Transformation happens

Sara Skadsberg celebrates her graduation from Polk County Drug Court as CJCC coordinator Michele Gullickson, right, looks on.

Drug court graduate describes her journey from addiction to sobriety

Eddie Emerson | Staff writer

POLK COUNTY – Heralded as “an incredible transformation,” a dozen people gathered at the Polk County Courthouse in the early morning hours of Friday, Nov. 3, to celebrate the graduation of Sara Skadsberg from the county’s drug court treatment process.

After having experienced a traumatic incident as a teenager, Skadsberg fell into a 20-year off-and-on addiction to alcohol, methamphetamine and other drugs. Her addiction ultimately resulted in the loss of parental oversight of her three children. She spent seven years in jail and prison and was facing up to 30 years before seeking treatment.

Present for the celebration of Sara Skadsberg’s graduation from Polk County Drug Court last Friday, Nov. 3, were (L to R) Polk County District Attorney Jeff Kemp, Criminal Justice Coordinating Council case manager Sharon Foss, Skadsberg, Polk County Deputy Stephanie Warner, CJCC coordinator Michele Gullickson and behavioral health manager Kristin Boland. – Photos submitted

On Friday, Skadsberg received her diploma from the Polk County Drug Court, celebrating 556 days of sobriety. The program is a comprehensive “wrap-around” drug treatment program coordinated by the Criminal Justice Collaborating Council.

Skadsberg had been two years in the program. Successfully completing the treatment regimen and maintaining sobriety is offered to drug addicts as an alternative to imprisonment.

“If an untrained eye crossed paths with Sara over a year ago the words hopeless, lost and even drowning would have likely been the first impression,” wrote one person in a support letter. “Terrific strides of achievement and incredible transformation would be a great understatement of the incredible evolution Ms. Skadsberg has undergone.”

After the graduation, Skadsberg sat down to tell her story.

The fall into addiction

“I spent seven years in jail and prison and all of it addiction related. I suffered a traumatic event when I was 14. That kind of kicked in the need to want to numb things. Suffering from post-trauma I didn’t leave the house often. I started drinking. My parents owned a bar and they were both alcoholics. I suffered another traumatic event at age 18 – related to the tavern. Things just fell off the deep end from there.

“I started using meth when I was 22. Back in that time frame I was using everything. I was arrested for distribution of marijuana. I was never able to successfully complete probation.”

In 2009, Skadsberg entered the Butterfly House, a residential treatment program located in St. Croix Falls. She went straight for a time but then got involved in “a super-odd dysfunctional relationship” with a man. When he started using drugs, she slipped back into addiction.

“It’s surprising just how fast everything can dissolve. When you start using again after years of sobriety you pick up where you left off. My drug use was off the charts.

“When I lost my kids my use just skyrocketed. I don’t know how many bail-jumping charges I had. The whole time I was disillusioned, in denial about how bad off I was. I didn’t feel like I was as out of control as I was. I’d go to AODA and as soon as the class was done I’d go and get high. I could hold it together enough so folks wouldn’t know how bad things were. I wanted to change, I just didn’t know how. When I got to the Butterfly House I realized I had no life skills. I didn’t know how to pay bills, be on time – none of that stuff.”

During this time she began to see Val Zellmer, a therapist with Peace Tree Counseling in Osceola. “When my mom died I had a really rough time. My therapist said, ‘As bad as you feel about losing your mother, how do you think your kids feel about losing you?’ That really hit home. Something inside of me shifted. It put everything into perspective. At that point I knew something had to change.”

The road to recovery

“So, I’m sitting in jail knowing the charges I was facing had 30 years of prison time with all of the enhancers. I’m sitting in court and I’m hearing all of these charges against me. I’m looking at being locked up until I’m in my 70s. They accepted me into drug court. They showed me a sense of community. They build you up. I realize there are good people out there. If you are willing to pick yourself up, there are people out there who will support you.

“Drug court teaches that you need to weed out the people you shouldn’t have around. Be responsible! There is such a skill deficit when you are addicted. I realized I had to address issues from my past, to deal with stuff I didn’t want to have to deal with. The early trauma affected a great deal of my mental health and that assisted my addiction issues.

“I have created such a ridiculous mess of my life! Look at your kids! I have to stop screwing them up! When they were with me and I wasn’t using, it was a typical childhood upbringing. But then I just ripped it all away from them. I want my kids back!”

As a result of her successful treatment she now has been granted every other weekend parental rights.

“I had to be willing to reach out and accept guidance, to be vulnerable enough to let other people in. It is healing for me to have a support network. I get so caught up in the craziness of a situation that I can’t see the forest for the trees. Now, I know what I need to do. I can make the right decisions. Ten years ago, I was in such denial I kept everything hid.”

Advice to others

“I wish there was a magic bullet to fix everything. It’s not easy to get sober. You have to reach out and talk to someone. It’s not going to be easy. The obstacles don’t stop happening. You have to believe that you can get through things. You can stay sober. When you’re addicted you have such a negative self-image. You end up hating yourself and that just further feeds your addiction. There are so many little triggers. It’s really hard to get your brain to thinking beyond addiction. It’s a lot to work through. If you don’t address these issues as they arise, you’re just prepaying on your next relapse.

“In the beginning, treatment can be overwhelming. You think sobriety is insurmountable. The drug court gives you validation. The further down the road you go, the more you see it as a comprehensive system of caring. It’s a wrap around of services. Without the drug court treatment process I don’t think I ever would have the means to change. The treatment court saved my life. I’m a better person. A more productive member of society because of this program.”

The interview took place in the courthouse office of Sharon Foss, treatment court case manager. “It was perseverance,” Foss said of Skadsberg’s transformation. “She’s determined to work through everything.”

Currently, the drug court has 11 participants. “We have a really good team,” Foss said. “Through our review of best practices we’ll continue to improve the program.”

At the graduation ceremony sheriff’s deputy Steph Warner presented Skadsberg with her booking photo from two years ago.

“There is a story behind every booking photo,” Warner said, as she handed the photo to Skadsberg. “Take the photo and have a ceremony of your own. Burn it! Hopefully this photo is motivation to say, ‘This is enough! I’ve had enough! This is not who I am anymore.’”

Foss added, “The drug court treatment process and Ms. Skadsberg’s successful completion of the program, is proof positive that transformation happens.”