Substance abuse almost ends in tragedy

Editor’s Note: September was designated as National Alcohol and Addiction Month. Over the past two weeks, the Algona Upper Des Moines has provided insight on what is happening in Kossuth County. Last week the newspaper discussed drug and alcohol use in the county. Today’s issue features 40-year-old Paula Farrell, who has battled cocaine and marijuana addiction to get her life back together.

ALGONA — Paula Farrell had hit rock bottom and was ready to end her life.
However, instead of jumping off a bridge on Dec. 13, 2015, she found herself in a building and that began the process of turning her life around after several years of cocaine and marijuana use.
“Somebody put me into that building. I still feel that today,” she said. “Whether it was God or my father; somebody veered me into that building instead of off that bridge.”
Farrell remembers a police officer showing up at the building. She didn’t even look up at the police officer. “I just spilled out my whole entire life of everything I had gone through,” she recalls. “He asked me if I wanted help. I said I want help.”
It was then that she started rehabilitating her life at Prairie Ridge Integrated Behavioral Healthcare.
“With the help of Joni (Haugland) I started getting my life straightened out,” she said.
Haugland, who is a substance abuse counselor at Prairie Ridge, remembers when she met Farrell, the woman was at the lowest point in her life. Haugland also believed that Farrell could change her life around. “I always have hope for people.”
Farrell said Haugland believed in her. “I needed someone to believe in me.”
Originally from Nashville, Tenn., Farrell moved to Forest City in 1999 and then to Algona in 2003. She divorced her husband and stayed with people she considered her friends.
Doing drugs at an early age
At 13, Farrell started smoking marijuana because of her life as a child. “My mother wasn’t there for me. My father was in the military,” she said. “I bounced around from foster care to foster care. I ran away and started smoking marijuana.”
She remembers smoking marijuana up to four times a day because it helped take the pain away of not feeling loved or feeling that she was not worth anything.
“I was high all day,” Farrell recalls.
At 15, she became pregnant. Tragedy struck when Farrell lost her two-week-old baby. Six months later she was back smoking marijuana. That wasn’t enough. She started popping pills and sniffing cocaine. She felt like it was taking more of her pain away.
“I was so out of it when on coke. I wasn’t clear at all,” she said.
Through it all Farrell got married and had three children. Then on Dec. 31, 2004, Farrell came out of her bathroom after snorting cocaine to see her son standing outside looking at her. “That impacted me. I just felt so disappointed,” she said. “He thought I was eating powdered donuts because I had powder all over my face. The look on his face. It broke my heart.”
Farrell went to rehab but took herself out four days later. Within a couple of years, she was back smoking marijuana off and on. She hasn’t touched cocaine since. All of her substance and alcohol abused ended on Dec. 13., 2015, in that building.
The recovery begins
It was at Prairie Ridge where Farrell and Haugland developed a treatment plan. It consisted of group and individual therapy each week.
“I remember telling Joni I feel like I walked right into a hole and just dug myself a hole and kept digging it deeper and deeper,” Farrell said. “Now I’m staying above the hole. I’m not spending the next 40 years of life being the way I am.”
Haugland said that the treatment plan is based on what goals Farrell wanted to set. “Some of it in the beginning revolved around not having support and family involvement,” she said. “She reconnected with her kids which was one of the things she wasn’t sure about.”
Farrell has been determined. “When she set a goal for herself and came back the next week it was completed,” Haugland stated. “It has been her. She is getting the motivation to do it and I’m just validating it.”
Farrell is in treatment at least three times a week both with group and one-on-one. Individual sessions help because it allows Farrell to talk about issues she doesn’t want to say in a group setting. “I could talk to Joni and felt comfortable talking to her,” Farrell said. “Joni has been a big impact on my life. I feel she has saved me.”
In group Farrell is not the only one sharing stories. “I’m not the only one that has an addiction. I’m not the only one feeling insecure,” she said. “That helped a lot.”
Helping others going down the wrong road
The reason Farrell chose to share her story is because she has many friends who are going down the same path of drug addiction. “If I can help one person; that is something to me. It makes me smile and brings joy,” she said. “If I can give one person hope and something to look forward to; because you don’t always have to be like this. The major thing is support for someone else.”
She also feels better about herself. Farrell has ended relationships because of the addiction. She has her old job back and has her own home. “The major thing that came out of this is my relationship with my kids is a lot better,” she said. “We are open as a family now. I’ve got my family back.”
Farrell also has extra money in her savings. While in treatment she did a cost benefit analysis. She calculated that she spent an estimated $345,000 on cocaine. She estimates she was probably spending $2,000 a week on cocaine and could do it because she was making $3,000 a week in salary. She didn’t even calculate her marijuana use.
“I could have bought a house. I could have built a house,” she said. “I could have put all three of my kids through college.”
Farrell is at the point where she believes she will not go back to cocaine or marijuana because she is not going to put herself into a situation where she would use again. “I can’t put myself in a situation where I go into a bar and drink or go to a friend’s house where there is marijuana involved,” she said.
Haugland has noticed Farrell’s growth and her healthier look. “She is very self-confident where she’s at and she’s also aware of the triggers,” Haugland said. “She shares and relates to others. She’s been dedicated to her treatment.”
Farrell admits she is a different person “My kids point that out. ‘Mom, you’ve changed so much for the better,” she said. “That’s good my kids see that.”
She remembers asking her children one day about herself. The response: “I love this mom a lot better,” she said. “That puts a smile on my face and gives me the strength to move forward. I feel good now because I have that support that I didn’t have before.”
Haugland said support is a major factor. “The patient has to be willing to change, but they can’t do it alone,” she said.
Farrell said she doesn’t want to go back to where she was before. “When I walked out and saw my son standing there I felt so much guilt. I felt so much shame,” she said. “As a mom I felt like a failure. I felt I had to do this because I was disappointing my son.”
She said she wasn’t ready back then to change. “I’m done living 40 years like that; living as a drug addict.”

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