Sanctuary: Dove House Recovery Café

by Michael Schut, Communications Manager, Recovery Café Network

Dove House Recovery Café, located in the small town of Port Townsend, Washington, opened at noon. Community members gradually arrived, checked in with Maura at the front desk, and began to find their seats at the tables spread through the light-filled space.

At 12:30, Brian, the Café’s Program Manager, convened the 20 or so of us gathered there by asking, “What do you appreciate about this place?”

Without hesitation a man sitting at the table next to me answered, “It’s kind of a sanctuary.” Another offered: “It’s a home away from home.” And a woman seated across from me said, “It’s a family.”

The daily opening ritual continued as Brian invited us into a brief time of grounding silence – followed by expressions of gratitude. Various community members then shared announcements: a reminder about that afternoon’s “Soul’s Journey” conversation, an invite to an upcoming open mic night at the Café.

Dove House Recovery Café.
To the left, Brian and Maura at the front desk.

Then Maura, who serves as the Café’s Recovery Advocate, held up the white board with its list of ways those of us there that day could give back. So people volunteered: to sweep, bus dishes, help in the kitchen, wipe down the tables. At that point Karen, the Kitchen Manager, introduced lunch – a hearty Café-made meatloaf with mashed potatoes, generous portions of which were plated and brought to our tables by volunteers.

Shared Vulnerability 

I had arrived at 11. Bernie, a retired mental health counselor and Café volunteer, greeted me. I signed in and asked him, “What drew you to the Café?”

Without hesitation Bernie began to describe what he experiences in the weekly Recovery Circle that he facilitates. Circle participants, he said, begin to drop their façades and canned stories about how they are doing. They begin to share what is most challenging to them. They begin to be willing to be vulnerable. “Dramatic” was the word he used; some, he said, are barely able to talk or interact when they first encounter the Café; he has seen those same people, just months later, laughing and smiling and beginning to blossom.

During his career in the mental health field, Bernie found that those significantly impacted by trauma understandably maintain a protective, wary exterior. It seems that the community there at Dove House Recovery Café communicates to everyone who walks in that the Café is a space where, if you so choose and as you feel safe, you can begin to let others see behind that protective exterior.

Of course, it’s not just those suffering from significant trauma who don their façade every day. Revealing what’s behind the façade so often just doesn’t feel like a wise move. Not in our society. But the shared vulnerability that Bernie spoke about is what actually begins to loosen the straitjacket of fear undergirding those façades.

Beauty, Nature, Healing

The healing experienced at the Recovery Café there in Port Townsend comes not only through the people you meet or the Recovery Circles or the expectation to give back to the community – the space itself is healing and communicates to all who enter, “You matter.”

Potted plants and grounding earth tones lend a calming effect to the space. Light streams in through the large windows on the Café’s south side. Through those windows community members see the Café’s large patio which overlooks a wetland.

Staff member Maura brought me out to the patio, showed me the four raised beds waiting for the hands of the Café’s garden group and the warmth of the spring sun to once again nurture veggies for the kitchen. I asked her about the Café’s design, if they had purposefully created the space to welcome the beauty around them and in recognition of how connecting to that beauty could be healing. In response she took me back inside, opened her laptop, and showed me the PowerPoint she had presented to the Café’s board. The PowerPoint was all about designing with nature’s healing properties in mind. Indeed, they had.

The lovely patio; note, in the lower right, the greens thriving in one of the garden beds.

Sanctuary

Of all that I heard and experienced that day, I keep coming back to “sanctuary.” For one thing, the man who said the Café feels like a sanctuary to him expressed that with such conviction and without hesitation that I immediately felt deeply grateful that he had found one. Of course we all need sanctuaries, but not everyone has access to them throughout their lives.

Separate for a moment the association between sanctuary and church – because not all churches are sanctuaries. But a real sanctuary – think about what it’s like and how you would feel there, what you would see and know.

You would feel safe. You would feel accepted. You would feel a sense of connection to others. You would be fed, body and soul. You would know, deep in your bones, that you could lay down your façade. You would see beauty. You would reconnect with your own beauty.

You would be loved.

And you would be inspired to love back.


Thank you very much to all the staff, Members, and volunteers at Dove House Recovery Café – thank you for providing such warm hospitality and spending time sharing your experiences and reflections. Visit their website to learn more, find out when the Café is open, and see more pictures of their lovely space.


Made up of the same group of six to eight Café Members each week, Recovery Circles are an essential component of each and every Recovery Café. In the fourth quarter of 2022, 4,000 circles were held across the Network.