HANOVER — Chris Herren, who once wore a Celtics jersey, lost every dime he ever earned to his drug habits. As a former American national basketball player who also played on various teams overseas, he stood before the entire school last week at South Shore Tech to tell his story.
Herren described his longing to taste that “item” that had such an immense hold on his dad — he wondered how that little can of beer could be so powerful that it made his mother cry and was crumbling the family life around him.
As a curious teen he tried beer behind the shed of his house where he got caught and promised his mother he would never do it again. But addiction took hold and rapidly escalated until pills, and eventually heroin owned him.
In the clutches of the opioid epidemic Herren he was in a fight with the devil as he tried over and over to detox and stay clean but it eventually took another downward spiral with overdoses and the continuous cycle ensued.
He was an open book for the students, sharing all the details of his recovery and sobriety, chronicling details of his lowest of lows.
He recounted the biggest moments in life when he still purchased drugs only hours after his baby was born; his wife still in the hospital from her delivery. He returned to heroin to get high.
He described his behavior, his need to get a fix at all costs even playing in the NBA high on drugs, on which he was dependent on emotionally and physically.
Herren’s presentation began with a short film that highlighted his career both the rise and fall with interviews from his coaches and how he over the years made his new mission to speak in his rawest form, to share his story with thousands in his 11 years in sobriety — to give hope to others that sobriety was possible.
He appeared to have so much but there was no way his confident façade could hide his inner demons, he said.
It became visible that his drug use was taking over and cost him his basketball career — he was labeled a “risk” for teams to sign. He had a few opportunities that brought him back to the game again, but he blew those chances with time, as well.
Herren spoke intentionally, confessing and evoking conversation on the same level in the room of an intensely focused audience.
Teachers and students became emotional, tears streaming down faces of those who listened to Herren. The obvious energy palpable as high schoolers fidgeted and tapped their feet lightly on the floor, nervously shifting in their seats. In expression of grief friends hugged one another in the gymnasium at the hour-long assembly.
Herren also touched on topics of self-harm and mental health, both he had experienced in hearing from teens who reached out to him in the past and understood that addiction begins somewhere else first in most situations.
After falling time and time again, he said he realized after telling his own story that many youngsters had stories of their own — critical for healing to both the younger generation and himself.
Herren acknowledged that a conversation such as his is a difficult one, but as he told his story he also reminded students and staff that — with no exception —they each had a hand in helping sometimes just listening was the beginning step.
Failure to address the epidemic and sweeping it under the rug was not an option. He encouraged communication and talk about the need for facilitation, services and helping one another.
In wrapping up his story Herren wondered aloud how many kids in the room knew a friend or family member who was struggling and didn’t know how to help. It was clear by the reactions that the drug and alcohol epidemic has spread far and wide in our communities.
Knowing beer is a driving force behind his father’s alcoholism he said he is aware that he will get a call someday that his dad has drank himself to his own death. He had already prepared in his mind that the day would come.
Answering a student’s question on what the one most regretful act during his drug use was Herren recalled not being able to keep his promises.
He was unable to keep his pledge of sobriety to his mother — she passed away before he gained a clean lifestyle. She never got to see him drug-free.
With question and answers at the culmination of the assembly Herren only received a few questions in front of the crowd — but the moment he turned off the microphone and stepped in to the rows of chairs he was hugged and tapped on the shoulder by dozens of students who approached him.
Murmurs and parts of conversations could be heard as he commended each student with a hug or high five just a moment of caring and he had a positive comment for each of them.
The students and staff had counselors available all day following the presentation.
Chris Herren has built a community around substance use prevention and recovery. He has shown us that even the best can falter, and even the most desperate can rise. An author, motivational speaker and wellness advocate, Herren has founded three organizations that provide programs and services with the goal of overcoming setbacks and navigating life’s challenges, according to his website. To read more about Chris Herren and his recovery, wellness programs and speaking engagements visit chrisherren.com.