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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.

  • 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.

  • 10/11/2015 2:32 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Tacoma, WA (Diocese of Olympia) seeks to support recovery in two ways that may be of interest and encouragement to other congregations. Of course we make our facility available to several 12 step meetings, including AA and Al-Anon. The first is to designate one Sunday every September as Alcoholism Awareness Sunday. On that Sunday, the sermon focuses on alcoholism and substance abuse and on recovery for the person and their household. In place of the regular sermon, we may have a speaker from AA or Al-Anon, a speaker from our diocesan Commission on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, or I as rector may speak specifically about the “disease” of alcoholism and how our Christian faith offers hope for recovery. Simply dedicating one Sunday to alcoholism and substance abuse is a powerful and welcome message to our congregation that this issue can and needs to be talked about. Many members each year express their appreciation that this simple observance offers an opening to talk about this challenge they carry in their household and/or family history which is generally taboo for discussion.

    Second, after much discussion, St. Andrew’s now offers a chalice of consecrated juice as well as consecrated wine at our Sunday Eucharists. I confess that as rector, I resisted this because it seemed logistically awkward and because just receiving the bread was “full” communion. However, we were offering gluten-free communion wafers as an alternative to the consecrated bread, and some parishioners did feel that excluding them from the cup denied our acknowledgement and commitment to recovery. After consultation with our bishop, we instituted a trial period and now have been offering an alternative chalice for the past year.

    The logistics have gone very smoothly, and the alternative chalice has been appreciated by more folks than I expected – those refraining from alcohol as part of their recovery, those who choose to refrain from alcohol because of other medications, and several children who do not like the taste of the wine.

    We purchase small, 6 oz. bottles of grape juice – individual serving size – which do not need refrigeration before opening. One bottle is sufficient for both 8 am and 10 am services, with any remainder discarded. So there is no issue of refrigeration.

    The chalice used is distinct from our other chalices – ours is ceramic rather than silver plate. The filled chalice is placed on the Altar at the Offertory. I make the following announcement every Sunday: “When the wine is offered, if you would prefer a chalice of non-alcohol-bearing, consecrated juice, indicate by placing your hands together, palms down, and that will be offered.” (We use the same signal to indicate a preference for non-gluten bread when that is offered.) Then when the Eucharistic Minister bearing a chalice of wine sees that sign, they pass that person at the communion rail and another Eucharistic Minister, bearing the chalice of consecrated juice, steps up to serve. (At 8 am, the one Eucharistic Minister may return to the Altar to exchange chalices if an assistant is not available.) Over-all, this part of our liturgical service has flowed very well.

    These two practices have been much appreciated in our congregation and have inspired visitors beyond our parish. Regular members find this a gracious expression of our welcome to all God’s people.

    Yours in Christ,

    The Rev. Martin Yabroff


  • 10/07/2015 11:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    At times I felt alone; at times I battled with the idea that I was the maker of my life. When I was caught up in a constant desire for fame and material wealth, my partner was not with me. I was alone, trying to figure out the path to happiness. Drug addiction gave me the illusion of control. Many years passed of trouble, with the law, with the family, and with the job. I met my end when alcohol brought me to the place that an alcoholic knows well: loneliness, an indescribable sadness and fear. I reached out for help in the physical world, to the people in twelve step recovery.

    I started to walk in the sunlight of the Spirit, life did take on new meaning,and I found the friend who I thought had left me behind. But my lessons were not complete. For 12 plus years, fame and fortune threw applause my way and I thought that I had “arrived”. One day while in Dover, England, after carousing around the links, I left my friend for my old acquaintance: addiction. The walls did not come immediately crashing down, there was no black cloud, my bank account was not emptied, and my wife of 10 years (who also had 15 plus years of recovery) suspected nothing. Yet the slow return of loneliness and despair was inevitable and it felt like torture. Eventually I was alone again; or so I felt.

    Leaving prison and living in the big northern city did not fulfill that desire in me which I could not identify. I turned to the country in South Georgia. While seeking fame in an anonymous fellowship, I met with a Vicar who freely offered his church's space for our new recovery meeting. He had moved here and became Vicar of the church only two weeks prior to us meeting. Things developed and I struggled with staying clean but was never judged by the members of the congregation, and certainly not by the Vicar or Youth Minister. I had never made my own decision to become a member of a congregation; that decision was made for me as a youngster. This time the decision is mine: to follow a path that is not clearly visible yet, but my thoughts about my purpose are clear: carry the message of God, using recovery, to reach the man on paper, the mother hiding from her family, and any needing help, to mend the shame and prejudice surrounding the addiction and recovery process.

    Say the word “God” and watch how addicted people react. Exhibit an “act of God” and feel them respond. The words are not useful until the spirit is open to them. One cannot graft a new idea into a closed mind. God has put me in a position in my life I never imagined, given me an opportunity to carry his message, through my experience, to a community I have grown to admire. Homelessness, treatment, affiliation with the rich and poor, prison, popularity, fortune, children and my family relationships are some of the experiences I carry.

    Our Church now has more recovery meetings of any place in our county. We plan to show the documentary “The Anonymous People” for the community in October. We are praying for guidance to discover our signature mission.

    I am taking more time for prayerful meditation and the worldly clamors are becoming quieter. My journey was always with God. The practice of discernment has become a base for my faith and my continuing relationship with God. 

    -Anonymous

  • 10/01/2015 11:05 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As I reflect on my sobriety and the struggles I have had in the past with self-medicating through alcohol, I invariably come back to the idea of grace. I am here by grace, and it is through grace that I find the courage to stay sober. I don't know when or if I will slip up. It could be today or tomorrow. It could be years from now. But what I do know is that grace will be there to pick me back up.

    I have many reasons to stay sober. From the love of my mom to the smiling faces of my nieces, or the responsibility I have to my younger brothers to provide a good example of what a good man does, or the hope of fulfilling the dreams I have implanted on my heart, there are real, incarnate reasons that remind me each day that I have a good life and I need to entrust my failings and my doubts to the higher power of the Grace of God. If I can surrender my need to try and control everything, I can see that grace alive and vibrant in every moment. And, I can realize that alcohol cannot make anything better than it already is!

    Alcohol, for me, is a "stumbling block," to use the words from Jesus in Mark, Chapter 9. It is an impediment that keeps me from being my best self, from whom God created me to be. It soothes the pain, or so I think. Really, it simply numbs the pain, making me think things are ok. But the pain is still there; I am simply ignoring it. And when I recognize that the alcohol has not really made my problems go away, I get mad or depressed and I take all of the anger and sadness out on those around me, on those I love. And God was one of my favorite targets. What I have come to realize is that not only does alcohol keep me from being my best self, but it becomes a barrier to a full, deep, enriching relationship with God.

    And while I know God is big enough to take my railing and wailing and anger, my love for God keeps me from drinking. My desire to be who God wants me to be stops me from picking up a bottle. My desire to love God as God loves me strengthens me to not drink. And when I fail, if I fall, God's grace will pick me up and cover the gap that I cannot fill.

    James D.

  • 09/16/2015 10:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    "What's The Gathering?" I asked her. To this day I do not know how the name of the annual conference was chosen. It took me a long time to arrive at this gathering of recovering saints. Not because the flights were long or the taxi drivers were slow to arrive or the trains were delayed. It took me a long time to get to The Gathering because it took me a long time to finally choose sobriety.

    Choosing to live a sober life was certainly the very best choice I have made. My family said they had missed the real me much. I was turning to alcohol, running away, making unhealthy choices, and finally hurting so very much that it was my only choice left. I was finally able through the path of recovery to know that I had been forgiven and that I could choose to forgive. I found a loving God full of mercy and grace who heals, redeems, reconciles and restores. And I was given peace.

    After a few years of my new life, I discovered that many people gather together (there it is, the name!) in the path of recovery in many different organized events, from different countries, speaking different languages, worshipping in many different ways. And when The Gathering, an annual conference hosted by Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church, was introduced to me as a place I could go, as a conference I could attend, as a retreat I could give to myself, I registered, booked my flights and hotel room, and waited.

    I waited because I was not really sure what was ahead. I waited because I did not have any idea who would be there. Would they be people that I could relate to? I wondered. Will I meet anyone that I will enjoy knowing? Will they understand my journey in recovery?

    My journey in recovery from alcoholism and other addictions had required that I thoughtfully and prayerfully rebuild my broken relationship with a loving God and with the church. Gratefully, I found that almost everyone attending shared a very similar journey.

    My journey in recovery also included discovering service work. Service work shows up in all places and in so many needed ways. I was surprised when I realized that I could be of service to others in recovery through this important fellowship of Recovery Ministries. So, as I walked through the conference, attended the lectures and experiential events, worshipped with fellow recovering folks surrounding me, I was touched deeply. I was surprised by the depth of the meaning of this Gathering of souls who have walked paths quite similar to mine. I laughed and cried. I attended meetings that touched me very deeply. I heard lectures that I recall years later in my heart and mind. I savored the marvelous worship. I made very dear friends. And, after a few years, I was invited to serve on the board of Recovery Ministries. I have found great depth in my fellow board members. I have repeatedly prayed to God to direct me and use me in this unique and precious service to other alcoholics, addicts, and members of recovery in the church.

    Oh, all of this is not necessarily guaranteed by the organizing committee for each attendee. But indeed, surely goodness and mercy shall pursue us as we Gather together in Seattle in October. May God's grace and mercy pour over each person preparing for The Gathering booking flights, hotel, and transportation, and waiting. May God bring to each of us the gifts that only God knows what each person truly needs.

    Anonymous (thank you)
  • 09/12/2015 9:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    On Sept. 5th I celebrate 43 years being clean and sober. And like the first meeting I attended on Sept. 5, 1972, the lead up to my birthday has things stirring inside.

    My mother asked me to attend an AA meeting with her when she was perhaps six months sober. I was just a few months past my 21st birthday; she had gotten sober while I was out of the country and wanted me to understand why she had been the way she had been while I was growing up.

    I decided I could go to a meeting and find out why she had been so mean. It was Father Martin’s chalk talk; a two hour presentation that filled the room near Annapolis, MD, to capacity. During the first hour he spoke about what the chemical composition of alcohol does to anyone’s body. During the second hour, he spoke about what alcohol does to an alcoholic.

    For the first hour I took my mother’s inventory. During the second hour, I took my own. He described how the alcoholic might initially have a tremendous tolerance for alcohol, frequently seeming to drink others ‘under the table.’ But that wasn’t the good news I thought I had demonstrated; it meant that one’s body had an abnormal response to alcohol. And he described the progression to suicidal depression which I had been in the previous year as I closed the bars night after night. Even more horrifying, he said that for an alcoholic who stops drinking when that person picks up the next drink it is not as if they start over, or even start where they left off. An alcoholic’s body reacts as if they had never stopped drinking… picking up that much farther down the progression. I had proved it just two weeks before when, after a dramatic conversion to Christianity and six months without a drink, a half a beer had me stumbling into the furniture. Me! Who had been putting down between a pint and a quart of tequila a day the year before.

    I turned to my mother’s program friend sitting next to me and said “I think I’m an alcoholic.” She took my phone number and for a month hounded me until I agreed to go to another AA meeting. The second meeting was celebrating another woman’s fifth sobriety birthday. I remember listening to her in amazement and thinking she was from Mars. How, in God’s name, did ANYONE go five years without a drink?

    Slowly. One does it slowly. And, if we are fortunate, we get remade in the process. 

    I was so sure I knew God much better than all the AA people who rumbled about “God as we understand him” and then made it clear they did not understand God at all. But they were willing to trust a loving Presence that might not be there. They were willing to help each other no matter what time of day or night another drunk reached out for help. They were willing to tell the truth, every truth, the most terrible truths, to at least one other person. And to clean up what they could of the wreckage of their pasts. Bottom line, they were staying sober and I was not. 

    So I showed up. Haltingly. Resisting suggestions for as long as possible. Choosing meetings attended by those who looked the least like me that I could find. But I showed up and slowly started to experience love that did not have to do with age, or class, or education. Love that sneaks past our defenses; love that sustains us when unthinkable tragedies occur; love that reaches through us to the next person who has called out for help with cries without words. Love in which even/especially God is anonymous. Love that carries me still, after 43 years, into deeper service to my beloved Triune God.

    -Marguerite J.

  • 08/12/2015 8:11 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I am a recently retired priest, and also a card-carrying, dues-paying codependent in recovery. I am also Chair of the Board of Directors of a small residential recovery home for women. Working with these women, I see miracles all the time, as Susan A. said on 7/29. Here is one of those miracles, written by a meth addict with just 60 days clean. -Martha Kreamer

    Poem
    (Written by current resident and 
    used by permission)

    It starts at a House on 27 acres,
    Letting go of the past.
    Becoming friends with 10 strangers.
    Suddenly we experience many life changes.
    Mornings filled with devotions,
    Days, with up and down emotions.
    “Rising Above” and making mistakes:
    A life or death situation, so do whatever it takes.
    Anxiety begins when we look at the future.
    Then the term, “just for today,” is crucial.
    It all boils down to Faith or Fear.
    Get it together, girl; go after that career.
    Once baby addicts, now starting to grow,
    The person we should be is starting to show.
    We have let go of lying, cheating, stealing.
    Learning to laugh again, and laughter is healing.
    Fight hard to find your Voice,
    Cause at the end of the day,
    It is still a choice.

  • 07/29/2015 9:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A few weeks ago I was chatting with a new clergy friend. We were sitting outside on a beautiful New Hampshire afternoon enjoying one another's company and exchanging views on life and the church. I thought we had pretty similar attitudes until he said, "I'm trying to convince my congregation that the miracle stories in the Gospels are just myths." Startled, I blurted out, "But I see miracles every day!"

    My dictionary defines 'miracle' as "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs." As a recovering alcoholic, every facet of my current life is a miracle. Six years ago a loving Power managed to get through all the blockades I'd erected over the years to keep out any recognition that I was not in any way in control of my drinking. Very quickly the mental obsession to drink which had been my faithful companion (and a substitute Higher Power) for decades disappeared.

    I'm a miracle who loves to hang out with other miracles. The more I learn about the people around the table in my AA home group, the more I see that their lives too are "extraordinary events manifesting divine intervention." The young woman who'd been homeless, her children taken away; the middle-aged man once ostracized by his family and neighbors. The young woman's daughter came to the meeting a few weeks ago and spent most of it with her head laid fondly on her mother's shoulder; my other friend occasionally has to rush home to care for his grandchildren.

    Being in recovery is the big, capital 'M' miracle. But little 'm' ones occur in my life every day as I continue to work the 12 Steps. Just now, having spent the past month with my husband's huge extended family vacationing nearby, I am endlessly grateful for the power of 10th Step inventory. I am at all times prone to resentment, but in July of each year I become a boiling kettle. I seethe, I sulk. But this year I resolved to write inventory on the resentments as soon as possible after they bubbled up. When I followed through on my resolve and even before I read the inventory to my sponsor, I could feel my emotional temperature return to normal. I could see my part in the situation and the all too familiar character defects driving my anger. I'd realize how much of the resentment was based on fantasy. And for the time being anyway, I was able to return to being a loving in-law to my husband's big, happy, chaotic family.

    This may seem trivial compared to ongoing sobriety, but to me the defusing of emotional overload through inventory brings one of those little 'm' miracles. By stopping and taking the time to do a 10th Step I'm not fixing myself. That wouldn't be a miracle, it would be self-help. What's really happening is that I'm opening myself to "divine intervention," or as I'd prefer to call it, grace. While I'm scribbling my inventory I'm silently, maybe unconsciously, praying, "Here we go again, God. I know you've heard this all before, but I'm in trouble. I cannot, cannot, do this by myself. Help me!"

    And amazing grace saves me once again, just (as I said to my new friend) as grace poured out of Jesus into the eyes, ears, bodies, and spirits, of those he healed.

    Susan A.

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