You can’t open a phone book to “addiction” and find a multitude of resources. Especially five years ago, which is when Colleen Babcock went to the CEO of Horizon Health Services and asked her to create a family liaison position for her.
Babcock knows first-hand what it’s like to have a family member who struggles with addiction. She said it was difficult for her to find help once she went looking for it. It was like a best-kept secret.
“If you weren’t familiar with addiction to begin with, you really didn’t know where people were talking about it,” she said. “You didn’t really know where to go. You didn’t know how to start.”
Babcock’s son Christopher has struggled with addiction for about 11 years. He had seven brain surgeries between the ages of 7 and 14 and was diagnosed with a medical condition called neurofibromatosis. This led to him being exposed to powerful medications from a young age. She also said addiction runs in her family.
Chris got addicted to being high and constantly wanted more. In high school, he craved alcohol, marijuana and experimented with cough medicine. He became more isolated and wasn’t as happy go lucky as he had once been.
“As a parent, you kind of hope it’s a phase,” Babcock said. “You don’t see it as addiction. You see it as struggles and you’re hoping that it’s something your child will grow or mature out of.”
Babcock reached out to doctor after doctor and Chris was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, psychosis, psychotic and borderline personality disorder. With each new diagnosis came a new prescription, fueling Chris’ already growing addiction problem.
People don’t outgrow addiction. It’s a drug that grabs a hold of you very, very quickly, Babcock said.
By age 19, Chris had overdosed twice on his own doctor-prescribed medications. He tried to hurt himself.
“You’re talking about a fatal disease,” she said. “Family members don’t want to hear that. I (had) an opportunity to get in (Chris’) way and do something that might give him a quality of life. It might not work. But it was worth the risk for me because at that point in our lives when he was 19, I felt like my son was going to die.”
An interventionist helped get Chris into a program at Horizon Health Services, where he spent six months at Horizon Village. From there, he went to a halfway house. About nine months into recovery, he relapsed.
Chris has relapsed again since then and continuously works at his recovery. Babcock said that during the first five years, he went into programs “kicking and screaming.” Now, at age 28, Chris works harder at his recovery than Babcock does.
She said through her journey, she’s learned how to be proactive rather than reactive. Relapses are inevitable.
Now, as parent and family support coordinator at Horizon, she urges families to get educated first and foremost. Community members should learn everything they can about this disease called addiction, said Babcock.
Secondly, she encourages families to stay connected to their resources and support.
“If you try and go through this without support, I can pretty much guarantee you you’re not going to see those red flags (warning signs),” she said. “Life is going to become complacent when things are good. And if something starts to appear unusual or out of the normal, you may not really notice it or want to overlook it because there’s been so much peace for so long.”
Babcock also said those who are addicted are more likely to stay connected to treatment and services if their families have stayed connected to treatment and services. She runs a parent support group that meets three times a month.
Families should also set healthy boundaries for their loved ones struggling with addiction. Babcock’s son Chris knows what’s expected of him if he wants his family’s support. The whole family communicates a lot, she said.
And if boundaries are crossed, Babcock urges parents to do whatever they can to get between their children and the drugs. When they can’t use opioids freely, it’s a time for healing. The brain gets some clarity, which allows change to happen.
To get between their children and the drugs, parents can’t be afraid. Use whatever means necessary, she said. That could mean taking away privileges or creating a curfew, or it could be more drastic like using the legal system, a treatment course or an outpatient program.
“As long as they continue to use, you’re not going to reach them,” she said. “There was no talking to my son.”
Today, Babcock’s son has a full-time job. He graduated from college on the dean’s list. He has goals and aspirations. And while she keeps in the forefront of her mind that the disease is there and could resurface, today life is good and she knows she has the resources and support to get through the rough patches.
“Life can be pretty damn good on the other side,” she said.
Helping others through her experience
Today, Colleen Babcock draws on her own background to be an effective family liaison at Horizon Health Services. Her job is not a standard 9 to 5 schedule. There’s no such thing as an average day at the office.
Babcock said her phone is always on. She’s a resource for families to call when they have questions, need support or are seeking treatment for a loved one. She also meets families in person, including a parent group that meets three times a week.
As family liaison, Babcock does Narcan training in the community, which includes churches, universities, groups of parents and individual people. She said she conducts the training both in and out of her office.
Her educational reach extends beyond just families. As family liaison, Babcock also educates young adults by speaking at colleges and high schools. She can be reached at 907-2985 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.