“Let me just say that what I’m doing today was not my plan,” says Paul. He is a tribal member with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation, identifying as Mexican-Indian.

Paul grew up in low-income housing in Oakland. “My whole entire life I was surrounded by drugs and alcohol,” he remembers. “It was getting to the point that I was either going to be killed or kill somebody.”

From the frying pan into the fire

Hoping to make a change, Paul moved to the Pinoleville Rancheria in Mendocino County in the late 1980s. But addiction travels with you wherever you go, as Paul is quick to point out. “It was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire,” he says. 

Drugs and alcohol addiction were rampant in the reservation community. Paul’s attempts to find work were dead ends, as the rural job market was much more limited. His drug and alcohol use continued, and he ultimately resorted to selling drugs himself.

His turning point came in an unexpected way. He was pulled over, arrested, and awaiting more time in jail. He said a prayer laying down in his cell. “I woke up the next morning, and I felt a little different,” Paul remembers. “In retrospect when I look back, what I felt was hope.”

Paul decided the only way to change was to ask for help. He was released from jail and entered into a treatment program.

Finding hope and getting help

As he began recovery, he had the opportunity to ask for and receive help from others. He came to terms with his drug and alcohol problem. Most importantly, he realized that he was ready to navigate a new way forward.

He enrolled in Mendocino College. At first he was hesitant about being one of the older students on campus, but he excelled in school and eventually graduated with an Associate of Science degree. Eventually, he returned to the Pinoleville Wellness & Recovery Program where he was once a client. This time, he was hired as a counselor for the program. “That was pretty special for me,” he says. “And it was inspiring for the participants to see the program they’re in really works.”

Today, Paul is a Substance Abuse Counselor for Mendocino County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.

“Recovery is possible for any and all of us,” says Paul. The important factor is a willingness to give oneself to the recovery process. “I’m here because of a willingness to do whatever I had to do, and because of others helping me.”


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