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Through the Red Door Blog

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.

  • 07/29/2015 8:20 PM | Anonymous

    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.

  • 07/22/2015 7:18 PM | Anonymous

    Why is it so difficult to accept things? Just thinking about acceptance makes me growl and feel sick to my stomach, which in itself tells me it’s time to work my program right this very minute. Before I even started drinking, I sought escape through reading, shopping, and creating elaborate fantasy visions of my future success, “as anticipated for years, the Nobel Prize goes to…. Kirsten H…..” When I started drinking, I could not believe how much better I felt when the weight of all that anxiety I carried around most days just vanished, or faded into the distance. A drink or two helped me feel more relaxed, less worried, more courageous about talking with people. And, I discovered, that when I felt really good after one drink I felt even better after two or three or four or five or….Well, maybe I didn’t feel better after five but I could keep working on getting it right, that magical numbers game of “just the right amount,” that I never figured out. As I drank more, the grandiose fantasies of success just kept spinning out as a deep black hole of self-hatred expanded within.

    As I drank more, my desire to drink increased and became a physical, mental, and spiritual disease. I could not accept the most important and urgent part of my life – that I am an alcoholic and I cannot drink in safety. I tried prayer, going to church, but I felt that God had given up on me because I just could not stop drinking no matter how much I pleaded and begged. I refused to accept that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable. I didn’t realize until much later how broken I was on the inside, and how I was trying to play God myself by dictating my terms and conditions for controlling my drinking. I forgot that God is love – and that God loves me no matter what because God is loving and generous, not because of anything I do or do not do. Yet that is more about steps 2 and 3, “came to believe in a higher power greater than ourselves” and “turned our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.” In order to get to that good stuff, in order to open myself to the sunlight of the spirit, I had to accept that I was alcoholic.  I fought it for so many years, until finally, broken and afraid and out of options, I knew I needed help – from the rooms of the twelve steps.

    When I keep my sobriety and recovery first, I always have a touchstone for acceptance.  When I remember to accept, over and over again, that I am powerless over alcohol and my life has become unmanageable, I remember I also have a solution.  When I face the situations in the day, I remember this powerlessness, as well as the capacity to take the action that is mine to take. Today, when I feel uncomfortable about the word “Acceptance,” I realize I have work to do.  When I am spiritually fit and connected with God and my program, the word “acceptance” is another word, another tool, just part of life.  When I am out of sorts and off the beam, the word “acceptance” makes me want to throw up and fight and run away. Today, I notice this in my body and remember again that oh yes, I must need to accept something. How can  I do that when my head is crowded with disturbance? I can go to a meeting, call my sponsor, call my sponsees, ask for help from another person in recovery. I can read some program literature and take deep breaths to quiet that disturbance within me. I can pray. I always have my higher power, whom I choose to call God. Today I realize that I have to accept that I am responsible for my own sobriety and recovery, as well as my own physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being. That does not mean I can do it on my own – absolutely not! Yet, I cannot rely on other people to take care of me – that is a holdover from my old childlike fantasies from long ago. I cannot rely on other particular humans, but I sure can trust that God has put some human in my path who can help me. And when I accept that, I open myself to the light and love of my higher power, and I feel hope and relief. I am so grateful to be sober today.

    -Kirsten H

  • 06/24/2015 9:39 PM | Anonymous

    Beach notes June 2015
    Images of Sponsorship
    Edge of adventure

    The Edge of Adventure was a book by Bruce Larson and Keith Miller that some of you may have read many years ago in the 90’s about the Christian life and what it is like to start the adventure. I see a metaphor of the adventure of intervention, a 12-step call, sponsorship as I watch this evening from our balcony on the gulf coast as a pageant plays out on the beach below.

    It is near sunset. A sleek young couple dressed in black drive up to the beach access road by our condo in their looks-like-new Clays Car golf cart -- black with a white top and leather seats. They get out with the young daughter. The barefoot darling could not be more than two, petite with a wide brim sunhat and a flowing blue sundress ending just below her knees.  As she holds her father’s hand, the top of her bonnet barely reaches his hip.  They walk to the beach to the ocean’s edge, and then she will go no farther. Her parents coax her to put her tiny feet into the surf, but she refuses to get wet. She now wants her mother to hold her. The father goes into the surf and picks out beautiful shells and shows her her first fruits of the sea, but she still will not budge into the water. It is obvious that her parents love the sea and they want their daughter to experience it as well. Finally her parents walk into the surf together hand in hand and the daughter plays and runs about the dry sand just in front of them.

    Just a few feet away a shirtless grandfather comes out to the surf with his grandson, maybe 4 or 5 years old. The grandson has on a white shirt and short blue pants. The grandfather strokes his white beard, shows the grandson how to bait his hook and casts his line into the surf. He almost constantly looks back to see where his grandson is. Is he babysitting or is this a lesson in fishing? Maybe both. The grandson is less interested in fishing and more interested in the rise and the fall of the surf. The grandson playfully goes to the edge of a wave’s edge but awkwardly runs away from the rising surf as it comes close to him. He as well decides the surf is too scary or maybe he just doesn’t want to get his feet wet. He tiptoes to the edge and then runs back as the unpredictable surf moves toward him. Then something happens. Either he does not move fast enough or the foaming white surf comes in a bigger wave, but he gets his feet wet.  He quickly runs away from the water, but with the next wave he ventures slightly into the water again. This time he stays a brief period longer. Then finally he just stays at the water’s edge getting his feet wet with each wave. When the wave has more power than his legs can handle he widens his stance to stay firmly in place.

    Life at the beach near sunset. A time for young children to venture out when the sun is not as hot. Parents and grandparents care for them, watch them, want to share with them their love and adventure of life at the edge, but  the children must be ready for adventure, but when they are ready, how wonderful to be with those we love when the adventure starts as they get their feet wet and feel the power of the surf. The parents tried to entice their toddler daughter to the adventure, but she is not ready. The grandfather just let his older grandson by a couple of years venture by himself while the grandfather stayed near by watching. The grandson was ready. Perhaps tomorrow his grandfather will take his hand and they will walk farther into the ocean side by side. Perhaps as they go deeper into the waves, the grandfather will give him a life jacket just in case in he slips and falls and loses his grip on his grandfather’s hand.

    This is evangelism, what it is like to share the good news.

    This is what it is like to share the message of Alcoholics Anonymous. We want to share the message of this new life with those we love but sometimes they are not ready. When they are ready we walk to the edge of this new adventure with them but we have to let them decide when to go in. We patiently wait, and when they are ready, we take their hand and go deeper and give them more protection, the 12 steps, a new life jacket.

    --Joanna Seibert

  • 06/10/2015 5:11 PM | Anonymous

    Every Monday I think to myself, "the Gospels were written for drunks."

    Let me explain: Every Monday night I celebrate a Eucharist at the alcohol and drug rehabilitation center where I work. So my Mondays are generally spent pondering Gospel stories through the lens of addiction and recovery. And since I'm an alcoholic, when I preach I'm always preaching to myself as well as my congregation.

    Looked at through this lens, even the most familiar Gospel stories surprise me and every once in a while even a Gospel story that had confused me or which I'd resisted springs to life in a new way. For example, I've always dreaded preaching on Jesus' words to a potential disciple who asks to say farewell to his family before he leaves home. Jesus refuses to let him go. How insensitive! How callous!

    But in the context of addiction and recovery these words make perfect sense. When you've hit bottom, there's no time for waffling, no times for weepy apologetic farewells with family (you've probably done that already anyway, multiple times!). Recovery needs to become the first priority, no questions, that's it.

    The perspective of recovery has also illuminated for me the wonderful story in Mark of the paralyzed man on his mattress being lowered through the roof to Jesus. Much as I love the story, I wondered for years why Jesus didn't just do the obvious--heal the man's legs, rather than pronouncing, "Your sins are forgiven you."

    But now I understand that Jesus is reaching deeper here, probing into the man's heart and seeing . . . what? Bitterness, fear, resentment, despair? Jesus saw a spiritual malady that needed to be treated before the man could be fully healed.

    For the spiritual malady beneath my drinking to be healed, I first had to face the truth that I was powerless over alcohol. I then had to go step by step, surrendering to God and keeping on with the hard, healing actions of fourth step inventory, fifth step reading to another person, and amends, and then keep on practicing these in all my affairs.

    Sometimes on Monday nights I let the rehab's guests do the preaching. I read a Gospel passage and then invite them into an Ignatian-type meditation where they imagine themselves into the scene and then choose a person or element to identify with. After a few minutes, I ask them to relate what they've experienced in the meditation to their experience of addiction.

    One night I read the story of Jesus calming the waters. When I asked for comments on the meditation, a young man said, "I was the waves." Then he went on: "In the years I've been using, all I've done is make chaos happen around me. For my parents, my girlfriend, I've been the storm that keeps on knocking their lives off balance. All I've done is wreck things."

    I don't always hear right away how a story may have touched someone. A few days after we'd meditated on the healing of the hemorrhaging woman, a guest who was a chronic relapser on drugs was sitting in my office. She was talking about something else when all of a sudden she stopped and said, "You know last night, that story? When we were meditating, I was the woman, and I actually believed that I can get better. I've never felt that before."

    Many of the guests have never heard these stories before. So one of the gifts I receive is to hear completely fresh reactions to them. A young drug addict and alcoholic who came back to speak to the guests after achieving a year of sobriety said to me, "You know that story about the sheep that ran away and the shepherd went to find him? And then he carried him back home?" When I said yes, I remembered it, he went on, "I love that story! I tell it to people all the time."

    I smiled at him but I couldn't speak. My heart stopped for a minute for gratitude and awe. Awe at the continuing, undimmed force of these holy stories, gratitude that the miracle had happened for this young man and for me.

    Yes, I thought, it's true. The Gospels were written for me, for us, for addicts and drunks. Alleluia!

    Susan A.
    The Plymouth House

  • 06/03/2015 9:26 PM | Anonymous

    My life was a train wreck, and I was searching for an answer to my dilemma. I remembered a retreat I had attended in high school many years ago. I was sitting under a tree talking to God, and feeling completely comfortable in my own skin, for what I thought, was the first time ever. I was a practicing Roman Catholic, not a good Roman, but one that sat just outside the circle of the righteous. I called the local priest and asked him if there was a retreat that he knew of that I might attend? He knew of a place in Houston, and suggested that if I found a suitable place to let him know, he would like to start an annual men's retreat.

    I found the place, called him back and he suggested I put it together for the parish. This fed a very major part of me, my ego, so I was glad to take on the responsibility. I did so with much vigor and along with about a dozen other men we headed to the retreat house. I took my last drink for that day in the retreat house parking lot. This was 1983.

    At the opening session, with about 75 men in attendances (other churches were there also), one of the clergy introduced himself as an alcoholic. I was shocked that someone would do that. He added that if anyone in the audience felt like they might have a problem, please come and talk to him sometime during the weekend. I made an appointment, went into see him, and carefully described my drinking patterns. He knew nothing about how my life was spiraling out of control, nor did I fill him in on those details. I just stuck with the drinking story. The room grew quite for a few million seconds and I asked him what he thought? He answered me in the only way he could of and gotten my attention. “It makes no difference what I think Bob, it is what you think that counts”. I immediately started to weep, and he took me to my first AA meeting the next evening.

    The problem that jumped on me as soon as I arrived home was the old craving. I did not require a drink for the whole time I was at the retreat, but as soon as I arrived home I drank. It would be another year and a trip back to the retreat house before I finally gave up the ship. This time all the Brother had to say to me was “Have things gotten any better?” Again through tears I asked for help, and in chapel that night, I asked God to teach me how to love him with my whole heart, my whole soul and my whole mind. I knew nothing about love. I then asked him to allow me to love myself, so I could, in turn, love my neighbor. That was 28 years ago and he has been answering that prayer, one day a time ever since.

    Bob L.

  • 05/28/2015 6:39 PM | Anonymous

    Just over 11 years ago, I found myself in deep despair. I cowered alone in my apartment afraid to open my mail. I wondered when life was going to start and feared that it never would. Instead, I clutched my bottle and hid from the world – but I could not hide from myself. I had always considered myself to be religious and I attended church regularly, singing in the choir. Yet, my disease was one part of myself that I tried to ignore, deny and repress. Of course I regularly gave up alcohol for Lent. I had conversations with God where I would say things like “I promise I will never drink again if…” and “please help me manage my drinking.” I just didn’t get it – and my religion didn’t seem to help at all with my drinking problem. Driven by desperation and the growing sense of impending doom, I finally sought help in the rooms of twelve step groups. I knew in my bones that I needed to change my life, and I became willing to try another way. I had no idea when I walked into the doors eleven years ago that I would receive the gift of sobriety and recovery, as well as an amazingly rich new relationship with my higher power and my faith community. Through working the twelve steps and close contact with my sponsor and other people in the program, I began to take actions that opened up a new world for me. By connecting with my higher power, the nameless One of a Thousand Names that sometimes I call God, I learned I could walk through anything. My sobriety is the most important part of my life today, and because I am sober, I can choose to keep the channels of my soul open to where my higher power would lead me today to be of love and service.  In my outside world, I enjoy a sense of freedom and responsibility in my work that I was unable to experience when I was hiding out in my disease. I have learned how to cultivate relationships with other people. Through the tender love of my sponsor and my sponsees, I begin to sense the magnitude of love and compassion for myself and others.  I often sing “the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.”

    Shortly after I got sober I met the man who became my husband, the love of my life. Under the full scrutiny of my home group of sober women, we fell in love and married the following year. With great joy, we welcomed two young children into the world. Throughout all of this, the hearts and hands of the 12-step fellowship helped me broaden and deepen my relationships with my church community. When my beloved husband was diagnosed with cancer shortly after our son’s first birthday, I knew I had to work my 12-step program more than ever. Hand in hand with the fellows in my program, I was able to walk through my husband’s extensive medical treatments, and his death. Because of my sobriety, I was able to care for our children, cultivate an extensive network of support, and provide my dear one with a faithful witness through the end of his life. Because of my sobriety I am able to care for myself, to nourish my relationship with my higher power, to bring a spirit of Love and Service to my life. Because of my sobriety, I am able to show up for myself and others in ways I could never imagine when I was sequestered in my small prison of disease and fear. Even today, as I give thanks for the miracle of sobriety and recovery, I am able to hang out in a hospital waiting room with a dear friend undergoing cancer surgery. I am able to tease her about her lovely scrubs and fancy IV, and we can laugh and laugh about silly things. I have a choice today – to walk the way of fear and death or to walk the way of light and love. And for today, I think I’ll choose to savor these moments of joy.

    -Kirsten H

  • 05/21/2015 5:27 PM | Anonymous

    “I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees … At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me, ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, The Message

    God willing, on this coming Saturday, May 23, I will give thanks for 18 years of recovering living. It certainly has been by God’s grace alone WITH my working the program of recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous. It certainly did not seem to be ANYTHING of God’s grace on that Friday morning in my office at the parish where I then served.

    I had been a “professional” drinker since the age of 19. I had successfully navigated a business career for almost 20 years. Then in the Infinite’s sense of humor, I was called to follow into the life of ordained ministry in 1992. It was not like my drinking had not been noticed and mentioned in concern over those years by co-workers, bosses, my wife and friends. I knew what I was doing, always showed up and did what needed to be done on time and successfully. I deserved a drink or two for all that I did every day for all those other people, until … The last years of drinking I noticed a shift of needing a drink or two earlier in the day to get me going, then during the day to keep me going, and then to end the day because I deserved it so much. On the evening of May 22, 1997, after another argument with my wife about having yet another beer, I stormed outside the house in another fit of rage. I sat on the back porch steps, the last beer in hand. I looked over to the recycling bin filled to overflowing with my empties finished just in that day, and I knew something was not right any longer … something needed to change … but I had no idea what that was or how I could do anything about it. So I looked into the warm evening sky, the stars just emerging in vast array, and simply said “God help me … Jesus help me …”

    I am living proof that one must be careful for what one prays for! At 8 o’clock the next morning, my Bishop and six others walked into my office. They needed to talk to me about my drinking … they wanted me to get the help I needed … one by one they told me MY story. After each one had spoken their peace, the Bishop offered that I could go with them immediately to a rehabilitation facility in a city 70 miles from where I live and served, or I could choose not to go. In either choice, there were consequences to my decision. The addictive voice that desperately needed feeding screamed “Tell them to go to hell! I’ll take care of you … I always have!” The voice I heard speak from within me and outwardly responded, “Yes, please help me, thank you.” This day began a journey of life that at that moment I expected would not have continued as it has to this day.

    While certain I would lose wife and family, be deposed as a priest, and be outcast from all I knew and loved, including God’s love, this was not the case. My wife and family have walked with me in truth and love these almost 18 years. I found the parish, or at least one-third of the parish, wanted me to return as their priest, which I did 46 days into my new life of recovery. To say it was a welcome with open arms would not be faithful to “this is an honest program” we seek to live! It was hard, very hard at times, to redeem and regain trust of the people who called me to serve. When I thought there was no reason to continue, I would hear God’s word spoken directly to me by someone else’s story shared in the many AA rooms I frequented for solace and strength, pardon and renewal. As day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year pass, I continue to find God using these “thorns” I bear to God’s glory in helping others living a life free from those things addictive that bind us away from God’s love – and those bindings are not just addictive substances alone!

    I find that when I live deeply and intentionally into the words of St. Paul, day by day, I am living proof that ‘My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.’ And for this gift, I am grateful.

    With grateful heart,

    Paul G.+

  • 05/13/2015 4:22 PM | Anonymous

    Many of my early memories are set in the Episcopal Church: Easter’s flowering of the cross, Vacation Bible School and children’s choir. When I was nine my mother began working in the church office. In summer my sister and I accompanied her. One day someone brought pretty pens to the office. Mom let me have one. Praying hands were on the clip and the Serenity Prayer on the barrel. I thought it was a nice prayer and memorized it.

    Although I was quite happy, I also struggled with insecurity – never feeling pretty, smart or popular. I didn’t know how to talk to people outside my circle of friends. I was terribly shy.

    As I got older I looked for a solution to those uncomfortable feelings. Did I turn to God for help? I tried but found a more tangible solution, alcohol. I drank a little in high school but it was college where I experienced alcohol’s power to help me shed my shy, good girl image for one comfortable with dancing and flirting.

    Alcohol was effective for a long while. Then I noticed my friends getting married and I couldn’t maintain a relationship. Others were climbing the career ladder while, in spite of an advanced degree in education, my insecurities caused me to give up my teaching career.

    I became more withdrawn in middle age, preferring to drink at home where I pondered over all I didn’t have. Ultimately, I determined the problem was God. He wasn’t attending to his part of what I currently call “The Santa Claus Contract.” I attended church regularly, gave money sporadically and helped others when it suited me. I was a good person for Heaven’s sake! It was God’s fault! Certainly, I had no part in how my life was unfolding.

    Alcohol silenced those voices. Alcohol seemed to medicate my growing depression and help me unwind. Alcohol confirmed my suspicions that God was a sham or He just didn’t give a fig for me. I turned into a C&E Christian, Christmas and Easter.

    Eventually, I began to suspect that I was an alcoholic. I drank throughout the day and awakened at night to drink. I determined that if I was an alcoholic, I’d be the finest one I could be.

    My body had other ideas. The morning nausea was worrisome. In business meetings my hands were clasped tightly under the table to control my shaking. I couldn’t participate in discussions because my voice trembled. Apparently, living as an alcoholic wasn’t going to be easy.

    One cold, rainy night I knew I couldn’t continue to live as I was living. I left work and went to AA. A man full of the enthusiasm that only a newly sober alcoholic can be led the meeting. He greeted me warmly and seated me near him.

    As the meeting started, I listened hopefully. They were talking about God. That’s all it took for the tears to flow. How could this work when God ignores me? Yet, the people were nice and the meeting began with the Serenity Prayer I learned in childhood.

    I continued meetings and found a sponsor. I said the Serenity Prayer dutifully but with little faith.  I began the Steps and at Step Two “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” found a modicum of willingness to believe again in God’s love.

    In AA I learned about “The Santa Claus God”. Instead of asking God what His will was for me, I tried to make deals. “If you will get me out of this jam, I’ll change.”

    My sponsor listened to my history and suggested I try church again. I relented and returned to the Episcopal Church. I was awestruck when the sermon ended with the Serenity Prayer.

    I heard similar lessons in AA and church. At my Third Step, I gave my will and life to the care of God. My sponsor emphasized the word “care”. God wasn’t going to control my life or will but He would care for them. That was a turning point for me.

    When I got to Step Twelve, my spirit truly was awakened. The awakening continues daily. When afraid or unsure of myself, the Serenity Prayer and the assurance of God’s love dissolve the fear. If I can quickly find someone to help, I’m relieved of worry as I turn my thoughts away from me. Finally, I have a community of sober alcoholics and parish family to support me as I hope I support them.

    I believe that God had a long-range plan I couldn’t have known when I received the pen with the Serenity Prayer. The pen was lost long ago but its prayer and my God bless me daily.

    -Julie W.

  • 05/07/2015 12:45 PM | Anonymous

    It was New Year’s Eve 1997 and I woke up – or came to – being beaten-up in the back of a van. The one throwing the punches was Noah, a low-level drug dealer whom I had known for the previous seven years since my arrival in Los Angeles. We had been up for days partying with a small band of sorted characters, flying high with cocaine and the obligatory bottle of vodka just to smooth things out a bit. At some point the dope ran out, as it always does, and everyone crashes. For me, that meant the back of a van, which wasn’t all that bad considering the options. Choices are limited when you’ve run your life to the bottom.

    The punches jolt me from my sleep. Noah’s yelling about something – who knows what – and I’m fending off as many blows as I can for someone who has just been jarred from a drug and alcohol induced stupor, groggy and defenseless. Any good street fighter knows the value of the element of surprise and on this chilly December morning I was caught cold. I was so busy fending off the assault that I don’t think I even threw a punch.

    I’ve never been much of a fighter. It’s just not who I am. I got into a fist fight once when I was in junior high school. I got my ass kicked. Other than that day behind the gymnasium, I honestly cannot remember ever throwing a punch at anyone again in my entire life. So that morning in the van I was an easy target. And who knows, maybe I deserved it.

    Noah finally ran out of punches and left. I stumbled out of the van and looked around. It was early morning. The air was crisp and cool. I just stood there…in silence. In that moment I knew it. What I knew was this – that if something didn’t change, nothing was going to change and I would end up dead. Maybe it would be from an overdose or from my body just giving up and collapsing under the weight of the past twenty-seven years of alcoholism and drug addiction. Or maybe it would happen like it did for Kenny – a bullet in the head. Either way it was only a matter of time and circumstance. In the end, drugs and alcohol always win.

    I knew I had to make a choice. I could continue on this road that was leading to death or I could choose to live. After all the years of slavery to the bottle and the bindle; all the jails and institutions; all the broken promises and disappointments; all the people I’d hurt, on this New Year’s Eve Day it was all caving in. My soul was trembling. I was desperate as only the dying can be. It was a moment of truth – indeed a moment of clarity. I chose to live.

    And so I started walking.

    I ended up at a meeting that I was aware from a few years before during one of my countless vain attempts at sobriety. Clearly, I wasn’t sober, and in fact it would be another few weeks before I could remove the claws of addiction, get an honest foothold and begin my sobriety. But this was the day that things indeed changed, and I was able to make a move in the right direction.

    I have asked myself what made that morning so different than all of the others that had come before it. The answer is that there was nothing different. It was the same desperation, wrapped in the chains of addiction, the same sense of hopelessness and aimless wandering; the same awareness of impending doom…and death. That’s why I knew that unless I made a move in a different direction I was a dead man. I was painfully aware that I had already begun to die spiritually. If I didn’t make the move, there would just be more of the same and worse, until one day I would cross that line of no return. I had seen it happen to others. Why should I be any different? I knew I wasn’t. It was, as they say, a sobering moment.

    Dirty, trembling, sweating, and dazed with the terror of the nightmare I had just somehow simply walked out of, I walked in and sat down in the meeting. Everything in me wanted to bolt, but I didn’t. Somehow I stayed. That was over seventeen years ago and I’m still here.

    So the day that changed my life started out with me being beat up in a van.

    God’s grace can be like that.

  • 04/29/2015 7:48 PM | Anonymous

    Remember you have been in the ditch.
    (Principle 17, The Women of Magdalene)

    In their book Find Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart, the women of the Magdalene community, led by founder Becca Stevens, share some of their joy and pain. These are women who have survived lives of trafficking, prostitution, violence, abuse, and addiction. Inspired by the ancient Rule of St. Benedict, they have written down 24 principles to live by. Magdalene women support each other in many ways, including their shared work at Thistle Farms, a non-profit business run by them and other recovering women.

    After my twenty-plus-years of recovery from alcoholism, these women's stories - their experience, strength and hope - have inspired me anew. Some have come to speak at churches I've served as a priest. Others have simply "loved up" on me when they see me. They are my sisters in recovery. (I've learned I can't have too many sisters or brothers in recovery - and in life.) Their meditation on Principle 17 begins, We do not share the same experiences, but we all have been in need sometime in our lives. We stay grateful for when someone lifted us out of the ditch and offered us food, clothing, or shelter. A Magdalene woman writes:

    "My sister was rescued from a ditch. Her bus crashed while crossing over a bridge in Cameroon, Africa. She was going there to help teach and ended up being pulled from death by a kind stranger who happened to be traveling behind the bus. (I hope) I will never forget how quickly she went from being there as a helper to desperately needing the help of others. If I let myself have the luxury of contemplation, the image of my sister being pulled from the ditch leaves me forever grateful" (pp. 79-80).

    I remember how my first sponsor saw me in an ecclesiastical ditch, pouring too much wine into the chalice for Communion. He knew about ditches, so he symbolically climbed down beside me and asked, "Do you have a drinking problem?" Over the years my sponsors, spiritual advisors and companions have, from time to time, seen me in a ditch, stopping to join me and to help me understand what kind of help I need.

    Recently, I came to see how I need help, one more time. It happened after I retired from full-time ministry to my home town, living again near my father and other family members. Six months after I came home, Dad died. I realized soon afterward that I was angry for all kinds of reasons and with all kinds of people, places, and things. I asked my recovering friends which meetings they attended. But I didn't just get up and go to one. I was in a ditch, and I guess I felt fine, staying there for awhile.

    Eventually, two of my biological sisters asked me to join them and our brother at an open AA meeting. (The four of us had never been to a meeting together.) I decided to get up out of my ditch. At that meeting I heard ditch stories. I heard people talk about times they had been in the ditch.  I knew it was time for me, once again, to take

    Step 3: to turn my will and my life over to the care of God, who gets into the ditch with me, if and when I ask - and sometimes, even when I don't.

    Two other recovering women, in their devotional booklet Depending on the Grace of God, speak of Step 3 this way: "Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, we...become stranded beside the road, hoping and waiting for help to come along. Now we must ask God for roadside assistance" (p. 6).

    To be honest, it's time for me, a professional helper, to ask for some roadside assistance. Again. And when I'm in a ditch so deep I can't seem to see my way out, hoping and waiting for help to come, I thank the God of my understanding for my sisters and brothers who give me help, even when I don't want it or think I really don't need it. I thank God, who helps me remember, again and again, how important ditches can be.


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