When drugs disrupt a life, The Willow Collective steps in to repair the relationships that were damaged.
“Before I got hooked on meth, I had a full-time job working a lot – with good hours and good pay. I get high and poof, it all goes away.”
Substance use disorders disrupt families, upend relationships and careers, and even sometimes end lives. That was almost the case for Byron, an HVAC technician living in Fort Collins.
When drugs disrupt a life, Willow Collective steps in to repair the relationships that were damaged.
“Before I got hooked on meth, I had a full time job working a lot—with good hours and good pay. I get high and poof, it all goes away.”
Substance use disorders have touched nearly every person in every corner of the country, disrupting families, upending relationships and careers, and sometimes ending lives. That was almost the case for Byron, an HVAC technician living in Fort Collins.
Byron has two sons, Lucas (3) and Ethan (2). Bright, compassionate, and full of life, Byron’s sons are his whole world. But shortly after Ethan was born in 2020, Byron was in a very different place and became addicted to methamphetamines. He describes his relationship with the drug as “crippling.” He recalls a tunnel vision, where nothing else mattered, and his life revolved around getting high.
In the throes of addiction, Byron had his darkest day when he was arrested on a domestic violence charge. His sons went to live full time with their mother, but Child Protective Services nonetheless needed to step in.
Byron and his sons Lucas (3) and Ethan (2) enjoy a quiet moment together.
CPS knew Byron’s children would be better off with family. With Byron and the boys’ mother in crisis, Byron’s parents were the next logical option. There was only one problem: they had recently retired and moved to Spain.
A call from CPS was all it took to bring Lucas and Ethan’s grandparents back to Colorado. After hearing their son was in jail with his children in foster care, they packed up and moved back, no questions asked.
In jail, with his sons in the care of his parents, Byron began the hard work to turn his life around. Bryon describes his time in jail as a “blessing in disguise” – a chance to get sober. “Before I went to jail, I was trying to clean up and to get off the drugs. But even the drug dealer was not letting me do that. They wouldn’t let you quit cold turkey. And I allowed it to happen.” Bryon was able to get clean and, with support, has been able to remain sober, driven by the desire to see his kids and be the father he wants to be.
Moving to Fort Collins has been a blessing in Byron's journey to sobriety.
Working his way from phone visits while still in jail to supervised visits upon his release, Bryon is slowly making his way back into his children’s lives.
“They’re my world,” Byron says of his two sons. But all of the love in the world can’t erase the turbulence his boys experienced in their young lives: four moves before Lucas was 18 months old, then foster care, and now living with grandparents who haven’t taken care of children in decades. Chaos takes a toll. For Lucas, that manifests in the form of anger.
Trying everything to help Lucas, Byron’s mom understood the influence and impact early intervention can have on kids, so she sought help.
Mary Beth Swanson is the co-director of The Willow Collective, a group of mental health practitioners who focus on infant early childhood and maternal mental health.
Byron thoughtfully watches his children play.
Byron’s mother was working with in-home services to help her transition to caring for the boys, but she wanted a plan in place for when those services ended. That’s when she was referred to The Willow Collective and co-director Mary Beth Swanson. The Willow Collective is a group of mental health practitioners who focus on infant early childhood and maternal mental health.
Lucas, in particular, was struggling with his behavior. He dealt with things that, while not uncommon for kids with turmoil in their lives, became hard for Byron’s parents to manage. Through their therapy work with Mary Beth, Byron’s parents began to understand trauma-informed parenting. They started bringing Lucas to therapy sessions and, pretty quickly, Byron started showing up as well, putting himself forward to do the hard work required to help his son and repair the relationships in their lives. The family embarked on a journey of multi-generational intervention, working on their family relationships, triggers, and response strategies together as a unit.
Our job is to fill up Mom’s cup or Dad’s cup so that Mom or Dad can fill the child’s cup. It isn’t about us rescuing the child; it’s about us holding space for the caregiver to do that with their own child. That is a relatively new idea that is really important, and it has the added benefit of healing two people. And it’s beautiful. It’s amazing to be able to be part of that work.
With infrastructure funding and comprehensive payment model support from Rocky Mountain Health Plans, which is Colorado’s Regional Accountable Entity (“RAE”) in Larimer County, The Willow Collective has been able to sustain and expand services to support families in the community who are struggling. Accessible, multi-generational, whole-family care is essential to providing families with the insights and skills they need to contend with the effects of traumatic experiences. Describing the work of The Willow Collective, Mary Beth says, “Our job is to fill up Mom’s cup or Dad’s cup so that Mom or Dad can fill the child’s cup. It isn’t about us rescuing the child; it’s about us holding space for the caregiver to do that with their own child. That is a relatively new idea that is really important, and it has the added benefit of healing two people. And it’s beautiful. It’s amazing to be able to be part of that work.”
Lucas playfully enjoys his time at The Willow Collective.
Today, Byron still has days that he feels he isn’t doing enough. But the sight of his kids and the joy they bring keeps him focused on recovery and repairing the damage his addiction caused within his family and to those he loves.
“You know, you thought that you could love something a lot. But then you have this child, even when they were babies—I loved them, sure. But I love them more now than I did then. I don’t know why. I guess just because I’m watching them grow into little humans. You know, I can see my personality in them. I could see their mother’s personality in them even though she’s not around. They still have it. And just watching that happen. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.”
The work of The Willow Collective continues. With an open-door policy and long-term programs designed to work with families as their needs evolve, The Willow Collective continues to help families navigate unique family challenges through all stages of development.
A willow tree thrives by bending without breaking – an apt metaphor for which The Willow Collective is named, and that is summed up beautifully by a quote their practitioners often reference:
“Human relationships are primary in all of living. When the gusty winds blow and shake our lives, if we know that people care about us, we may bend with the wind, but we won’t break.”
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