WALLA WALLA — Pat Flores understands addiction, how it demands unsavory actions, ruins lives, decimates families.
How it creates a hole that goes deeper and deeper — and he’s been down there, he said.
But when someone, or a team of someones, can offer a ladder, Flores knows many people will start that long climb.
Thirty-one years of being clean and sober has taught him that much.
The founder and owner of Serenity Point Counseling Services in Walla Walla hopes to be able to continue to build ladders for addicts, but a change in Medicaid funding may knock that out from under Flores and his staff. Like other chemical dependency providers in Washington state, his company is suffering from too little funding to treat too many patients, he said.
Flores, 56, isn’t giving up without a fight — battling to succeed comes naturally to the Southern California native.
He grew up in a neighborhood where gang culture dictated who would use and sell drugs. Flores proved adept at both, starting drinking and smoking marijuana at age 11.
Everyone knew a kid caught using might get a little time in juvenile detention, but was more likely to get hauled home and deposited with parents.
“My mom had no control over me,” he said. “Alcohol had always been part of our culture.”
By 13, he was “pretty strung out” and more birthdays only increased the variety of drugs he tried, Flores said — barbiturates at 14, followed by cocaine and, at 19, heroin, which quickly became his favorite high.
Dealing brought in good, good money, and Flores held a job as a painter at a hospital to explain his nice cars and lifestyle, he recalled.
“I was always a functioning addict,” he said. “I had a strong work ethic.”
Cocaine kept him up during the day, heroin brought him back down at night.
Arrests and jail time peppered the calendar for Flores and his two brothers, he said. At 26, though, Flores found himself in front of a judge who promised a lengthy jail term if he ever showed up in her courtroom again.
“That was kind of my wake-up call.”
Not enough of one, however. Flores went into treatment — the first time his eyes were really opened to life outside the drug and gang world — and stayed clean for nine months.
“Then I did everything they told me not to. Drinking, hanging out with old friends. Within 30 days I was back in jail,” he said.
A second attempt, with his new vision, showed Flores his two sons were starting to follow the same map as he had.
“That,” he explained, “was my real wake-up call.”
A single dad, Flores loaded his kids into the car and headed north in 1987 when an opportunity to enroll at Walla Walla University as a social work major presented itself.
“I got up here and realized this was a healthier place for me to be,” he said. “When I moved up here I had bullet holes in my car from people taking shots in my old neighborhood.”
Flores graduated with a master’s degree in 1992 and began working at Walla Walla General Hospital’s substance abuse program. When that was shuttered, he spent a decade working for Lourdes Counseling Center, when it operated locally, before getting contracts with Walla Walla County.
The county approached him as it was taking mental health services in-house in 2004. He pooled resources with his two oldest sons, Tony and Sam — both have walked journeys of recovery from drug use — and opened Serenity Point in 2003.
Tony Flores is now a Realtor and Sam Flores is a flight paramedic, but Serenity Point is still family-run, their father said.
The plan was never to become wealthy through providing addiction treatment, he added, but to honor the hand up they had been given.
“This is a very passionate thing for us,” he said.
Sheila Hagar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8322.