New coffee shop planned for recovering addicts, run by former addicts

Two men once hooked on alcohol and cocaine are planning to open a cafe, catering specifically to those who have battled addiction. It will serve as a safe haven for addicts on the road to recovery, living a new sober life.

Shop to serve as a safe haven for addicts on the road to recovery

Founders of the Spiritual Soldiers, Mike Brown and James Lucier, hope to use their clothing line and planned coffee shop to raise awareness around mental health and addiction. (Jason Viau)

A cup of coffee and a dose of reality for recovering addicts.

Two men once hooked on alcohol and cocaine are planning to open a cafe, catering specifically to those who have battled addiction. It will serve as a safe haven for addicts on the road to recovery, living a new sober life.

"I was like a landmine. Anybody that came near me unfortunately got hit with a piece of shrapnel." - Mike Brown, former addict

"Self-inflicted hell," said Mike Brown, describing his journey of addiction and how it affected his friends and family. "I was like a landmine. Anybody that came near me unfortunately got hit with a piece of shrapnel." 

Two recovered addicts from Windsor, Ont. who have struggled with alcohol and cocaine addictions are planning to open a cafe catering to those who are trying to stay sober. 0:53

Brown and James Lucier co-founded Spiritual Soldiers last year. It began as a clothing line with a mission: to raise awareness about mental health and addiction issues.

"The concept of the community project and the concept of the coffee shop is a safe haven for people who get out of treatment who want to stay clean and sober but don't know how to," said Lucier.

Mike Brown and James Lucier stand inside an apparel shop where they make custom tees for Spiritual Solider, an organization they co-founded. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Now the pair is trying fill a void in the community by branching out and creating a judgment-free social space. Although very helpful, it needs to be more than the anonymous meetings.

"We find that the gap is where does somebody go to find social entertainment," said Brown. "Where is there a place where people can be perfectly vulnerable and feel safe?"

Alcohol, cocaine addiction led to suicide attempt

Brown, 38, spent more than half of his life battling addictions to alcohol and cocaine. It all started when he was 18-years-old and spiralled out of control when he attempted suicide and had an overdose.

"It's hard to sit here and to say that today because I have such an aspiration and life for today. I have meaning and purpose for today," said Brown, who has been sober since June 15, 2015.

"But at that time in my life, that's how dark it can truly get."

'Kid, you're going to die'

For Lucier, it's a very similar story. Alcohol became a part of his life as a young teen. Once that wasn't enough, he turned to cocaine. And that eventually let to a fentanyl addiction that also caused him to overdose and end up in the hospital.

The turning point for him was someone saying "kid, you're going to die." Lucier has been sober for 14 months.

Sharmaine Tanario-Battagello, Addiction Systems Navigator with Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, applauds the Spiritual Soldiers for trying to create a coffee shop to serve as a safe space for recovering addicts. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare is seeing an increase in the number of youth seeking addiction services. They offer a 27-bed treatment program that lasts up to five days, then they're transferred to other community facilities for more long-term care.

It's hard to reacclimate your brain to say I can socialize without being under the influence.- Sharmaine Tanario-Battagello, HDGH

They say recovering addicts being helped by those who have walked in their shoes is effective. 

Officials applaud what Spiritual Soldiers is trying to do, especially when it comes the idea of a new cafe run by recovered addicts.

"It's hard to reacclimate your brain to say I can socialize without being under the influence," said Sharmaine Tanario-Battagello, Addiction Systems Navigator with Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. "There could be more supportive community resources."

Search for location

The men behind Spiritual Soldiers are still scouting out locations for the new coffee shop, possibly in the Erie Street East area. They say that's far enough away from downtown where the shop won't become a place for people to "score."

To help raise funds, they'll be holding their first annual gala dinner on May 17 at 6 p.m.

Spiritual Soldiers swag is also being sold online to raise money for the upcoming cafe.

About the Author

Jason Viau

Jason Viau is a video journalist, TV host and radio newsreader at CBC Windsor. He was born in North Bay, but has lived in Windsor for most of his life. Since graduating from St. Clair College, he's worked in print, TV and radio. Email him at jason.viau@cbc.ca