Mike was one of the first members to join Recovery Café Lowell after opening our doors in January of this year. He is also the very first member raised into a Peer leadership role. I have to genuinely focus to recall his demeanor back when he first joined RCL because today he seems like a different man. Having said that, my memory reminds me that his gentle and generous nature was evident back then too. Yet back in January his natural kindness was upstaged by the caution and social anxiety that spoke of the challenges he has experienced throughout his life.
When Recovery Café Lowell first opened, Mike was living at the local shelter. His daily schedule was dictated by the calendar on his cell phone. In order to create some sense of structure in his life, Mike identified places he could visit during the day throughout the city to be fed, supported, or just to keep himself safe from the elements and the many triggers the City of Lowell has to offer. The gaps in his cell phone calendar were filled with time spent at Lowell’s Public Library.
Shortly after joining RCL, Mike brought in his guitar. He was shy and uncomfortable playing in front of others, but we often heard him strumming alone in one of our classrooms. Since for the most part, Mike came to RCL daily, the staff came to know and appreciate him quickly. He was often mentioned in Team Huddles, when we discussed ways to engage and include him or simply commented about what a special guy he is.
When chores were announced, Mike was typically the first one to volunteer – without hesitation. As time moved forward, when Mike noticed something needed to be done at the Café, he didn’t wait for chores to be announced. He just quietly did it – seeking no praise or even acknowledgment (but we gave it to him anyway). As Mike continued to open up and pitch in, the staff became increasingly impressed by his exceptional intelligence, creativity, and diverse skills – tech skills, creative/music skills, and however unknowingly by Mike himself, his interpersonal skills.
Once we re-opened after being shut down because of Covid, Mike returned with no interruption of his unstoppable, self-directed personal recovery journey. The Spring season introduced a garden discussion and Mike immediately took the lead. He expertly managed a beautiful season of flowers and vegetables. This is around the time when it became apparent to the RCL Team he would be the first member of RCL to be raised to a Peer Leadership role. As Mike stepped into his new role, his desire to grow gained momentum. He began to seek feedback, ask questions, and offer suggestions – all while keeping the interests of the greater good at the forefront of his mind.
Today, “helping out” is old school for Mike. Now he is more of a take-charge kind of guy. He recognizes a need within the community and lovingly steps in to provide it. When he has an inspired idea (which is often), he brings it to the team and makes it happen. His most recent plan is to facilitate a Pour Painting class as part of our Arts and Crafts Series. He has researched various techniques of Pour Paining. Without being prompted by staff he has considered how the activity would best serve the community – specifically the cost, best space for the activity, manageability, potential toxicity, and what would bring the most joy to community members. Soon he will be guiding a group of members to have some fun using acrylic paint mixed with a pouring medium poured on canvas to create unique artwork. In his own words, “to help members expand their recovery capital”
Recovery Café Lowell will never take credit for Mike’s recovery path – or anyone else’s for that matter. However, we do like to think that we created an environment at RCL where Mike feels supported, known, and loved which allowed his inherent gifts, talents, and immeasurable value to be revealed at his own pace and under his own direction.
Mike now lives in his own apartment. He continues to work on his recovery, shares openly about his personal challenges, and deepen relationships with staff and peers alike. It is profoundly rewarding to have Mike in our lives and now in a leadership role within the RCL Community. Mike is a humbling reminder that it is not just about staff teaching, motivating, or inspiring a member. Just as often it is the member who teaches, motivates, and inspires staff. Mike is by nature, a teacher, motivator, and an inspiration. He has shared, “I never thought I’d be running a group or organizing an event due to my anxiety”, but now he does both at RCL. The team at Recovery Café Lowell is proud to know him and deeply grateful to be part of his recovery journey and to include him as part of our family.
– Rich Hollett, Director of Recovery Support Services & Recovery Café Lowell