by Kate Willette
When Janice talks about her life, a sort of portrait emerges. It’s a landscape of wide, rough territory with masses of dark clouds and a figure in the foreground: Janice, steady and upright. She’s a self-reliant, self-educated woman whose sharp mind has seen her through and allowed her to prosper--even to forge a kind of truce with the world. She didn’t grow up with support from the usual places, because the people she might have depended on for nurturance often just didn’t have it to give.
Years of struggle and turbulence in her family ended violently and abruptly in 2004, when Janice’s older brother--a Vietnam veteran--was finally overwhelmed by the mental health challenges that had tormented him for decades. He took three lives, including his own.
In the last months before his catastrophic break, Janice had stepped away from her brother, her parents, and her own role in what had become an unbearably distorted family dynamic.
Moving past a single, shattering trauma takes one sort of courage; surviving years of dysfunction demands another. Living past both requires reserves of spirit most of us never have to summon.
But there was more. Everywhere Janice turned after the crisis, she faced accusations and recriminations. Why hadn’t she been there? Why hadn’t she stopped it? At work, at church, even in her extended family, there was neither sympathy nor support. Instead she was judged and blamed, and it didn’t help that some part of her already felt guilty. What followed was a long, bitter alienation.
By the time she arrived in Port Townsend at the end of that long withdrawal, Janice had no time for self-delusion. She confronted, with her usual courage, the question of who exactly she wanted to be now, in this final season of her life.
Then an article printed in the Port Townsend paper, The Leader, caught her eye. The Dove House (a respected local nonprofit focused on domestic violence) was sponsoring an ambitious new project called the Recovery Café. It was January, 2019.
From that brief newspaper article, the people of Port Townsend, including Janice, first learned of plans to build and staff a sort of community center for people on the margins. It would be “a place to be safe and sober, and to grow as a human being. It’s not treatment, and it’s not a self-help meeting, like a 12-step recovery group. It is its own type of recovery community organization.”
That was pretty intriguing language, but there was a problem. Janice, the figure alone on that landscape, was cautious. Like many people who have battled their way almost single-handedly to social and psychological equilibrium, she didn’t find it natural to just up and trust others. Systems could fail. Did fail. People you trusted could let you down. She knew what it felt like to be burned, and what it had taken to find a little peace.
And so it makes sense that when Janice approached the idea of becoming involved with the Café, she came with her arms folded, wanting to be willing, but suspicious. She signed up for the recovery coach class, and it was a revelation.
She laughs, remembering what happened next.
What had spoken to her so clearly in those training sessions was the openhearted, forward-looking approach she saw from her seat at the back of the room. This wasn’t about fixing people; it was about inviting them into a generous, honest conversation with the expectation that change was possible. It made so much sense to her.
Janice has plans. She can see a lot of ways that her particular story and skills match the various needs of the Café, and not just as a person with data management experience who can help get processes in place. She’s interested in recovery advocacy--the project of educating the wider community about how recovery works and what the needs really are. She can see herself, even, as a coach.
At this writing, in March, 2020, the opening of the Jefferson County Recovery Cafe is delayed by a world-wide pandemic. The people who have spent the last year getting ready to welcome the community are undaunted. Janice imagines the future she’s committed to like this: