Being Heard

Addiction recovery is a difficult path to navigate. But as with many things in life, the journey is exponentially easier with a good guide at your side. For Austinites working in the food and beverage industry who struggle with addiction and mental illness, Joel Rivas wants to be that guide.

Rivas, founder of San Antonio’s Saint City Culinary Foundation, expanded the foundation’s addiction recovery and wellness program, Heard, to Austin this past spring. Offering support groups for individuals in the service industry, Heard’s Austin chapter meets weekly. The groups are open to all food service professionals, even those who simply want to talk about their days.

“Heard serves as a hub for people in the service industry to come and feel supported and talk about what they're going through,” Rivas says. “Sometimes it's addiction recovery; sometimes it's dealing with mental health issues. It's giving them a safe space around people they're familiar with, who have the same issues they have.”

The food and beverage industry historically has higher rates of addiction among workers, making Heard a much-needed resource for those in the trade seeking help. Rivas himself worked in the industry for several years and is now 23 years clean, so the cause is near and dear to his heart. Rivas says one of the main goals of Heard is to equip people with the tools they need to continue working in the industry while learning to maintain their own boundaries and stay healthy.

“What's acceptable and allowed in the service industry is unlike any other industry in the United States,” Rivas says. “In the industry, in a lot of places — not all of them, and the culture is turning around — but in a lot of places, it's still not only accepted but encouraged to drink on the job and to drink in the kitchen … When talking about mental health and talking about addiction recovery in the industry, it has to be approached differently, because it's not the same as anywhere else.”

After expanding Heard from San Antonio into other Texas cities including Austin and Houston, Rivas says the feedback from local industry members has been powerfully positive. “That's been a breath of fresh air. It's been overwhelmingly fantastic,” Rivas says. “We have Callie Speer [of Holy Roller], who's come on as a culinary director for the foundation … We’ve just had this immense amount of support from other chefs and owner-operators in the area.”

For those interested in Heard but unsure about attending a meeting, Rivas says he’s happy to answer questions about the program. Aided by a team of volunteers, Rivas makes sure everyone who contacts Heard receives a personal response.

“We don't want to force anything; we just want to be there and open for whenever that time comes,” Rivas says. “Our meetings are really just a place where people can come and share about how their week is going, share about struggles they're having. People can talk about what's working for them in terms of self-care and getting balance back in their lives. If anyone has any questions, please, please reach out.”

For more information, visit iheardyou.org

by Darby Kendall