Finding the rewards of recovery
Posted by Tony Evans – Idaho Mountain Express
Former NBA basketball player Chris Herren told a harrowing personal tale of drug abuse and denial at the Community Campus in Hailey on Monday night to a group of about 150 children and parents.
The former basketball prodigy described his progressive addictions over a 14-year period to alcohol, pain pills and, ultimately, injected heroin that led to loss of his career, family and will to live before he found hope in recovery in 2008.
Herren attended Durfee High School in Fall River, Mass., from 1990 to 1994, scoring a total of 2,073 points and winning acclaim that led to a two-page spread about him in Sports Illustrated magazine when he was 18. At 21, he was busted for cocaine use and spent a short time in rehabilitation in Salt Lake City.
“I truly believed that I did not belong there,” Herren said.
He was soon picked to play for the Denver Nuggets. During his rookie year in the NBA, he was surrounded by older players who worked together to keep him from drinking and using drugs.
By age 22, Herren was a rising NBA star with a beautiful home and wife and children, when an old friend from Massachusetts came over with some small yellow $20 pills of OxyContin (oxycodone), a prescription pain reliever.
“Four months later, I was a strung-out junkie,” Herren said, spending $25,000 a month on OxyContin “not to get high, but just to not feel sick.”
Herren played for the Boston Celtics while his addictions progressed. He was eventually dismissed from the team and joined leagues on professional teams in Europe. In Bologna, Italy, he first bought and injected intravenous heroin from a dealer who had a thread tied to his back tooth that connected small baggies of black-tar heroin stashed in the drug dealer’s throat and stomach. When Herren was notified that the Italian team was going to spend 10 days in the mountains training, he said no, quitting the team and foregoing $600,000 in pay, a home in Italy and private school for his children rather than spend time away from his drug dealer.
Back in the U.S., Herren found a fix each morning at a doughnut shop in Portsmouth, R.I., before he overdosed with a needle in his arm while stopped in his car with his foot on the brake pedal. His automobile rammed another driver before Herren was arrested by police. The cop recognized him as the once-famous basketball player.
“He told me that my little secret was about to become a public tragedy,” said Herren, who nonetheless continued his basketball career and addictions for four more years overseas, playing his last games in Warsaw, Poland. After returning to the U.S., he took to “speed-balling” injections of cocaine and heroin with another former athlete, and later lived penniless on the street.
“Five years after taking that first pill, I had half a million dollars in my veins,” said Herren, who tried to take his own life by jumping in front of a speeding car on the highway.
A homeless drunk he had befriended convinced Herren to call his wife, but even after going back to his family, Herren spent the next four years “scrapping metal, bouncing checks and living on people’s couches” in the throes of addiction, while his wife, a former law student, cleaned rooms in a hotel to feed her children.
Herren traced the origins of his addictions to underage drinking in his mother’s basement. She died of cancer when he was young. His father was a politician and alcoholic whose drinking led to fights in the house and ultimately, a divorce. Herren said he followed by example.
“For eight years, I cried over that little Miller beer can of my dad’s, until I opened one myself,” Herren said.
Herren has been sober for seven years and said he has “found his passion” while speaking to more than 1 million children about the ravages of addiction, and its origins in family circumstances.
“I know high school is a horribly weird time, but we allow our kids to drink to get through it,” he said. “It’s about self-esteem. Let’s build our kids up so they feel good enough. There’s nothing cool about a 15-year-old pounding beers.
“The kids who party are louder and can dominate the social scene. They can make the kids who don’t drink or smoke pot feel like outsiders. But I always secretly looked at [the nondrinkers] when I was drinking and knew that they were special, that they were not running from themselves.”
Herren said he stays “very involved” in 12-step (Alcoholics Anonymous) programs to keep sober, and avoids situations that could trigger his need to use drugs.
“Faith plays a huge role. I don’t think I would be sober without it,” he said.
Herren described alcoholism and drug addiction as a “family disease” that runs through generations.
“I’m very good with my dad today,” he said. “I just have to love him from a distance. I just can’t subject myself to that kind of abuse. … He is a horrible dad when he’s drinking.”
Email the writer: firstname.lastname@example.orgChris Herren, forgiveness, NBA basketball, sobriety, underage drinking