Internationally popular recovery speaker Chris Raymer leads staff who connect with former patients and speak to current patients about recovery topics. They also organize an annual reunion for former patients.
Chris served on the staff once before, creating and leading the Alumni Program for 17 years through 2010. He returned in December 2018 to be Recovery Community Director and was named Director of Alumni in September 2020.
“Getting to come back to La Ha was a blessing,” says Chris.
“I’ve always had a huge love for our alumni. They’re our greatest asset. They catch our new people when they come out.”
“Our goal has always been to serve our patients after discharge. Connecting them to a strong recovery in the real world and to be a resource for their sustained spiritual growth continue to be our main objectives.”
Long Road to Sobriety
Chris’s roots in the Hill Country date back to 1964 when he moved to Kerrville with his parents. He graduated from high school, then “split” to Houston in 1972 to enter an apprentice program in food preparation at the Houston Oaks Hotel.
“I drank that career away,” he recalls. “They didn’t care as long as you showed up on time and did your work, and I had a pretty strong work ethic. I got the work done, but you can only last so long.”
His work took him from Houston to the Dallas area, but the drinking continued. He tried 12-step fellowships, but “it took me forever to get sober.”
Finally, after a failed suicide attempt in 1987, he went “straight back into a meeting the next day. They were a bunch of Big Book guys, and they got me busy with the steps. I worked them and got active with service work and stayed sober ever since.”
He has been sober since Nov. 13, 1987.
Back Where He Started
After his recovery, Chris interned at La Hacienda in 1993, then started work for the Alumni Department.
“I fell in love with the industry working here. It’s wonderful to watch people get their lives back.”
A significant influence in his recovery and professional life was the late Mark Houston, his supervisor at La Hacienda. “He opened my eyes that there was more to recovery than just going to a bunch of meetings, that you could continue to grow spiritually.”
La Hacienda’s “One Voice, One Message” policy is critical to Chris. “It means we’re all reading from the same page, pushing in the same direction. I don’t have to worry about what other staff is doing. As a united team, we’re doing what we know works.”
An Example for Others
Out of his own experience, Chris has empathy for people who relapse. He offers himself as an example of why they should not surrender to the disease.
“It’s easy to give up, and it’s easy to lose hope after you’ve done this a few times and failed. But you can recover from drug addiction and alcoholism.
“If we can offer our patients nothing else, we can offer them hope. They can get well. Once they have the tools and once they know what to do.”
Chris says the strength and courage exhibited by patients remind him daily “about what all of us in recovery have done. He cites their willingness to be vulnerable and pull away from what is familiar and do things in a completely different way. “Some of these folks are carrying around lots and lots of baggage.”
Service is Key
Speaking about people trying to stay sober is part of Chris’ service in “the three-part legacy, the balance of unity, service, and recovery.”
Another project was helping start the Outpost Recovery Club in nearby Ingram, where he and his wife Patty have a home. He and the other founders bought a former bar and remodeled it to be a location where recovery fellowships gather. It’s where some patients get their first meeting experience.
“That’s a big love of mine,” says Chris, who still serves on its board of directors. “We wanted a place where the patients could go and be comfortable outside of La Hacienda.”
During his first tenure at La Hacienda, Chris started drawing a simple figure on the Bodega whiteboard to try and make clear what substance use disorder is. He named the figure Issue Man.
A dark spot on its chest represents the disease. X’s around him it represent issues – relationships, money, health, kids, jobs, etc.
“We have to see that alcoholism is separate from those issues. We gotta deal with all those Issues. Good therapy can change us, but we have also to seek the Spiritual Solution that the 12 Steps bring about. Gotta do both if we are going to stay sober.”
Issue Man became a popular part of his talks, and Issue Woman arrived shortly thereafter.
When not working or serving, Chris loves to ride his bicycle over the Hill Country roads three times a week with a group of cycling enthusiasts.
“As far and as fast as we can,” he responds when asked how far they ride.