The One Thing We Cannot Live Without

by Killian Noe, Recovery Café Network Cofounder

There are many ways to talk about what we do at Recovery Café and about who we are.

Lately, I have been talking about it this way. We are 60 communities across the US and Canada holding space for human evolution. In each Recovery Café we hold space for all to journey from thinking of ourselves as nobody, to coming to know we are somebody, to understanding that we are everybody.

Most Recovery Café members have experienced significant trauma in their childhood and many have experienced one trauma after another, after another.

Just being alive brings loss and some form of trauma: like emotional and physical pain; disease; diminishments related to accidents, addiction, or aging; mental health challenges; death of loved ones; betrayal by loved ones; and shattered dreams.

In addition to these losses and traumas, many Recovery Café members have experienced homelessness, incarceration, and soul-crushing loneliness. Individuals who have experienced these forms of trauma are told by our larger culture in countless ways every single day, “You are nobody.”

You are Loved

Most of the individuals who walk through the door of a Café for the first time have internalized that message. And yet, in each Recovery Café, all are welcomed with a warm embrace into a safe space so beautiful the vibrantly-colored walls themselves proclaim, “You are loved.”

Nutritious meals, coffee drinks prepared to order, Recovery Circles where others listen and care, classes supporting growth and new skills, competent and compassionate staff, and activities like running, singing, writing, and yoga all reinforce the message, “You are loved.”

All this and more, over time, chips away at the lie that you are nobody and introduces the radical truth that you are somebody. You are somebody worthy of respect; somebody worthy of beauty; somebody whose love and gifts our community cannot thrive without.

And if you keep coming back, over time something else transformative begins to happen—you not only come to believe you are somebody—you begin to understand at deeper and deeper levels that you are everybody.

Claiming Our Truest Identity as Instruments of Love

In Recovery Cafés we begin to understand that Divine Love is at the core of our being and that same Divine Love is at the core of everyone’s being. If I can glimpse that Love in you and you can glimpse that Love in me, then the walls that divide us begin to crumble. We touch the oneness of the human family. And we begin to claim our true, deepest identity as instruments of love.

Can you imagine a world in which everyone is claiming at some level that they are an instrument of love?

How can we help create such a world? I would like to offer three brief suggestions.

First of all, we must commit to some daily practice of disconnecting from the dominant culture and reconnecting with and being infused by unconditional love at our core. That practice might be prayer, meditation, time in nature, creative expression, or simply being fully present to the human right in front of us. For unless our responses to others flows from that deep connection with love at our own core, it will have limited power to heal and transform.

An art class at Recovery Café Muncie (IN)

Second, if we want to help create a different world we must seek out intentional, real relationships with some individual or group that is different from us; we have to break out of the isolating, polarizing bubbles in which most of us live our lives.

During the very violent, final year of apartheid in South Africa, some of us from my DC faith community spent time in South Africa with a community risking their lives to bring an end to apartheid.

One of the members of the South African community, Silulama, shared with me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “I am grateful for all those who have joined in this struggle against apartheid, but struck by the fact that many of them do not have one, single, real relationship that crosses a racial, socioeconomic, or political divide.”

Real relationships are what change us and will ultimately change our world.

Third, if we want to help create a different world we must put our weight down with at least one group or one individual being left out—until their struggles become our struggles and their joys become our joys.

ReNew Recovery Café (Daytona Beach, FL)

Left Out

One Easter Sunday, when my daughters were ages four and six, we were standing on the steps of our ecumenical church in Washington, DC. A friend who had a special relationship with our older daughter, Kietrie, presented her with an Easter basket filled with tiny chocolate eggs.

It took a moment to register, but when Phoebe, the younger daughter, took in the reality that there was no basket with tiny chocolate eggs coming her way from this friend, she began to wail.

Fortunately, I had recently completed an eight-week parenting class so I knew exactly what to do.

I dropped to one knee—to establish eye contact. Then, in my most empathetic voice—to validate her feelings—I said, “Phoebe, you are feeling left out.”

“In a voice three times her size,” Phoebe screamed, “I’m not FEELING left out; I HAVE BEEN LEFT OUT.”

As you know, an unconscionable number of people in our nation and world have been left out. They have been left out by racial inequality, socioeconomic inequality, disparities in healthcare and education, discrimination due to gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religion—and the list goes on and on.

I wonder, who do I leave out? Who do you leave out? Perhaps not due to hard heartedness, but to feeling ill-equipped to respond.

In Recovery Cafés, no one is left out.

Summer rafting trip: Reclaiming Lives—Recovery Café Medford (OR)

The One Thing We Cannot Live Without

In Recovery Cafés we understand that we all need recovery from anything that blocks our capacity to love. For some that is an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Others of us are recovering from an addiction to control, or to an insatiable need for approval or security. For others it is an unhealthy attachment to our own isolating privilege that limits our freedom to love.

In short, most of us are attached to many things that we have been programmed to believe we cannot live without. There is only one thing we cannot live without. And it is not being loved—as we might think. The one thing we cannot live without is loving. Loving ourselves and others is the only thing we cannot live without.

Of course, being loved is life-giving. But even in circumstances where—for whatever reason—we are not loved, where others are not for us, the one thing necessary is still to love ourselves and others.

Whatever it is you are recovering from—whatever keeps you from loving yourself and others more fully— today we invite you to put your weight down with the Recovery Cafés.

We invite you to embrace in some deeper way the oneness of the human family and the joy that comes from living that oneness.

We invite you to journey with us from thinking of ourselves as nobody, to embracing the truth that we are somebody, to knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are everybody.


Killian Noe, Cofounder of Recovery Café and the Recovery Café Network, offered this reflection at Recovery Café Seattle’s annual “Standing in the Gap: Education of the Heart, Friend and Fundraiser” on September 21, 2023. See Killian’s book, Descent into Love: How Recovery Café Came to Be, to learn more.