This week’s blog entry was a deeply moving piece for me personally. It's a story of what one woman learned about herself while praying for the victims in recent tragedies in Paris and Maryland. It’s a powerful testimony of identification and understanding and one that helped remind me how powerful and heartbreaking the disease of addiction can be in my life and in the lives of those affected by it.
I am thankful that this priest and child of God found recovery for herself 6 years ago. I hope that by sharing her very personal words with you, it will help someone who may be struggling today. I’m grateful to know today that I am not alone and that help is out there any time I choose to reach out. May we all reach out when we need to.
God’s Peace, Shannon Tucker – RMEC President
I am Heather Cook (A recovering priest’s response to the tragedy in Maryland) Submitted Anonymously
"Je suis Charlie" and "Je suis Ahmed" (a Muslim policeman killed in the attack) have sounded loud and clear around the world in response to the horror of the massacres in Paris.
At the same time the Episcopal Church has been reeling from the hit and run incident involving the Suffragan bishop of Maryland, Heather Cook. As we all know by now, the fatal accident involved alcohol.
I've been praying for the dead and for the survivors in Paris since it happened. But after the news from Maryland broke, when I tried to pray for Thomas Palermo and his family and for Bp. Cook, I found myself sucked into an emotional vortex. I wasn't able to pray for them in the same clear way I could the people at Charlie Hebdo, and the kosher bakery and the printing shop. My prayers for those involved in the Maryland tragedy shortcircuited and I was left with free floating anger and a kind of despair. I couldn't figure out what was going on.
A few mornings after the incident as I was again obsessively googling the press reports from Maryland, these words flashed into my mind: "I am Heather Cook." And my heart broke open.
"I am Heather Cook": I am a priest and an alcoholic. I was actively drinking throughout seminary and nine years beyond ordination. Nothing externally terrible ever happened to me because of my drinking--one minor accident that was settled privately, no DWI's. I was never drunk on the altar or at my office. But every time I was called out at night to an emergency, I knew I was impaired, even if no one else seemed to guess my condition or preferred not to acknowledge it.
"I am Heather Cook": I live on a road in easy walking and bicycling distance to my small town. One night I drove to town just having drunk a bottle of wine. On the way home . . . I didn't hit someone. Instead grace hit me: I KNEW that I could easily kill a pedestrian or cyclist. I knew it as clearly as if it had actually happened. I drove the rest of the way home as slowly and carefully as I could.
I've been sober for almost six years. My sobriety date is the night I was given the gift to grasp the power I had, each time I drank and drove, to kill.
Now I can pray-- for Bp. Cook, the soul of Thomas Palermo, his family, and the Diocese of Maryland. I can pray, because I know now that the anger and despair that were keeping me from prayer for them was really for myself, for the reality of what I could have done. I am not outside this story, but deeply inside it. I am Heather Cook.