Living from Love More than Fear

by Killian Noe, Cofounder of Recovery Café Network

[Editor’s note: Recovery Café Cofounder Killian Noe opened our Rendezvous 2024 conference (in Seattle on June 3 and 4) with this talk. Her reflections center around the question, “Do I live more from love than from fear?” To help us unpack that, she invites all of us to consider three related questions. First, “Do I trust that there will be enough?” Second, “Do I trust that I am enough?” Third, “Do I trust that my Café community is enough?” You can watch the video recording of her presentation at this link.]

When I was in my early twenties, I served as a volunteer for three years in the Middle East. While there, I met a super cute teacher and runner from Boston, named Bernie. For me it was “love at first sight.”

We started running together and after doing so for a few weeks I said to him, “Bernie, that first day we met, I remember thinking, ‘I really like this guy.’ What were you thinking that first day we met?” 

Bernie paused and responded, “I was thinking, ‘She really likes me.’”

Even though I am meeting many of you for the first time, I’m thinking, “I really like you!” (By the way, though I am not very mysterious, I have been married to Bernie from Boston for 43 years!)

Torchlight Recovery Café (in Boston)

I want to invite us to reflect together on a question at the heart of the spiritual/recovery journey: do I live more from love than from fear?

Many of the world’s great spiritual traditions teach us to bring simple awareness to our thoughts, feelings, and responses. So, we will be working with three questions that may help increase our awareness about whether we live more from love than from fear.

The first question: do I trust that there will be enough?

Another way to put this question is, “Do I live with a sense of scarcity or abundance?”

Most of us, whether we are conscious of it or not, operate somewhere on the continuum between an assumption of scarcity and an assumption of abundance.

An assumption of abundance is a way of living with a healthy amount of trust that everything we truly need to become the people we were created to be will somehow be given; it is living with trust that even the things in our lives we would never have chosen can somehow be used for good.

Recovery Café Fort Wayne (IN)

The scarcity assumption tells us—maybe on a subconscious level—that if that person is loved, I must be less loved; if that person gets attention, there won’t be enough attention for me; if that person is special, then I must be less special; if that person’s basic needs for health care, housing, education, and employment are met, there may not be enough to meet my needs.

In truth, there really is enough for everyone; enough love, enough attention, and enough resources to provide for everyone’s basic needs. But when we operate out of the scarcity assumption—when we act as if there is not enough to go around—when we act as if we are not all part of the same human family—and we create policies and systems rooted in the scarcity assumption, we, in fact, cause scarcity for millions of people worldwide.

Fish Filets For All

Most of you have at least heard the story about Jesus turning five loaves of bread and two fish into enough to feed 5,000 people. 

If you were raised in the church, like I was, you were probably taught that the miracle that happened that day was that the loaves and fish literally began to multiply so that everyone was able to have a fish filet sandwich with baskets of fish filet sandwiches left over.

What the story actually tells us is that Jesus invited everyone to sit down in small groups.

A Recovery Circle at Recovery Café Vancouver, British Columbia

What if, once everyone was seated in small groups—like our Recovery Circles—people began to see each other, really see each other.

What if the miracle that happened that day was that once people were sitting across from each other—truly seeing each other—everyone began to dig a little deeper into their own backpacks and began to pull out whatever gifts they had to share. What the story tells us is that there was an abundance, more than enough for everyone.

As you know, one of our Membership Agreements states that everyone is a contributor. We know how important it is for Members, and for all of us, to contribute, to share our gifts with the whole.

I can’t help but wonder what miracles might occur in our Cafés if we found new, consistent ways for people with financial abundance to sit across from Members experiencing dehumanizing scarcity and for both groups to claim at a new level that they belong to each other.

I can’t help but imagine the new ways we might hold space for more people to see that there is no us and them; there is only us—all of us.

Recovery Café Chicago

As you know, an important part of our mission is to help the larger community see the suffering of the most vulnerable and take in the truth that every person’s gifts are needed.

For example, part of our mission is helping the larger community see what happens when people are incarcerated instead of treated for substance use disorder and other mental health challenges.

And part of our mission is to shine the light on the reality that black males continue to be incarcerated at at least six times the rate of white males and a host of other injustices that systemic racism perpetuates.

In short, Recovery Café from its inception has been absolutely clear about our call to stand with those who are left out—those who suffer scarcity in so many ways—so that one day no one will be left out. Now, as a Network of over 65 Recovery Cafés, we can live that call with greater impact and intentionality.

Communities that Are the Alternative

In 1996, when welfare was dismantled leaving millions without a safety net, a group of us participated in a non-violent protest in Washington, DC. We were arrested. As they were processing us in DC’s jail, I said to my mentor Gordon Cosby, “Gordon, I feel a little hypocritical protesting the dismantling of welfare without presenting an alternative.” 

He said, “We have to create communities that are the alternative.”

Recovery Café Lafayette (IN)

Our call is to create communities that are an alternative to unjust systems so that our nation can see what it looks like when no one is left out—in seeing what’s possible those unjust systems can ultimately be transformed.

For so long everyone thought it was not possible for the human body to run a four-minute mile. But after Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile, countless people started doing so. We have to see what’s possible. We have to embody what’s possible.

Creating Café communities is one way we participate in a non-violent protest against systems that oppress and exclude.

Another mentor, Walter Brueggemann, puts it this way: “Our call is to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, to grieve in a society that practices denial, and to remain hopeful in a society stuck in despair.”

As you read this, I encourage you to take a little time to reflect on these questions: Do I trust that there will be enough or do I live with a sense of scarcity? What do I most fear there will not be enough of? What helps me trust there will be enough?

Recovery Café Mason County (Shelton, WA)
Renew Recovery Café
(Daytona Beach, FL)
Recovery Café Indy (IN)

Now let’s reflect together on a second awareness-raising question: do I trust that I am enough? 

Do any of you ever wonder, “Am I enough?” If you sometimes fear you are not enough, you are among the 95 percent of humans who fear that.

Recently a 62-year-old woman shared with me that all of her life she has been trying to earn her mother’s love. She made good grades as a kid. She learned a musical instrument and excelled in soccer. She took care of all her mom’s needs in the final years before her mom died. But none of those efforts gave her a sense of being unconditionally loved. None of those things made her feel she was enough.

How do we combat that nagging feeling of not being enough? I’d like to offer two reminders.

Once, as Picasso was leaving a Parisian café, a woman handed him a pen and small piece of paper. She asked, “Will you please sketch a portrait of me?”

Picasso took the pen and paper, sketched her portrait and returned it to her saying, “That will cost you a million dollars.”

Recovery Café Madison (IN)

“A million dollars,” she exclaimed. “It only took you 30 seconds to sketch this.”

Picasso responded, “Yes, but it took me 30 years to learn how to do what I just did in 30 seconds.”

I want to remind us that each of us has 30 years or five years or two years—or whatever the number is—of lived experience that we bring to this work and offer as our gift. Our lived experience may be with substance use recovery or with recovery from trauma or with recovery from whatever blocks our capacity to love.  

Our Authentic Self is More than Enough

But make no mistake, whatever we are recovering from—and we are all recovering from many things—we bring the gift of our lived experience to this movement. We bring the gift of our authentic self which is worth more than a million dollars—it’s priceless. Our authentic self is more than enough!

I recently read a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Do you know what the most common regret was? Most regretted that they had not lived their authentic selves; they regretted they had not made themselves more vulnerable by sharing both their struggles and their gifts. Sometimes sharing our gifts makes us feel even more vulnerable than sharing our struggles. Why is that? Maybe we compare our gifts to the gifts of others.

Recovery Café West Sacramento (CA)

We must become conscious of all self-judgements, negative scripts, and limiting beliefs about ourselves so that those self-negating thoughts can be transformed. We must stay on the journey from self-rejection to self-acceptance, from self-loathing to healthy self-love, if we are to love those in our communities in the ways they need to be loved.

There will always be someone whose gifts in a certain area are stronger than ours in that same area. The good news is, it’s not important for our gifts to be stronger than others we know. And we don’t have to have all the gifts. Sure, we can develop our gifts, but for now we simply need to be willing to lead at the point of whatever gifts we have and follow at the point of others’ gifts.

And whatever our particular gifts are, our worth is not dependent on those gifts anyway.

Which brings me to the second reminder related to fearing we are not enough.

In the 1980s, our nonprofit in Washington, DC, called Samaritan Inns, was given no choice but to sue the District of Columbia for violation of the Fair Housing Laws of the Civil Rights amendment. The case ended up in Federal Court in a 13-day trial at the end of which the judge ruled that the DC government had acted in gross violation of the fair housing laws. This precedent-setting case has been used in support of fair housing across the US.

Recovery Café DC (Washington, DC)

One day during that trial my mentor, Gordon, showed up in the courtroom to offer support. When there was a court recess he asked me, “How are you holding up?”

I replied, “Honestly, I have never felt so profoundly inadequate in all my life.”

He shot back something like this: “Good, because when you feel inadequate, that is a reminder to go deep and let Love-force lead.” Love-force is what Martin Luther King, Jr. called that power of unconditional love at the core of our beings. It is not just in some of us; it is in all of us.

Letting Love-force lead requires committing to at least one daily practice that keeps us conscious of our connection to that place of unconditional love at our core. We need at least one daily practice that keeps us conscious of our connection to our deepest, truest self. 

The reality is that there is no separation between divine Love and our deepest, truest self.

Project Trey Recovery Café (Sulphur, LA)

Our being—not our doing—is the source of our true identity. Our being, not our doing, is the source of our self-worth. If our doing does not flow from our being—from Love-force—it will have limited power to heal and transform. 

As you’ve probably heard me say, that daily practice that keeps us conscious of our connection to unconditional love at our core may be prayer, meditation, yoga, spending time in nature, creative expression, or simply spending some time each day away from our digital devices.

Yoga at Recovery Café Longmont (CO)

What we call that source of love in us is not so important. Staying conscious of our connection to it is.

Staying connected to that Love-force is crucial because that Love-force gives us all the courage, compassion, and creativity we will ever need to offer our authentic selves and hold space for others to do the same.

Again, as you read, I encourage you to take a little time to reflect on these questions: Do I trust that I am enough? What helps me bring my authentic self—both my struggles and my gifts—and trust that my authentic self is enough?

Finally, we’ve come to the third question that could increase our awareness of whether we live more from love than from fear: do I trust that my Café community is enough?

A distraught Indian mother walked many hours with her 12-year-old son to visit Mahatma Gandhi. She told Gandhi that her son was literally addicted to sugar; that he would beg, borrow, and steal just to ingest more sugar. Gandhi listened carefully and then said to the mother, “Go back to your village and return to see me in two weeks.”

Two weeks later the mother and son returned. Gandhi said to the son, “Stop eating sugar.”

Recovery Café Lexington (KY)

Exasperated, the mom ranted, “Is that all you are going to say? If that’s all you were going to say, why didn’t you just say that two weeks ago when we were here. Why did you make us walk all this way to say that now?” 

Gandhi calmly responded, “Because two weeks ago, I, myself, had not quit eating sugar.”

We need each other. Gandhi needed to hear this boy’s struggles in order to choose a new form of recovery in his own life. The boy needed Gandhi’s direct wake up call to choose something new.

bell hooks said, “Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.”

We know isolation is deadly. What we do in each of our Café communities is hold space where isolation is shattered.

We know that when trauma is stuffed or repressed—when losses go ungrieved for years on end and hurts go unforgiven—they can emerge in ways that are destructive to ourselves and others.  

Recovery Café Clark County (Vancouver, WA)

One of my favorite quotes from the ancient Nag Hamadi text says, “If you bring forth that which is within you it will save you. If you do not bring forth that which is within you it will destroy you.”

All Recovery Cafés are places where all of us can bring forth that which is within us—both our wounds and our gifts.

When we sit across from each other in our Recovery Circles, our staff check-ins, and around the tables in our Cafés, deadly isolation is broken. Tribalism and trauma are transformed. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires harnessing the resources of our community partners. But our Café communities are places where deadly isolation is made toast and healing communion is made possible. You can count on that. You can trust that. And that is more than enough.

We may be plagued by budget shortfalls, staff shortages, policy changes related to government funding and a different HR challenge each week. Those realities will always plague us.

But there is a reality deeper than the rational that we can trust; the reality that when we show up just as we are—not having it all together—and bring forth our authentic selves—both our wounds and our gifts—something happens that is beyond any one of us. The miracle of healing communion happens. 

The Sufi poet Hafez put it this way: “I sometimes forget that I was created for joy. My mind is too busy. My heart is too heavy for me to remember that I have been called to dance the sacred dance of life. I was created to smile. To love. To be lifted up and to lift up others. O’ Sacred One, untangle my feet from all that ensnares. Free my soul that we might dance and that our dancing might be contagious.” Hafez (Daniel Ladinsky)

Recovery Café Frogtown (St. Paul, MN)

Finally, take a few minutes to consider these questions: Do I trust that my Café community is enough? What are we doing really well in our Café? What are we doing that is more than enough?

Love Longs to Give Itself Away—As Us

I’d like to close our reflection time by sharing something deeply personal.

I am conscious of all the trauma people have endured or are enduring right now all over the world and in this very room.

And in April I acknowledged the tenth anniversary of falling 30 feet into a pit in a rain forest in Indonesia, shattering both of my legs and a few other body parts. I missed hitting my head by a couple of inches on one of three boulders at the bottom of the pit—which would have resulted in instant death. As many of you know, what followed that fall were surgeries, time in a wheelchair, and ongoing physical therapy.

What most people don’t know is that for the past 10 years I have suffered from a damaged nervous system and post-traumatic stress symptoms related to that fall.

Liberty House Recovery Café (Portage, IN)

Over the past 10 years, I’ve done deep dives into that trauma in pursuit of deep healing through many modalities like EMDR, IFS, CBT, neurodynamic breath work, and more.

It was like diving to the bottom of the ocean to explore the remains of a sunken ship.  

With the help of skilled, loving guides and authentic community, I was able to bring some compassion, forgiveness, reframing, and release to not only the sunken ship of my fall, but to some of my earlier shipwrecks as well.

I’d like to close with three things I experienced during those deep dives. This will not be new to any of you who have done your own deep trauma work, but I am grateful for this opportunity to share and to be deeply known. 

“Love Wins”—a mural at Everyone Deserves Recovery Café (Castro Valley, CA)
  1. Love cannot wait until we feel we have it all together or until we feel we are enough. Love longs to give itself away, not just through us, but as us.
  2. Forgiveness of ourselves and others is key to the healing of our shipwrecks. When we forgive at deeper and deeper levels, all the way down to the basement, thinking we’ve forgiven all there is to forgive, we may discover yet another elevator with buttons that takes us to parking level one and then parking level two. We have to keep forgiving at deeper and deeper levels if we want to be free and if we want to hold space where others can claim freedom.
  3. And, as I said earlier, we have to stay conscious of our connection to the Love-force of the universe if we are to embody alternatives to systems that oppress and exclude.

That’s what every single one of you is doing. I am in awe of each one of you.

There will be more than enough for you to fulfill your calling.

You are more than enough—just as you are. 

Your Café community is way more than enough to hold the miracle of healing communion.  

Thank you for living WAY more from love than from fear.

Killian Noe cofounded Recovery Café in Seattle in 2004. The Recovery Café Network was established in 2016 to support those who felt called to establish Recovery Cafés in their own communities. There are now more than 65 Cafés across the country and in Canada. Read the full story, and be inspired, by Killian’s book Descent into Love: How Recovery Café Came to Be.