BOTKINS — Chris Herren, a former NBA and overseas basketball league player and recovering addict, came to Botkins Local Schools to speak to junior high and high school students from Botkins and Jackson Center about the dangers of substance use and abuse.
Herren’s talk focused on his own story and the importance of the first day and not the worst day. His story begins in high school. Herren went to Durfee High School in Fall River, Massachusetts, where he started drinking and smoking marijuana as a freshman which progressed when he was 18 years old and a freshman in college at Boston College and he first tried cocaine with his roommate. Three months later he wound up leaving college and going back to Falls River where he fell further into addiction.
Herren continued to struggle with addiction through his career in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets and the Boston Celtics, it got to a point where he could not play without a fix and he found himself standing on a corner minutes before a game waiting on his dealer. He has gone through rehabilitation multiple times and nearly lost his family due to his addiction and has overdosed on heroin.
Herren has been sober for 14 years and has spent the last 12 speaking to students all over the country about his journey and how he got there. What makes Herren’s talks stand out amongst the various speeches given to students on avoiding drug use is that he focuses on the beginning. His talk centered more around learning why young people start drinking and smoking and how it can affect not only their lives and how they are viewed by their family and peers but the lives of their parents, siblings and friends as well.
One of Herren’s most prominent memories is of a promise he made to his mother at 10 years old. He promised her that she would never have to worry about him like she does his father, an alcoholic, only to break his promise four years later when he was getting drunk in the woods off of Miller Lite, the same beer that ruined his family. He also remembers all of the hiding and sneaking around that he had to do, he was not the same kid that he was before drinking and smoking. He remembered having to lie to his mother, use cologne, eye drops and gum to hide the fact that he was high. Herren asked the students how it would make them feel to know that their parents realize they are not the same kid anymore.
“Because to me, the scariest thing about drug addiction, nobody knows who has it yet. You have no idea, sitting in this gym right now, how hard it’s for your mom and dad, your grandparents to try to help you through it,” Herren said.
Herren and his wife own a treatment center in Massachusetts, Herren Wellness, where the youngest currently being treated is only 16 years old.
“Every single mom, dad, husband, wife that drop their families, the person they love, at my center, if I’m there, they’re gonna ask me, “hey do you mind walking me out to my car?” And every single mom or dad, they’re going to say the saddest words a parent can say, “do you think I’ll ever get my little girl back?” “I miss my son.” “I wish I’d intervened earlier.” Every single mom and dad out there had no idea their kid was the one. They had no idea when they were getting drunk in the woods, partying after prom, or smoking a little pot in the back seat,” said Herren
“I truly, truly hope that there’s one kid in here, that there’s one student that’s going to go back to class and throughout the day sit at their desk and say to themselves, ‘I want to feel better than I do. He’s kind of right my mom and dad don’t even know me and I need to check in with my little brother and sister because they’ve been watching me,’” Herren said.
As much as Herren believes it is important for these students to understand how substance use can effect their lives and relationships with their family, he wants them to realize that a lot of the time, the “why” behind them drinking or smoking is often a lack of self esteem or self worth. He wants the students he speaks to to reflect within themselves on why they feel the need to alter their state of mind to have fun when they did not always need to.
“Why do you want more for them (younger siblings) and less for yourself already in life? Why have you dropped your bar? Why have you settled? See, everybody thinks this talk is about drugs and alcohol, I think it’s about self esteem. I think it’s about self worth. To me, the kids in here right now that can go out on Friday nights, that can drive around to have fun, don’t need to hang out in the woods, are okay without it (drugs or alcohol) and can go to prom and homecoming and don’t plan the whole night around it; those kids to me, they have a superpower,” Herren said.
Herren chooses to travel the country speaking to students because he truly believes he is making a difference in at least one student’s life. Herren still remembers and reminisces on the first student he ever helped and still feels like helping her and other students means more to him than any accomplishment he made while playing basketball.
“I’m 14 years sober and if you walk into my high school gym, I have all the things; I have all the trophies, I have all the records, 5,000 people used to come into that gym on a Friday night to watch me, but the greatest accomplishment of my life, and you kids don’t understand this yet, there’s adults in here that might, is that for the last 14 years I’ve been the same father. It feels so good, for 14 years I haven’t changed myself in front of them. They know exactly who I am and what they’re going to get, it’s all my kids ever wanted, it’s all they ever needed,” said Herren. “I’ll say this to you, there’s kids in here right now that need to take a look at themselves. There’s kids in here right now that really need to think about how they act on Fridays. There’s kids in here right now that need to think about some of the things that you hide from your family. This isn’t about perfection, I just truly believe that this is an opportunity. That someone is walking into your school and I’m challenging you socially.”