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Through the Red Door Blog

In the early days of the Church, when the front door of the parish was painted red it was said to signify sanctuary – that the ground beyond these doors was holy, and anyone who entered through them was safe from harm.

In the lives of many recovering people, it is through these same red doors that sanctuary is found on a daily basis. Initially that sanctuary may not have started in the rooms with high vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows, but in the basements and back rooms of churches where 12-step meetings are held.

This blog was created for recovering people to share the experiences they found walking through those doors of safety, refuge and peace.

To submit a entry to the blog, please click here for the details or contact us at info@episcopalrecovery.org.

  • 07/11/2018 8:32 PM | Anonymous

    350,000+ babies are born each day and, since only 150,000+ people die, we are crowding and eroding the blue planet home we share. UNESCO forecasts a global population of 8-10 billion by 2050 – two billion is a pretty fat range – but, what matters is not how many we are, only whether we are sane, capable, responsible, generous and loving. Can mankind, as a species, practice restraint and cultivate a self-respect that accords respect for billions and billions of others? Can we shed the binary, zero-sum math of win vs. lose, succeed vs. fail, advance vs. retreat, us vs. them, me vs. you to embrace multiplying masses of others?  Are we doomed?

    In the current noxious and perilous atmosphere, I find my mind fraught, my emotions on edge and my spirits sinking into an irritating malaise.  A pall settles over my daily life in recovery, and an anger rises from it that drains my serenity and incites rage, even hatred toward the haters who enflame fear and resentment toward “enemies.” How can my recovery and my faith animate my soul and rouse my spirits as an antidote to the toxic miasma? 

    The tenth step cautions that “it is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us.”  The tenth step offers an intimate reckoning of our attitudes, motives, behaviors and all their consequences. We may apply any number of yardsticks: the deadly sins, the decalogue, the golden-rule, great commandment, or our personal inventory via steps four through seven.  Scripture, spiritual writings, and recovery literature all open paths of reflection, contemplation, and self-examination. We have tools aplenty and we have priests, counselors, sponsors, and friends to raise our ability to apply them to good purpose.  We discipline ourselves to grasp and grapple with the gifts and graces we receive – turning our will and our live over to the care of a Loving God as we encounter Him.  And, we encounter him most vividly in all those many, messy, maniacal, and miraculous others. 

    Each day, we are given a rebirth in sobriety within the community of our families and friends, within the coterie of recovery, within the social web, and within all of human society.  We, among all, know the ravages of fear and resentment; we above all, know the cost of investing our lives in any power equation not grounded in acceptance, generosity, grace, and love.  Each day, we embrace a new life that leads us away from the certain demise of our addictions.  In recovery, we are called to manage the noise and master ourselves, as we strive toward unity in the Source of Unconditional Love. We recover out of God’s Love for US. All of US. 

  • 06/27/2018 7:36 PM | Anonymous

    I grew up in a denomination where I went to confession and received forgiveness. I didn’t have to go back to anyone and say I was sorry (I probably wasn’t) unless a teacher or parent (mother) told me to do so.

    Step five was a new experience of “confession” as were steps eight and nine. Now I had to continue to do this?

    After a few years of going to meetings for all the wrong reasons and not drinking, I slowly began to work the steps as a program of recovery. It took a while for me to understand that I did not just “do the steps” one time and that was it. This program, I learned, is not about not drinking but rather it is about living - living every day as a healthy human being. What I had been told before was beginning to make sense: “Seamus, if you’re not living the program you’re not working the steps.” This is a daily program that helps keep me alive as opposed to staying in a Dry Drunk modality.

    Taking an ongoing personal inventory was an interesting experience. Even though I had ceased to drink, my old attitudes -character defects- were not that easy to break. But then, this is where God, my Higher Power, removes the Character Defects when I put myself in situations and the Higher Powers whispers “this is a good time to say “I’m sorry” or “You could simply say “I am wrong. I apologize.”

    One instance stands out in my memory: I really did not to want to go back into the restaurant and tell that bunch of teenagers I was wrong when I told them to relocate from being near ‘my table’ and go sit in the smoking section. As I left the restaurant, it was pointed out to me that I was in the wrong; the kids were sitting where they should have been. I continued to the car.

    My Higher Power began to talk to me, .and I argued back: Those kids were only too glad to see me gone. What difference would it make for me to go in and apologize? It’s raining; I don’t want to have to get out of the car again. I turned off the ignition, went back in, walked to where the youth had relocated and told them: “Guys, I was wrong in telling you to move. I was seated in the wrong place. I’m sorry for the way I behaved.” They sat almost frozen wondering, I’m sure, if this old man was “normal.” Perhaps I may have been the first adult to apologize to them. Back in the car I really did feel better. How often now do I have to do this?

    Well, as of this writing, I am in the program some thirty-nine years, and I don’t have to apologize anywhere near as frequently as I did when I began to work the eleventh step. I got sick and tired of apologizing, so I learned to watch what I said and what I did. Those character defects were now becoming much clearer to me and, more often than not, I’d catch them before the words and actions took place.

    A personal inventory became like making my bed when I got up; like having that first cup of coffee in the morning. It became a way of life as in living the program and in living the program I automatically worked the step.

    The personal inventory keeps me balanced. I am a good person who makes mistakes. My mistakes have their roots in the Character defects and so by keeping a check on the character defects I have fewer mistakes. However, I am human and there are those times when I get Too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (HALT). Thanks to the program, when I now make a mistake I can laugh at myself, own it, apologize if necessary, and Guilt and Shame no longer overwhelm me. I am a good person who makes mistakes; it’s okay to be human.

    Continuing to take a personal inventory has – like breathing - like opening my eyes to see the world around me - become a way of life.  Making amends, becoming at-one (atone) with self, God and others keeps me humble and happy and for this I am grateful to Bill, Bob, and all those who have helped me work the steps till I learned to live the program.

  • 06/20/2018 10:36 PM | Anonymous

    Like many others, I grew up in an alcoholic family rift with the dysfunctional behavior that is characteristic of generational alcoholism. Rift with neglect, abuse and violence, it was a depressing existence where alcoholism seemed to rule the day and determine the future. It felt like a sub-standard way of life and although we may not have said it out loud, it inspired a sub-standard way of seeing ourselves. It created a lower expectation of what we might be and what we might become in the world and in some way, I know that it affected what we thought in terms of our perception of how God saw us. It was subtle, but it was there. The world didn’t think much of us and we didn’t really think much of ourselves, so why would God be any different?  But God does see us differently – all of us.

    I spent twenty-five years of my adult life burning myself up in alcohol and drug addiction, pointing the finger at those who were such horrible examples and who I blamed for all my problems. My absent father, my promiscuous mother, my violent step-father, all of whom were those horrible alcoholics, and list was lengthy. Playing the victim garnered me a lot of sympathetic shoulders from those who bought it. Boy, I could really tell the story – really make it spin. It worked. Until it didn’t. I eventually ran out of people who bought it, most all understood many years before I did that the problem wasn’t with anyone other than myself. But I just couldn’t hear it – not from the family, friends, judges, psychs, law enforcement – I just couldn’t hear the truth about the nature of my life and my disease until I sat in front of another alcoholic who was telling my story.

    There is something that sits in the center of the Twelve Steps that changed me at my core. It’s much like the altar in the center the church, much like the epiclesis – that moment where the Presence of Jesus becomes real in the blessing of the elements – that sits in the very center of The Holy Eucharist. It sits in the center of the personal inventory work at the core of the Twelve-Steps, and it is these words taken from page 66 of the Big Book:

    This was our course: we realized that the people who wronged us were perhaps spiritually sick. Though we did not like their symptoms and the way these disturbed us, they like ourselves, were sick too.

    Those few words were then, and are still to this day, a huge game-changer for me. They level the playing field. The words presented an instant paradox. On one hand, I couldn’t imagine feeling that way about people like my step-father who would regularly beat both my mother and myself in a drunken rage. On the other hand, I knew deep down that there was profound truth in these words – truth that could lead me to freedom. That is exactly what has happened. The deep resentment I once held for others has been taken away, making room for compassion.

    I have done much work over the past twenty-plus years in recovery. I have healed. Relationships have healed. My footing is firm in recovery because I continually work the program. I still have the same sponsor that I met my second day in recovery. We still work the steps together, and every once in a while we are reminded of those words on page 66 and they guide us to freedom. It truly is a miracle in my life. It is a miracle in recovery.

    -Brother Dennis
  • 06/13/2018 9:12 PM | Anonymous

    Early in my codependency recovery, I became acquainted with a quiet voice of knowing that sometimes came to me when I was journaling and inquiring into myself. The voice brought me words of truth about my life. No condemnation, just clarity.

    I was not yet a Christian, and I knew no name for this gentle assistance in my soul. I felt it came from beyond me. I called it “the spirit that helps me know myself.”

    I know this spirit as the Holy Spirit now, and I seek the truth he brings: the vital, blessed, and sometimes very difficult truth.

    At the beginning of recovery, I was afraid to search myself. I’d had therapy that worked deeply in me and made me grow. But what would I find when I looked at myself from the fresh perspective of codependency recovery? 

    Although I have functioned in the world as a friend, a professional, an artist, and even as a daughter and sister and wife, I have spent a lot of time not knowing the whole truth about why I did what I was doing — particularly in forging relationships, clinging to them, or abandoning them.

    Like many of us codependents, I came from a troubled family. I learned to adapt to others and deny what I knew for the sake of peace and the hope that neither parent would fall apart or walk away. 

    As an adult, I often gravitated to troubled people who had the emotional fingerprint of my mother or my father. I adored them and molded myself to them. I tried to get them to keep me and never let me go. 

    I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time. It is embarrassing to remember and sobering to understand how my behavior deprived me, other people, and God of my authentic presence and real love. 

    In the recovery meetings, I gradually felt safe and brave enough to describe my pain and fear and admit my mistakes. I found a gentle, wise, trustworthy sponsor. I began to trust a higher power, and I began to feel valuable. 

    I started to glimpse and claim a true self, independent of anyone’s attention or approval. I wanted to know this new self and to live without trying to be anyone else. 

    The truth was my ground to stand on, and it was the path forward.

    Three years into recovery, I became a Christian. To believe now that my self, my life, was made by God with loving intention, and belongs to God for all time, has impressed on me that it is my serious responsibility to understand exactly who I am, to discover and steward my gifts, to remember that God made me unique for work in the world that no one else can do, and to be thoughtful in my commitments, with gratitude to God who gave me life. 

    I lived more than 50 years without this understanding of who I am. I’m gratefully continuing to recover and grow.

    My old behavior patterns are embedded deeply in me, and I have to go back to the beginning over and over, living the cycle of my Christian spiritual life and my recovery: conviction, surrender, prayer, inventory, redemption, forgiveness, gratitude, service. 

    A few years ago, during a silent prayer vigil in the wee hours of Good Friday morning, these words settled into my mind:

    Until you show up exactly as you are, you will never know how much you are loved.

    With God’s help, I’m getting closer. 

    - Bette Jo G.

  • 06/06/2018 9:39 PM | Anonymous

    Two celebrations on the same day and for some, maybe not “rah! - rah!” types as they are for many of us.

    Easter week is a time of rebirths, new starts, acceptance of His Grace, freely given. We pay nothing for it and His Grace flows over us like water over a cliff. It provides us with the courage to seek to do the things we should as well and the courage to ignore the things we shouldn’t do. We learn from our mistakes in life and seek strength to continue.

    This year on Good Friday members of our Parish walked through the downtown commercial center of our city … it’s a well-worn center formerly inhabited by girly bars and “clubs”, saloons, gun stores and other familiar debris. The look of the commercial center has slowly made progress accompanied by the usual barriers to downtown renewal which always seem to eat into the rate and quality of urban renewal.  But 18 years ago, I’m not certain we would have entertained such a “walk-through”.

    It was a bright afternoon, a crisp chill in the air fortunately moderated by a bright sun and clear blue skies. We were greeted by well-wishers some I expect remembering their child-hood days of participation in church Easter activities.

    We shared carrying a wooden cross as we walked and stopped at each block to read the Steps of Christ as he headed to his tortuous doom. Unlike Him, the cross we carried was light, easily carried, and stop to stop, with just enough weight to bring His struggles to mind.

    But wait! … an anniversary? Yes, indeedy!

    I began the process of “surrender” 18 years ago Easter Sunday. The specific date escapes me but it was just about that time so I “picked” Easter Sunday as my date of sobriety.

    Seemed appropriate. The Good Friday walk especially fit my surrender process completely. My life was a wreckage, filled with events and feelings I’d just as soon forget. They always come back to me about this time … they reinforce my decision to surrender all and to step into a new life the resurrected life if you will of the Program itself. It provides answers and ways to clean up that old mess from my side of the street. It gave me ways to become closer to my Higher Power and to seek His will for us and the power to carry it out.  It told me that one of my steps in the Program was to reach out to aid the still suffering alcoholic and addict.

    His Grace provided a way out from the turmoil and pain and self-centeredness of those past days.

    As the old song says, “t’was the Grace that saved me” and all I had to do was to reach out and accept it.

    Easter morn … a surrender and a beginning … miracles both? … You bet your bottom dollar!

    Jim A.

    Covington, Kentucky

  • 05/31/2018 9:06 AM | Anonymous

    They cut the tumor out of his brain and the surgeon held up his fist to show that it was “this big”, but I picture a huge, oozing cone of blackberry gelato. That early May day, the sun shined like July, but then for days and days clouds blocked the sun and rain fell like endless April.

    After a few hours, he leaves recovery, after a few days, he leaves intensive care, after a couple more days he leaves the hospital, after a couple weeks, he leaves the rehabilitation center, and in a few months, he leaves skilled nursing, and in a few months, or more than a few, they say he will leave us with hearts breaking.

    He is the guy who sees into my soul, who rambles freely along the paths of my conscience and rummages amid the cavities of my heart. We share our recoveries from alcoholism, our experiences with humanity, our perversions, perplexities and pleasures. Weekly breakfasts at McDonalds / lunches at Wendy’s twist threads into yarn, weave yarn into gauze that wraps our wounds, warms our extremities, crowns our glory.

    Sponsor is a loaded word in recovery – a shape that alters to fit every stage of recovery and, sometimes, the absence of recovery, and to bind radically different personalities and long-lost clones. Sponsorship is a laboratory for intimacy, freedom from denial, escape from isolation, the passport granting entry to the possibility of faith, access to realms of the spirit.

    Now, of course, he cannot say my name, because that part of his brain is groping for traction, but, he does see me and his gentle, vibrant spirit greets me. He is now unburdened with the functional, practical, practiced aspects of manhood and, hopefully, his therapists and treatments will restore these, but for now, the divine in him, the spirit that triggered his acceptance and ignited his recovery from addiction and sustains him through all the demanding, frustrating, thrilling, icky and gratifying events over multiple decades of sobriety – shines. Together, we aspire to be centered and settled: what better measure of faith, of sharing belief, of “knowing” God?

    Years ago, we left the restaurant and already at full throttle, veered toward our cars until he paused, hooted and motioned me to him. His embrace, then and every leave-taking since, affirms that our merged mass secures our soles to the surface of the earth and our souls to heaven.

    Pelagius: it matters less that we believe in Christ than that we behave as Christ. My heartfelt faith is schooled, disciplined, grounded in rigor and ritual; his is unframed, casual, settled in curiosity and doubt; and, thus unfettered, perhaps his faith exceeds my own. Regardless, the coming days, weeks, months… will reveal the Source of the generous love that makes us friends, keeps us sober and finally, leads us to be settled at the Center of All. Amen. 

    -Martin McE.

  • 05/23/2018 6:56 PM | Anonymous

    “I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that I am responsible.” Responsibility Statement, 1965 International Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous, Toronto Canada

    Today, by God’s grace, I give thanks for 21 years of recovering life. I am yet another living miracle, along with so many, many others. Yet added to the key ingredient of God’s grace and my “daily reprieve based on my spiritual condition” were the countless others I was blessed by, the hands of AA to help guide me along this way of “happy destiny.

    Each year I take time on this day to look back at this journey, not to forget my past nor wish to shut the door on it. This year I received a very special “remembering gift” of this life. As the New Year began, I received an e-message from a Bill K. from Pittsburgh, desiring to reconnect with me. While my recovering life started in this area, I have been living on the East Coast for the past 18 years. I trusted our paths had crossed by his knowing who I was to find me across the social media universe, but how and where and when did our paths cross along this way? I searched my memory bank for our connections without success. Bill K. asked if I could read his story for an upcoming talk at a conference – and that is when the I am responsible connection was blessedly made again.

    As I read his story of addiction, mental disabilities, near death, institutionalization, and into living this recovering life, the “aha” moment appeared. In his recovering journey as a trained addiction counselor, he was the one I was blessed to encounter in my first 28 days while in the rehab center in Pittsburgh. I recalled how remarkably blessed I was by Bill K’s authenticity, compassion, and desire for my living this recovering life. While deeply respectful of my vocation from his spiritual life, he clearly bonded with me as a recovering alcoholic first and foremost. I remembered his belief in ME, his willingness to speak the truth of his life to ME, a truth I knew as MY life as well. Bill K. was living the life of I am responsible.

    The evolution of the I am responsible statement emerged for the 1965 A.A. International Convention in Toronto There is an article that identifies former AA trustee, Al S. as the author of the Responsibility Statement. You can read about the history of this at http://bigbooksponsorship.org/articles-alcoholism-addiction-12-step-program-recovery/aa-history/history-aas-responsibility-statement/ In the souvenir book for the 1965 Convention, Dr. Jack Norris writes: "...We must remember that AA will continue strong only so long as each of us freely and happily gives it away to another person, only as each of us takes our fair share of responsibility for sponsorship of those who still suffer, for the growth and integrity of our Group, for our Intergroup activities, and for AA as a whole ... As we become responsible for ourselves, we are free to be responsible for our share in AA, and unless we happily accept this responsibility we lose AA. Strange, isn't it?"

    Today I celebrate 21 years of recovering life, by God’s grace and the many, many, many hands of AA compatriots along this wonderful way. I also was blessed to reconnect with Bill K. again earlier this month, and to offer my deep, deep thanks for his part of my recovering life. While Bill K. was grateful for his part in this one precious and wild life I have been blessed to live, Bill K. simply believed and said, “And for that I am responsible.” And for this gift, the gift of Bill K. and so many, many, many others, I am too!

    Grateful always, in peace
    Paul G.+

  • 05/16/2018 9:29 PM | Anonymous

    Some are great! … only a few intolerable, but, honestly, never of “little or no assistance” to our working the program, especially the first 3 Steps.  Sometimes the lead is what folks call a “drunk-a-log”, one story after another of bad and embarrassing crash landings. Drunk-a-logs do serve a perverse service I suppose; if your own fall from grace is not very funny or exciting or unusual, you are free to steal one from those who have recorded a raft of funny stories. Walla! … you have a funny story to tell in your own lead, and who’s the wiser … except you.

    Personally, what I appreciate in one’s story is the reminder of the person’s (and mine) “bad old days”. I always enjoy learning how people came to believe that the Program could rescue them. We were reborn, a fresh start at driving through life’s hills and dales … without reaching for that bottle or drug to comfort us and ease the pressures. It was a resurrection.

    Usually, the leads we hear contain bits of helpful information we weren’t aware of. People run into all sorts of problems and joyous happenings.  Their experiences, strengths and hopes provide new ideas for our use, new ways to cope, or some new Twelve Step work we might be able to undertake.

    A lead by a person with limited time in the Program is interesting … usually very nervous (public speaking is one of the top stressors for most), fumbles with the mike, talks too long or too short or too quietly, and simply doesn’t appear to be enjoying the event for what it really is. We’ve all been there … Bill told us what to say … tell ‘em “what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now”.  The newbie’s story always brings nodding of heads, laughter, side glances. The audience is telling you that you’re on the right track.

    A good train of thought is to speak to the meeting’s “first-timers” or a couple early attenders anxiously trying to remain sober for first time in their adult life. We can pick up on their feelings, as we recall our own and speak to this anxiety … after all, you were in their shoes once … tell ‘em what worked for you. That’s exciting stuff. Directly helping someone who might be hurting, ashamed, depressed, and lonely. That person is beginning to realize he has to change “people, places and things”, essentially starting over his manner of living. What and how you respond to their seemingly isolated corner will impact their lives.  

    By the way, If you missed a lead recently and need a supplemental goofy stupid story, here’s one to be used as any readers desire…………..

    My Saturday morning’s yard work schedule called me to work with a pile of tree limbs and branches recently pruned by the professionals.  I was well into my Saturday’s supply of beer, my energy drink. Armed with my chain saw, but alas, no ear or eye protective equipment, I fired up the saw anyway and approached the wood- It was the pile or me … I thought this was going to be a piece of cake and fun to boot. Oh, I forgot to mention it was cloudy and wet from Friday’s heavy rain … I vaguely remember someone behind me yelling something … I turned and as I did, that roaring chain saw .… 

    … To Be Continued. 

    Jim A.    Covington, Kentucky

  • 05/09/2018 9:59 PM | Anonymous

    Last night John and I sat down, took deep breaths, and looked at what life on life’s terms has meant for us in the past six months. His cancer diagnosis, the anxiety of waiting for appointments and dates, surgery and recovery (a bit more complicated than we had thought it would be.) His hospitalization for pneumonia. Leaving a temporary job that had become beloved. A busted boiler/water heater. Learning that John’s brother had pancreatic cancer that was metastasizing rapidly. A flight that included top-dollar pricing, delays, rerouting and not being with Bill as he died.

    But, the last six months have also included: sobriety.

    And sobriety is a priceless gift. Because of sobriety, we have not had to pick up a drink or a drug. We are able to not only cope, but also to celebrate the joy that never leaves us.

    • v We have the love of our families, who like to spend time with us and with whom we laugh.
    • v We have sponsors and friends to talk to and rely on, and they listen and give comfort.
    • v We love to read good books—fiction, non-fiction and program literature--and we talk about the ideas others share.
    • v We manage our money and don’t spend it recklessly, so we can pay our way.
    • v We have each other.
    • v We attend meetings regularly, where we are known and where we know others.
    • v We have faith in our Higher Power and, as we read in The Twenty-Four Hour Book, feel deeply secure in the fundamental goodness and purpose of the universe.

    Years ago, my sponsor taught me about the benefit of writing gratitude lists, about how seeing that those words on paper makes a positive impression on the mind and heart. A gratitude list is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Developing an “attitude of gratitude” has been fundamental to my recovery. “There is always something to be grateful for,” is a message I tell my sponsees, for a grateful heart never drinks.

    Sometimes I write an alphabetic gratitude list (A is for AA, B is for our dog Bridget, C is for curly hair, D is for Dancing…) and sometimes as I’m falling asleep, I just think about my list. I make rules for myself like: only names of people or nothing I thought about the night before. Sometimes we just look around the room or wherever it is that we find myself and try to find a few things there that we’re particularly happy about.

    It’s a way of thinking. It’s a way of life. And gratitude is a wellspring of energy and stability.

    -Christine H.

  • 05/02/2018 9:03 PM | Anonymous

    The Four ‘N 20 restaurant in North Hollywood is a small popular eatery known for their pies. It’s one of those places that is better known by the locals than by the millions of tourists that visit Los Angeles each year. Other than the pies, the other menu offerings such as burgers, chicken-fried steak, and the rest of the usual fare you would find at a simple diner is not bad, but nothing to write home about. The charm and attraction to the place is not so much the menu but the history. It’s been there for decades and has become a connecting place for old friends, striving actors, and a gathering spot after the various recovery meetings in the area. I know, because for years I had drifted in-and-out of those meetings in what the program refers to as countless vain attempts to gain a foothold in recovery. It’s also located on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in the North Hollywood section San Fernando Valley where I hustled dope and roamed the streets during the last seven years of my life in active addiction before I was able to get sober and allow myself to be rescued by God and the program of recovery. My darkest times were here in this land of oblivion between 1991 and 1998.

    I had been sleeping behind the wall of a small run-down office building on a large-box piece of cardboard for a couple of weeks. It was hard and cold, but it was relatively safe. It was one of many spots where I hid away for the night in the area. I woke up – or should I say that I came to – one morning with the usual hungry stomach and sick with craving for alcohol and dope. So I did what I have done a hundred times before. I searched out a supermarket to target to lift some booze and maybe food. I decided on Gelson’s Supermarket on Laurel Canyon Boulevard across the street from the Four ‘N 20. I had my routine. I knew what to do and I was pretty good at it. I would go in, grab a basket as if I was a legitimate shopper walking the isles tossing a few things in the basket and along the way, stuff a couple of tall boys (16 ounce cans of beer) into the lining of my jacket along with some packaged sliced ham and small tortillas. As I casually left the basket abandoned and headed for the door, my heart rate quickened, partly from the risk of being caught, but also in anticipation of being able to pop those tall boys and get my morning medicine.

    Just as the automatic doors opened and I was stepping out, there was a rush of activity and two security guards tackled me to the ground and began searching for the goods. They found them. I was busted. They led me back to the security room of the store and began the process of interrogation and humiliation. What was my name? Where was I from? Why did I steal? To my surprise, they didn’t call the police. Maybe they just felt sorry for me because I was so pathetic. Instead, they had me sit with the tall boys, ham, and tortillas in my lap and they took a picture of me sitting there dirty, with my stolen goods. This is the exile of shame. They told me to never come into their store again and they let me go. I walked out into the street, still sick and needing something – anything – to qualm the craving. I walked across the street and past the Four ‘N 20.

    There is a row of tables and chairs inside the restaurant right next to the street side of Laurel Canyon Blvd., only about six feet from the sidewalk. I had sat at those same tables before my life went totally into the toilet. Now, I was standing outside looking at a man and woman sitting comfortably eating, laughing, and enjoying their slice of life. They seemed so happy and so content. Standing there on the sidewalk just a few feet away watching them, I longed for their life, my heart ached because I was just so very lost. Even though it was just a thin piece of window glass that separated us from one another, I felt a million miles away. So close yet so far away. Then suddenly, the couple turned and looked at me, clearly uneasy that I was staring at them from the other side of the glass. I looked away. I walked away. More shame. This is life in exile of addiction.

    In over twenty years of recovery, I have stopped in at the Four ‘N 20 many times. I always try to sit at one of those tables next to the glass and I drink my coffee and eat my sandwich, sometimes with my friends in recovery. I remember that day all those years ago when I felt so lost and buried in shame. The supermarket is still there across the street. Keeping my promise, I have never been back inside. Sometimes this is what God’s grace looks like. 

    –Brother Dennis

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