A person's hands help up to form a heart as the sun shines through.

At the Heart of the Matter

Dear Recovery Café Network family,

As you probably know, I love reminding us all of the truths at the heart of our shared calling.

I would like to highlight just three of those truths in this piece.

First of all, we are all so much more than our ACE scores. As you know so well, ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. Many of us in our communities have high scores on that test. But we are so much more than the trauma we’ve endured or the struggle we are experiencing, whatever that struggle may be. I love Johann Hari’s words, “It’s not the trauma that breaks us; it’s the shame over the trauma that breaks us.”

Our Cafés are places where we can begin to let go of the relentless shame that breaks us and open up to the unrelenting love that heals us.

Some of you have heard me share the story of the time in my twenties when I was feeling lots of shame over a huge mistake I had made at the nonprofit where I worked. Soon after that, everyone in the organization gathered at a grand ballroom in Washington, DC for our annual fundraiser. I had not seen the leader of the nonprofit since my major blunder. When he saw me from across the ballroom, although he was dressed in a seersucker suit and wore black wingtips, he literally ran toward me across the formal ballroom, dodging the tables and chairs as he ran. He threw his arms around me and in that embrace communicated, “You are so much more than your mistake.”

In our Cafés we run toward each other and communicate, “You are so much more than whatever was done to you or whatever mistakes you’ve made. You can lay down the shame you are carrying.”

    Folks at the Recovery Cafe in Lowell hamming it up for the camera. Folks at the Recovery Cafe in Lowell (MA).

Which brings me to another truth at the heart of all of our Cafés. One of my favorite stories is the one Martin Buber tells about Zusya, the great Hasidic Rabbi. On his deathbed, Rabbi Zusya began to cry uncontrollably. He explained to his students, “I am not afraid God will ask me, ‘Why were you not Abraham or why were you not Moses?’ I fear God will ask, ‘Why were you not more fully Zusya?’”

At the core of every human being lies what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “Love-force.” Our Cafés are places where we all seek to connect with that Love-force in us and practice living from that place. The challenge is that most of us have been wounded—we’ve been wounded by those who loved us and by those who were not able to love us the way we needed to be loved.

Some of us take our identity from our wounds and the destructive behaviors that emerge from our wounds instead of from that place of love at the core of our being. Some of us suffer from a case of mistaken identity. Our Cafés are places where we are in the process of reclaiming our truest identity—which is Love—and calling forth the truest identities of others—which is also Love.

We help each other understand we don’t have to be Abraham or Moses or Steph Curry. We help each other stay on the journey of becoming our truest self.

   Recovery Café Indy Recovery Café Indy

Finally, at the heart of all of our Cafés is a call to embody what it looks like when those who are excluded by the larger culture are included in communities of belonging. The dominant culture needs to see what radical inclusivity looks like. The dominant culture needs to see what it looks like when those who have been marginalized, brutalized, stigmatized, and criminalized are loved, valued, cherished and seen—truly seen. The world needs to see that.

There is an ever-widening wealth gap in our world; all of us are called to stand in and help close that gap. We do that by embodying the truth that every life is sacred; by seeing, truly seeing each person who walks through our doors as so much more than what happened to them or what they are struggling against. This is our form of nonviolent resistance to the systems that oppress and exclude. This is our way of helping to end the war on the suffering poor.

As some of you know, global health activist Paul Farmer died several months ago at age 62. He was a friend and an inspiration to countless people all over the world. Paul used to say, “The idea that some lives matter less than others is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”

Our Cafés are lighthouses shining in the darkness of our time, reminding the larger culture that we all belong to each other.

bell hooks put it this way: “The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move toward freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.”

One day a woman named Karen came into one of our Seattle Cafés. She was clearly traumatized. She curled up into a ball in one of our offices sobbing so hard she was barely able to breathe. She assumed she was burdening us so when she was able to speak she said, “I’m so sorry.” The intern sitting with her responded, “I’m so honored.”

Creating and holding honoring communities is our shared, sacred calling. It is a calling in need of all the love we can bring to it. It is a calling that binds us together with cords that cannot be broken.

I am so honored to be on this journey with all of you,