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Conversations with Christine Varela Mayer

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christine Varela Mayer.

Hi Christine Varela, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Los Patios was established in 1968 by a local petroleum geologist and naturalist who brought “lush, tropical ‘California style’ landscaping” to the new development which quickly grew to include dining, shopping and private events. Over the past 50 years, Los Patios has become known for its private and public gatherings, brunches, dinners, concerts, and weddings. In January of 2021, My husband Paul and I purchased the property with hopes to revitalize the community with a slightly different approach. He and I both work in the healthcare industry (he is a board-certified emergency medicine physician and I am a licensed chemical and drug counselor) and over our collective years of work experience, we realized that our San Antonio community critically needs a healthy, sober campus.

I had previously been working with folks recovering from addiction at an inpatient facility outside the city and Paul regularly treated patients with substance use disorders in the ERs. The impetus of the Los Patios purchase was to offer professional outpatient recovery treatment services to folks who are working on overcoming the challenges of substance use disorders without having to leave home.

So, our plan was to intentionally build a sober community on the 18 acres of Los Patios and also establish a private, professional outpatient recovery program for people who live in the area and want convenient treatment as a tenant of the property while also opening up restaurants, shops, and services (without the inherent risk of relapse triggers associated with alcohol service) open and available to the general public.

Often, those who are new to recovery from addiction choose to stay away from restaurants and businesses associated with alcohol, thereby withdrawing from social opportunities and events. When helping patients and clients, we were hard-pressed to find a place, let alone an entire community, that offered restaurants, shops and services without alcohol offerings.

Today, Los Patios has three restaurants, one coffee shop, a yoga studio, a landscape architect, a jeweler, a dress shop, a medical clinic, a sober living facility, and an outpatient recovery treatment center all in one convenient campus. In addition, this 18-acre wooded campus sits along the Salado Creek and the Salado trail. Paul manages the Los Patios Medical Clinic while I manage Blue Heron Recovery, the outpatient recovery treatment center. Together, we and a whole team of Los Patios tenants support what we believe is critical to supporting those who are choosing a healthy, sober lifestyle: Community.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
People have forgotten about Los Patios. The final restaurant closed in 2018. When we toured the property in 2020, there were only a couple of tenants on the property and the parking lot was empty. Now, businesses are moving back in, restaurants are opening up (two of which haven’t had working kitchens in more than 20 years) and we have held a few events (live concerts, Sober Fiesta, and First Fridays with farmers market, games, and a big-screen movie on the lawn) free and open to the public. Although the majority of our businesses are not owned by folks who are in recovery, they support the mission. The community at Los Patios is committed to maintaining sober business despite the potential financial impact of not serving beer and margaritas.

Not everyone who comes to campus appreciates the sober campus aspect, but most people share kind words of support and appreciation for the mission to support those with and without addictions together in a sober community.

Our biggest struggle today is sharing the latest Los Patios developments with the community in San Antonio and surrounding areas. Having a restaurant to meet with family and friends without the offering of alcohol, a walk along the trail or yoga class before meeting for coffee or attending any one of the addiction-focused free meetings groups we offer on-campus (AA, Secular AA, Refuge Recovery, women’s groups, men’s groups, etc.) is a great way to stay active and involved.

Addiction thrives in isolation. Recovery requires community. We need to let people know we are here for them.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
We specialize in health and wellness. Paul and I have purchased this property in order to create an opportunity for everyone to enjoy a safe, sober community.

In addition, I am most proud of creating a space where folks in all walks of life can come together safely for treatment. Typically, addiction treatment centers don’t have an opportunity for graduates to return other than specific “alumni” events. Everyone is welcome at Los Patios. For those new to recovery, this sets us apart. The yoga studio a Blue Heron Recovery client attended while in treatment is still available, the restaurants where Blue Heron clients ate are still available. The Med Clinic where folks in the recovery program received medical health services is still available…the trails, the creek, and the supportive environment afforded clients in the treatment center is still available to those clients even after the clients graduate.

Building community builds support. That is the goal. Additionally, we are unique in that we are not only establishing an 18-acre sober community at Los Patios, but we are also the owners of the treatment center (Blue Heron Recovery) here at Los Patios. Most treatment centers are owned by investors looking to make a profit. Our goal is to support folks in recovery, create a safe environment, and not be beholden to investors which can often taint the quality of care in exchange for profit margins. Paul and I are local. We don’t live in another state and we aren’t financial managers. We actively work on the property as part of the community. Every day. That is the difference. We are physically here, we know the clients, we see the visitors on campus, and we are available to ensure the safety of our clients and our community. For the community, with the community.

Can you talk to us a bit about happiness and what makes you happy?
As I write this, I am sitting in my office looking out a very large window. I see seven members of Blue Heron Recovery sitting outside among the trees. They are enjoying a group therapy session. I get goosebumps when I see people who are working to better their lives here on property. They are engaged, challenged, communicative, and making great progress together. And they are enjoying themselves while doing it. Recovery is hard work. It requires a community. One of our counselors brought his dog today. Recovery is real. Let’s redefine it.

According to native tradition, the blue heron represents determination, the evolution of spirit, and independence. Those words describe recovery. Blue herons nest in the trees along Salado Creek at Los Patios. So while our Blue Heron clients are afforded this great space in which to work on individual recovery from drugs and alcohol, the entire Los Patios campus is here to support.

I see people enjoying the shops and restaurants, walking the grounds with their kids, and enjoying nature. For those who visit Los Patios, the serenity, natural environment, great restaurants, shops and services supersede the need for alcohol and drugs. People are here to enjoy their lives. That makes me very happy.

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