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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Recovering community: Recovery Cafe in Peaceful Valley serves up support and social connections

Walter Bible, a member of Recovery Cafe, a peer-to-peer support for people recovering from addiction, gets a bowl of chili from operations associate Meghan Bundrant-Gunning on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, in Spokane, Wash. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Two years ago, Jaye James didn’t want to talk about his alcoholism or treatment. That felt like an “A” printed on his forehead, he said.

James just wanted to feel normal again, but he knew isolation and avoiding the topic could be detrimental. A short time later, he walked into Recovery Cafe Spokane, where James said he felt at ease discussing casual topics over a lunch.

“I could talk about sports, cars and music,” said James, 53, now a recovery coach at the center. “I felt like I was part of a community again. Then, when I felt ready, I could talk about my addiction.”

Since opening in February 2017, Recovery Cafe in Peaceful Valley has served up support and social connections for people who consider themselves in a “recovery community,” said Christine McMackin, a recovery support specialist.

That includes some who are also dealing with mental health issues.

“I still fight depression and anxiety,” said McMackin, who soon will mark 10 years of being alcohol- and drug-free. “People can come here and feel safe. We’re all facing the same battles.”

A program of the Spokane nonprofit Community-Minded Enterprises, the cafe is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with lunch at noon. Food and other cafe services are free.

The center encourages peer-to-peer support among people at different stages in their recovery, whether they’ve been substance-free for 24 hours or 30 years, said Georgia Butler, director of recovery community services for Community-Minded Enterprises.

“When people walk in the door, we have a philosophy of radical hospitality,” Butler said. “Everyone who walks through the door is welcomed. They begin to know each others’ names. They begin to connect. They walk alongside each other.”

Just before lunch on Tuesday, Shane Richter asked for five minutes of silence as about 15 people gathered around several tables.

“You let go of distractions,” he said. “This is a time for prayer or meditation in the method best for you. I certainly appreciate you all being here.”

After that, Walter Bible walked up to get a bread bowl filled with chili before sitting down.

“I’ve actually made this place my second home,” said Bible, who told the group he recently celebrated a birthday. “This is my haven.”

People who go to Recovery Cafe Spokane agree to become members. Butler said that means a person must be at least 24-hours substance-free and attend an orientation session, along with regularly attending a weekly small group recovery circle.

Butler said the recovery circle isn’t treatment or therapy. Instead, it’s offered for people to process what they’re experiencing alongside peers. The circles are led by a trained recovery coach.

The facility currently hosts 12 recovery circles each week. A circle typically doesn’t have more than 10 people.

Recovery coaches are encouraged to lead people in processing experiences, asking people, “How are you doing? Where are you struggling? How can we help you?” Butler said.

The cafe operates its School for Recovery, with résumé and job interview support, life skills, and connections to community resources. The school invites Spokane-area guest speakers to discuss recovery at 1 p.m. each Tuesday.

Spokane’s cafe has about 100 members, Butler said.

The program is modeled after one in Seattle, which Butler visited in 2015. “Their model and peer-to-peer services was exactly what our community needed,” she said.

Recovery Cafe is all about support, but it isn’t a treatment center, said Butler, who has 32 years of recovery.

“It’s basically an alternative therapeutic community,” she said. “We accept all pathways to recovery. You could be in treatment. You could be in a 12-step recovery. You could be in a faith-based program. You could be in medical treatment, or a person in solo recovery.”

Three staff members are certified mental health peer counselors, Butler said.

Kathy Thamm, Community-Minded Enterprises’ executive director, said another benefit of the cafe model is it eliminates social isolation, which can contribute to relapse. The cafe also provides a path to accountability without a stigma, she added.

“It’s a place without judgment, which is what you need to stay in recovery,” Thamm said.

The cafe’s goal is to prevent relapses, and the support helps keep patients out of emergency rooms or from re-entering treatment, Thamm said. “That’s a cost to the health system,” she said. “We’ve had a short study done, and we’ve had no one go back into an emergency room.”

By coming in at least weekly to see people with similar struggles, Butler said, “They’re listening and talking. They begin to see there is a path for them.

“We believe the opposite of addiction is connection. Recovery for years has been isolated and anonymous, and now here in Spokane, we’ve begun to put a face on recovery.”

Part of the cafe’s coaching includes helping people access primary care doctors and urgent care facilities, she said. The cafe also partners with Eastern Washington University’s dental clinic, for members to access the Recovering Smiles oral health educational program.

The cafe holds new member orientations on the first and third Fridays of the month. Because some members have landed jobs and can’t come during regular hours, program operators hope to expand cafe hours later this year to include one evening and one Saturday, Butler said.

Part of recovery is learning how to live in a community again, Butler said.

“That’s difficult,” she said. “They can come and talk here about what their triggers are to relapses, how they’re feeling, their struggles, their successes.

“It’s not just the negatives that can cause relapse, so can the good things, if you’re not used to a lot of good things happening. That can be scary too.”

Contact the writer:

(509) 459-5439