Chris Herren Credits Miller House For Recovery From Drug Addiction
By: Christopher Kazarian
Hardcore basketball fans know Chris Herren as one of the best players to ever come out of Massachusetts. But the Fall River athlete made headlines for all the wrong reasons during a college and professional career that began with so much promise, but ultimately resulted in failure, due to his decade-long struggles with alcohol, cocaine, OxyContin and heroin.
It became so bad that Mr. Herren, who fulfilled a childhood dream of donning a jersey for his hometown Boston Celtics during the 2000-2001 season, once stood outside the TD Banknorth Garden minutes before a game in his uniform waiting for his drug dealer to deliver him OxyContin.
In a phone interview yesterday he said, “I think it is important to know that every day is a low one with drug use.”
Mr. Herren admitted he hit rock bottom in the middle of treatment at Daytop, a therapeutic treatment center in upstate New York. He would relapse after coming home to see his third child, Drew, born in Rhode Island. When he returned to Daytop he was given an ultimatum by one of the counselors who told him to permanently cut ties with his wife, Heather, and their children. “He said I should call them because I was a no-good junkie, and they deserved better,” Mr. Herren said. “That was a moment of clarity for me. I got on my knees and soul-searched. Thank God, I didn’t make the call.”
His journey out of the pit of despair began at Daytop, where after two and a half months of being sober he was ready to take that next step.
And that is when he ended up on Cape Cod, at the Miller House on Woods Hole Road, a residential program run by Gosnold of Cape Cod. “A friend of mine who lives in Falmouth made a couple of phone calls to put me in touch with the people of Gosnold. I didn’t have any insurance. I didn’t have any money, but they were unbelievable. I signed up for MassHealth, and it eventually ended up covering my costs,” he said.
Gosnold Saves His Life
Over the next three months, Mr. Herren would continue his rehabilitation in quiet solitude in Falmouth. “It gave me three months to build my self-esteem and pride back in my life,” he said. “I am forever grateful... Gosnold saved my life.”
Sobriety has given me gifts basketball could never give me, and I’m happy with who I am today.
This week Mr. Herren’s story of redemption was featured in the gripping ESPN documentary “Unguarded,” a 90-minute look into the lowest of the lows of substance abuse.
Among the stories recounted in the tell-all was an all-night bender Mr. Herren took part in while a student at Fresno State, just hours prior to a 1997 game against the University of Massachusetts in which he scored 19 points. Days later he would test positive for cocaine, resulting in a three-week stint in rehab.
That, and a subsequent trip for treatment in 2001, did not produce the desired results, he said, because “both times I was obviously younger and my addiction hadn’t really gone to the depths it had gone to in 2008. I think I was doing it to appease others and not for myself.”
His talents on the court were offset by the demons he struggled with off it. He stole money from his wife to feed his habit; he contemplated suicide; and at one point, with a needle in his arm and heroin in the seat next to him, he “was dead” for 30 seconds following a car crash in June 2008, before paramedics brought him back to life.
It is this baggage Mr. Herren arrived with when he came to Falmouth in late September 2008. Gosnold President and CEO Raymond V. Tamasi said when Mr. Herren was admitted, his level of addiction was so advanced, “it is entirely unlikely he would have gone into remission without a substantial treatment period.”
I think now the most significant contribution Chris can make is to get the message of hope and recovery out to more people. He is a near-celebrity and the dramatic nature of his story captures people’s attention.
Although Mr. Tamasi knew of Mr. Herren’s talents as a local hoops legend, he was not given any special treatment when admitted to the Miller House. “On a personal level basketball has been my thing for 40 or 50 years, so I know about the sport and I knew about him,” Mr. Tamasi said. “But when he came to us, we made a purposeful attempt to put that aside. He was with us as a patient who needed treatment, not as a basketball star who needed recognition.”
That, Mr. Tamasi said, is an important aspect of any successful recovery program. “Whoever it is, whether they are a physician, lawyer, plumber or basketball player, they are to us a patient who needs treatment for an illness,” he said.
Mr. Tamasi said Gosnold helped Mr. Herren build up his recovery skills, understand the nature of his illness and allow him to better function with his family.
And most important for Mr. Herren is that “I was able to find out who I was and begin to love myself again by the time I got out of there,” he said.
About a year after he was sober, Mr. Herren first spoke about his struggles with addictions at a college in New Hampshire. He has continued to share his story of redemption since that time, speaking to high school students, prison inmates, basketball players and anyone else willing to listen.
This week that audience expanded to those throughout the country when ESPN premiered the documentary. Those impacted by the piece included the famous, like the Miami Heat’s Dwayne Wade, as well as the average citizen. “I had some guy send me a Twitter message saying, ‘I put down my Budweiser because I know I have a problem after watching your story,” Mr. Herren said. “What is better than that?”
Mr. Herren has not only become a shining example of the work Gosnold does, but he is an employee of the treatment center, focusing on community relations. “I think now the most significant contribution Chris can make is to get the message of hope and recovery out to more people,” Mr. Tamasi said. “He is a near-celebrity and the dramatic nature of his story captures people’s attention.”
The pair have a close bond, with Mr. Herren referring to Mr. Tamasi as not only a friend, “but he is like an uncle to me. He is a mentor. He is always looking out for people’s best interest and is always willing to help.”
In the documentary it is Mr. Tamasi who gives Mr. Herren his three-year chip. The scene was shot in August at the Miller House when Mr. Herren celebrated three years of being sober. That chip was later passed on to Mr. Herren’s oldest child, Christopher, 12, who collects them out of pride in his father’s efforts to rebuild his life.
Like many Mr. Tamasi, who attended an advanced screening of “Unguarded” in Boston, said it is easy to consider “what if?” with someone of Mr. Herren’s talents. “You can’t help but have a moment wondering that,” he said.
But Mr. Herren refuses to dwell on the past. “I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Why would I ever want to go back?” he asked. “Sobriety has given me gifts basketball could never give me, and I’m happy with who I am today.”
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