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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.

  • 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

  • 01/01/2015 6:34 PM | Anonymous

    "Happiness is knowing when to avoid perfection" - my law school roommate's refrigerator. When I was in law school, my roommate had a dry eraser board on his refrigerator with that saying written on it. It really did not make sense to me until I came into recovery. When I was growing up, I was taught that success looked like going to the right college, having the right job and doing it all without looking tired or showing any "negative" emotions. Religion for me was about having the right God and the right theology. Happiness was having all of those things together in one neat package. But what about the brokenness in my personal life? What about the stress? What about the repressed emotions? Well that is what alcohol and workaholism were for. That is what working out in the gym for two hours was about. My goal was to numb out or avoid those pesky emotions. Just study harder, work longer, drink more on the weekends and everything will be fine. Unfortunately, my witches brew of unhealthy behavior stopped working for me. I started to consider whether I needed to surrender. I didn't want to. I believed in no surrender. Like the Japanese soldiers from World War II who kept fighting until the 1970's, I was determined to keep living by own creed way after the war was already lost. I might have been fooling other people, but I was not fooling myself or God. I was done. I hit an emotional rock bottom and realized I needed to change. 

    Someone once told me that recovery is like riding a snail and hitting it daily with a horse whip; it is very slow going. He was right, but by admitting to my many imperfections, I have been given three amazing gifts: the ability to show emotion, the courage to be vulnerable, and the humility to ask for help. The snail is finally moving in the right direction. All of these gifts have been God doing what I could not do for myself. Through recovery, I have also connected more deeply with my church and the people in it. I am honored to be involved with the Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church and look forward to helping others who struggle. God promises that we will never have more than we can bear and that there is another way to live free from drama and addiction: "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." 1 Corinthians 10:13-14.

  • 12/24/2014 9:24 AM | Anonymous

    Off we go trailing shopping lists and credit card receipts. Hanukah and now Christmas. We may complain about our errands, but we do enjoy the brightness the holidays bring to our gray December days.

    It’s no coincidence. The holidays that celebrate light, Hanukah and Christmas, are aligned with the seasonal transit of the sun. It’s a leftover from earlier times when the religions of nature led all of the others. There was good reason, then as now, to run from the darkness.

    In recovery we are also moving from darkness to light. We have a similar transit. We leave our pink clouds of early recovery and journey through stages of longer recovery that takes us from darkness to light and to darkness again--as real life inevitably unfolds.

    Spirituality is a way out of darkness and into hope and joy. Just like the ancients our holiday transit is full of mystery and miracle, whether it’s oil that lasts eight days or the birth of a baby in a barn.

    But we still fear the dark. Much of what we do this time of year is about distraction. Not unlike whistling when we pass a graveyard, now we sing and shop and light candles and eat too much. And we complain. A lot. But maybe our railing against holiday chores is itself a part of the solstice. Now when we are oppressed by darkness--when our primitive fears can be felt even through layers of advertising and anti-depressants--we are drawn to lights, and to other people, just as our ancient relatives were drawn to stars and fires.

    The words of this Christmas carol could just as well be a recovery song: Yet in the dark street shineth, the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

    Maybe there is another way to experience this time of year. What if we allowed the darkness and went toward it, daring ourselves to sit still before we light the candles or the tree. What if we sat a moment and just breathed. That’s what the December holidays are about. We can enter the darkness and emerge transformed. It is what we learn in long recovery: Whatever it is, we can stand it.

    This week is Christmas and solstice. The sun is at the most southern point of its transit. Now the days will grow longer again. The cycle is astronomical and holy. On this night we are as ancient as ever.

  • 12/17/2014 8:34 PM | Anonymous
    During this season of Advent our lives are enriched by so many objects that symbolize the anticipated birth of Our Lord. As I examine my own life in recovery there are phrases as well as objects that prompt me to dig deeper and to meditate on their significance in my life. Despite the frantic schedules, crowded stores, and demands for time, I find that I really am emphasizing that word FOCUS.

    The fact that the Red Door is such a symbol reminds me that during my long life spent with dedication to the programs of Al-Anon and AA being so important, the door also represented being open for re-entry the few times I faltered in this path. Since my father was in AA I attended my first meeting when I was 12 and always respected and honored his own journey and service to fellow alcoholics. In fact it was someone he had sponsored that carried the message and “opened the door” for me when I first came to terms with my own disease. This happened while living in another country and I was the only woman at first. The door to the General Service Office became of vital importance to me. They provided amazing support and encouragement along with my brothers and their wives. Pamphlets, even phone calls from my “long distance sponsor” helped so much as I began my first sober years.

    Phrases have become important to me and as recently as this past Thanksgiving holiday KISS…or Keep it Simple Stupid became my mantra as my husband and I both in recovery traveled to distant places for reunions with both sets of children and their children. In that rewarding, although heavily charged emotional atmosphere, I would close my eyes and repeat the thought. On our return home we both celebrated that period with our children filled with gratitude for the health of the interactions and so very thankful that God has given us both the gift of reconciliation and acceptance.

    The theme in Rochester and the wonderful “Web of Grace” so aptly gathers the many positive experiences in recovery and illustrates so profoundly the reliance on our Higher Power as the pathway to recovery.

    Most recently for me a new phrase comes to mind as we look at not only the history of 12 step recovery programs and other programs that support the sufferer, but also the family…and to me it is “Connecting the Dots.” This imperative relates to scientific research, yes, but more personally to the many possibilities there are as we continue this journey. This season of celebration with the observance of His birthday can only re-enforce us as we gather with others on similar journeys of recovery. Gifts take on a different meaning. My prayer is that each of us focuses on these symbols and phrases and sees them as God’s great gift to us, and that we take a moment to be strengthened by their meaning, especially in terms of our addiction, and to say thank you.


  • 12/10/2014 2:42 PM | Anonymous
    I grew up in an Episcopal church in West Virginia, the one place I always felt safe from the chaos of my alcoholic home---I sang in the choirs and tried to figure out why girls couldn't be acolytes. While in graduate school I met some more evangelical, charismatic types who seemed to have an extra something. When my father died of alcoholism/colon cancer, one of my new friends came to apologize to me because she had not been able to pray for my father to live, since he “was leading a miserable life.” WHAT? Is God so frivolous as to hold some sort of popularity contest in deciding who is to live or die? Did St. Peter count the votes---before the days of “hanging chads”?

    I had very little to do with the church or God for the next decade. Twenty nine years ago, like many, I came into recovery with many misgivings about the role of a higher power in my life. I was told to “act as if” there were a loving presence walking beside me and caring for me. The third step says we turn our will and lives over to the CARE of God. The one who walked beside me would care for me, not protect me from losses, or pain. I had never felt truly supported and cared for, even by my husband, so this was a powerful notion. I acted as if, and at some point it ceased to be an act; it became a reality of my life. God even sent me a letter one time: I received an envelope with “HP” as the sender and saying “redemption enclosed.” Wow! As it turned out, it was a rebate check from Hewlett Packard, but for a minute there…

    Slowly, my HP and the God of my church merged as I began going to church again, and feeling the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. I saw this merger visually as I lay on a gurney waiting to go into surgery as my Priest held my right hand, my sponsor held my left, they held hands and we said the Lord’s Prayer together. We were, in a sense, a circle, and a triangle. For me, this represented the full circle I had traveled from God, away and back. I felt the power of the “we” which is the guiding principle of recovery and of faith in community. There are many people in recovery who will never return to the church or the God of their childhood and they have years and years of recovery through a higher power with a name of their choosing. Somehow, for me, it was important to realize that the God of my church, who had provided a place of safety and peace in my childhood, had been with me through all the darkness and pain, patiently waiting to welcome me home.
  • 12/03/2014 1:09 PM | Anonymous
    As I grow in my journey I get to learn daily what “live and let live” means to me. It was easy to learn what this meant for my addictive nature. I can’t drink and others around me can. At first I needed to not be where alcohol was served or I needed an exit plan. My sponsor told me to keep my keys in my pocket so I would literally have an exit plan. It also served as a reminder that I have choices in each situation that I am in and just feeling those keys in my pocket was all I needed to get through an event with alcohol.

    Applying “live and let live” in a much broader way is inevitable when I continue to work my program day-by-day. If one of my adult children tells me they have a plan and then they don’t follow through, I remind myself that it is their choice. Not saying “I told you so” when it doesn't turn out as they had planned because their actions didn't follow their words is my opportunity to let them make their own choices and learn for themselves.

    Recently the opportunity to practice “live and let live” is happening in a volunteer project I am leading. It is taking off in a positive way with more energy behind it than plans to implement it. People will come up and say “you need to do this and you need to do it quickly.” My first thought is to act out of their urgency. Then I remind myself (and am also reminded by my sponsor and those in the program) to let them live their path, which may include quick actions and making demands to get results. My way to “live” is to move in a day-by-day manner, making decisions that are thought out and prayed over before making decisions! I’m thankful for the keys in my pocket to remind me that I have a choice in my actions.
  • 11/26/2014 4:13 PM | Anonymous

    So we must stumble and fall, I am sorry to say…we must actually be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide.” (Richard Rohr, Falling Upwards, p.66).  While flying across the country in route to a long needed vacation, these words sang true as I sat in the back row of the plane, trusting the pilot to safely bring the plane back to earth.  Even with something as simple as walking on the plane, I needed to give up control and trust that someone else, a skilled and trained pilot, will guide the plane on its necessary course.  All I needed to do was to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.  And in fact, I did as the flight attendant directed.  Somehow, when it comes to flying in the sky, I am able to enjoy the flight.  Before recovery from addiction, there was no way I could do so.  I needed to fly the airplane!

    The wonderful and scary paradox of this quote from Richard Rohr, is the necessity of falling, of stubbing the toe, of being put off balance to the point that we must ask for help, and accept the help that comes our way. He even apologizes for having to name the obvious.  The human condition is to avoid any action that might otherwise suggest that we are not in control, or holding the reigns, or simply making life look “easy.”  Falling is a part of life.  My grandfather, who taught hundreds of children to ski, would say the only way to ski is to fall down, and get up again. It is a simple paradox every toddler knows by instinct.  It is a simple paradox any growing creature accepts just by living.  We must stumble and fall, so we know what stability feels like.  If we choose not to stumble, we lie on the floor until death comes our way, even if sustenance is three inches beyond our reach. We must stumble and fall if we want to stand up straight to see the sun.

    Ten years ago I could no longer pretend to fly my own airplane. Even more paradoxical is when I thought I was standing mighty straight and tall, I was in fact a heap on the floor.  No words, no wisdom, not even a whisper of truth could have brought me to lift my head. Ten years ago, something broke, and I started seeing how broken I was, how deep the hole was, and how my life was such a mess!  But could I accept it?  Could I, even in the middle of the mess, the middle of a career melt-down, a family crisis, a world of chaos, could I accept the fall and learn to stand again? Could I apologize for the obvious, accept the reality, and take up a new walking stick?  Could I learn to sit back, relax and enjoy the flight of life?

    In recovery, and only in recovery, could I hear and know what this quote means.  But, I am a slow learner.  In one year’s time, I first spent six weeks at an inpatient treatment center, and five months later, I returned for another five months.  One fall was not hard enough.  The road since has offered me opportunities for continued training wheels, returning to the basics and building up steam again and again.  Sobriety is more than abstinence, it's a place to see and know and find God at the center of life.  Today, I live not with a crutch or even training wheels, but trusting the “Real Guide” to give me hope for another day.  Today I can listen to the flight attendant over the intercom remind me, “sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.” --Anonymous 

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