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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.

  • 12/09/2015 6:55 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    There was no song in my heart. The world was a pretty dark place. I didn’t see stars in the heavens. I had no hope in my soul. My best friend was a glass of scotch. My family didn’t trust me; I was a liar, a terrible mom, wife, sister, friend and employee. I was running on empty. My mom had died, which would have been difficult enough to process had I been sober. But add active alcoholism, and I was rock bottom depressed. My husband and I had adopted a son, and I was failing miserably at being a good mom. You can’t parent well when you are not present to the needs of the child. I was a complete and total failure on every front. I would just as soon be dead myself.

    And then, on January 22, 1987, after getting my husband into treatment (he was sooo much worse than me) I GOT SOBER. By the grace of God I got sober. And by the grace of God I have stayed sober since that day. Life did not become a “piece of cake”, but hope began to fill my soul, and I saw stars in the sky, and sometimes I thought I could hear the song of angels in my heart.

    I was broken and began to heal; was hungry and received nourishment; lost and I found a place where I belonged. I was a prisoner to alcohol, and my “sentence” was ended and I was free. And my soul began to come alive.

    I have found that I am always okay if I trust in God, follow the steps and stay in a place of gratitude. With Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, my AA birthday and my natal birthday all descending upon me within the next 90 days, I want only to pass on my message to continue the path, and know that God will guide us and care for us if we stay the course ~ you too will begin to rebuild and to find peace and discover that special music in your heart. Blessings on each of you, most particularly during the holidays.

    Patty B.

  • 12/06/2015 10:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I was looking for an AA meeting in Paris. I got to the church early, and watched which door people were going in. Churches can have many doors, and meeting locations can be sort of cryptic, a back door or an obscure staircase from the parking lot.

    Finding and following the crowd, we walked down steep stone stairs. AA? I asked. Oui, she said, oui, c’est dans la crypte. The location actually was cryptic, that is hidden, mysterious, the lowest, deepest room of an old stone basilica, the foundation, where we would gather to share our struggles to maintain a foundation of sobriety.

    I love church crypts. These deepest rooms are small and dark, with stone arches, musty smell. Sometimes there is an eternal light, or an icon, and an invitation to spend time in prayer. Once in a crypt I found on the altar a roughly scribbled note, and read it: Cher Dieu, dear God, help me in my addiction, help me find new life, forgive my sins, pardonnez vous mes offenses, help me, m’aidez. I picture a desperate young man, alone in the depths, seeking respite from the apocalypse of his life, scribbling that note. How long had it been there?

    In Vezelay, in Burgundy, there is an all-night vigil every Thursday night in the crypt, praying before the host, the reserved communion bread. On retreat, I join the monks and nuns in the dark. At 6am Friday the bread is brought up out of the Romanesque depths and placed on the altar in the bright Gothic nave.

    In Paris I join another procession, more noisy and scraggly than the solemn monastics, down to the crypt. The room is like a lot of AA meeting places in other churches, a room also used by many other folks. Perhaps it was also the choir rehearsal room, or a church school classroom, various boxes of music stacked by the walls and kids’ pictures taped to the stone.

    A nice person offers to get me some coffee through the crowded bustle of chairs and people, and brings me back a cup half full. I feel a blast of grumpiness about their stinginess, it’s early and this is my first cup, until I taste it – delicious French espresso, thick and jolting.

    The speaker is a longtime American Paris resident; it is an English speaking meeting. She had moved here originally on a “geographic,” an AA term for dealing with your addiction by moving; “I did a geographic, to get away from trouble, shame, the wreckage of my past.” A desperate or resigned hope that a new place will help one get sober. But mostly these stories are about how the descent only continues, gets worse, in the new place one just gets deeper and deeper into one’s addiction.

    It seems appropriate to be in this deep cold dark room, well actually it is pretty well lit by 21st century lights, but one can tell it was originally lit only by candles in the wall alcoves, to be down deep when we are speaking of down deep cold memories. Crypts can be cold, but that jolt of expresso and the happy 40 people in a small room warms me up pretty quickly.

    After the meeting I sit for a few minutes to enjoy the room, the afterglow. My sponsor encourages me to do this, not to rush out afterwards, stay for the meeting after the meeting, meet someone. A young woman starts talking with me, we discover we are staying near each other, we talk Paris for a bit. “My parents are driving me crazy.” They are so judgmental, it feels like to her, why does she have to live so far away, why does she have to keep going to meetings if she is now sober? We laugh the knowing laugh of the converted.

    Like the sleepy Friday morning exodus from the crypt tomb in Vezelay, we stumble up the steep stone stairs of this church and out into the Paris morning. I see that same woman a day or so later at another meeting across town. We smile and hug like old friends.

    I continue my France trip visiting crypts and meetings. In towns where I can’t find a meeting I take my Big Book with me down into the crypt and read. Not by nature a great kneeler or bower, I have to get down closer to the ground to enter these crypts. I pray. And practice beginner’s mind. I touch the cold stone foundational walls. The dirt floor connects my feet to the earth. I stare at the precious host and give thanks for new life.

    -Deborah Streeter


  • 11/22/2015 11:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My birthday is in April, and I look forward to it with excitement as God has given me another day, another year to live, to breathe in all that life has to offer. But there is also a little dread in anticipation of my birthday. I think of how old I am getting, and of how much I wish I could take back, how much I will never be able to experience. I think of all the time I will not get back. And about how closer I come to my mortality. Birthdays can truly be a mixed bag of blessing and lamentation for me.

    There is, however, another day which I look forward to without trepidation. The past three Novembers have reframed my thinking about birthdays and times of remembrance and reflection.  You see, on November 4, 2012, All Saints Sunday, I was baptized in a small, rural Episcopal church in Virginia. Surrounded by family and new friends, I was given grace. I was made clean indeed. I made a vow, a covenant with the God who saved me countless times that I will never know and many times when the eyes of my soul were open to behold the miracles of grace. On that day, I acknowledged, for perhaps the first time ever, that I was powerless and that God could be my only salvation. I fell into the drops of water as the priest sprinkled them over me, just as I had fallen into the grace-filled, divine flow of life.

    I acknowledged that day something I already knew: I was powerless. Powerless to overcome alcohol. Powerless to overcome the paralyzing fear and anxiety that kept me from living abundantly. Powerless to accept love and help from those around me, from those who loved me. Powerless to the need to control everything and everyone in my life. That is, I realized I was powerless without the help of God.

    On that day, I knew that God was working in me, showing me the things, as the Book of Common Prayer says, "necessary for my salvation." At my baptism, I promised to walk humbly with my God, knowing that I could fall, but trusting that God would pick me up.

    And so each year, on November 4th, I recall that glorious day, my spiritual birthday, with gratitude and joy. I recall the friendship God made in me. I remember the promises I made, and marvel at the promises God made to me, which I don't truly understand.  I remember the man I used to be, this time with mercy, instead of rigid criticism and regret. I remember the feeling of that water on my forehead, and the cleansing that I felt as sins were put away. I remember how far I have come since that day, and look to the present moment with gladness and mindfulness to the hope of tomorrow.

    -James D.


  • 11/18/2015 7:41 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all
    things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of
    lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided
    and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together
    under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you
    and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP p. 236)

    This coming Sunday is Recovery Sunday in our diocese. After a long hiatus we have given congregations the option of celebrating recovery and calling the church to awareness in the area of substance abuse and addictions.

    After I had suggested the date to the Bishop I realized it was Christ the King Sunday. If there is anything that most of the folks that I know in recovery are not it would be abounding in triumphalism in the broadest sense of the word. The more I prayed on it and found something in the texts to link to the work of recovery and powerlessness I became less sure that the path would emerge. Thank God my darling wife read the collect to me. The path began to emerge in a real and tangible way.

    If there was any way to describe my state at the end (please God) of my drinking, it was “enslaved by sin.” I sometimes felt that Paul’s words in the letter to the Romans “15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” were written just for me. Sin, for me was not the act of drinking so much as it was making consistent and irrational choices to do the very thing that left me feeling spiritually dry, arid and separate from all that is good, holy and true.

    Any day that I don’t drink now is a triumph that can only be realized if I know, in thought and action, that I cannot remain sober on my own will. When I came into the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous I really started to understand what it meant to “be freed and brought together under God’s most gracious rule.”

    The only door I have found to the freedom that sobriety has brought to my life and the lives of those I love has been when I admit my powerlessness over only three areas of my life—People, Places and Things. Other than that I’m on it.

    So, on the cusp of the Feast of Christ the King, I pray that I can continue to ‘turn it over’ to God’s most gracious rule. Sometimes it’s a day at a time. Mostly, though, it’s moment by moment. I cannot begin to tell you the kind of freedom I have come to experience by allowing God to be God so I don’t feel tempted to take the reins of my unruly will back.

    -Warren H.

    1 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 7:15). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

  • 11/01/2015 12:48 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Sarah was proud of the fact she had 6 months in the program but was very worried about her 18 year old son and his addiction to alcohol, so worried in fact she felt his behavior was jeopardizing her sobriety. Of course, everyone jumped in with their own thoughts of what “worked for them” in situations like that.

    The first comments related to her feelings about her own sobriety. I certainly felt she couldn’t let someone else’s behavior threaten her own sobriety. That’s akin to what I did all the years of my own drinking: I let others define my own behavior patterns and importantly how I felt about myself. I drank so others would like me, I wanted to be part of their group and believed that the admission key was a case of beer. I had no self-esteem or feelings of self-worth. It was all tied to what others thought.

    The talk turned to the fact that her son had to take responsibility for his conduct, that it had nothing to do with her. I felt strongly she can’t control him, that her efforts to do so only lead to frustration, anger, resentments, self-pity and depression and anxiety and ultimately to that first drink – which for the alcoholic leads inexorably to the whole bottle or case.

    There were several paths mapped out for her but ultimately we came to the point of reminding all of us that we must be aware of unknowingly rescuing the addict, covering-up, excusing his conduct, enabling his comfortable continuation of his addiction.

    It’s not easy, especially with children and parents and siblings … enabling just makes it easy for them to continue on their path of self-destruction. So we all mentioned that in this situation she can’t let him stay at her house if he continues his drinking, give him money, loan him the car, bail him out of jail, call his boss with the excuse his absence is caused by “the flu”, clean-up after he is sick in the living room … in a word or two, we can’t engage in any conduct that enables him to fail to take responsibility for his action and the consequences of his drinking.

    Johnny C. summed it up very nicely:

    “He knows you’re in the Program and of course is threatened by the changes in your life already.. So he’s afraid, maybe angry. But he – like you – won’t work the Program ‘til he’s ready. Hopefully, that occurs before his drunkenness causes a tragedy in his or another’s life”

    Jim A., Covington, KY

  • 10/21/2015 9:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    I carry with me two talismans of my recovery.

    The first is a medallion celebrating two years of sobriety this month. I am fortunate that the desire to drink was pretty much taken away after I hit rock bottom – literally – on the marble floor of the hotel lobby at a work conference.

    The second is a bracelet that arrived the day after that conference – the last thing I bought without telling my wife – that helps me remember I don't need to spend money when I am feeling "restless, irritable, and discontented."

    But what recovery really looks like for me is the Pendleton shirt that I wear around the house on the weekends.

    After I lost my job, I was at home a lot more often. I would usually wear jeans and a turtleneck and that favorite shirt.

    I remember sitting on the couch one evening thinking, "I really like this shirt; I should buy another one."

    It took only a few seconds for my new inner voice to respond. "Don't be an idiot. This is a Pendleton shirt, and it will last forever. You won't outlive this shirt; you don't need to buy another one."

    Paul writes that:

    “We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day .... in this tent we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed" (2 Cor. 4:16, 5:4).

    Even though God is working in us to renew our inner nature, we may need reminders of that hidden process from time to time.

    How often?

    "One day at a time," says Alcoholics Anonymous. "Daily we begin again," say the Benedictines.

    That first day after my fall, I spoke by phone to a fellow deacon from another diocese who I knew was in recovery. I confessed my fear that every day would feel like a burden, an endless process of giving things up, not being able to do what I wanted.

    He burst out laughing and said, “You’ve got it all backwards! Any day that you don’t drink is an oasis, not a burden!” He went on to describe how people in recovery enjoy a “daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of [their] spiritual condition.”

    That really stuck with me.

    I have for 23 years practiced praying the Daily Office, and as I continue in recovery I understand more and more how the 12 Steps illuminate basic practices of the Christian faith. The familiar prayers are shot through with a deeper meaning now.

    The Confession of Sin that begins Morning and Evening Prayer – what is it but a daily self-inventory (Step 10)?

    The regularity of the Daily Office, the discipline of Bible reading, the prayers for ourselves and for the needs of others – what are they but “seeking conscious contact with God … praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out” (Step 11)?

    Even though we "wish not to be unclothed," we may have to spend time each day being uncomfortably open and vulnerable –  honestly sitting with our restlessness and our "stinking thinking" –  before we can experience a new kind of peace and serenity.

    Being content with what I have, being at peace with those around me, being calm about asking for what I need – these are what it means for me to be "clothed with joy."

    Rodger P.

  • 10/14/2015 8:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    “We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.” I remember hearing this portion of the 9th Step Promises from pages 83-84 of the Big Book in my first days of not drinking. I use the term not drinking for I did not have a clue about what the recovering life could look like at that point in my life. My 29+ years of drinking had come to an embarrassing, painful, anger-filled, and life saving intervention by my boss and others who loved me. As I slowly started hearing how the work of the Twelve Steps could lead to these promises being fulfilled, I thought “maybe for others, but not for me.” I so desperately wanted to SHUT the door on ALL the regrets I had from this past, especially as they impacted my wife, our son, and particularly our daughter.

    For 18 years, she had weathered the storms of my alcoholic behavior. The profound depth of those effects came to bear in her teen years. She was the “Mini-Me” most families find occurring in parent/child relationships – a perfectionist, often flares of deep anger, then regret, then despair, back to anger. Although we did not overlay expectations upon her for school work or other activities, she pushed herself harder and deeper. At thirteen, we dragged her, and I mean I literally threw her over my shoulder to drive to the therapist! Her first sessions she refused to leave the car, so she sat in the back seat while the therapist stood next to the slightly cracked open window. This all happened while I was still active in my alcoholism which continued for another five years – because, as you might understand, I was not the problem!

    As I continued working the steps to #8 and 9, the amends making was not possible with my daughter. She was one whom we learn of the latter portion of Step 9 “… unless to do so would injure them or others.” She tolerated being in our home because of her love, care, and protection of her mother from me. So I learned, accepted, and PRAYED that in God’s time a window for making my deep amends to her would open. Over the years following in recovery – now 18 years, matching her age when I began this journey – the windows of opportunity cracked open at times. They usually came after she had drunk too much, did something she now regretted, and was wallowing in that valley of feeling worthless that I had known so well. When she opened a little, I would try to share my experience from times just like this in her life, and ask forgiveness for how I had hurt her in this life. Sometimes my amends were heard and grudgingly accepted, and other times vehemently rejected. I accepted her side of the street and did what I knew I could do in becoming a sober man and father she might forgive and embrace someday. I just kept doing the next things as right as I could, and asked for forgiveness when those character defects popped up again. I just kept coming back as best I could, one day after another after another after …

    I offer this part of my story this day for on Saturday, October 17, our daughter will celebrate her marriage to a fine man … and I will be walking her down the aisle! Eighteen years ago, and even eight years ago, I am pretty sure I would not have even been invited to be any part of the blessings of this day in her life.

    For this reason, I now embrace this promise of the 9th Step … and for that I am grateful!

    Paul G.

  • 10/11/2015 2:32 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Tacoma, WA (Diocese of Olympia) seeks to support recovery in two ways that may be of interest and encouragement to other congregations. Of course we make our facility available to several 12 step meetings, including AA and Al-Anon. The first is to designate one Sunday every September as Alcoholism Awareness Sunday. On that Sunday, the sermon focuses on alcoholism and substance abuse and on recovery for the person and their household. In place of the regular sermon, we may have a speaker from AA or Al-Anon, a speaker from our diocesan Commission on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, or I as rector may speak specifically about the “disease” of alcoholism and how our Christian faith offers hope for recovery. Simply dedicating one Sunday to alcoholism and substance abuse is a powerful and welcome message to our congregation that this issue can and needs to be talked about. Many members each year express their appreciation that this simple observance offers an opening to talk about this challenge they carry in their household and/or family history which is generally taboo for discussion.

    Second, after much discussion, St. Andrew’s now offers a chalice of consecrated juice as well as consecrated wine at our Sunday Eucharists. I confess that as rector, I resisted this because it seemed logistically awkward and because just receiving the bread was “full” communion. However, we were offering gluten-free communion wafers as an alternative to the consecrated bread, and some parishioners did feel that excluding them from the cup denied our acknowledgement and commitment to recovery. After consultation with our bishop, we instituted a trial period and now have been offering an alternative chalice for the past year.

    The logistics have gone very smoothly, and the alternative chalice has been appreciated by more folks than I expected – those refraining from alcohol as part of their recovery, those who choose to refrain from alcohol because of other medications, and several children who do not like the taste of the wine.

    We purchase small, 6 oz. bottles of grape juice – individual serving size – which do not need refrigeration before opening. One bottle is sufficient for both 8 am and 10 am services, with any remainder discarded. So there is no issue of refrigeration.

    The chalice used is distinct from our other chalices – ours is ceramic rather than silver plate. The filled chalice is placed on the Altar at the Offertory. I make the following announcement every Sunday: “When the wine is offered, if you would prefer a chalice of non-alcohol-bearing, consecrated juice, indicate by placing your hands together, palms down, and that will be offered.” (We use the same signal to indicate a preference for non-gluten bread when that is offered.) Then when the Eucharistic Minister bearing a chalice of wine sees that sign, they pass that person at the communion rail and another Eucharistic Minister, bearing the chalice of consecrated juice, steps up to serve. (At 8 am, the one Eucharistic Minister may return to the Altar to exchange chalices if an assistant is not available.) Over-all, this part of our liturgical service has flowed very well.

    These two practices have been much appreciated in our congregation and have inspired visitors beyond our parish. Regular members find this a gracious expression of our welcome to all God’s people.

    Yours in Christ,

    The Rev. Martin Yabroff


  • 10/07/2015 11:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    At times I felt alone; at times I battled with the idea that I was the maker of my life. When I was caught up in a constant desire for fame and material wealth, my partner was not with me. I was alone, trying to figure out the path to happiness. Drug addiction gave me the illusion of control. Many years passed of trouble, with the law, with the family, and with the job. I met my end when alcohol brought me to the place that an alcoholic knows well: loneliness, an indescribable sadness and fear. I reached out for help in the physical world, to the people in twelve step recovery.

    I started to walk in the sunlight of the Spirit, life did take on new meaning,and I found the friend who I thought had left me behind. But my lessons were not complete. For 12 plus years, fame and fortune threw applause my way and I thought that I had “arrived”. One day while in Dover, England, after carousing around the links, I left my friend for my old acquaintance: addiction. The walls did not come immediately crashing down, there was no black cloud, my bank account was not emptied, and my wife of 10 years (who also had 15 plus years of recovery) suspected nothing. Yet the slow return of loneliness and despair was inevitable and it felt like torture. Eventually I was alone again; or so I felt.

    Leaving prison and living in the big northern city did not fulfill that desire in me which I could not identify. I turned to the country in South Georgia. While seeking fame in an anonymous fellowship, I met with a Vicar who freely offered his church's space for our new recovery meeting. He had moved here and became Vicar of the church only two weeks prior to us meeting. Things developed and I struggled with staying clean but was never judged by the members of the congregation, and certainly not by the Vicar or Youth Minister. I had never made my own decision to become a member of a congregation; that decision was made for me as a youngster. This time the decision is mine: to follow a path that is not clearly visible yet, but my thoughts about my purpose are clear: carry the message of God, using recovery, to reach the man on paper, the mother hiding from her family, and any needing help, to mend the shame and prejudice surrounding the addiction and recovery process.

    Say the word “God” and watch how addicted people react. Exhibit an “act of God” and feel them respond. The words are not useful until the spirit is open to them. One cannot graft a new idea into a closed mind. God has put me in a position in my life I never imagined, given me an opportunity to carry his message, through my experience, to a community I have grown to admire. Homelessness, treatment, affiliation with the rich and poor, prison, popularity, fortune, children and my family relationships are some of the experiences I carry.

    Our Church now has more recovery meetings of any place in our county. We plan to show the documentary “The Anonymous People” for the community in October. We are praying for guidance to discover our signature mission.

    I am taking more time for prayerful meditation and the worldly clamors are becoming quieter. My journey was always with God. The practice of discernment has become a base for my faith and my continuing relationship with God. 

    -Anonymous

  • 10/01/2015 11:05 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    As I reflect on my sobriety and the struggles I have had in the past with self-medicating through alcohol, I invariably come back to the idea of grace. I am here by grace, and it is through grace that I find the courage to stay sober. I don't know when or if I will slip up. It could be today or tomorrow. It could be years from now. But what I do know is that grace will be there to pick me back up.

    I have many reasons to stay sober. From the love of my mom to the smiling faces of my nieces, or the responsibility I have to my younger brothers to provide a good example of what a good man does, or the hope of fulfilling the dreams I have implanted on my heart, there are real, incarnate reasons that remind me each day that I have a good life and I need to entrust my failings and my doubts to the higher power of the Grace of God. If I can surrender my need to try and control everything, I can see that grace alive and vibrant in every moment. And, I can realize that alcohol cannot make anything better than it already is!

    Alcohol, for me, is a "stumbling block," to use the words from Jesus in Mark, Chapter 9. It is an impediment that keeps me from being my best self, from whom God created me to be. It soothes the pain, or so I think. Really, it simply numbs the pain, making me think things are ok. But the pain is still there; I am simply ignoring it. And when I recognize that the alcohol has not really made my problems go away, I get mad or depressed and I take all of the anger and sadness out on those around me, on those I love. And God was one of my favorite targets. What I have come to realize is that not only does alcohol keep me from being my best self, but it becomes a barrier to a full, deep, enriching relationship with God.

    And while I know God is big enough to take my railing and wailing and anger, my love for God keeps me from drinking. My desire to be who God wants me to be stops me from picking up a bottle. My desire to love God as God loves me strengthens me to not drink. And when I fail, if I fall, God's grace will pick me up and cover the gap that I cannot fill.

    James D.

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