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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.

  • 08/20/2014 9:25 AM | Anonymous member

    Alcohol & Me

    It has come to be remembered as a day like Pearl Harbor Day or the day Jack Kennedy was shot, one permanently engraved in memory in the minutest of detail, the time, the place, the weather, what I was wearing, how I felt……

                It was my day off and my wife, two priests, the senior warden, and a friend in the parish whom I knew to be a recovering alcoholic came to the house and said they wanted to talk to me. Somehow I knew immediately it was an intervention, and on me. I had participated in interventions on others several times so I suppose it would be understandable that I recognize what was happening. Or perhaps it was that uncanny intuitiveness of a suffering alcoholic when  his drinking is threatened. Or maybe it was one of those rare God-given moments when even denial becomes momentarily transparent, and things are seen as they really are, this time my self-destructive use of alcohol had finally been found out. Six hours later I was in a residential treatment center, the first of 47 days of fear and pain and wonder and hope, the staff there called it ‘discovery’.

                How I got to that point in my life is a story that is perhaps a typical one. We were a large clannish family and we all lived within reach of each other and were together often. We were a manageably devout, Protestant, non-drinking family. In fact, abstinence from the use of alcohol was a religious issue, though there were to be sure family secrets that were useful in maintaining that appearance.

                I learned to drink in college, and we seldom drank with much moderation. After college I was introduced by pieces to social drinking, and drinking at home, and hard liquor, and liquor too good to be taken any way but straight, and the importance of being someone who could hold his liquor well, and drinking alone…… I took readily to all of them.

                I also learned the usefulness of alcohol as medication. It put disappointments in a manageable perspective and helped keep pain at bay and turned fear away and justified anger. It took the edge off, and came to be a hiding place. I became a true functional alcoholic, and finally was drinking a full liter of alcohol every day, virtually all of it in the evening. I drank out of 44-ounce soft drink cups and didn’t count the first one or two or the last one or two, so I could say with sincerity that I never drank more than two, rarely three, drinks a day. I seldom had a hangover, was never stopped for driving under the influence, and drank only in careful moderation when with others. I became quite knowledgeable about alcoholism, always someone else’s affliction and never mine of course, and used it to be of assistance to others and as a part of my own denial system as well. I said my prayers every day, even though it often seemed as if there was no one out there listening. I worked and took care of my children and had friends and lived an apparently normal life. I was, though, terribly isolated in that peculiar way of a functional alcoholic, and as long as I kept the secrets intact who could know the truth? Certainly not me.

                Life in recovery really began for me the first evening at the Meadows when the moment inevitably came for me to introduce myself to a roomful of people like me with the traditional words, ‘My name is Tom, and I’m an alcoholic.’ Until that moment I was there reluctantly and because I couldn’t reasonably do otherwise without paying too-high a price. Saying it, though, was the beginning of my coming to understand that I was there for me, and that the problem here was not alcohol or my job or my marriage or whatever, it was me. Saying it brought an unexpected feeling of relief, and of having stepped across a threshold into a difficult but safe place.

                I returned home with much to fear. I was especially anxious about the parish and whether I would have a viable ministry there after treatment. The parish answered that anxiety with acceptance and support and encouragement. People that I knew in the community and even some I’d never met called to do likewise. My bishop kept in touch with me directly and through others who knew me and was an unexpectedly effective pastor.

                It has not always, however, been so comfortable a condition, this recovering alcoholic as we call it, but then growth is seldom comfortable. I have found much in myself to examine and reexamine and change and give up, a continuing part of the journey. My marriage did not survive sobriety, although it took several more years of struggling for it to finally end. Many parishes are reluctant to consider clergy in recovery but cannot say that so find excuses to not do so, the response commonly, ‘Thank you so much for your interest in our parish but we find that your very considerable skills do not match……’ There are still those who think this is a moral issue that should have been avoided in the first place rather than a treatable disease. I’m surrounded by alcohol and substance abuse, eating disorders, a thriving drug trade, casino gambling, sexual misconduct, physical abuse, all of them broadly seen as separate and unrelated issues, and a continuing need for more resources for recovery to offer those who suffer.

                Mostly, though, recovery has been a blessing. It’s been 28 years now. Much has changed, but the memory of it all remains clear, not least the despairing isolation and aloneness. We do not do this alone. We cannot do this alone.

                Recovery has restored me to a normal place in life with the Lord himself, who it turns out was always there, rather than me and an impaired ego, standing exactly at the center and offering strength and hope and love and wisdom. And for that I am grateful beyond words.

                God bless us all.

    --A former President of RMEC

    July 2014

  • 08/13/2014 5:01 PM | Anonymous member

    …”for the effect”…

    …anonymously submitted

    We often work to help newcomers see that most of us “drank for the effect” that alcohol had on us.  I learned how that had been true in my life after I came into the rooms of Recovery which held the teachings, the hope and the fellowship of the 12 Step Programs.

    Early on in my drinking, alcohol had an effect alright.  I blacked out and had no idea what a blackout was.  I was scared and embarrassed and did not ever want to experience that again.  So, as many of us do, I continued drinking and tried to figure out how I could keep drinking and avoid the experience of a blackout.  It was not successful effort. It took a lot of energy and I spent many years of my life focusing on that objective.

    As those years passed, I drank “for the effect” it had on me when I was scared and alone and sad and overwhelmed.  For a long time it had the effect of diminishing my sense of my own fears and sadness and I got through some difficult years of my life.  When I finally came into Recovery I saw that the effect that alcohol had on my life and relationships had changed.  I realized that I had hurt the people I love the most very deeply.  I had lost a job, spent many years in useless codependence, and made many foolish choices.  Alcohol had an effect on my life for sure.

    So, after I came into the 12 Step Programs, worked through the steps with my sponsors in both AA and Alanon, the meetings, readings and fellowship became a regular part of my new life.  And I discovered something new:  I now go to meetings “for the effect” it has on my life.  I now work the steps “for the effect” they have in my life.  I now choose the have fellowship with people in Recovery “for the effect” they have on my life.  And “the effect” has included growth and healing and many healthy new changes and ways of making decisions.

    Along the way, after coming into Recovery and getting in touch with some healing, I was able to return to church in a way that I could receive the grace and mercy of God.  That grace had never left me but I simply had not been able to receive it.  And another wonderful dimension has become a part of my life: I have discovered that I choose to worship “for the effect” it has on me.  I choose to pray and read scripture within the context of grace “for the effect” they have on my life.  I have discovered that I can make choices from that point of view.  I am very grateful to have found both the 12 Step Recovery Programs and the sanctuary of the Episcopal Church.

    The symbolism of The Red Door is very meaningful to me.  The meetings in the basement of the church and the worship in the sanctuary of the church have truly come together in my life.  I am grateful for Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church and for the weaving together of these truths of change and hope.

  • 07/01/2014 10:57 AM | Anonymous

    Unfortuantely I was unable to attend the Gathering in Buffalo due to conducting a funeral for one of our beloved parishioners.  I understand it was a tremendous success - thanks are due to The Rev. Stephen Lane and the Diocese of Buffalo Recovery Team for their outstanding work.

    In spite of not being able to attend the conference, on Sunday, June 29 I delivered a sermon in which I somehow tied together the Hebrew Scripture text to the topic of faith and to addiction and recovery.  I post it here for your consideration( it has been amended a bit for this public forum):

    Genesis 22:1-14                                                                                      June 29, 2014
    Psalm 13                                                                          Third Sunday after Pentecost
    Romans 6:12-23                                                                                                Year A
    Matthew 10:40-42                                                                                   Kevin M. Cross

    Loving God, teach us through your words the path of discipleship and help us have faith in you and trust in your faithfulness to us.

    The story of Abraham and Isaac is one of the more well-known passages in Hebrew Scripture.  It is also one of the most terrifying texts in the whole of our Scripture.  What makes it so memorable for me is the almost unfathomable obedience that Abraham shows to God.  This is an obedience that overcame the powerful, positive bonds of familial love and relationship.  I imagine you must wonder, as I do, how could a man even think about sacrificing his son - for any cause.  And even more so how could a just and loving God ask one of his beloved to make such a terrible choice or ask him to commit such a violent act.  The fact that God asks Abraham to commit an act that he, himself, allowed to be carried out with his own son, does not, in the least, make this any easier to accept.   I have to be honest with you and say that I find this reading to be heavy and burdensome.  What kind of God calls for a father to sacrifice his only son?   However, the answer to that question is not any less shocking than that question alone.  The answer is simple it is the kind of God who is willing to give up everything for the salvation of the world – of us.

    What can this text teach us today?  I think if we can get beyond the shock value, we might see that first and foremost this text is about faith.  It is about the faith of Abraham and the strength of his conviction in the faithfulness of God.  It becomes a story of great love that almost leads to heartbreak.  Almost.  However, by the end of the story it becomes a text that proclaims that God will indeed provide for the faithful and uphold his promise.  As text tells us, after the angel of the Lord told Abraham to put down his knife, he saw a ram that the Lord provided to be sacrificed in place of his son.  So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided."  (Say slowly) The Lord will provide

                Unshakeable faith in the promise that the Lord will provide, is as surely a sign of discipleship as any I can imagine.  It is the kind of faith that is imbued with the belief that God will ultimately lead us down right pathways.  Surely this story stretches the limits of such faith to an unfathomable level but it drives home the point that faith in God will always in the end lead to redemption and goodness. 

    Faith is a gift but for many it is a struggle to acquire and maintain.  I cannot imagine possessing the amount of faith Abraham was capable of living out in his life.  However, I do know that without any faith I would be lost.  The world cannot provide what God can provide.  This text is a key touchstone in Scripture for all of us who struggle with faith.

    As I began to meditate on faith, I found myself drawn to thinking about the convergence of different contexts in which I witnessed the power of faith this past week. I am sure you are aware that we have currently many parishioners who are ill with very serious medical conditions.  Three of our beloved have began Hospice care in the last two weeks.  One of these beloved passed on this past week.  These friends share in common living through times that surely must test their faith.  Yet each person seems to have become increasingly faith filled in the face of great struggle.  At a time when one might think it would be difficult to hold on to faith, they have become more firmly convicted in their beliefs that God is good and God will provide.  Our friend passed on, firm in his belief that our God is a God of love.

    This past week I was to attend the annual conference of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church, an organization that I have led as President for the past two years.  I would like to talk to you today about what I have learned about faith from my work with addiction and recovery. 

    I came to work in the field of recovery honestly - as the result of growing up with a family which was severely impacted by this disease.   Let me stop for one moment and dwell on that word disease. Let face it addiction is a stigmatized illness.  Too often it is viewed and judged by society and even the church as a moral issue or as a sign of personal weakness or depravity.  As much as society has and continues to view alcoholism and addiction as issues of morality - that kind of thinking is dead wrong.  Addiction is a disease.  Just as we do not blame people with diabetes or heart disease or cancer for their conditions, we should not blame those suffering from addiction.  Addiction is a disease with genetic, biological, psycho-social and spiritual components.  It is, like many of those other health conditions, a disease without a cure.  The one distinction that addiction has as a disease is that in my view it is the most deadly.  You may be surprised to hear me say that.  You may ask: What about cancer? Isn’t that more deadly?”  Let me explain why I say that addiction is more deadly to our health.  It is because, addiction directly attacks the core of who we are, it attacks our essence, our very soul itself.  A disease like cancer initially attacks the body.  It may eventually attack our spirit, but addiction attacks the spirit immediately and directly.  If we could personify this disease we could say that it acts with only one goal in mind and that it to take you over completely!  Addiction attacks the relationships we have with others: friends, family God and even with our selves.  Eventually the only relationship that comes to matter is that of the addiction. The all-consuming relationship with the substance or behavior replaces everything.  Any concept of having a spiritual life, of having a soul is eradicated.  On the journey of addiction, the idea that there could be a Higher Power, a God to whom everything belongs and is part of, becomes inconceivable.    

    If there remains any concept of a God, it is not uncommon that it is of a harsh, unforgiving God.  Often this doesn’t seem to bear any relation to the image of God one grew up with or held during a healthier period of life.   And, this image doesn’t seem to have much to do with prior concepts God.  Instead this new image is a projection of the shame and guilt that one feels about their behavior or state of life and certainly it is a reflection of the shame that society places on the addict.  In the end, given the breakdown that has occurred with relationships (self, others and God), any concept of God ceases to exist except perhaps for the focus of blame.  If addiction does not start out as the consequence of a spiritual disease it quickly becomes one

    This is the reason I strongly believe that restoring a healthy spiritual life is critical to the recovery from the disease.  Bill W. knew this when he put together the AA program.  Fr. Sam Shoemaker, an Episcopal priest worked with Bill W. to put his ideas about recovery in a spiritual framework which has become the basis of all 12 Step Programs.  12 Step spirituality is built on the premise that we all have a spiritual life regardless of specific beliefs or religions.  The spirit is who we really are.  It is our essence, our core, our soul.  It is who God created us to be.  Based on our faith we know three key concepts about spirituality:

    A healthy spiritual life is necessarily relational.  

    Relationships with other, friends, family and God are essential to spiritual life. 

    A healthy spiritual life is essential to a healthy life.

    How does one restore a healthy spiritual life?  I think that faith comes prior to having any specific belief system.  Faith is an experience of God, a higher power that calls for a response of trust and self-surrender.  It is up to those of us who are blessed with a healthy sense of a spiritual life to re-present God, Christ to those who struggle with faith.  In Step Twelve of the program it states that “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”  Therein is the beauty of AA.  It is all about community and responsibility for self and for service to others.  What better way is there to repay God than with what is truly God’s?

    If we believe that God will provide then we have no option other than to give thanks – part of giving thanks is growing our relationship with God and helping others to do the same.  God is present in every moment of our lives – the good and the not so good.  God will not be shut out because God is in everything.  Even in the face of addiction, God will find a way in.  One of my favorite quotes is by Edwina Gateley, a friend and real modern day saint.  She once said about God that “I am the God of the backdoor. I exist outside the boxes, barriers and walls you put up to separate based on differences.  I look for the holes and cracks to slip through… Our task is not to seek God but to recognize God’s presence is already here The world has already been saved.  Your primary task is relationship with God.”  Let us give thanks for our loving God who has promised “The Lord will provide.”  

  • 03/27/2013 2:43 PM | Anonymous
    The attached article recently ran in the Wall Street Journal.  This is not a new trend It seems to be increasing in practice.  What are your thoughts?

  • 01/12/2013 2:44 PM | Anonymous
    Living into the Mystery of turning my will and my life over to a Higher Power

    A new person in Recovery asked me recently: " How do I turn my will and my life over to a Higher Power that I cannot see?  that I do not know?  that I do not trust?  This action step is just too much for me.   Why is it one of the suggested steps?  Maybe it works for yon and a lot of the others, but it will not work for me.  Why do you all say it's important to do this when my problem is with alcohol?  I am not coming to you with a religious problems.  Not even with philosophical questions about life and the meaning of it.  I have a problem with alcohol.  That, I can admit.  That I can see.  What does that have to do with a 'power greater than myself?'"

    These questions were thoughtfully posed.  She really did want to know.  She was not arguing with me.  She was confused, as most of us are when we first arrive in Recovery with an alcohol problem showing up in our lives.  In our homes and work.  In our social life and relationships.  In our memories that we wish we did not have.  In our memories that we do not have that others tell us about (which happen during what are commonly called "black outs".) 

    But why the focus on finding a Higher Power?  Why the focus on letting go and giving up everything to that Higher Power?


    I shared with her that when I first came into Recovery, I asked the same questions.  I, too, thought that the problem was all about alcohol.  And the importance I had placed on it.  Maybe the fact that I could not control it. Maybe the fact that it had caused problems in my life that I could never have foreseen or imagined.  I had faith.  My faith was actually very strong and the fact that I had still had problems with alcohol was confounding to me. 

    I lived with a lot of shame about that.  I drank with a lot of shame about that.  I even asked for help through that cloud of not accepting myself.


    After some time, I told her, I realized that I had been surrendering to a liquid in a bottle.  I had truly "lived into the mystery" of not knowing what would happen when I drank.   In every sense of the words, I had turned my will and my life over to that liquid.  Even though it had let me down over and over.  Even though it had brought inconceivable problems into my life.  Even though I had prayed time and again that I would not drink too much or hurt my family again or end up in problems at work or in my relationships, I turned my life and my will over to a higher power,  a liquid in a bottle.  It caused untold problems.  It hurt everyone I loved.  Deeply.  And yet, I still "lived into the mystery" of letting go and hoping that maybe I could control it this time.


    Now, I choose to turn my life and my will over to a power greater than myself which helps me to stay sober each day.  That power assists me with strength, healing, and hope for new relationships which are healthy.  My Higher Power has brought reconciliation to many of those I damaged so deeply when I gave myself up to that liquid. 


    Now, I "live into the mystery" of surrendering to a power greater than myself who heals and redeems and reconciles and makes new everything that I truly let go of.  And that, indeed, is a mystery I like living into.  Each day I choose this mystery anew rather than returning to the other mystery. 


    To further explore what it means to "live into the mystery", I am looking forward to attending the annual conference sponsored by Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church which will be held April 4-5, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.  I am certain that the theme of the two day conference, "Carrying the Blessing",  will assist me in my spiritual growth in Recovery.  The workshops will assist me in being able to discover and express even more fully how I live into the mystery of Recovery.  To focus on carrying the blessings of Recovery to others.  To help others put down that liquid for a Higher Power that will give them growth and healing.  And the blessings of sobriety.  To learn from others how they let go, and live into the mystery.


    To learn more about The Gathering,  just go to   http://www.episcopalrecovery.org/Default.aspx?pageId=974472&eventId=608845&EventViewMode=EventDetai  

    and then, just make reservations.  Make plans! Carry the Blessing in new ways as a result of attending this conference.  And bring someone with you who is new in Recovery. Who is still wondering about their Higher Power.  About living into the mystery. 

  • 01/12/2013 1:26 PM | Anonymous
    I am an ordinary person
    touched by the love of God
    in my deepest pain

    so grateful
    for this process and community
    that we call the Twelve Step Program
    grateful for the hope of it
    grateful for the dignity of it
    grateful for the Rule of Life that it offers me

    grateful for accountability
    grateful to the sober
    grateful to be molded
    by the hands of a very loving God
    who touched me
     and called me
    out of my deepest pain 
    to hope.

    and so, 
    I worship.
    I thank God.
    emptied by the efforts of the Steps
    cleansed by God's affection
    healed by God's kindness
    I receive Holy Communion
    with gratitude


  • 12/23/2012 11:52 AM | Anonymous
    I have  been wanting to add to the Recovery blog for some time. My story is too long to give today, but during this Holiday Season of 2012-2013, I am encouraged in my soul. First, I am staying sober. Second I cancelled a planned trip to the Benectine Monastery I am affiliated with by way of being a comitted obate.
    Both are the right thing for me. Sobriety is a gift which lets me live more normally than not.  My private retreat at Conception Abbey was cancelled by me because my 92 year old just got sick. Only with God's grace am I able to do the right thing. May Jesus renew us this season.  (Anonymous)
  • 11/14/2012 11:04 AM | Anonymous
    A basic question that is frequently asked is how do we establish a responsible policy on alcohol use at diocesan/parish events.  Some dioceses have formal policies others do not.  We would like to provide the template for a policy that could be easily adopted by dioceses and parishes.  A new wrinkle that will need some thought is the consequences of the new stance on marijuana use in Colorado and Washington.   

    In addition a corollary question has to do with ideas for fun beverages that can be served as alternatives when alcohol is served.  So, thinking that you all must have some wonderful recipes to share.  If you have a recipe you would like to share, please send it along.

    Please share your experiences, thoughts, policies and recipes here!  In the near future, we hope to integrate this all into a new R.M resource.


    Fr. Kevin  
  • 06/05/2012 9:14 AM | Anonymous
    Summaries of the presentations from the 2012 Gathering are posted on our lead page.  Please share your thoughts, feedback and questions.
  • 03/14/2012 10:20 PM | Anonymous member

    Preaching, Waffles and Recovery

    March 2012

    During Lent at my home parish, we host a well known Lenten Preaching Series featuring inspiring and diverse speakers from many different faith paths. We also, for the past 89 years, have hosted what we fondly refer to as The Waffle Shop.

    The Waffle Shop is a unique, mostly volunteer, full service restaurant located in the basement of Calvary Church. It’s a place where we feed people’s hunger for good southern food - before, during and after we attempt to feed their spirits in the sanctuary with preaching. The haute southern cuisine is highlighted with items like tomato aspic, waffles and chicken hash and the most famous - fish pudding – something you have to experience to understand. For me it’s a time of seeking and celebration and often renewal that I don’t participate in during other times of the year.

    I work in downtown Memphis and on the days that I can slip out of my office and walk over to the service and eat lunch the stresses of my everyday life tend to slip away and I am transported to the place of sanctuary that often eludes me during a work day.

    Another thing that takes place every weekday during lent is a recovery meeting at noon in the same basement. The meeting has been going on for many years and although I am not a member of that group I often wonder what it feels like for them during lent. Are they excited like me to get to eat the annual treats or does it feel like they are being pushed aside for the pomp and pageantry and crowds that often accompany visits by nationally known speakers and preachers?

    I’m not sure that I have an answer to that question, but I do know that when I went to The Waffle Shop for the first time this year, I found it curious that on the back entrance of the church was a sign posted that read, “The entrance to AA is now on Adams Street due to Waffle Shop”. If you’re not familiar with Memphis or Calvary, the Adams Street entrance is a side door. It’s actually a beautiful red side door that is normally locked during other times of the year but it has a more direct access to the AA room. The relocation to the side door entrance is simply logistics and has been that way for many years during lent, I’m sure, but still I found it curious.

    Many of the men and women who come to that meeting are our neighbors. They could be parishioners or members of the downtown homeless population, or from treatment centers, or even just out of the jail two blocks away. They are often times hurting and seeking refuge, the people that Jesus may have called the “least of these.” During other times of the year the church is quiet at noon and relatively empty, but for these 40 or so days we invade their space. We fill it with downtown business people and the ladies who lunch and clattering dishes and smells of baked spaghetti and rye bread.

    I do trust that God smiles on both of us, on the recovery meeting and on The Waffle Shop and preaching series, but today, I want to say thank you to the men and women of that meeting who welcome us into their space, their basement. I want to remember that for me, the spirituality and the love and the acceptance I feel upstairs in the Nave and over in The Waffle Shop would not be possible without the meetings through the side doors that helped open my heart spiritually.

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