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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.

  • 03/25/2015 1:32 PM | Anonymous
    I knew that my life was steeped in shame. I was under a doctor’s care for Hepatitis B, injecting myself with interferon every day, which left me feeling perpetually achy and sick. I developed an eye infection, and was under the care of a retinologist, who could not figure out what was wrong. I was deeply ashamed and couldn’t tell anybody what was going on. This shame made my physical suffering even worse. Finally the retinologist ordered extensive blood work to determine what was causing the deteriorating vision. The wait for test results seemed interminable. Finally, everything came back negative except for one test – syphilis. My heart and self-esteem sank even farther than before. The next day I got the dreaded call – from the health department demanding that I come in for further testing.

    I took off early from work to keep my mandated appointment at the health department. I was in a complete fog, so demoralized and despondent that I could barely walk or drive. As I entered the health department, the receptionist asked where I was going. Could things get any worse? Now, as I mentioned the STD Clinic, even the receptionist knew how filthy and contaminated I felt. Checking in at the clinic, I was given a number and told to wait. I no longer even had my name. Not only did the wait seem interminable, it was. I had an hour to study the faces of the other people there. Most of them seemed rather unconcerned with being there, like they had been there many times before. I was dressed in business casual clothes since I had come straight from work. My clothes and my race made me stand out so that others were looking at me too. Finally my number was called.
    I first saw a nurse who took a blood sample and told me to see the social worker down the hall while they ran tests on my blood. The social worker was not new to this scene, but the questions were new to me and I was mortified. She asked about sexual partners, and I could not name most of them since we never exchanged names. When I had learned names, they were only first names and often pseudonyms. The only name of a sexual partner that I knew was the name of the man I was dating, who lived out of town. I gave his name and immediately regretted having done so, knowing that this man would be contacted by the local health department. Finally I was summoned back to see the nurse, who confirmed the positive results for syphilis. In fact, she said, it was one of the worst cases she had ever seen. She immediately started me on penicillin shots. I would have to return weekly for at least eight weeks for additional shots and blood work.

    In some ways, this was the beginning of an extended cycle of shame. Each week I would be reduced to a number and have to wait in that dreadful waiting room. However, in other ways, redemption had begun. Now the secret was out of the bag. Once it had been aired and discussed in clinical terms, it could no longer be contained – at least not at the health center. One form of shame – secrecy – had lost its power. I began slowly to understand that my actions had led to my infection. I had reached a bottom and was able to recognize the resurrection that I felt as the readings got better. With a decrease in shame, I was able to begin to rebuild a shadow of self-esteem through prayer and meditation. Slowly I was able to feel God’s hands cradling me and freeing me from the self-abasement that had wracked my entire being. This led me to a new appreciation of the power of God’s grace and healing. There was still much work to do in my efforts to rebuild my life, but I now knew that my Higher Power was walking the road with me. Although it still took me awhile to come to grips with my addiction and join SLAA, this experience initiated my sense of renewal and care has remained with me since this period of healing.

    -Martin J.

  • 03/18/2015 6:27 PM | Anonymous
    I started my recovery oversees in the end of 1990s. My country of biological origin had just been opened to the West.

    AA was started in few big cities, so that people addicted to alcohol and other drugs didn't have to die.

    There were no detoxes and no treatment centers, but suffering alcoholics and addicts had new hope, the message of recovery from God.

    God loved us so much that He was able to remove the political walls and offer peace and serenity for all of us.

    I was in a hurry doing the Steps, just thinking that if I could do them fast, I could use drugs and drink safely without killing myself anymore. Therefore, I ignored many suggestions that AA offered. I wasn't willing to get a sponsor, I wasn't willing to do the Steps in order with my sponsor. I just went to the Orthodox church with my Fifth Step and wanted to hear from the priest "All your sins are forgiven, you can drink 'socially' now." But, thanks to God, it didn't happen my way. After listening to all my testimony, the priest said: "You, addicts, are very complicated people, with complicated matters. As a human being who does not have these issues, I can't fully grasp them. Each time you confess, you go back and keep killing yourself. I would strongly recommend that you, my daughter, go back to YOUR people in recovery and do what your program suggests you to do. Do the STEPS." I was shocked. I didn't expect that he had read the Alcoholics Anonymous book before seeing me. He was well prepared with the answer.

    Twenty some recovery years later, I live in the Diocese of Southeast Flordia where I'm a member of the Episcopal Church. I love my congregation, I love my pastor, and I love reading the Word of God in the Bible.

    And, I have a vision of the Recovery Ministry in our Church: That the pastor can say to any people who suffer from the disease of addiction and alcoholism that our parish has educational programs; that the people in our parish are not in denial about this problem among it's parishioners and clergy; that we have a recovery mass for those who hesitate to admit their problem; and that we are open to any change.

    Regretfully, for myself and for others in my Episcopal Church that need to hear the message of recovery, what is happening is that the recovery masses are being discontinued.


  • 03/04/2015 10:30 AM | Anonymous
    Have you not known?

    I always knew, but I didn’t want to believe that I deserved God’s love.

    I left Salt Lake City in October of 2001 and moved back to a small town in Idaho where I had two sisters. I arrived full of despair, self-loathing and shame. I had lived almost three decades in active addiction. My mother asked one thing of me when I arrived, that was to attend St. Francis of the Tetons Episcopal Church where she had played the piano and lead contemplative prayer prior to moving to Washington state. I went, but every time I walked through the doors my heart would start to hurt, literally, as if someone had a grip on it. I realized later that it was God trying to love me, because I had no idea how to love myself.

    On February 11th, 2002, I got into my car, drunk. It wasn't long before my car was flying through the air, upside down. In that moment, I asked God to take me; I saw it as the perfect opportunity for my life to be over. I was a failure at life and relationships. I was a disappointing daughter, sister, friend, and employee, I felt completely worthless. I then heard a voice, he said, “I’m not going to let you do what I did” It was my brother, Clair, who died September 10, 1996, He, too, shared this disease. God had sent me the only person he knew I would hear. The car landed, I was perfectly fine, not a bump, a scratch or bruise, nothing. My call was answered, the woman who wanted to die in that car, perished, I stand before you today a woman reborn, given the gift of life.

    Have you not heard?

    I heard, but I didn't want to listen, because I refused to believe I deserved God’s grace.

    Easter Sunday 2002, St. Francis was full; everyone dressed in their finest, with the view of the Tetons’ crisp and clear through the three narrow windows behind the pulpit. I was sitting and singing with the choir, when after the sermon, the presiding priest asked, “Does anyone want to be baptized?” A friend sitting next to me said it was as if I had been pulled up by a string, I stood up and walked to the front and was baptized. There was no plan, the priest told me later she had no idea why she asked that question; it was the second most powerful moment in my life. From that moment my life has been God driven.

    In Paul’s first letter to the people of Corinth, he was compelled to spread the Good News without payment, because he believed he had been chosen to do so. In my recovery, I am also compelled to share God’s forgiveness with those who share my disease, to listen with a compassionate heart. We are all connected by our heart strings, said my first sponsor. We share a commonality regardless of race, gender, social standing, or job description; we are all children of God. We share common ground and from that common ground we build a foundation of love and service. I must give away the blessing that I have been given; I will never recover, but will always be in recovery.

    Today my life is amazing! I have become a loving daughter, a true friend, a devoted sister and a good employee. To be honest with you, I don’t think I would have written my life plan the way it was, but I also wouldn't change one minute of it, because God’s plan for me has brought me here, today, to tell you, “He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” I have been empowered with both the love and grace of my God and I choose a better life for me.

    My sobriety date is 2-13-02

    I am a child of God, and I am loved.

    Shu D.
  • 02/25/2015 6:16 PM | Anonymous

    In recovery myself for several years, I am reminded of the often slippery paths trod by those "working the Program."  Our addiction is truly "cunning, baffling, powerful" for it tells me I don’t have a disease… and, yes, I’m reminded…

    …of its progressive nature for I personally felt its progression following a period of sobriety in a matter of days to even lower levels of self-hatred. Contrary to my expectations, I wasn't a recovered alcoholic; now I know that the strength of my recovery itself is also a matter of progression coming about only by my daily conscious contact with my Higher Power.

    …that as a youth in the 1950s on the South Side of Chicago, I first read about the heroin addictions of many of the premier players of the modern jazz culture, never suspecting that alcohol, like heroin, was addictive.

    …that many of us really enjoyed playing the game of "chicken" …seeing how far we could go before we plunged over that cliff. We also seem to enjoy manipulating family, friends, even the social workers, psychologists and clergy... all of whom were probably somewhat baffled by the continuation of our conduct.

    …I am reminded of the aid provided by family and others, aid given out of loving concern for our well-being, often excusing my conduct as an unfortunate result of a stressful profession.

     …it breaks my heart to watch someone trod addiction’s path… continuing onward in spite of addiction’s unavoidable consequences… when all the time, help was available… Grace was always there for us… a Grace supporting our working the Program and giving us a  life truly "happy, joyous and free."

    …finally, I am reminded of the Twelfth Step’s call to action of "carrying this message to alcoholics." We've seen progress but work is still needed.

    Again, say that “help is available” to the suffering alcoholic. There’s an easier softer way to respond to life’s difficulties …that help was there for me and is also available to those who seek it today. I must continue to humbly carry that message, for truly, "There, but for the Grace of God, go I."

    Jim A.

    Covington Kentucky

  • 02/19/2015 7:43 PM | Anonymous
    A clergy who is an abnormal drinker and ends up killing someone while DUI is Big News. A clergy who is in an ongoing spiritual program of recovery is, thankfully, not Big News. By the grace of God and the fellowship of recovery, I am a clergy with 19 years of sobriety one day at a time. More than that, God, for reasons known only to Godself, has chosen to bear witness to those I would help of God’s power, love and way of life through my experience, strength and hope. The manner in which God chose to use me is not one I would recommend to anyone in recovery unless there is a very clear (and verified through independent prayer for discernment) prompting of the Holy Spirit.

    I was a Spiritual Director on a Walk To Emmaus (think Cursillo with Methodist flavor) with 5 years of sobriety when I received a prompting of the Holy Spirit to reveal my disease to the pilgrims on the Walk. There were several women from my church (it was a women’s walk) who were spiritually mature and powerful in prayer and discernment. I told them what I thought God was asking me to do and would they please, please, pray about it. They did and came back with the answer I didn’t want to hear: “We think this is what God wants you to do.” So I did in a chapel meditation of the scripture popularly known as “The Prodigal Son.” During the time set aside on the weekend for spiritual direction. I had a line of 7 women wanting to talk about alcohol related problems. Well, the proverbial cat was out of the bag now, I thought. There’s a reason why “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation” of recovery and I had broken mine -- so that 7 women could get some help for themselves or loved ones.

    I returned to my “normal” ministry for a year until I was asked to be a Spiritual Director on an Epiphany Weekend. Epiphany is the 3 day spiritual “retreat” in prisons with Juvenile Offenders. These young men and women are felony-level offenders. They were hardened car jackers, gang bangers, and even murderers. What did I, a middle-class white clergy have to say to them that would get past the shell of toughness they had developed to survive on the streets? Despite obvious socio-economic differences, I was still a drunk -- addicted like most of them. Into the simple faith prescribed by the official talk outline was infused my own adventures before, what happened, and what it is like now. That afternoon there were several requests for “one on one” sessions with a spiritual director. Their issues were heart-rending and ranging from “How can I stop Daddy from drinking?” to “How can I stay clean after I’ve served my sentence?” To paraphrase St. Paul, it was not I, but God working through me to break through the hard shell.

    But God was not done putting me through the wringer yet. I was in my 7th year of sobriety and Easter was fast approaching. Another prompting of the Holy Spirit kept poking at me as I was working on my Easter Sermon -- “Tell the people.” Hang on, this could get to the District Superintendent and in turn to the Bishop! “Tell the people.” So I gather 5 of that church's Healing Ministers and ask, once again, for them to take a week and pray for discernment. Naturally, they came back with the dreaded words, “We think this is God’s will.” The Lectionary reading was Mary Magdalene’s encountering our Resurrected Lord. Why would God choose a woman (unreliable witness in that culture) from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ (Magdala) to be The Apostle to the Apostles? Because that’s what God always does. God uses people we probably wouldn’t invite to our next potluck in order to touch and heal a person’s hurts and hopes. God even chooses (for reasons known to God alone) to use this recovering alcoholic of a pastor.

    The custodian of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship which rented space from my church was the first to seek an appointment. He was slipping in and out of sobriety. Then a young wife and member of my congregation came in. In tears she said she was ready to end her marriage because of her husband’s drinking. Then an older lady came in and poured out her worry over her son’s drinking. And so on it went. God’s power, love and way of life was manifested in the weakness of my disease. It’s not Big News, and that’s all right.

    -Lee C

  • 02/12/2015 8:20 AM | Anonymous

    Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” (Mark 1:31) I love the focus on serving in the gospel of Mark.  My first attempt at getting clean wasn’t successful and was short-lived. One thing about that attempt is that I don’t remember being of service, other than the chores required of me in the rehab center. On my second attempt, I prayed for the willingness and strength to do the things I needed to do to stay clean. One of those things was being of service. I was told that I couldn’t keep what I had unless I gave it away and I believed it. The fellowship I was recovering in was a young fellowship at the time in Memphis, TN, so there was plenty to do.  I came into recovery with little to no self-esteem and found right away that being of service helped me to feel better about myself and I needed to feel better! This was just one of the benefits of helping others. I wouldn't have thought in a million years that opening a door for a meeting, or making a pot of coffee, or answering a helpline call would help ME.

    I was blessed with finding a job working in an Episcopal church early in recovery. One day when opening the mail, there was a notice from the diocese about a local commission on alcohol and drugs.  I was thrilled to see that the church was interested in addiction and recovery!  After sending a message to the bishop expressing interest in this commission, I became involved in this ministry.  Along with being involved locally came news of a national organization – at the time called the National Episcopal Coalition on Alcohol and Drugs (NECAD), now Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church.  Now, I not only was of service in my 12-step fellowship, but in my church also! My church started setting aside one Sunday a year for education, support, prayers, and recognition of this important ministry, and still does.  Join us August 30 at Grace-St. Luke’s Church in Memphis as we welcome the Rev. Rebecca Stevens as our guest preacher and Sunday school presenter for Recovery Sunday 2015.

    The motivation to continue this work has not always come easy.  But when I remember that being of service in my church in this way can be a matter of life and death, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue this work. We, the church, can plant seeds that will bring others out of the bondage of physical, mental, and spiritual addiction - from a life of jails, institutions, and death - and into a life worth living -- a life filled with faith, hope, love, and freedom.

    Just like Mark 1:31, when the fever left me – when I stopped living in active addiction – I began to serve others.  And in turn, the days have added up – over 10,000 days to be exact – and just maybe another addict or 2 along the way has found a life worth living. 

    -Lucy O.

  • 02/04/2015 11:26 AM | Anonymous

    I am new to this website and Ministry but I am not new to the Episcopal way of life.

    26 years ago a loving and caring friend walked me up to a pair of red doors and invited me to come inside. They told me they had a friend at the church who was well versed in addictions and counseling. I was already well versed in addictions, it was the recovery portion I lacked. After 28 years on the street, three failed marriages and not easily employable, I was ready to try anything. I didn’t know I had hit my bottom nor did I know that I would learn a lot more about that phrase in the coming years. What I knew was that I was tired of being sick and tired.

    I was greeted with warmth and an understanding of what I was going through, even though I hadn’t said a word. I thought maybe I had a flashing neon sign on my back witnessing to the world that I had an addiction problem. I immediately wanted what they had and they shared with me what that something was. I was invited to a seminar being put on by the Diocesan Drug and Alcohol Coalition and for the first time in my life, felt like I actually belonged to something.

    Many meetings later and working the steps one day at a time started a string of sober days that became months and then years. I have never forgotten that feeling I had when I was accepted for who I was and not rejected for what I had become. I became very involved in AA and Diocesan events which led me to a new wife and a new life. I have been happily married for over 16 years and according to my wife, she has been happily married the same number of years. That in itself is a miracle. It wasn’t until I learned that I had to become the “right person” before I could ever meet the “right person” for me.

    I used to wish my life had been different, but when I stop and count the blessings of each day that God provides for me, I realize that I had to go through those dark times to appreciate the light that He provides and allows to shine through me. If my life had been different, I would not be married to the wonderful lady I am married to, the ministries I am involved in and the miracles I see every day when I walk with the Lord.

    I am one satisfied customer and would recommend this program to anyone who is not happy with their life on the terms they are trying to live it. Praise God.


  • 01/28/2015 7:33 PM | Anonymous
    I am not God. This was a huge awareness and admission for me in early recovery. Up until then, I thought I had to be in control because there was no one else I could trust or depend upon. Acceptance was not part of my life plan; I thought I had to stay in control and create a life where I was safe and taken care of. My insight that I was not God opened the way for a Higher Power, God, to enter my life.

    In the final weeks of my drinking, as my life had spun out of control, I was trying to soothe my panic and sensed that I was about to crash and burn. I was 33 years old, married, and had two beautiful young daughters. Then the inevitable happened--my marriage, my dreams, and my life lay scattered in broken pieces around me. I willingly went into treatment; I had no idea what else to do. I could not see a tomorrow, and I could not see any happiness in my future.

    While in treatment for my alcoholism, an elderly Catholic priest told me to fire my old god and to open myself to a new relationship with God. Firing my old god was easy – I wasn’t all that attached to him. I started going to meetings and working the 12 steps. I read, wrote, and made sober friends. I eventually started really talking to others, my family, and counselors. I was able to peacefully part ways with my childhood religion and make room in my heart and soul for a new relationship with God. I became comfortable with not knowing where I was going. I worked on accepting life as it was and not as I thought it should be.

    I’ve come to believe that faith is a choice. As a child I had happily believed and accepted the faith and church given to me by my parents, and as an adult I had rejected that same church. I scoffed at people who believed in God and were part of an established religion. I did not understand how sensible people could be so weak and delusional. I was miserable, lonely, and scared. I missed the faith I had had as a child.

    After 23 years of sobriety, I have come to see my alcoholism as a great gift in my life. Without my descent into alcoholism and the shattering of my illusions, I could not have let go of my old pain and disappointment in God. Without the insights and help I was given in my sober community, I could not have found my way home, back to the God who had loved me as a child.

    I am now part of a church community where I am loved. I know I am loved because I am able to truly love others. St. Francis was right – it is through giving that we receive. By loving people in my community, I realized I was loved. Acceptance and staying out of God’s way are still a struggle at times, but now I have the right tools and the right people in my life to remind me to let go and let God--to love without knowing the outcome.

    --Kay Rawlings

  • 01/21/2015 5:28 PM | Anonymous member

    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.

  • 01/07/2015 3:47 PM | Anonymous

    Another year has turned to memory.  A new year brings new promise and renewal.  It marks the passing of time and is a great time for me to reflect on past accomplishment and how much work remains to be done.  This is never truer than in my reflections on my moral inventory.

    Several years ago I had the awe-inspiring opportunity to visit the majestic Redwoods of Northern California.  It seems a good analogy as to how we arrive at our fellowship.  We come into the fellowship as little “nuts” (usually having dropped from a great height in crisis).  We are sheltered by the shade of massive Redwoods which shield us from too much sun and too much water.  With time we put down roots and begin to stand on our own.  Over time we grow and take our place amongst the others.  We hold our own value against the wind, sun and rain.  As we grow, we don’t always notice the “rites of passage,” but to those who observe us, they see the growth.

    May everyone find themselves in the forest.  May we be a peer amongst equals with deep roots.  

    -Justin Womer

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