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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.

  • 08/08/2019 5:37 PM | Anonymous

    “I am grateful to be a recovering alcoholic” can sound preposterous, ironic, self-righteous, if not self-serving. Yet many cursed with chronic illnesses discover that their afflictions reveal profound insights, deliver unexpected opportunities, and bestow unimaginable peace. 

    Why so? When disease or calamity strike, we are thrown off course. Devastated and powerless, we may sink, rebound or reset. Once in recovery via the steps, clinical therapies, spiritual quests, and (not to be dismissed) personal resolve, we wrestle with the weight of our woes (sink), our desire to restore our lost selves (rebound), or divine higher meanings for our lives (reset). The process is erratic, taxing and inspired; it ends only with our last breath. 

    Recovery resides in the spirit, yet we live in the din of a crowded, fraught world. Our society, technology, culture and economy pack howling hurricane winds – all of us grasp frantically for footing, squint for our bearings.  As my alcoholism peaked, my grip failed and the tempests destroyed me.

    • I am grateful to have lost valued totems and prized assets.
    • I am grateful to have lost esteemed rank.
    • I am grateful to have lost grand aspirations.
    • I am grateful to have lost cherished loves.
    • I am grateful to have lost hope.

    These damages silenced my life, stripped me of self-assurance, shattered my false self.  I treasure the quiet. When I strive to manage the noise within and around me, the quiet arrives, and in the quiet comes grace. With grace comes patience, then wisdom, followed by a spirit of generosity that impels action, igniting the virtuous cycle of recovery. 

    I cannot be grateful for my recovery without first being grateful for the devastation that stifled me. Thank you, Lord, for loving me to my last reserve.

    Martin


  • 08/01/2019 10:12 PM | Anonymous

    At a recent meeting, a new person brought this to the assembled group for discussion. Perhaps most of us have felt this way during our early days in the Program. Didn’t seem so unusual. But the more we discussed it, the more ambiguous our fears seemed. Perhaps it was the particular situation of this person. She had been sober for 23 years and for some reason had returned to her old ways and had relapsed and stayed out a couple of years. At first, we felt it was the normal feelings of a person coming off her return. It seemed to be a deep-felt truth for her. She just couldn’t stop - a considerable period in the program, yet, “out she goes.” Perhaps her statement reflected a deep-seated fear of a lack of self-worth. Who knows.

    Of course, we aren’t aware of all the details of the nature of her sobriety, or what prompted her to “go out. Maybe she encountered a really deep hole in the road, or maybe she didn’t stay aware of the nature of our disease and wasn’t going to meetings with as much enthusiasm she previously had. Maybe she found it was just too difficult to appear to be the only one in her circle of friends with this “addiction problem” or someone might have called her attention to a “new and really good drink… try just one.” Her guard might have been down.

    I think people who do not suffer from an addiction to alcohol don’t appreciate the depths of our obsessive desire for these substances. We just plain old “like the taste and the buzz.”

    For us, alcohol just simply tastes good, it emits powerful pleasant smells, a happy crowd around you, all experiencing these new brands, a powerful relaxing agent from life’s challenges, selecting just the right one from those new small breweries, we’re even attracted by the creative shapes of the bottles. And yet, if we are paying attention at all, we know the familiar path our once pleasant habit will take.

    But let’s not pretend that we will be able to stop on our own, even if we sense trouble ahead. We may know and remember that troubles will be encountered if we continue our habit. Maybe we’re too proud to seek that assistance.

    We seem to be driving a car as fast as we can toward the edge of a cliff testing how close we can come to that edge and be able to stop before disaster. For us, that edge is that perilous drop which may destroy us and all our relationships.

    So, how do we forget that good vodka, the aroma of a freshly prepared martini, that special bouquet of a newly opened bottle of wine?

    Next time: some ideas to avoid going over that edge ... to be continued               

    JRA/Covington, Kentucky

  • 07/24/2019 8:05 PM | Anonymous

    I was encouraged to give the lead at my home group.  It is a rite of passage, I was told, a part of the Twelfth Step.  I said I would think about it.

    I am a lousy speaker.  Sometimes I forget to breathe and in the middle of a sentence  I have to gulp for air or turn blue.  Sometimes saliva runs down the corners of my mouth like the spittle on an old man.  No.  No way.

    But it happened anyway.

    My lead had to be perfect—one that rocks the rafters and leaves the listeners awestruck.  I would outline my lead, write it down, transfer it to index cards, memorize and practice, and know when to throw in a little humor to lighten my deep thoughts.  I built imagined hurdles to jump over that I couldn’t jump even if I were bourbon-reinforced.

    I was embarrassed by my story.  It was dull.  In the first Steps of recovery, as  I took personal and moral inventory and made amends, even I was bored.  I was just a drunk who drank too much and did not care.  I knew that drinking was a slow death, but I was in no hurry.

    I didn’t start drinking at the age of ten, was never beaten or molested, never jailed, never stole a police car and drove 110 miles

    an hour on the wrong side of the expressway, never got naked on Main Street or kissed the pastor’s wife or peed in someone’s aquarium, and never had locks changed by wife or parents.  These

    were the kinds of leads I heard, and they were fun and exciting.  (Well, at least I’m not that bad.) I had never done anything under the influence no listener had not heard before.  Somebody’s boring and I think it’s me.

    One evening the guest lead speaker couldn’t make the meeting.  The chair looked around the room, asking if there was anyone who had never given a lead.  No matter how small I shrank in my chair and stared at the ceiling, I couldn’t hide.

    Okay.  Since my Higher Power got me to A.A., certainly he wouldn’t let me down now.  He didn’t,

    I stumbled, I rambled, I hemmed and hawed.  I said, “Oh, I forgot to tell the part about . . ..” and wiped the spit from my mouth.

    Then God came through.  I wasn’t giving a speech to a crowd.  I was talking to my friends in my living room.   They were listening to me!  They were interested in me and they cared.  I was so excited at being helpful, knowing that if only one person walked away a little closer to sobriety or staying sober, I was a success. I forgot to be frightened and was just myself.

    At the end there was applause.  An old-timer came up to me and said, “I’ve never heard a  lead given just that way.”

    I took it as a compliment.

    -Ron B

  • 07/17/2019 8:22 PM | Anonymous

    “Not drinking is just the beginning.” These are the words that my sponsor told me when I first came into the program of recovery.

    What was presented to me as a way of living was often counterintuitive for me. I was so accustomed to managing the world around me to fit my way of thinking that it was hard for me to trust anyone but myself for the longest time, including God. But the truth of the matter was that most of the time I was simply holding my breath, trying to manage a low level of anxiety that was my constant companion in life, often causing highs and lows that felt completely out of my control. 

    Many of us in recovery, myself included, started using alcohol and other substances at a young age.  I think it’s safe to say that my emotional development, what maturity I may have developed as I moved from adolescence to adulthood, was short circuited by the progression of my disease.  It was certainly true for me that I developed a multitude of ineffective ways of getting my core needs met.  Those coping mechanisms did not miraculously transform into healthy, helpful responses simply because I had put down a drink, as astonishing a blessing as that was.

    In the January 1953 edition of the Grapevine, AA founder Bill Wilson talked about his own challenges in developing emotional sobriety, “I think that many oldsters who have put our “booze cure” to severe but successful tests still find they often lack emotional sobriety.  Perhaps they will be the spearhead for the next major development in AA, the development of much more real maturity and balance (which is to say humility) in our relations with ourselves, with our fellows, and with God.”

    Daily, when I petition God with the words, “relieve me of the bondage of self”, I have this very real sense of being bound by scraps of cloth, like Lazarus emerging from the burial cave, newly born, given another chance at living, but still wrapped in the clothing of the grave.  It’s so significant for me to notice that Jesus does not tell Lazarus to remove the scraps of cloth from his limbs.  He tells the crowd of stunned onlookers, “Unbind him”.  There always remains work for me to do in recovery, but I must remember I never need do it alone.

    Through trusting in the process of the Twelve Steps, taking suggestions from people whose sobriety I admire, and learning to listen, in other words, doing the work, I become open to the possibility that I can let go and grow. I needed to learn how to breathe deeply again. Prayer and meditation and practicing mindfulness helps me to develop self-awareness.  More than talking the talk…walking the walk in all my affairs.

    A favorite poet, Mary Oliver, once wrote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Today, I trust that my Higher Power has the best of intentions for me, leading me toward the life I was meant to be living and uncovering the person I was created to be. 

  • 07/10/2019 8:44 PM | Anonymous

    "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure." -Colin Powell

    I recently wrote about the pending flood which could have impacted my home. I used the flood as a metaphor for my recovery, stating that preparing for the rise of the waters around my home as a symbol of using our tools to ward off lapse or relapse. I discussed how I had help placing sandbags around my home and moving things out to prevent damage. I was sure that my home was safe.

    I was wrong.

    All the preparation could not prevent the flood water from seeping in and damaging my home. That has caused me to reflect a bit on my own recovery and my struggles with addiction. Is it possible that even with all the tools of recovery, I could experience lapse or relapse?

    The answer, “Well duh!?!”

    Toward the end of my stay in treatment, I was warned that relapse or lapse is a part of everyone’s recovery journey. I denied that possibility adamantly. There was no way that I was going to return to my addiction! After all, I had 90 plus days of treatment! In a few weeks after my return home, I had relapsed.

    They were right.

    As I walk through my home, studs exposed because the dry wall, paneling, and insulation has been removed, I can not help but see the similarities. Left unaddressed (and covered up), the internal damage of this flooding is deadly. Creeping black mold which could slowly infect my lungs and cause disease to take root. Exposing the studs to the open air, setting up dehumidifiers, and fans to dry things out, and treating the area with chemicals which kill mold will ensure that being in my home will not kill me.

    When we experience lapse or relapse, we initiate the same process when we move back into the values that are associated with a recovered life - honesty, humility, amends and service. We need to get current and expose the specific way we acted out. We must open our lives to be restored through sharing, honesty, gentleness, and surrender. We must realize that we have failed while we take comfort in understanding we are not failures. A lapse or relapse provides us with the opportunity to start over and make better choices. 

    Something we cannot do that until we are willing to admit we fell short.

    Shane M.
    Conway, AR

  • 07/03/2019 11:04 PM | Anonymous

    Powerlessness is not hopelessness. To admit I am powerless is the exact opposite of admitting I am hopeless. By acknowledging that I am not in control of people (those I love and those I can’t stand), places (even this fragile earth, our island home), things (situations in the world and anxieties within myself,) then I am free to find the real source of power.

    The real source of power is our Higher Power. God. Love. The Ground of Being. Jesus Christ.

    By admitting my powerlessness, God’s power can open my heart to the hope—and the certainty—that God will take over.

    How do I actually make the trade? How do I actually swap my powerlessness for God’s power?

    When I was worried about a loved one who was drinking himself to death I wailed to my sponsor, “And there’s nothing I can do!” she replied, “Of course there’s something you can do: you can always pray.”

    So it comes down to prayer.

    And how does one pray? When the disciples asked Jesus, he taught them the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven…,”a simple, beautiful, complete prayer of praise, petition and thanksgiving.

    Then there is the Jesus Prayer from the Orthodox tradition: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

    Or the Third Step prayer, “God, I offer myself to thee…”; the Seventh Step prayer, “I pray that you now remove from me…”; the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace…”

    There are Anne Lamott’s three essential prayers: “Help! Thanks! Wow!”

    And then there is the continuous living prayer, the breathing in and out of God’s mercy and love into us and out of us. There is prayer in the recognition of beauty or kindness and the gratitude that comes with it. There are the foxhole prayers and promises.

    There are the under-breath muttered conversations with God. “Here I go again, God, please get me out of this selfish place…” and “God help me, I have to clean the smelly litter box again…oh that’s right, thank you for the joy that the kitty brings to us.”

    When I was newly sober, I stood at water’s edge and shouted out over the lake and to the woods beyond, “God, I don’t know what you’re saying. I can’t understand your messages. Please give me sky-writing!” And later when I told my sponsor what I had done, she replied, “Yes! That’s how to pray! Open your mouth and tell God what’s on your mind. Use as much emotion as you need to. God can take it! And then, do the next right thing. And if you’re unsure what that is, just do nothing and breathe. That’s enough.” And I can picture those words written in clouds and read them again and again.

    So by admitting my powerlessness, I open my heart to the power of God, of love, of eternal goodness. I am not alone. I know what my next step is. I am filled with hope.

    -Christine H.

  • 06/26/2019 8:06 PM | Anonymous
    • Step Seven – Seek comfort from your Higher Power

    Ofttimes we have talked to our sponsor, attended more meetings … all the familiar and usually effective steps. But sometimes, it is going to take more to successfully manage your anxiety of the impact of the problem on your serenity. In that case (or before) consult your Higher Power through prayer and meditation. What is that Power saying, what is the next right thing to do. 

    • Step Eight – Identify persons involved and decide if an amend from you will aid the anxiety.

    Often, there are a number of people involved and it may be a situation where through no fault of your own, they view you a cause of all or part of the problem. Make a list and ask, “What if anything can I do to lessen their antagonism toward me?” … or to bring relief to those involved?… and be willing to undertake that action.

    • Step Nine – But plan what the amend will be or what is said and review it with your sponsor.

    Perhaps above all, you don’t want to make an amend or correct a situation if your action will hurt them or other innocent persons. …. Don’t make an amend which merely seeks to shift responsibility but be frank and assume responsibility for your actions. Honesty is always the best policy.

    • Step ten – Review your plan.

    Sometimes it will take time to relieve your anxiety or to solve the problem that has been haunting you. This is not a seldom occurrence for you are dealing with really difficult situations. So, review its status and effectiveness of your plan with your sponsor. Watch out for surprise reactions to what you are undertaking and make the adjustment if needed … and watch out for those awkward unintended consequences.

    • Step Eleven – Stay in touch with your Higher Power and exercise your spiritual life.

    We need to be aware of the health of our spiritual life, that “constant contact.” Remember that you are searching for the right answer, the Will of your Higher Power in the matter, and the power to carry it out. New facts emerge or become more important than what you anticipated.

    • Step Twelve – Keep a journal and share it with discretion.

    Others may be struggling. Share your process.  Be grateful for the Program and its Steps.

    *Once again, with humble apologies to Bill W. and Dr. Bob and to the millions who use the Steps to recovery from their addiction.
    -Jim A. Covington, Kentucky

  • 06/20/2019 9:40 PM | Anonymous

    “Only the lonely, know the way I feel tonight.”1

    Not word in nearly three years; then his text bloomed on my screen: “Hi, it’s me. How are you doing?”  “Very, well, full plate. How are you?”  “I’ve been better. I’ve been drinking for a little over a year. I’m fed up and need help. …”   For two years, she’s been recycling through rehabs and detoxes. Near death on a gurney in the local ER, to a 42-day stint in a posh rehab, she retired with her husband to the upper reaches of coastal New England (his call, not hers). “It’s awful here. I have no one. These are not my people.” She has no people; never has. Bystanders, cast members, leading actors, but no costars… the price of intimacy is transparency and she lacks the currency.

    Alcoholics die of loneliness. Clinically, booze is fatal, but our addiction is fermented in loneliness, the heaven-sent antidote to “I’m not enough.”, to “I don’t fit in.”, to “I’m a failure, a loser.”, to “Nobody cares about me anyway.” Alcohol fuels “Look at me now!”, and “I’ll show them.”, and “I’m fine.”

    Late Sunday morning, a group of forty or so fans adorned in home-team swag shuffle toward the bus door, chattering, smiling, happy. A few fidget, glancing warily around, but others draw them into the banter. Their big-league home team is on a roll and a trip to a ball game is what sober people do. Together they are safe, together they are happy, learning, perhaps for the first time, ordinary social life, to be just a face in the crowd. For these few hours, they’re all fans rooting for their slugging heroes. This is what “not lonely” feels like.

    Two recent articles in the nation’s newspaper of record touted the crucial importance of casual relationships.2, 3 They assert that engaging the people around us, connecting in the simplest of ways with colleagues, family, neighbors, clerks, mechanics, passers-by grounds us. These low-stakes drumrolls give us the beat for high-note, big-stakes relationships. Like crowd-sourcing love. In classic Hebrew, the biblical “neighbor” is contextual, a linguistic shape-shifter: our “neighbor” extends beyond the family next door; he or she is the person at hand, and importantly, the person who invests in others’ presence, their dignity, their humanity, just like the Good Samaritan. In our intense, desensitized world, we are surrounded by neighbors who are beaten and left for dead, acutely and metaphorically. Sometimes, a nod their way can work a miracle.

    A dozen or more years ago, I was overcome by the many relationships, parents, siblings, marriages, children, friendships, colleagues I had failed to a degree my occasional heroics could not offset.  I failed them because… no clue. Not that I didn’t understand why/how I failed. I literally had no grasp on relationships – what they are, how they work, how to behave – what responsibilities one has and what one can reasonably expect from a relationship.

    December 12, 2006, I emailed my friend who was struggling to get sober that I had no answers for his travail, but our talk that afternoon spurred me “to build relationships with family and friends that provide an infrastructure of love to sustain me in any intimate relationship that might unfold.” I had finally wearied of I searching for a “someone” and began to clearly see, be with and respond to the people around me, hour by hour, day by day. Slowly the arc of my life rose and even now, accelerates.  

    Jesus, it turns out, was a connector.  He saw people, saw into and through them. He was present, listening and conversing. We devote great attention to his extravagant miracles and to his rich parables, but I often wonder if there are unrevealed lessons from the “certain ruler” who went away sad. Did he return?  Did the nine lepers who departed Jesus without expressing their gratitude rush to rejoice with their families and friends? Was that thanks enough?  The folks Christ touched had backstories and futures. Presumably, all Jesus’s followers, devotees and disciples connected with each other to share their experience, strength and hope. Love compounds. That’s a lesson for us.

    My brother died a couple of months ago. He succeeded in everything – marriage, family, career. A mobbed funeral, but the few testimonials were spare. All anybody came up with was that he was “there for them”. Made them feel… less lonely.

    So, if you’re new or just coming back, or feeling stale and stuck in “the program”, AA practices fellowship first. We listen and learn about each other’s loneliness, then shed it together. The stories are pathetic, the advice isn’t always sage, the jokes often are not funny, the snacks are stale and forgettable, but the love is real. So, if you are lonely, you know where to go.

     

    1 Only the Lonely by Joe Melson / Roy Orbison © Barbara Orbison Music Company, Roy Orbison Music Company, Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., BMG Rights Management

    2 “Why You Need a Network of Low-Stakes, Casual Friendships” Allie Volpe, New York Times, Smarter Living, May 6, 2019

    3 Invest in Relationships, The Payoff Is Immense”, Tim Herrera, New York Times, Smarter Living Newsletter, May 12, 2019

  • 06/13/2019 10:27 PM | Anonymous

    “I am clay and I am water
    Falling forward in this order
    While the world spins 'round so fast
    Slowly I'm becoming who I am”
    Margaret Becker, Clay and Water

    I recently I had a series of very emotional conversations that generated disappointment and a short bout of depression. In my recovery journey, it often seems that two steps forward is followed by not by just three steps back, but a kick in the gut, a blow to the nether regions and a crowbar to the cranium. I found myself struggling to believe that my efforts in recovery and my sense of calling were not worth my effort.

    The danger of such thinking is that when I focus on one or two events, I fail to see the overall trajectory of my life. I mistakenly believe that one set back is a black mark on any progress I may have made. I realize that much of this is because I have expectations in my life, recovery and work that can both be appropriate and naive. Unmet expectations are the playgrounds from where my addictive thinking refuses to come in for dinner when mom calls.

    Perspective on these things comes from pausing long enough to get in touch with my feelings and motives. This is what is referred to in my program as a tenth step. While my feelings do not determine my reality, they do indicate what is really going on - inside me. Never a fun journey but always a necessary one. I discovered I had to own some of my personality traits which often come across in a way I do not intend. I also had to be open to push back from my spiritual mentor, my coach, and a few trusted fellows who love me enough to speak the truth, even if it hurts.

    The more I work my recovery, the more I am convinced that I have to be honest with myself that on any given day, my motives are mixed. Much of my tension exists in that space where the mix occurs. In recovery circles it seems that we often strive for transparency, humility and surrender yet value discretion, mistake confidence for ego and ignore that recovery (and life) requires effort. I am convinced that there needs to be a new movement in recovery circles where we talk honestly about such things and stop pretending that we must live under a burden of defeatism. We must also be willing to see the joy others have as they recover and not become killers of God’s new work of grace.

    The spiritual life of recovery, for me, acknowledges my shortcomings while remaining focused on the journey of becoming. I have benefited from the gift of honesty with myself about who I am, how I think, my selfish desires, and mixed motives. Being honest about these things does not mean I have to exercise them. Rather, it means that I can only address them as I recognize them. I cannot heal from something I cannot name.

    As I examine my motives and feelings I have to take care of what is on my side of the street, and if necessary offer an amends to those offended. I also have to choose to not pick up any item on someone else’s side of the street in an effort change their perceptions of my character. Basically I cannot enable them nor be the victim of their projections. I am, at best, imperfect in my efforts. I am reminded of the promise in the lyric above that I am a created being who is prone to mistakes and falling short. But I can rest in the promise that as I recognize that and cooperate with God, I can become who I was meant to be.

    That will break the back of depression every day.

  • 06/05/2019 10:13 PM | Anonymous

    How great is our God who gives us peace, grace, and recovery?  How large is our God?

    I have always felt that God, being omnipotent, can reveal himself to different people and cultures in different ways. Our Higher Power may not look like someone else’s and in the 12 steps we speak of God as we understand God.

    Like many of us, I am eternally grateful for the Twelve Steps and the various programs into which they have been incorporated.  I have however, discovered over the years, that there are cultures for whom the steps do not work as well as they do for other cultures, but that there is always a spiritual path to recovery. God speaks to us all in a way we can comprehend, and it may not be in the language of the 12 steps.

    As a Deacon in Recovery I am frequently the “go to” person for those who are struggling, and for those whose loved one is struggling.  I must walk a fine line between guiding them spiritually and becoming a “cheerleader” for the 12 steps, although I always say that the 12 steps were my path to recovery.

    We, the church, need to acknowledge, I think, that God is big enough to give healing to those who seek it, through whatever channel works best.  God is big enough to meet us where we are, in a language we understand, and in the cultural context in which we live. Just how big is our God?

    I remember the moment when my Higher Power and the God I knew in church merged.  I was lying on a gurney about to go into surgery.  My priest and my sponsor were present and the three of us held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer. That merger may not happen for everyone, in that way, but in a different way and with a different prayer.

    And may we always remember that 12 step programs are not allied with any sect, (originally the word “faith” was used) denomination, politics or institution, and that includes the Church.  12 step groups that meet in the church are part of the church’s outreach, but not part of the church.

    May we always be ready to spread the word of God’s loving mercy, forgiveness and healing power, and help those who are seeking a way to recovery to find the path to God that works for them.

    -Lisa K

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