Frazee woman shares how trauma led to drinking and a hard look in the mirror

By Barbie Porter


There is no time like the present to face fears, accept faults and become a better version of oneself. For Karen Pifher that meant putting down the bottle. 

The Frazee resident is well-known in the community for her leadership role with the CornerStone youth center. She led the charge by hosting public meetings, talking to the press and fundraising, all-while working full-time with Becker County Energize. 

Behind the dignified professional appearance was a woman who was struggling.

For many, problems are like stones in a pocket that are carried through life. If the stones in Pifher’s pockets had past traumas written on them it would include: abuse, rape, fear of judgement, poverty and broken dreams. 

She began removing the rocks through honest self-reflection with the assistance of professionals. 

“I took two months off work with medical leave because I needed to pull myself together,” Pifher said. “After all that had happened to me, I was exhausted. I slept the first month. I didn’t leave the house, I didn’t want to talk to anymore or feel anything. I just slept.”

Now, the mother of three, and soon to be grandmother, is looking toward a future with an full heart that is open for expansion. 

The first stone: 

abusive relationship

Pifher grew up in Roseau, Minn., and became involved with a young man that turned abusive. Years later, when Pifher learned a baby was on the way, she finally opened up to a friend about what she had endured. Instead of finding support and empathy, she was shunned and chastised with barbed suggestions that her pregnancy was akin to her spitting in the face of God as she was not married.

Religion has always been held in high regard in Pifher’s life. And, she wanted to walk in the Lord’s path, so she married her child’s father. After high school, she enrolled in college in Southern Minnesota. 

“We were still together and he was living an hour away in Iowa,” she said.

Trying to raise a child, while living in a wage bracket of extreme poverty made obtaining a college degree difficult. Pifher recalled walking the aisles of the grocery store with only change in her pocket, wondering how she would provide the nutrition her infant son needed.  

“I couldn’t afford to stay there and go to college,” she said. “I had a choice, to live or to dream.”

Had Pifher not spent that year chasing a dream, her life may be very different today, for it was a college friend that pulled her out of the circle of abuse.

“I moved to Iowa and back in with him and began working as a CNA,” Pifher recalled, noting the abuse increased and her will to live dwindled.  “I remember him standing in a doorway with a gun in his mouth saying he would kill himself, and that I would have to watch him do it if I tried to leave.”

Pifher explained even though he was flawed, he was the father of her child and a son of God. 

“At that point I didn’t care if he killed me, but he knew I couldn’t tolerate him killing himself or hurting our son,” she said.

When her college friend came to visit, her husband grew angry and stormed out of the house. He returned before dawn, yelling and breaking things. Her friend came into their room with a phone in hand, stating she would call the police if he interfered, and then directed Pifher to grab some clothes and her son.

An emphatic hand was all Pifher needed to break away. With two bags of clothes, two women and a baby drove north. Eventually, Pifher parked her car in her parent’s driveway and knocked on the door.  A heart-to-heart ensued and the truth set Pifher free. Her parents offered her a sanctuary.

About six months later she walked into the world again, on her own two feet. The journey brought her to Frazee, where she worked as a CNA and at the liquor store and event center. She found love, married and returned to college. While she graduated from Bemidji State University with a degree in social work and eventually went on to gain her master’s degree, her marriage faltered as the two watched their dream of being dairy farmers deteriorate due to a sick herd and financial strains.

Pifher found an escape at the bar. As the calender continued to flip month by month, Pifher   rationalized the nights out were OK. The promised two beers turned into eight more often than not, but she chalked her behavior up to making up for lost time. After all, while most young adults are experiencing a night life, she was married with a baby. Plus, her career was on a continual upward climb. 

A voice inside hinted living a life with a crutch was not fulfilling, but she continued on the same trajectory. It led her to a friend’s party where a date rape drug  was slipped into her drink. The next morning, with the realization of what happened,  depression set in. The drinking increased, questions of purpose rose and the dominoes began to fall. 

“I put on a show,” she said. “I appeared to be living my best life ever. I think at a young age I learned to live a double life; to pretend to be fine because that is what people expect.”

Pifher carried on with the weight of new problems. When she met her husband Dan Pifher, she didn’t hide her lifestyle. Open conversations were had, but it was watching the struggles of her own children that pushed her to take action.

“There were two days I was crying at every little thing at work. I knew I was not OK.”

Karen Pifher

Pifher emphasized the importance of guarding against saying too much about her children or their struggles. 

“There were two days I was crying at every little thing at work,” Pifher said. “I knew I was not OK.”

She met with her boss and had a candid conversation.

The initial thought was to take a week off and recharge. Pifher’s plans changed after seeing a therapist, who asked how she was even functioning.

“I really wasn’t though,” Pifher said. “I was going through the motions.”

A plan was made, initially for two weeks, but after a follow up appointment with her therapist the time was extended to two months. The time had come to pull out each rock one-by-one.

“I was tired of running from my problems and feelings,” she said. “I didn’t want to do that anymore. I knew as long as I was drinking that wouldn’t happen.”

While her mind was made up, she was terrified. All those insecurities crept up her spine. 

“I was worried what people would think if they found out,” she said. “I was worried they would think I was a horrible person. I was worried what would happen and what people would think if I fail.” 

Pifher made an appointment with Drake Counseling Services  to have a chemical use assessment. Then she enrolled in an outpatient treatment.

“You can get help at any point; wherever you are at,” she said, noting her addiction had not gotten to the severity that required in-house service.  

Pifher said the experience has been humbling and the work involved has been hard, but the reward is noticeable.

“You want to talk about doing hard work; owning all of that and then working through the feelings of guilt and shame, that is hard,” she said. “But, I also am proud because I stayed committed.”