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Through the Red Door

Red Door

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.

  • 08/09/2017 10:20 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The experience of AA is one that is powerful, life changing, and freeing. Before I joined AA I had spent many years drinking and about a month sober - but I was lost. I knew I shouldn't drink because I was an alcoholic, but I didn't know how to live my life as a sober person. I felt alone-wandering angrily through sobriety with a chip on my shoulder that I couldn't drink like everyone else in the world seemed to.

    Enter AA. I met people like me. I started to open up and share my story. People told me that they learned things from what I said just as I had learned from them. I felt the power of a community of people who got what I was going through but pushed me to work a program that would get me out of my "why me?" mentality and into a fulfilling and satisfying life.

    I worked the steps with a sponsor. I surrendered. I did my inventory. I shared my past and acknowledged my defects. I prayed to have them lifted. I made amends. I started to understand freedom in a way that I never understood it before. I had been living shackled in fear, shame, guilt, and sadness. But I gave it all up to my Higher Power and learned what it is for my soul to feel lighter ... and I learned how to "keep my side of the street clean."

    Every day brings fresh challenges. I pray for guidance on the "next right thing" multiple times a day. And I get answers, believe it or not. They come relatively effortlessly... like a whisper of wisdom in my mind.

    Freedom in surrender is a strange concept for some but to me it has come naturally. I surrender my will and my life to my Higher Power and find empowerment in the steps I take as a result. The next right thing.

    I pray that those still struggling will know this freedom one day. I never knew it possible but I am living proof of the power of a program and community like AA. It has given me back my life.

    -Mindy M


  • 08/02/2017 11:17 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Some years ago, a priest colleague of mine began a sermon on the Transfiguration by asking: “Can you think of a time when you knew that you were in the presence of something Holy? Something Holy that had something to say to you?”

    As I mark the annual miracle of my daily deliverance from active addiction, I, along with the cloud of witnesses who have been transfigured by the grace that is recovery, can answer my friend’s questions with a resounding “Yes!” And “Yes!” Because, as I have learned, this was a scriptural way of stating the second step: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

    In the early months of recovering from a devastating and humiliating bottom, I set myself (sic!) the task of trying to make things right. And then, at a meeting, I heard a fellow priest declare, “I have always believed in God. I was just never sure that God believed in me.” Boom! He was telling my story. Maybe the Holy did have something to say to me. Now. In my brokenness.

    I was the dutiful child of a certain type of puritanical Scandinavian works-righteousness piety. In a nutshell, it was up to me to live with such rectitude that God would find me acceptable; that I would, somehow, be found worthy of the grace of restoration, of sanity.

    In other words, I was a follower of Peter. Impulsive, mouth-open-before-brain-is-fully-engaged Peter. Poor Peter, who never really got the “be still and know that I am God” business. Quick-draw Peter – a sort of apostolic action hero. Peter always seemed to be saying, “What am I supposed to do?” From leaping into the lake to offering to construct a booth, Peter’s initial response, like my own, was to engage in pious busyness.

    Like Peter, I leapt into problem-solving mode quickly because it helped me make sense of the chaos. At least that’s what I told myself. It allowed me the illusion—the delusion—that I wasn’t really falling down the well. But, to be honest it was all about control. And, in trying to think myself into a solution (before anyone found out, I hoped), I was just building booths on the deck of my own spiritual Titanic.

    My vocation is one of talking. For me, living into recovery has been largely about learning to listen. A huge step for me was to learn to ask for help. I knew that I didn’t have the answers to everything, but somehow I thought I was supposed to; that I didn’t, meant that I was weak and incompetent.

    I was told that I had to ask for help. And, perhaps more importantly, I had to listen to what people said. “Maybe that’s not the best idea you’ve ever come up with.” “This is what’s worked for me.” “You’re looking really peaceful these days!” And slowly, one day at a time, my life of activity with spiritual overtones is growing into a spiritual plan of action. First, always, I have to listen.

    God’s imperative, “Listen to Him!” means to listen not only to his words, but also to his life. A life of the Holy coming down, all the way down, into the depths of my addiction, my brokenness, and my fear. In traveling to the cross, to the grave, and through the grave, Christ embraces and redeems all that is hard, difficult, and even despicable in life, in order to wrest life from death itself! Recovery is always possible.

    If you wanted to construct a story about standing at a turning point, complete with an overpowering spiritual awakening, you needn’t look beyond the Transfiguration. For me, this year, the Gospel story is not so much about the vision of a dazzling Jesus, or of the presence of Moses and Elijah, or even of the ever-busy Peter. It is, today, about hearing the Holy who has something to say to me – to us. And then today, and each today that follows… listen.

    Paul J.
    August 2017

  • 07/26/2017 10:03 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Eight a.m. of a Sunday morning isn’t all that early, but allowing for the preliminaries of the AA Preamble, How It Works, newcomer and visitor introductions and anniversary coins, Change or Die (Change and Live) is infamous for stretching the limits of “you’re never late for a meeting”.  By its end, as many as eighty will hold hands to chant, “Keep coming back…” but, as Kristen opened the meeting, she faced a sparse gathering.  Kristen is settled in long-term sobriety and flourishes in the Big Book’s promises.  Her talk was not crafted or rehearsed, but a sincere, impromptu display of the “Language of the Heart.”  

    She spoke so spontaneously, I almost missed her take-away line: “I’m Kristin, my sobriety date is this date on that year, and my sponsor is the delightful Marielle. We talk.”  For the next twelve minutes, Kristen described minor and major miracles that comprise her days and frame her life, but for much of the meeting, I savored, then waded and plunged into her pithy, powerful declaration: “We talk.”

    “We talk” animates every aspect of all our recoveries as we navigate the bridge back to life. 

    From the beginning, “we talk” – speak and listen – at meetings.  We hear our own stories as others tell theirs; we see ourselves in their descent, collapse and rising.  We hear our anguish, identify our defeats, and recognize our healing in one another’s words.  And when we do talk, we attempt our new, now true voices.  Talking with our sponsor, we try, test and gain a capacity for trust.  Grudgingly at first, but over time our need for self-honesty wins out.  In the 5th step, we talk and  gateways open to transparency and intimacy within ourselves, and toward others and God.  

    “We talk.”  Colloquy, dialogue with the divine, is a tradition in every faith.  Mother Theresa, whose spirituality spanned every creed and culture, was asked what she said in her prayers, “Nothing, I just listen to God.”  And what does God say?  “Nothing, he just listens to me.”  Our listening speaks volumes and invites our outpourings.  Present in the Presence, we talk.

    We talk and we grow in understanding, sympathy, empathy and compassion, so that by the 9th step, we are ready for authentic amends.  We talk with – not to or at, but nakedly address the trifling or tragic ruptures with those who have been bruised by our attitudes and behaviors.   We face the “damaging emotional conflicts, violent twists which have discolored our personalities and altered our lives for the worse.1 We find the words, the gestures, and reparations tailored to both our offense and the vulnerability of those we have wounded. 

    As we continue in our recovery, we talk to sustain relationships, no longer imposing “unreasonable demands upon ourselves, upon others, and upon God.”2 We are capable of forming “true partnership with another human being”3.   As we “move out from ourselves, toward others, and toward God”4, we talk… to help, to heal, to hope… “we talk.”    

    Martin

    1 Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, AA World Services, 1952, Step Eight, pp 79-80 
    2 Ibid, Step Seven, p 76; 3 Ibid, Step Four, p 53; 4 Ibid, Step Seven, p 76



  • 07/19/2017 9:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Promises that appear in the Big Book after Step Nine are presented as a payoff from the work done in the preceding steps.  That effort includes an inventory, admission of character defects, and righting wrongs to the best of our ability.  Recently, I have witnessed several heartbreaking events that resulted from not conducting a thorough review or not facing character defects.  Each time, the phrases “We will not regret the past…” and “…we will see how our experience can benefit others” were running through my head because they were not true for the individuals that were hurting.  I had to stop and review why they were for me.

    My late sponsor, Janie, saved me from myself by pushing me through the first nine steps.  The fear of opening the door on the wreckage of my past almost killed me.  Those doors held back shame, guilt, humiliation, degradation, and every secret I drank away.  They also held me hostage, endangering my very fragile sobriety.  And yet I desperately wanted what she had, so onward we marched!  She cared more about my sobriety than my feelings.  We stuck to a firm schedule until I had completed the step through my first round of amends in Step Nine.  It was years later before I understood completely the necessity of not setting up camp in the wreckage but going through to recovery.

    The chapter in the Big Book where these Promises appear is aptly named “Into Action.”  Opening the doors on my past brought sunlight to a place where there had only been darkness.  For me, it was the beginning of a healing process that accompanied my recovery even today.  At the age of 20, I entered the rooms motivated only to stop the overt death spiral my life had become and had no belief that recovery was possible.

    The Promises did come true and have become more of a constant companion to me instead of a fleeting moment.  It has taken work, trust, faith, hope, prayer, and time to lose the feelings of regret.  It is a gift from God and the steps that my past does not continue to create tragic stories for me.  I am not haunted by the wreckage of my drinking or the mistakes from my 27 years of sobriety.  I use the tools in the steps to make necessary course corrections immediately.  That was Janie’s gift to me, and my gift to others I meet along the way.

    So, if you are holding back, not quite ready to “Clear away the wreckage of your past,” consider that we are with you in the “Fellowship of the Spirit.”  You are not alone!

    FHS, L


  • 07/06/2017 6:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As we celebrate Independence Day, I have encountered the words, “Freedom isn’t free.”  How true that is to me in my recovery.    There was some work I had to do in this world to get me back to where I could live freely.  I had to make some conscious decisions that I would go to any lengths to get my freedom.

    At the point that I had gotten in my alcoholism, I really didn’t have a problem admitting that I was powerless over alcohol.  I had grown up in the church, so again it was not a far stretch for me to believe that God could restore me to sanity. But turning my life and my will over to God, well that didn’t sound very much like freedom.  In my head, I felt that I had already done that.  I went to church. I gave when the offering plate was passed. You know, I was “giving” of my life to God.  In my heart, however, I knew that this was not the case.  As I worked the steps with my sponsor, I pretty much went right to step three.  With my lips I said the words, but my ego would not let go.  My sponsor left me a copy of the third step prayer and I read it.  I could identify with the principle and I had the desire, but not that last little bit of will power, you know freewill.  It was an example of saying, “Let go and let God,” and then taking back the reins to my life after about five or ten minutes. 

    As the days progressed, I found that I could let go for longer and longer periods of time.  In evening prayers, as I recounted the days that I was able to do this, I had been happier.  A low level headache that had been my norm, disappeared and I was frequently less irritable.  I was able to see progress in my recovery, my life became more manageable. When praying, I could honestly thank God for taking away the obsessions that had plagued my life.  I was in a word, happier.

    What I have found is that while “Freedom is not free,” God’s Love is.  Somewhere in my surrendering, I experienced an entirely different level of God’s mercy and Grace.  The progress that I have made has not come without cost, nor has it been easy, but it has been simple.  I have found that by regularly offering myself to God and submitting to His will, I am better able to discern what is His and what is mine.  Retrospectively, the lengths that I have gone to achieve this freedom don’t seem that arduous, and it is worth so much more than the cost.   

    -Chad

  • 06/07/2017 8:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Our friend was approaching end-stage alcoholism: dehydration, extreme weight loss, malnutrition, and bouts of delirium tremens. Then in her weakened state, she fell and broke her foot, injured her shoulder, and sustained lacerations – deep purple hematomas swelled beneath her skin. Even so, patched and propped up in an armchair, she defiantly refused treatment. “No!” to the hospital ER and detox; a vehement “No!!” to rehab; and at the last resort, a mute, dismissive smirk to a bit of egg, a bite of toast. Some hours later, a counselor briefed her family on an array of worst case scenarios, with only a hairline allowance for grace to intervene – a margin we know to be more than enough.  That’s why we pray for  it.

    The details are now sketchy and in any case, no litany of them could explain grace’s workings. But, providence shimmered and our warrior painfully breathed a “yes” that sped her to the hospital for primary treatment, and from there to detox and the senior unit at a well-regarded rehab for a six-week program of recognition, acceptance and, hopefully, eventual recovery – one day at a time.

    Her husband of many years is, himself, in the throes of retiring from retirement – choosing a setting for their independent living, then advancing through assisted and nursing care under his own life’s end- game arrangements. He is her elder by a fair margin and it has always been assumed that he would “precede her in death”. Perhaps so; perhaps not. Addiction is no respecter of plans and dreams.

    Recovery from anything implies a gateway to something else. As we recover from our addictions, we encounter ourselves and all the hurts we’ve accumulated inside. We have been wounded “too much, too often and too long” – our heroine’s own words at the depth of her demise and further proof that at its essence, recovery is an inside job. As raw apprentices, we take up the twelve steps, tools to strip the veneer of our personas, our crafted identities, our layered coats of avoidances and pretense and copingclumsy or sophisticated, awkward or artful. We scrape and sand to arrive at the natural grain of our timber, its rings, fibers and resin. We discover, too, that we’re not the only tree in the forest and that if we are all to somehow thrive in the grove of marriage and family, we must all grow together. It may come as a shock to co-dependent “others” that they also must take the rasp to their painted strata, their cosmetic devices. At any age and in every time, the only way to recover, share and cultivate our authentic selves is to expose the heft and color and grain and texture of ourselves to each other and to our God as we encounter him. Lignum Vitae: the Wood of Life

    Ultimately, it is in peeling away the glaze of self and our mirrored affects that we engage, as never before, God as the author of creation, the artist of our creation, whose only desire is for us to recover our lives in the embrace of his animating love.

    -Martin McE.
      

  • 05/24/2017 8:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” Philippians 3:12-14, The Message

    By the Grace of God, and this fellowship of recovering souls, I gave thanks for 20 years of recovering life yesterday, May 23. On this day, I always hold the promise before me that states “we will not forget the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” So I remember looking out the window of my room in the rehab facility that first morning of May 24. I remember still being unable to not stop sobbing uncontrollably about what had happened, what I had done to my family and myself, and the certainty that all I had worked for so long would be ruined from this day onward. I remember looking at my intake photo – bloated, red-faced from blood pressure numbers through the roof, bleary eyed, and hopeless.  I have since shredded the intake photo, but  it is and will be ingrained in my soul’s hard drive, and with gratefulness.

    I had no expectation of making 20 days without alcohol, let alone 20 weeks, or 20 months. Yet now, by working the program of recovery physically, mentally, and spiritually, by giving away what I have to help the other wounded ones coming in those doors, I gratefully stand with 20 years sober living. While still basking in this double digit marker in this recovering life, I am quickly grounded by “Trucker Jay,” my dear friend and companion at our home group meeting. Bright and early we gather, 7 a.m. each day, coffee with friends, and much, much more. While many in the room offered handclaps and handshakes in congratulations yesterday, “Trucker Jay” looked me in the eye with his semi-perpetual scowl and said, “Yeah, yeah, BIG whoop! You got another day like the kid that just walked in the room today. Go help him with what you have been given. Double it down, &*$*%#” Jay is a truck driver, so you can fill in his closing word. It is pretty much the same words every year of the almost 10 years as part of this home group. Yet there is always this slight wry smile and twinkle in his eye that says, “Good working it! I’m proud and happy for you.”

    This is the gift of the recovering community for me. We celebrate, we give thanks, and then we double down into another new day! As I come to the end of my service in full-time ministry to the parish I serve now, and those I have served for 25 years, I am grateful that over three-fourths of my work life in ministry has been living the recovering life. Perhaps some of the gifts of the Twelve Steps, of the deep and profound friendships and fellowship of the recovering communities I have been a part, might inspire others no in the rooms to live into and serve out of the greatest gift of Love for all. For we all are recovering from something, day by day.

    Grateful always, in peace

    Paul G.+

  • 04/19/2017 7:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    1)   Admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
    2)   Came to believe that a power greater than us could restore us to sanity.
    3)   Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

    I am writing this blog post on Monday of Holy Week and I am more aware than usual how fortunate those in 12 step programs are to live in a quite incarnate way the mystery of the cross and resurrection. Very few people can claim to have suffered in exactly the same way as those who’ve found their way to the rooms; very few can know so fully the power of resurrection that occurs through fully embracing the cross of addiction. This is true across the board, whether for those in Alcoholics Anonymous or those in any number of other programs that have arisen in the shadow of AA using the same 12 steps. It doesn’t seem to matter what one’s difficulty or addiction might have been; those who come to the 12 steps and take them seriously are those who’ve confronted the stark and inescapable cross of their own powerlessness.

    Christ, too, knew powerlessness. When he asked the night before his death that the Father might take his lot from him, he knew powerlessness of the sort that those who’ve come to the end of their suffering in addiction and compulsion know well.  In his passion and crucifixion and death, Jesus knew the kind of soul wrenching terror of those who know they cannot continue living as they have, that something will need to die if they are to go on living.

    Did Christ come literally to believe that God would restore him to life in the resurrection? We don’t know, though we do know that Jesus seems to have had complete faith in the Father till the end of his earthly life. We do know that he completely turned his will and his life over to the care of God from the cross when he prayed, just before dying, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.”

    Jesus rose from the dead after a process that very nearly mirrors the first three steps of the 12 step program. It is often said by persons who have longtime experience in a 12 step program that the first three steps are the only ones that can be completely taken and that they are the primary ones that keep individuals in recovery on a day to day basis.

    For those in 12 step programs who are also Christians, there is great solace in knowing and understanding that the recovery process so closely patterns itself after the central mysteries of the faith. The path of loss and recovery that those in 12 step programs tread is the same path taken by Jesus.  It is not uncommon to hear Christians state that “WE ARE AN EASTER PEOPLE!” Perhaps this is no more evident than in those lives that have sought and found recovery through the 12 steps.

  • 04/12/2017 10:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Jesus answered, “…I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

    “’What is truth?’ Pilate asked.”1   Pilate dithered between his own certitude and the Jews’ insistence that Jesus die.  Jerusalem was jam-packed on this high holy day and, for the Roman governor of this volatile hell-hole, it was easier to snuff out one life than quash an uprising, so in the end, Pilate set aside the truth and caved.  On that day, no one listened to Jesus, heeding instead the imperatives of self-preservation and privilege.  Ouch – a little close to home for a recovering drunk like me. 

    Truth is incidental to addicts and alcoholics, sometimes expendable entirely.  Truth interferes with our addictions and the ideas and attitudes and behaviors that sustain them. Truth is our addictions’ enemy, which is why “rigorous honesty” plays so prominently in recovery: “Those who do not recover are …usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. … They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a way of life which demands rigorous honesty.”2

    In isolation, we reinforce and exaggerate the lies we tell ourselves, the lies that excuse our addictions and demand our manipulations to feed them; lies that affirm our delusions that we are “fine”, repelling any impulse to seek help and dismissing every hope of a way out.  We recover the truth together, because when we are lost in ourselves, the truth doesn’t stand a chance – Pilate knew this and so did the Jews.  Alone with our fears, facing a drink, we are swept into darkness.

    “Martin, if you’re talking to yourself, you’re talking to the wrong guy.”  Early on, my sponsor explained this simple fact of recovery.  It stuck, though it was years before it penetrated the armor of my self-sufficiency.  In time, talking with friends in recovery, I began to open up and began recognizing, then listening for Jesus.  As I continue to engage intimates in recovery, the truth of my venality and self-centeredness, the truth of my fears and resentments, the truth of my innate gifts and swelling graces are revealed.

    I am the heart of Christ…The self of you becomes itself in me. …Pray to me.  Few words need be said.”3  

    “What is the truth?”  In the words and actions of people who are not only regaining sobriety, but reclaiming grace, we learn to listen for Jesus.  In prayer and meditation (Step 11), through scripture, tradition and reason, and in the silence of our hearts, we learn to listen for Jesus.  It is in his “experience strength and hope” that we learn the truth.  In him, we learn to live in the truth.  -Martin McE.

    1  John 19:37-38, NIV
    2  Alcoholics Anonymous [Big Book] GSO World Services, Fourth Edition 2013
    3  I Am the Heart of Christ, George Gaston
  • 04/05/2017 9:39 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” 
    Seen on a poster on the office wall of a Crisis Counselor.

    I had believed the trauma of my childhood, the nightmare of living with a continually drunk alcoholic stepfather for several years were far behind me. In fact, I sometimes wondered if

    I had been affected at all.

    Then one night as I shared some of the crises our family was experiencing with my small church group one of the members spoke privately with me as the meeting ended. “It sounds like you have a high tolerance for inappropriate behavior. I’ve come to see that as one of the symptoms of adult children of alcoholics. I go to an ‘al anon’ group for adult children on Monday nights and you’re welcome to come with me.”

    “High tolerance”? that sounded like a compliment. It took time for me to hear the ‘inappropriate behavior’ part of what she said. In the days to follow I became aware that my understanding of appropriate and inappropriate behavior was very limited and I couldn’t/didn’t often make the distinction. My need to know and my desire to control and fix things motivated my decision to accept her offer. The following week I attended my first meeting.

    Attending ‘Al Anon’ meetings and working the 12 Steps became part of my weekly schedule.

    There were days when I felt elated and liberated but there were times when my childhood terrors, fears and shame began to surface and I felt panic stricken. When my stepfather left I was 9 years old and my mother said “that chapter in our book is closed.” We didn’t talk about him. As I attended my first few meetings listening to each person share their experience, strength and hope, I was amazed as I heard my own unvoiced thoughts and feelings being expressed.

    If it’s true that “we can’t heal what we can’t feel”, it is also true that we can’t heal what we don’t remember. Memories that I had been able to bury for most of my forty-something years began surfacing – it was liberating and frightening. It sometimes felt like a light going on. At other times it felt overwhelming. Moving away from denial to honest self-disclosure felt very awkward. However, staying with the program helped me to come to terms with my past, understand the effects of childhood trauma and begin to get acquainted with my real self.

    My big question, as I reconnected with my inner child, was why my alcoholic stepfather was so angry with me. The answer my sponsor gave me – “He was an alcoholic. His anger had nothing to do with you. You just happened to be there. The anger was in him.” That acknowledgement and assurance marked the beginning of my recovery. My denial came to an end and I began the hard work of recovery. Ernie Larson says, “If we hang on to anger for more than 10 seconds it becomes a resentment. A resentment is a poison we take to hurt someone else.” Today I’m thankful to have traded my resentment of my stepfather for compassion.

    Today I know that life is for growing - mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I believe, too, that working the 12 Steps of AA is a daily guide to help us grow and heal.

    -Anonymous


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