What’s Up South Texas! SA woman opens recovery program for those battling substance use disorders

Christine Varela Mayer has always been passionate about helping others battling trauma

San Antonio – A San Antonio woman is helping those battling substance use disorders stay on track to recovery through her outpatient recovery program.

Christine Varela Mayer, 50, opened her program, Blue Heron Recovery Program, in March.

“Someone goes to detox from overdosing and then often times they go to a residential treatment program,” Mayer said. “Then they have partial hospitalization which is outpatient and that is where we come in.”

Blue Heron Recovery has multiple outpatient programing throughout the week with flexible scheduling for clients.

“In the program, they can come in and we have group therapy, individual therapy and more,” Mayer said. “The idea is to grow a community and remind one another why we stay sober while making friends who are sober.”

She joined the campus of Los Patios knowing all 18 acres of its property is dedicated to healthy living.

“It is all a sober campus,” she said. “There are restaurants, coffee shops, art studios, yoga classes and we even have concert events with live music. It is a safe place for people who don’t want to be around substances of alcohol. When you are here you are home. You are safe. Free of drugs and alcohol so that if you are working hard in recovery, you don’t have to worry if they guy next to you are throwing back tequila shots, drinking Jim Bean or falling on the floor because that doesn’t happen here.”

Even before the Blue Heron Recovery program, Mayer always loved working with people.

She grew up a first generation American in Houston.

“I went to undergrad for political science debate and communications so, I wasn’t a mental health person at all,” Mayer said. “I took a job in the insurance industry which was cool and I met some great people. I had an amazing boss/mentor. I would volunteer for different groups like Junior Achievement, March of Dimes, Muscular Dystrophy, the Children’s Assessment Center and was doing amazing fun things. I would call him up and say, ‘I am not coming back to the office because I am with these kids!’”

That is when she realized she wanted to go back to school.

“I went back and honed in on psychology with kids,” Mayer said. “I was working with gang members, and sexually abused children and it was wildly fulfilling and fun.”

Mayer said she then married an Army man which meant she traveled all over the place until they finally moved to San Antonio.

“I loved this city,” Mayer said. “It is friendly and warm and wonderful. We came here and decided to stay and I started working in psych research and worked with the VA in Tampa where I did a lot of combat medic research with them. It was fun. I wanted to start working with people again and not just research.”

Mayer then went on to work in an inpatient recovery program in Spring Branch which led her to her calling of opening up Blue Heron Recovery program.

“The folks that are brave enough and determined enough to get in here and really address all of the issues that underlie the substance use disorders, they make the world go around,” Mayer said. “I have never met such a great group of humans and they inspire me every day.”

Her passion is helping others get through their traumas.

“Most of us have a little bit of trauma one way or another and that is the cool thing about this because it is finding your strength underneath all of that to help you deal with all of that,” she said.

Mayer said they focus on the use of the term Substance Use Disorders for a reason.

“We look at substance use disorder instead of substance abuse one, for the connotation that abuse makes it sound purposeful or controllable,” she said. “Nobody wants to be addicted to anything.”

She said opening her outpatient recovery program was an idea she’d been contemplating for a while.

“We had people coming back home to our city, they would ask us, ‘Hey, I am sober, where can I go where I am not going to struggle, or be triggered,’” Mayer said. “We thought we need a place where people can come and not worry about anything getting in the way of their recovery. Where they can come take a yoga class, walk along the creek go to a bookstore, go to an art exhibition.”

After establishing a location, Mayer said the name came about in a special manner.

“We thought, ‘What are we going to name this place?’ We threw around all of these fake, cheesy, trite names and I didn’t like any of them,” Mayer said. “I was grumpy and my husband was over there praying. We were sitting by the creek and then all of a sudden this giant blue heron just, ‘whooshed!’ It flew down and we were like lets name it that! But then, to make sure Blue Heron wasn’t the harbinger of doom, we googled it and it stated, ‘The Blue Heron, according to native tradition, and this is native land, represents self determination, evolution of spirt and independence.’ We went ‘Ah! That is everything!’”

She said the grand opening was beyond emotional for her.

“We threw it together in a short amount of time,” she said. “We thought, lets have little donkeys and a bounce house and miniature alpacas and music. That was all fun and on the surface but it hit me when I was speaking. I was like, ‘I want to thank everyone for being here! Welcome to Blue Heron!’ I look out into the audience to see who came and there was this guy who had been a meth addict for year. He was at the grand opening and as I am talking, there he is,” she said as she became emotional. “He’s been sober for nine months and he was high for like 37 years. But, he came to say congratulations. Past clients who are sober now, came from other cities here to say ‘We support you. Keep doing what you’re doing.’ That is when I lose it.”

The program has been open for several months now and they have been able to successfully serve clients with classes, scholarships and more.

Mayer said the next step is opening a men’s sober living facility on their campus.

Her goal is to show those on this path of recovery that they are not alone and that they can stay strong together.

“You would get a room full of people who will say, ‘We have nothing in common. I don’t know these people and nothing in common,’ but after a couple of weeks together, they are holding hands and are best friends and you realize we have everything in common. Traumas might be different, ways of managing them might be different, outcomes may be different, but we are all the same. A lot of times, when you are struggling with trauma you can feel like, ‘I can deal with it or I can’t deal with it.’ It is either I can or can’t instead of, together we, and I hear you and something similar happened to me and it makes it so much more real and manageable. We all fall down but it is the getting up that is the cool part.”

For more information about the Blue Heron Recovery Program, their services or future events, visit their website.


About the Authors:

Japhanie Gray is a reporter with KSAT12 News.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.