Jacob Yangilmau in one of his talks with students

“I knew I’m going to have to share my story. Even if one person is saved by my story or if they’re going to change or reform back, that’s what I am meant to do.”

– Jacob Yangilmau, self-confessed former drug addict

The first high had brought a former self-confessed drug addict to the many lows in life but with determination and help from other people, he had managed to change for the better and is compelled by personal belief to tell his story to others in order to inspire reform.

At the very instance one would lay eyes on him, Jacob Yangilmau does not seem to embody the “dark” past he said he had. The moment he stepped into the room, his high spirit was very evident. Any impression he had made was nothing you would associate with a drug addict. He was bubbly and passionate about his new purpose.

He began his story by delving into the past, giving us a peek into the life of a young man who had been enticed to do drugs and how this addiction had led him to commit other crimes.

“I knew I’m going to have to share my story. Even if one person is saved by my story or if they’re going to change or reform back, that’s what I am meant to do,” Yangilmau told Island Times.

The Beginning

“It’s one hit and you’re hooked,” Yangilmau, who voluntarily sought Island Times to share his story, explained what methamphetamine can do to a person.

It all began when he was in high school when friends had invited him to go out and smoke. Yangilmau said he thought it would be just like the usual thing they do – smoke weed. But that time, it was different. His friends gave him something he had only seen for the first time — meth.

“At first, they offered it to me but I was scared so they keep smoking and they were telling me how good it is,” Yangilmau said, recalling what happened that time at a cemetery in Echang.

Yangilmau was certain that it was peer pressure that made him try the dangerous drug. He said that if his friends can do it then he could do it as well and that was the start of how things started to fall apart for the young Yangilmau.

“We were always chasing the first high but we will never get there,” Yangilmau said, explaining the Psychology behind the addiction.The next meth sessions were done trying to relive the first experience he had but had no way of achieving again.

Jacob Yangilmau

Being a young man with no source of income with him yet to support his vice, Yangilmau said that he had to use the money he would get from a school refund, sold his personal stuff, and even resorted to stealing cash from his own mother just to afford to buy the substance.

Before he knew it, Yangilmau found himself changing friends as well. He said that he had started hanging out with those who are drug users themselves. Soon after, he quit school and did all the means he could just to save money for meth. He was on the streets selling weed, doing favors for others, and running errands for the drug dealers.

Then something unexpected happened in less than a year after he started using meth. Yangilmau got a young woman pregnant. Facing the new responsibility as a young father, Yangilmau got an awakening and had to reflect about his life. At 23, he decided that he just wanted to be a good father to his child.

“This transformation did not happen overnight but I had this mindset: okay, I’m going to quit,” Yangilmau said.

Breaking the addiction

It was easy to get hooked but difficult to get out, according to Yangilmau, that is why breaking the addiction cycle took a lot of effort for him. Slowly by slowly, Yangilmau stopped using drugs until he had it no more.So he shaped up his life, got married, and joined the United States Army from 2002 until 2010.

He came back to Palau as a proud man being an accomplished person. He was already clean, finally. But as he was at the latter part of his military career, he got divorced with his wife who then left for Hawaii. But life went on for Yangilmau.

Hello, my old friend

Seeing a lot of goodness in him, what with him actively engaged in community activities, the people of Sonsorol State had voted him to office as Governor. But just as things were starting to get clear for Yangilmau, he stumbled into drug addiction again.

In about two years to his Gubernatorial seat, Yangilmau had resigned from his post. He recalled that it was during his birthday while he was Governor when one of his closest friends had offered him the substance again.He took it and from then, he was hooked again.

“I stole money again as a governor and…I went running around doing errands for these drug dealers. I was breaking a lot of laws, I became violent, it does change behavior,” Yangilmau said. But even after that, Yangilmau took responsibility for his choices and said that he did not blame his friend for offering him the drugs.

The second time he was into meth was worse. He said that he even just decided to go to a district in Philippines that was notorious for widespread illegal drug trade just to be able to use the substance.

Earning a Governor’s salary in his state was not fancy for a person addicted to drugs. Yangilmau said he resigned from his position and instead worked as a boat operator where he can earn more money and get tips from clients. That was the time when Palau was experiencing a tourism boom.

In one of his down moments, Yangilmau was in the Philippines contemplating about suicide.

“My life was so tangled up, too much stressed. [It was] messy, messy, messy,” Yangilmau expressed.

“In those darkest time, I hated life. That is what this drug do to you – it makes you steal, it makes you do many lies, [and] cheat,” he said.

In the act of inflicting self-harm, Yangilmau said he was distracted by the television which he was left turned on.The distraction was a blessing in disguise for Yangilmau who said that by that time his attention was on the tv, a famous Christian preacher happened to be aired and had uttered the words that he exactly needed to hear at the moment.

Yangilmau described the moment as an “encounter with god.” But even after that, breaking away from the addiction was not something that happened to him overnight. It took the help of several people and being thrown in jail for his drug activities before Yangilmau acquired the reformed life he had right now.

His life experiences had led him closer to his spiritual belief. He then began reading the bible regularly.

“I just believed god put me in prison so that he can have a one on one talk with me,” Yangilmau shared. And that was when he completely gotten rid of the addiction.

Real change for the better

When Yangilmau went out of jail, he was bound by a personal calling to raise awareness against drugs and how it could ruin lives.

From being a drug user, he transformed into a speaker.Together with other like-minded individuals, Yangilmau had been going around schools to convey his story and help the youth learn about the bad effects of drugs.

He and other individuals who had the same story had been invited to be part of a youth empowerment program where they just talk about their personal testimonies.

As of an interview with Island Times, Yangilmau said that their group was able to extend the program to around 14 classrooms composed of around 200 students.

“It was just voluntary, we were talking about how they should understand that they are precious and they are Palau’s future,”Yangilmau said.

Aside from conducting talks in schools and communities, Yangilmau had also guested radio talk shows to share his experience. He is continuing to spread his message across the country.

“I hope that by sharing a few of my darkest moments, it would deter anyone who is thinking of using [meth] or who will be peer pressured into it. Meth is a very dangerous drug and it does not matter if you are from a big or small family… it does not matter if you are rich or poor…and it does not matter what job you have. It will destroy everything that you love and care for,” Jacob said.

His story could be anyone’s story but if one could spare himself or herself the unnecessary trouble, then all they need to do is just learn from Yangilmau’s experience. (By Rhealyn C. Pojas)