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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.

  • 01/22/2016 5:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Before I entered recovery, I spent a lot of time feeling alone and cold. Even surrounded by my family and friends I could still feel isolated and unloved. I had no connection with God and when I drove by churches in early recovery I had a feeling like I should be there, but just couldn't get through the doors.

    The first time I attempted to go to a face to face meeting, I was an anxious wreck. I showed up at the church, wandered through the corridors and could not find the group. I knew I was in the right place but I was too scared to wander any further. I left through the doors crying and did not have the courage to come back for another six months.

    One cold December night, I walked through those same doors where I ran into two women. They welcomed me with smiles and invited me to where they were meeting- in the warmth and light of the basement. My stomach was sick but I felt lighter having felt that I was in the right place. The women around me were just like me and that basement had a feeling about it that I can't describe. It was God's presence.

    I hadn't been to church in years but it's as though the church was enveloping me into its arms to comfort me. I was welcome no matter what state I was in. God was waiting for me there even though I had felt so separate from him for so long it was a reunion that felt natural.

    I would falter still. Over the next year I would attend on and off for some months and then fall off the map, struggling with an addiction to anxiety medication and then attempting suicide. I felt cold, alone, hopeless, and crying in my heart to be held again.

    Back through the doors I came—those open arms—and I was embraced with a warmth that was so desperately needed during a very dark and difficult time.

    It was because of those times in the basement that I reconnected with God after years of being estranged. I would soon after begin walking through the red doors of our local church on Sundays with my children.

    Whether the doors are bright red or dingy white, opening to the high ceilings or crowded tables and chairs, to me, walking through them means walking into God's arms. Where I need to be and where I belong.

    -Mindy

  • 01/14/2016 8:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My first attempt at getting clean, after a 17-year downward spiral to the depths of my addiction, was through a long-term women’s treatment center in Memphis in 1985. They only offered AA meetings and used AA literature at the time because other 12-step fellowships had not been around long enough to have long-term recovery. Alcohol use was not the primary manifestation of my addiction, so it was somewhat difficult to identify. (Today, the ladies of that same facility are offered a variety of fellowships and recovery literature, and I am grateful they have that choice.) 

    I was there for 9 months and started using about half-way through after my priorities got out of balance. When I got caught, I was given the choice to start over or leave. I chose to leave because I wasn’t going to use anymore. Wrong! One is too many and a thousand is never enough, and I just couldn’t stop. 

    My addiction got so much worse, so quickly. It wasn’t long before I resorted to: “Dear God, please help me” (not go to jail, not OD, etc.). Finally, one of my cries for help paid off. I ended up in another treatment center on January 20, 1987. A few days before my discharge, I made a phone call to the Narcotics Anonymous helpline and asked the young girl who returned my phone call for a ride to a meeting the day I was scheduled to get out, and I also asked her to be my temporary sponsor. You see, I knew that I had to put my recovery first this time, starting with day one.

    The suggestions I followed in early recovery I still follow today. I have a sponsor, go to meetings, work steps, read the literature, pray, fellowship, and serve others. Recovery gave me the ability to hold a job long-term, raise my son as a single parent, the tools to cope with whatever I might be going through – to live life on life’s terms in the best and worst of times.

    I’ve had my ups and downs in recovery. At 10 years clean I found out that I had Hepatitis C as a result of my active addiction, and surviving 2 rounds of interferon treatment is nothing short of a miracle! My son grew up and moved away from home around the same time as the Hep C treatments. I felt so alone. I was super depressed and continually sick from the treatment. I was beginning to slack off in using the recovery tools that had kept me clean. After making some poor decisions, and then finally getting out of the mess my life had become, I began to make changes for the better again. My health improved. I started going to more meetings. I got a new sponsor. I started over in my steps. I renewed my service efforts!

    One of the greatest gifts of recovery has been my relationship with the God of my understanding. I prayed when I was out there using for God to please help me.  When I realized I could pray those same prayers for help in recovery, I started to feel more hopeful, to see the light at the end of the tunnel, to start believing that I could stay clean. The Episcopal chaplain at the treatment center I was in helped me to realize that through God, I could receive the willingness, strength, courage, and faith that I so badly needed in early recovery. 

    I had started working at an Episcopal church shortly before my relapse in 1986 and the love and support given to me by this faith community (and my 12-step fellowship) made the difference between me staying clean or facing a life of jails, institutions, and ultimately death. I was thrilled to realize that the Episcopal church had a national recovery organization (Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church), as well as a local diocesan commission on addiction and recovery. 

    I’m eternally grateful to have found this new way to live. I know that I can’t keep what I have unless I give it away, so I’ve stayed involved in helping to carry the message of recovery through both my church and 12-step fellowship since 1987 and hope to celebrate 29 years of recovery later this month. 

    -A grateful recovering addict in Memphis


  • 12/31/2015 1:44 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    2106 is a leap year with 53 Fridays and 53 Saturdays.  366 days to tally as four seasons, two solar and two lunar eclipses, standard and daylight savings time, a presidential election day, civic holidays, religious feast days, work deadlines, school term schedules, tourneys and championships for every sport, and of course, our personal birthdays, wedding anniversaries and milestones in recovery.  We measure time by more than watches and calendars.

    As a high school senior, I was ‘kind of a big deal’ (what high school senior isn’t?).  Top grades in a top school, yearbook editor, student council officer, societies and activities against the backdrop of college applications, and in my case, an interior pull toward the Jesuit novitiate. As the stakes swelled, my grip slipped and screw-ups swelled until one chill March night, a cop busted me for 50 in a 35 on a rain slicked road and froze me in mid-flight.  A friend prodded me to unload my gathering woes to my Dad, a step that loomed to me as fearful as accosting Zeus. 

    Zeus was compassionate and kind.  He, himself, already held growing concerns that my legs were slipping out from under me.  His underwhelming advice: “take one day at a time.”  It turned out that “one” day was exactly right, because the very next day at school, my advisor called me out for my crappy attitude and cockiness.  I knew he was right and I had a solution, or at least the thread of one.  “One day at a time.”  That, and call Dad. 

    In the years to come, I fecklessly accelerated into the curves of life’s choices, yielding miscues and messes, careless of my own and others’ needs and interests.  I sped from pasts (last night, last semester, last boss, last marriage) toward futures (next deal, next job, next wife, next drink).  Eventually, the day, the hour, the moment of grace arrived, slowing, quieting, opening time to see, accept and live in each moment, each “now”. 

    A learned business guru once wrote that “strategic planning grasps the future outcomes of present decisions.”  The 4th century Indian poet, Kalidasa, wrote, “Look to this day, for it is life.  The very life of life.”  St. Theresa of Liseux wrote, “trust God that you will find meaning and value here and now.”  On my first sober anniversary, my sponsor gave me an edition of John Singer Sargent’s paintings.  In the overleaf, he wrote: “…so much beauty collected over a lifetime.  Today, we each add a sketch to our own lives. Before – perhaps not even a line.”  

    Saints and worthies are united in their counsels to make no new year’s resolutions to fix, reconcile, improve or achieve anything, anything at all beyond the twenty-four hours at hand.  I can only shape or change me, my own attitudes and behavior, and only at this moment.  Our impatience, our urges and ambitions are distractions.  Horace declaimed, “seize the day!”  Yes!  See, explore and revel in this day.  Let it reveal its gifts as being gifts to be gauged, used well and treasured much in thanksgiving.

    What is dominating me, distracting me from this moment?

    What fears, desires, attitudes, behaviors, habits cloud my vision of this moment?

    Whose needs and gifts and love are with me now and what is my response to them?

    How does my faith help me enrich my grasp of the Presence in the present?

    O God, “I AM” – Grant me a moment’s grace, a moment’s peace, a moment’s love.

    Martin C. P. McElroy
    from Bumper Sticker Healing: Slogans in Recovery

  • 12/09/2015 6:55 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    There was no song in my heart. The world was a pretty dark place. I didn’t see stars in the heavens. I had no hope in my soul. My best friend was a glass of scotch. My family didn’t trust me; I was a liar, a terrible mom, wife, sister, friend and employee. I was running on empty. My mom had died, which would have been difficult enough to process had I been sober. But add active alcoholism, and I was rock bottom depressed. My husband and I had adopted a son, and I was failing miserably at being a good mom. You can’t parent well when you are not present to the needs of the child. I was a complete and total failure on every front. I would just as soon be dead myself.

    And then, on January 22, 1987, after getting my husband into treatment (he was sooo much worse than me) I GOT SOBER. By the grace of God I got sober. And by the grace of God I have stayed sober since that day. Life did not become a “piece of cake”, but hope began to fill my soul, and I saw stars in the sky, and sometimes I thought I could hear the song of angels in my heart.

    I was broken and began to heal; was hungry and received nourishment; lost and I found a place where I belonged. I was a prisoner to alcohol, and my “sentence” was ended and I was free. And my soul began to come alive.

    I have found that I am always okay if I trust in God, follow the steps and stay in a place of gratitude. With Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, my AA birthday and my natal birthday all descending upon me within the next 90 days, I want only to pass on my message to continue the path, and know that God will guide us and care for us if we stay the course ~ you too will begin to rebuild and to find peace and discover that special music in your heart. Blessings on each of you, most particularly during the holidays.

    Patty B.

  • 12/06/2015 10:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I was looking for an AA meeting in Paris. I got to the church early, and watched which door people were going in. Churches can have many doors, and meeting locations can be sort of cryptic, a back door or an obscure staircase from the parking lot.

    Finding and following the crowd, we walked down steep stone stairs. AA? I asked. Oui, she said, oui, c’est dans la crypte. The location actually was cryptic, that is hidden, mysterious, the lowest, deepest room of an old stone basilica, the foundation, where we would gather to share our struggles to maintain a foundation of sobriety.

    I love church crypts. These deepest rooms are small and dark, with stone arches, musty smell. Sometimes there is an eternal light, or an icon, and an invitation to spend time in prayer. Once in a crypt I found on the altar a roughly scribbled note, and read it: Cher Dieu, dear God, help me in my addiction, help me find new life, forgive my sins, pardonnez vous mes offenses, help me, m’aidez. I picture a desperate young man, alone in the depths, seeking respite from the apocalypse of his life, scribbling that note. How long had it been there?

    In Vezelay, in Burgundy, there is an all-night vigil every Thursday night in the crypt, praying before the host, the reserved communion bread. On retreat, I join the monks and nuns in the dark. At 6am Friday the bread is brought up out of the Romanesque depths and placed on the altar in the bright Gothic nave.

    In Paris I join another procession, more noisy and scraggly than the solemn monastics, down to the crypt. The room is like a lot of AA meeting places in other churches, a room also used by many other folks. Perhaps it was also the choir rehearsal room, or a church school classroom, various boxes of music stacked by the walls and kids’ pictures taped to the stone.

    A nice person offers to get me some coffee through the crowded bustle of chairs and people, and brings me back a cup half full. I feel a blast of grumpiness about their stinginess, it’s early and this is my first cup, until I taste it – delicious French espresso, thick and jolting.

    The speaker is a longtime American Paris resident; it is an English speaking meeting. She had moved here originally on a “geographic,” an AA term for dealing with your addiction by moving; “I did a geographic, to get away from trouble, shame, the wreckage of my past.” A desperate or resigned hope that a new place will help one get sober. But mostly these stories are about how the descent only continues, gets worse, in the new place one just gets deeper and deeper into one’s addiction.

    It seems appropriate to be in this deep cold dark room, well actually it is pretty well lit by 21st century lights, but one can tell it was originally lit only by candles in the wall alcoves, to be down deep when we are speaking of down deep cold memories. Crypts can be cold, but that jolt of expresso and the happy 40 people in a small room warms me up pretty quickly.

    After the meeting I sit for a few minutes to enjoy the room, the afterglow. My sponsor encourages me to do this, not to rush out afterwards, stay for the meeting after the meeting, meet someone. A young woman starts talking with me, we discover we are staying near each other, we talk Paris for a bit. “My parents are driving me crazy.” They are so judgmental, it feels like to her, why does she have to live so far away, why does she have to keep going to meetings if she is now sober? We laugh the knowing laugh of the converted.

    Like the sleepy Friday morning exodus from the crypt tomb in Vezelay, we stumble up the steep stone stairs of this church and out into the Paris morning. I see that same woman a day or so later at another meeting across town. We smile and hug like old friends.

    I continue my France trip visiting crypts and meetings. In towns where I can’t find a meeting I take my Big Book with me down into the crypt and read. Not by nature a great kneeler or bower, I have to get down closer to the ground to enter these crypts. I pray. And practice beginner’s mind. I touch the cold stone foundational walls. The dirt floor connects my feet to the earth. I stare at the precious host and give thanks for new life.

    -Deborah Streeter


  • 11/22/2015 11:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My birthday is in April, and I look forward to it with excitement as God has given me another day, another year to live, to breathe in all that life has to offer. But there is also a little dread in anticipation of my birthday. I think of how old I am getting, and of how much I wish I could take back, how much I will never be able to experience. I think of all the time I will not get back. And about how closer I come to my mortality. Birthdays can truly be a mixed bag of blessing and lamentation for me.

    There is, however, another day which I look forward to without trepidation. The past three Novembers have reframed my thinking about birthdays and times of remembrance and reflection.  You see, on November 4, 2012, All Saints Sunday, I was baptized in a small, rural Episcopal church in Virginia. Surrounded by family and new friends, I was given grace. I was made clean indeed. I made a vow, a covenant with the God who saved me countless times that I will never know and many times when the eyes of my soul were open to behold the miracles of grace. On that day, I acknowledged, for perhaps the first time ever, that I was powerless and that God could be my only salvation. I fell into the drops of water as the priest sprinkled them over me, just as I had fallen into the grace-filled, divine flow of life.

    I acknowledged that day something I already knew: I was powerless. Powerless to overcome alcohol. Powerless to overcome the paralyzing fear and anxiety that kept me from living abundantly. Powerless to accept love and help from those around me, from those who loved me. Powerless to the need to control everything and everyone in my life. That is, I realized I was powerless without the help of God.

    On that day, I knew that God was working in me, showing me the things, as the Book of Common Prayer says, "necessary for my salvation." At my baptism, I promised to walk humbly with my God, knowing that I could fall, but trusting that God would pick me up.

    And so each year, on November 4th, I recall that glorious day, my spiritual birthday, with gratitude and joy. I recall the friendship God made in me. I remember the promises I made, and marvel at the promises God made to me, which I don't truly understand.  I remember the man I used to be, this time with mercy, instead of rigid criticism and regret. I remember the feeling of that water on my forehead, and the cleansing that I felt as sins were put away. I remember how far I have come since that day, and look to the present moment with gladness and mindfulness to the hope of tomorrow.

    -James D.


  • 11/18/2015 7:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all
    things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of
    lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided
    and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together
    under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you
    and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP p. 236)

    This coming Sunday is Recovery Sunday in our diocese. After a long hiatus we have given congregations the option of celebrating recovery and calling the church to awareness in the area of substance abuse and addictions.

    After I had suggested the date to the Bishop I realized it was Christ the King Sunday. If there is anything that most of the folks that I know in recovery are not it would be abounding in triumphalism in the broadest sense of the word. The more I prayed on it and found something in the texts to link to the work of recovery and powerlessness I became less sure that the path would emerge. Thank God my darling wife read the collect to me. The path began to emerge in a real and tangible way.

    If there was any way to describe my state at the end (please God) of my drinking, it was “enslaved by sin.” I sometimes felt that Paul’s words in the letter to the Romans “15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” were written just for me. Sin, for me was not the act of drinking so much as it was making consistent and irrational choices to do the very thing that left me feeling spiritually dry, arid and separate from all that is good, holy and true.

    Any day that I don’t drink now is a triumph that can only be realized if I know, in thought and action, that I cannot remain sober on my own will. When I came into the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous I really started to understand what it meant to “be freed and brought together under God’s most gracious rule.”

    The only door I have found to the freedom that sobriety has brought to my life and the lives of those I love has been when I admit my powerlessness over only three areas of my life—People, Places and Things. Other than that I’m on it.

    So, on the cusp of the Feast of Christ the King, I pray that I can continue to ‘turn it over’ to God’s most gracious rule. Sometimes it’s a day at a time. Mostly, though, it’s moment by moment. I cannot begin to tell you the kind of freedom I have come to experience by allowing God to be God so I don’t feel tempted to take the reins of my unruly will back.

    -Warren H.

    1 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 7:15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

  • 11/01/2015 12:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Sarah was proud of the fact she had 6 months in the program but was very worried about her 18 year old son and his addiction to alcohol, so worried in fact she felt his behavior was jeopardizing her sobriety. Of course, everyone jumped in with their own thoughts of what “worked for them” in situations like that.

    The first comments related to her feelings about her own sobriety. I certainly felt she couldn’t let someone else’s behavior threaten her own sobriety. That’s akin to what I did all the years of my own drinking: I let others define my own behavior patterns and importantly how I felt about myself. I drank so others would like me, I wanted to be part of their group and believed that the admission key was a case of beer. I had no self-esteem or feelings of self-worth. It was all tied to what others thought.

    The talk turned to the fact that her son had to take responsibility for his conduct, that it had nothing to do with her. I felt strongly she can’t control him, that her efforts to do so only lead to frustration, anger, resentments, self-pity and depression and anxiety and ultimately to that first drink – which for the alcoholic leads inexorably to the whole bottle or case.

    There were several paths mapped out for her but ultimately we came to the point of reminding all of us that we must be aware of unknowingly rescuing the addict, covering-up, excusing his conduct, enabling his comfortable continuation of his addiction.

    It’s not easy, especially with children and parents and siblings … enabling just makes it easy for them to continue on their path of self-destruction. So we all mentioned that in this situation she can’t let him stay at her house if he continues his drinking, give him money, loan him the car, bail him out of jail, call his boss with the excuse his absence is caused by “the flu”, clean-up after he is sick in the living room … in a word or two, we can’t engage in any conduct that enables him to fail to take responsibility for his action and the consequences of his drinking.

    Johnny C. summed it up very nicely:

    “He knows you’re in the Program and of course is threatened by the changes in your life already.. So he’s afraid, maybe angry. But he – like you – won’t work the Program ‘til he’s ready. Hopefully, that occurs before his drunkenness causes a tragedy in his or another’s life”

    Jim A., Covington, KY

  • 10/21/2015 9:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I carry with me two talismans of my recovery.

    The first is a medallion celebrating two years of sobriety this month. I am fortunate that the desire to drink was pretty much taken away after I hit rock bottom – literally – on the marble floor of the hotel lobby at a work conference.

    The second is a bracelet that arrived the day after that conference – the last thing I bought without telling my wife – that helps me remember I don't need to spend money when I am feeling "restless, irritable, and discontented."

    But what recovery really looks like for me is the Pendleton shirt that I wear around the house on the weekends.

    After I lost my job, I was at home a lot more often. I would usually wear jeans and a turtleneck and that favorite shirt.

    I remember sitting on the couch one evening thinking, "I really like this shirt; I should buy another one."

    It took only a few seconds for my new inner voice to respond. "Don't be an idiot. This is a Pendleton shirt, and it will last forever. You won't outlive this shirt; you don't need to buy another one."

    Paul writes that:

    “We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day .... in this tent we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed" (2 Cor. 4:16, 5:4).

    Even though God is working in us to renew our inner nature, we may need reminders of that hidden process from time to time.

    How often?

    "One day at a time," says Alcoholics Anonymous. "Daily we begin again," say the Benedictines.

    That first day after my fall, I spoke by phone to a fellow deacon from another diocese who I knew was in recovery. I confessed my fear that every day would feel like a burden, an endless process of giving things up, not being able to do what I wanted.

    He burst out laughing and said, “You’ve got it all backwards! Any day that you don’t drink is an oasis, not a burden!” He went on to describe how people in recovery enjoy a “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of [their] spiritual condition.”

    That really stuck with me.

    I have for 23 years practiced praying the Daily Office, and as I continue in recovery I understand more and more how the 12 Steps illuminate basic practices of the Christian faith. The familiar prayers are shot through with a deeper meaning now.

    The Confession of Sin that begins Morning and Evening Prayer – what is it but a daily self-inventory (Step 10)?

    The regularity of the Daily Office, the discipline of Bible reading, the prayers for ourselves and for the needs of others – what are they but “seeking conscious contact with God … praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out” (Step 11)?

    Even though we "wish not to be unclothed," we may have to spend time each day being uncomfortably open and vulnerable –  honestly sitting with our restlessness and our "stinking thinking" –  before we can experience a new kind of peace and serenity.

    Being content with what I have, being at peace with those around me, being calm about asking for what I need – these are what it means for me to be "clothed with joy."

    Rodger P.

  • 10/14/2015 8:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” I remember hearing this portion of the 9th Step Promises from pages 83-84 of the Big Book in my first days of not drinking. I use the term not drinking for I did not have a clue about what the recovering life could look like at that point in my life. My 29+ years of drinking had come to an embarrassing, painful, anger-filled, and life saving intervention by my boss and others who loved me. As I slowly started hearing how the work of the Twelve Steps could lead to these promises being fulfilled, I thought “maybe for others, but not for me.” I so desperately wanted to SHUT the door on ALL the regrets I had from this past, especially as they impacted my wife, our son, and particularly our daughter.

    For 18 years, she had weathered the storms of my alcoholic behavior. The profound depth of those effects came to bear in her teen years. She was the “Mini-Me” most families find occurring in parent/child relationships – a perfectionist, often flares of deep anger, then regret, then despair, back to anger. Although we did not overlay expectations upon her for school work or other activities, she pushed herself harder and deeper. At thirteen, we dragged her, and I mean I literally threw her over my shoulder to drive to the therapist! Her first sessions she refused to leave the car, so she sat in the back seat while the therapist stood next to the slightly cracked open window. This all happened while I was still active in my alcoholism which continued for another five years – because, as you might understand, I was not the problem!

    As I continued working the steps to #8 and 9, the amends making was not possible with my daughter. She was one whom we learn of the latter portion of Step 9 “… unless to do so would injure them or others.” She tolerated being in our home because of her love, care, and protection of her mother from me. So I learned, accepted, and PRAYED that in God’s time a window for making my deep amends to her would open. Over the years following in recovery – now 18 years, matching her age when I began this journey – the windows of opportunity cracked open at times. They usually came after she had drunk too much, did something she now regretted, and was wallowing in that valley of feeling worthless that I had known so well. When she opened a little, I would try to share my experience from times just like this in her life, and ask forgiveness for how I had hurt her in this life. Sometimes my amends were heard and grudgingly accepted, and other times vehemently rejected. I accepted her side of the street and did what I knew I could do in becoming a sober man and father she might forgive and embrace someday. I just kept doing the next things as right as I could, and asked for forgiveness when those character defects popped up again. I just kept coming back as best I could, one day after another after another after …

    I offer this part of my story this day for on Saturday, October 17, our daughter will celebrate her marriage to a fine man … and I will be walking her down the aisle! Eighteen years ago, and even eight years ago, I am pretty sure I would not have even been invited to be any part of the blessings of this day in her life.

    For this reason, I now embrace this promise of the 9th Step … and for that I am grateful!

    Paul G.

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