Survivors have passion, desire to live
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Survival is based on a common thread – the passionate desire to live.
It is a conscious decision that we reach one day, after a harrowing passage from destitute loss. The most difficult part of that journey is getting through the darkness. But once we find the light and come to terms with that line of separation, we realize the decision to persevere is ours and ours alone.
I was honored to recently attend a presentation at the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley in Milford that chronicled such an inspirational story of survival.
The speaker was Chris Herron, who back in 1994 was one of the luckiest young men alive. He was a small town boy attending Durfee High School in Fall River, Mass., who just happened to be considered one of the most talented high school basketball players to ever walk the planet. Chris came from a wonderful, tight-knit, middle-class family, was an attractive, clean-cut, all-American teenager and he had the brightest future ahead of him.
Similar to our own hometown sports hero, Morgan Andrews, Chris was named the Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in high school. He exemplified the concept that hard work, dedication and talent make anything possible. He was placed on the McDonald’s All American Team, named Boston Globe Player of the Year in 1994 and featured in a two-page article in Sports Illustrated. Aggressively recruited by schools across the country, Chris ultimately chose a full scholarship to Boston College. His dreams were literally playing out in front of his eyes.
Perhaps it was the intensity of all that success, combined with a false belief that “it could never happen to me” that prompted Chris to accept that first offer of cocaine. Maybe it was the sweet young soccer players with blond hair and a full scholarship as well, who convinced him it could not possibly be that bad. It was a five-second decision that would haunt Chris for the next 14 years of his life, and almost cost him everything.
The cocaine usage soon turned into an addiction, which lead to the urgent need for more potent drugs like Oxycotin.
Values became cloudy, and his morals were freely exchanged for just another escape from reality. The incessant need to be medicated replaced the natural high of running down the parlay basketball court. The need to score no longer focused on points at the game; instead it was all about the dealer in a parking lot.
Chris spent the next decade of his life in a haze, dangling on a thin, razor-sharp line between the basketball court and the street corner. He stumbled through a short career stint with the Boston Celtics, barely able to even enjoy or remember his moment in the sunshine due to his overwhelming dependency on drugs. He continued to slip and fall, ultimately resulting in his discharge from the Celtics and a variety of teams across the globe. He continued to run away from himself and try to hide his pain and embarrassment under the influence of illegal, mind-altering drugs.
Chris lost sight of all that was important, and without ever blinking he suddenly became a full-blown junkie at the end of his rope. Homeless, facing multiple felonies and estranged from his wife and children, he reached a breaking point. After a five-day stint that involved heroin, cocaine and absolutely no sleep, Chris walked directly into oncoming traffic on a major highway in an attempt to end his pain. His personal attempts at detoxification had failed again and again, and he irrationally thought that suicide was his only option.
It was the kindness of others that ultimately saved him. An old friend of his deceased mother told him that his mom had implored her from beyond to “save her baby.” A fellow athlete who had beaten the horrid beast of addiction on his own offered to pay for Chris to enter an intensive six-month program. A counselor begged him to say goodbye to his wife and three children forever – to give them the gift of a chance at happiness.
Perhaps it was that moment, that realization that his children might indeed be better off believing that their father was dead that finally compelled Chris to live again. He fell to his knees that evening and began to pray. He developed a passion for life so intense that it transformed him and enabled him to redirect his internal compass back onto the right track. His journey into the land of sobriety and happiness began that very moment.
Chris went on to start a foundation that helps other fellow addicts. He travels around the world as a motivational speaker, sharing his story of perseverance, warning youngsters of the devastating dangers of that one little line of cocaine. He made a decision to live again, to seize the moment and to stop the insanity that had taken hold of him.
Survivors share a common thread. We recognize that life is indeed a gift, and we want to share our harrowing experiences with others to let them know that you can pick up the pieces and put them back together.
Chris talked about how difficult it was to go out into the community at first. He carried a great deal of shame for his actions. I understand that heavy feeling, because I carried it as well. I felt responsible for my daughter’s accident. I felt like a failure; I also wanted to die.
But like Chris, I made a decision to live. I made a decision to make a difference in the lives of others. If I help one person get back on track, make one mother feel less alone when facing a devastating child illness or loss, give one family the hope that they can survive a tragedy and come out on the other side a whole person again, I have achieved my goal. Every morning I think of Jaiden when I wake up. I feel her courage and her love and her guidance. She inspires me to continue to make a positive difference, one family at a time.