovery because we will live - sober - through the deaths of those we love and care about.

    The root of the word grieve is heavy. We carry our dead as a cherished burden. Death ends a life but not a relationship. Who would want to close the door on that?

  • 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 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. 

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