What’s Up South Texas!: Cafe serves as recovery center for those battling drug, alcohol addiction

Serenity Star and Comfort Cafe have helped thousands stay on the path of recovery

San Antonio – A San Antonio woman who is also a recovered alcoholic is striving to help others drop their addictions through a non-profit organization she co-founded.

Teri Lopez, 59, started Serenity Star in Smithville, Texas, 10 years ago. She has since opened a local café called Comfort Café which helps keep the residential recovery center operating.

“It is a recovery center helping families recover from their addictions,” Lopez said. “To see people coming out of institutions, or jails or foster care, you know, and then seeing that if they had the opportunity for somebody to love them and they could love themselves. What a difference it makes.”

Lopez and her partner who started the organization are both recovered alcoholics.

“I had a dad who was an alcoholic who left when I was three,” Lopez said. He would go on these binges so he would disappear. He would go out for milk and not come home for three to five days at a time. I had a mom who was very young and didn’t know how to handle all of it so my upbringing was really rough."

She said she got into drugs when she was a teenager.

“A lot of people do, but none of us know who is going to wind up not being able to stop and who can put it down easily,” she said.

Lopez said she was successful at stopping her drug addiction.

“I thought I was doing well,” Lopez said. “I said that I was not going to use cocaine anymore, but I began to drink and I was able to handle it for a while. I raised four kids, I was the suburban mom. I went to school to be an addictions counselor in New York and the whole time I was drinking, I was getting a lot of people sober, but not me, and it is because I never dealt with the core wounds.”

She said those wounds stemmed from self-hatred.

“'If dad can’t love me or stay here, why should I love me? Obviously, I am not lovable,'” Lopez said. “The time I got sober and put everything down, I had to confront the self-hatred. The truth didn’t show up until I was sober for a while and the pain started coming up. We use alcohol and drugs to avoid feelings, but then everything I did and Rosie had done to confront it this time worked.”

Lopez said she realized having experience battling addictions, she could help others a lot more.

“We put all of that into the program and was able to bring people through it the same as we made it through. We have had a really high recovery rate. You can’t tell me you don’t know how to do it or you can’t do it because I am doing it. All of the excuses are out of the door. As Rosie would say, ‘You can’t dope a dope fiend.’”

The process of making the program a reality wasn’t an easy task.

“We are from New York, but when we moved to Texas we realized there were no real resources out there without money or insurance,” Lopez said. “So we started in Smithsville where we have a women’s program, a men’s program, and a family program on the campus. Then someone were were helping had a mom who had a café that she no longer wanted. She knew we were cooks and asked us to take this on to help. It just came organically to us and it began to grow. We do a lot of listening to our higher power and we heard it was time to move to San Antonio, so we did that May of last year.”

The program is a long-term program from six months to a year.

“We do an assessment when they come in and if it seems like we can help you and you want it, we do an intake,” Lopez said. “Families can come in and bring their children and recover together and learn how to parent also at the same time so they are not separated.”

The program is a very intimate recovery process for families.

“We believe addiction is an offshoot of trauma that is unhealed,” Lopez said. “We do a lot of, ‘Why do you hate yourself?’ There is not an addict or alcoholic that would treat themselves that way if they loved themselves so we believe that is the core. We do whatever we can to get them to love themselves. People come into the program and we tell them if you only want to stop using this is not the program. If you want to change, this is the program.”

She said they even steer clear from speaking about drugs.

“We don’t talk about that because we all know about the drugs and the alcohol,” Lopez said. “We want to talk about how you feel, where your kid is, how are you going to be different, what your purpose may be and what God had you come down to do.”

Austin Payne, 27, is a part of the staff at Comfort Café and he too is a recovered addict. He came to the program two years ago.

“I help everyone at the café serving and connecting with people and letting them know we are more than just a café,” Payne said. “When I first came here, there was so much shame around everything I had done and my addiction and I was encouraged to share that with people about my past and what I am walking through and just shine a light onto it so I am not holding onto it and shaming myself for the things I have done. I get to share my medicine which was all the stuff I have been through and waked through. All the darkest crazies in my past, I get to open up and just share with other people to help them because before I would leave that stuff in the dark and that is where it would eat me up and fester.”

Like Lopez, Payne also had rocky events that led to his addictions.

“During my childhood, I was in a bubble of society where everything you are worth isn’t what you do, it is what you have and how people perceive you, all the materialistic thins and your status,” Payne said. “I grew up in that environment. My parents divorced when I was 11 and my dad wasn’t there for a while and my mom raised me and my twin sister as best as she know how. I would always worry about how people thought of me.”

He said after graduating high school, things went downhill.

“I tried to go to college, but only lasted three weeks and from there everything fell apart rapidly,” Payne said. “I didn’t feel like I was worth anything so I wouldn’t go after anything meaningful. That came with legal issues, homelessness, not knowing where my next meal is coming from.”

After entering the program, Payne learned he was not alone. He also learned to start loving himself which is now he has a relationship with his entire family including his father who has been very supportive of his journey getting sober. He will soon become a father as well which is something Lopez is very proud of.

“At the beginning, the ego is crazy when they come in especially with the guys,” Lopez said. “That ego shows me how terrified you are. It is just beautiful seeing them open up and work for that deep-rooted change.”

Lopez said the goal now is to open a residential recovery center in San Antonio since a lot of their clients are from the Alamo City. If you are in need of help or would like to make a donation to the organization, you can do so by contacting (512) 575-0348 or visiting their website at www.serenitystar.org.

“There is always hope, it is never too late, and you are enough,” Lopez said.

About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray joined 10 News as an anchor in March 2022.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.