‘I’m here to tell you my nightmares’: Former NBA star Chris Herren shares recovery story


Sophia Keang

Former NBA star Chris Herren visits Westford Academy to talk about his recovery story from substance and drug abuse.

Sophia Keang, Editor-in-Chief

Packed with students in the PAC (Performing Arts Center) and main gymnasium, former NBA star Chris Herren visited Westford Academy on Tuesday, Nov. 22, to share his recovery from substance and drug addiction that started when he was only 13 years old.

“I’m not here to tell you my dreams,” Herren said. “I’m here to tell you my nightmares.”

At the start of the speech, Herren prefaced his story by relating to students. He explained that when he was in high school, he also sat at an assembly, wanting his mother to pick him up from school early because he didn’t think discussions about drug abuse were important. However, Herren mentioned that as he sat in the crowd, he also dealt with addiction, which is why these kinds of assemblies were necessary. Now, he wants students, addicts or not, to understand the effect addictions can have on everyone, not just the addict.

“We show you pictures of drug addicts who remind you of family members and say ‘look how horrible life turned out for them’, instead of sitting you [students] down, looking you in the eye, and asking you why you did it,” Herren said.

Then, Herren shared a vivid memory of a life-threatening experience when he was only a teenager. One night, the athlete overdosed on heroin and this was when he had first realized his true struggles.

“One moment I was in my car, then the next moment I was in handcuffs in the ambulance,” Herren said. “It was my fourth overdose and my third arrest.”

Herren also spoke about the common occurrences that happen at high school assemblies when he visits to talk. He mentioned instances of students laughing or joking around during his speech to moments where students teared up.

One of the main stories Herren touched upon was an email that he received from a high schooler in Dartmouth, MA. Years ago, Herren visited a high school in Dartmouth, MA to speak about his recovery. When he opened up to questions from the audience, a girl raised her hand. As he walked towards her to hear her question, Herren noticed a group of students laughing, signaling to not answer her question. Two months later, Herren received an email from that same girl who had raised her hand. She confessed the reason why she raised her hand in school that day of the assembly was that she wanted to share her story with Herren about how her father’s alcoholism destroyed her family.

“That little girl is 28 years old now, ” Herren said. “But that email that I get from her checking in means more to me than anything I’ve ever experienced as a professional basketball player.”

Herren acknowledged that his single story won’t be able to change the life of all the students he speaks to. However, he hoped that at least one student will be inspired by his experiences.

“My goal is that there’s one kid in the school that’s going to go back to class, go home, sit in their bedroom, and say to themself ‘I want to feel better about myself. I know that there’s a part of me that’s settling less for myself,’” Herren said.

Furthermore, Herren’s emphasis on self-reflection truly captivated all WA students and faculty. Even if his story may not apply to everyone, Herren spoke in a manner that was understood by all, ensuring introspection in one’s life.

“Most likely, there are a couple of students in here that need to give themselves more,” Herren said.

Moreover, students had very positive comments about Herren’s speech. Many believed that Herren’s presentation was beneficial for the entirety of the student body to understand the struggles of addiction in all different ways.

“It was great that the students were all able to come together to hear an important story,” junior Rhythm Arora said. “Even though we’ve heard his story in health class, it’s different having him speak to you in-person. I also appreciated how every grade attended, as this topic is something that is applicable to everyone.”

Along with addiction, Herren discusses the consequences of peer pressure that may result in these addictions. Understanding the societal pressures that contribute to one’s decisions, Herren Project Club Advisor Melanie Jozokos was determined to have Herren speak to students.

“It’s a tough message to hear and to process and I’m not sure all students were ready for the self reflection piece […] but it’s definitely necessary,” Jozokos said. “Nobody chooses addiction. Nobody wakes up one morning and says I can’t wait to shoot heroin, this is no one’s goal.”

Afterwards, Jozokos felt that assembly went well even though it was a difficult topic for students to hear. Throughout the duration of Herren’s speech, students were engaged. Jozokos identified a key moment in Herren’s speech that made the whole student body silent.

“I think one of the hardest things for students to hear was the question that Chris posed to them ‘Why do you feel like you have to be someone else on a Friday or a Saturday night with kids you’ve known since kindergarten?'” Jozokos said. “That’s really only a question that each individual student can answer and he’s right, it comes down to self esteem. If you feel good about yourself, you don’t have to change who you are.”

Believing that every person has a second chance to recover from substance and drug abuse, Herren founded the Herren Health and Wellness Center in Seekonk, MA, to provide a safe place of recovery and healing in a living environment. The wellness center currently houses 38 patients, each with a story of their own in which Herren strives to help in any way possible because he truly understands the toll addiction can have on everyone, including students.

“If you walk in my gym [at the wellness center], the banners? I have them. The records? Broken. I’ve played against Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal. But the greatest accomplishment of my life is that for the last 14 years, I didn’t have to change myself and I’ve had the opportunity to inspire others,” Herren said.