WARREN, N.J. (AP) — Drug and alcohol addiction cost Chris Herren his dream job of playing basketball as a hometown hero for the Boston Celtics and nearly destroyed his family.
The son of an alcoholic, Herren had been drinking and drugging since the days when he was a 1994 McDonald’s All-American on the Fall River, Massachusetts, high school basketball team, he recently shared during a near-capacity assembly at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren.
Despite being a star player bound for college glory, Herren said that a lack of self-esteem and self-worth drove him to drink and do drugs.
His message to keep others from doing the same and awaken parents and school and civic authorities to the reasons why addiction needs to be addressed as a disease, such as diabetes, is why organizers said they presented the chat.
“As parents, we sometimes hover over our kids,” Herren said. “We apply pressure on them athletically and academically. We’re right over their shoulder or on the sideline or in the bleachers. But when our kids need us most, we take a timeout, and to me, that’s sad. Academics and athletics are the focus, but on Friday and Saturday nights and in their social life, we forget about them.
“Recovery put me back in front of a mirror, but there are still days that I don’t like what I see,” he continued. “And that’s why I think self-esteem and self-worth play a big part in this. And I truly believe that we don’t serve our kids well enough with that stuff. . Why wouldn’t you want your kids to walk into school and sit in the classroom and feel empowered and motivated? And teach them skills to communicate and talk openly about what they’re struggling with? Why don’t we do that for them?”
In the wake of Herren’s chat, organizers — the Watchung Hills Regional Municipal Alliance, a substance abuse prevention program that serves Warren, Watchung, Green Brook and Long Hill; the Watchung Hills Board of Education; and the township — said they plan to do just that.
Jack Walsh, chairman of the Municipal Alliance, said the program will help to fund a series of talks that will deal with substance abuse prevention, suicide prevention and mental health. The first will be a discussion between parents and Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson on March 6 at Watchung Hills, health educator Jill Gleason said.
“Trying to talk about drugs and alcohol is very difficult with parents because there’s a lot of deniability,” Walsh said. “One way to do it is to get a good person like Chris, who’s got a big name, to come in and get the people in the community involved.
“It’s an epidemic now,” he continued. “We all have problems with it. I think a lot of people came here tonight because there’s fear because they know it’s around, and they wonder, ‘Is it in my family? How can I talk to people?’ Some people have it in their family and don’t acknowledge it because it’s embarrassing.”
Herren told horrifying tales related to his addiction, including the day he nearly lost his family because he got drunk while on leave from rehab when he was supposed to be with his wife and their son and daughter following a third child’s birth nine years ago. The day after his youngest son’s birthday is his sobriety day, he said.
Herren was asked questions by several audience members, including some who also were in recovery or had been raised by an alcoholic or drug addict. He called heroes young people who don’t need to do drugs and drink alcohol to enjoy themselves on the weekend or just to get through the day.
Watchung Hills sophomore Jack Taub of Warren was among the many students impressed with the program.
“I think it’s a good event for us to have, sharing his story, hearing him talk about his experiences to make sure we don’t go down the same path that he did,” Taub said.
After Herren spoke about five years ago to the Rutgers University football team, members of the Watchung Hills Elks were inspired to establish an annual golf outing for his foundation, The Herren Project. On Jan. 10 at Watchung Hills, Herren was presented by the Elks with a $5,000 check from the tournament, the next of which will be held May 14.
(Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)