I just finished reading a book about an athlete with a drug problem called Basketball Junkie, a memoir written by Chris Herren and Bill Reynolds. This book is about former NBA player and basketball superstar, Chris Herren.
When reading this book, it made me think a lot about my own life. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t see myself as some sort of legend or anything like that, and I was never going to play sports professionally. I do, however, know what it feels like to throw away a dream, something I was incredibly talented at, to pursue a life full of drugs and drinking.
Whether or not the NBA was really Chris Herren’s dream or not is debatable. He played basketball because he felt like he had to – his father forced him into it and the only way he could receive validation at home from his father was through basketball. This is not the experience I had with sports, but I do know that I threw away something that was very important to me.
I was a naturally gifted athlete, and I took this for granted. I knew I could excel in my athletics despite my drug use and alcohol use, at least for awhile.
Chris Herren talks about going to games high and really just continued to play basketball because it provided him with an income, allowing him to buy the drugs he wanted and needed. I didn’t make money from playing sports, however, it did in a way let me continue using drugs because it made me feel like I didn’t have a real problem.
I was doing well in school and doing well athletically – in my mind, this meant I was okay and I didn’t have a drug problem. I also went to college on a sports scholarship, but left that school after a year and a half, ultimately because drugs and alcohol were more important to me. I didn’t realize this at the time, but that’s really what it was. I went from going to school for free to having multi-thousands of dollars of school loans that I will have to pay back.
I am not trying to compare myself to Chris Herren, a man who played in the NBA, because this is very different. I just had a lot of feelings and thoughts come to me after I finished reading this book. For so long, sports were an escape for me. Somewhere along the line, playing wasn’t enough – I needed more, and that more was alcohol and drugs.
Chris Herren also talks a little bit about how the people around him may not have given him all the help he needed.
Sure, people tried to talk to him and express their concern about his drug problem, but it seemed like it was more about him creating a bad name for the college he was at or the NBA team he was playing for.
I have spoken to a lot of teachers and coaches from my past, and they all have said similar things to me. They said they knew something was going on, but they didn’t know what exactly it was, and they didn’t know what to say to me. I don’t know that it would have mattered if they had tried to say something to me about my drug problem. I think I was pretty set in my ways, and I had to go through the things that I did in order to get clean.
I do think about it, though. These are people who say they care about me, and I believe they do. So why didn’t they say anything if they thought I had a drug problem? Why didn’t the people around me try to help me until I was so far gone that it was almost too late? I don’t know the exact answer to this question and I probably never will, but I don’t really think it would have mattered.
What does matter, though, is that in the future, people make more of an effort to get a person who has a drug problem help when it is needed. I know that if I see someone like myself – someone who is fighting the battle of addiction and doesn’t know where to go or what to do, I need to try to help them. I believe it is my responsibility to try to do this.
Ultimately, giving up sports isn’t all that important anymore. It’s something I regret from time to time and something I definitely miss, but it would have come to an end at some point anyway.
I think I’m lucky to have experienced the loss and the pain that I did, because if I hadn’t, I would probably be out using and drinking still. It’s definitely taken me a long time to get to a place where I can say I’m happy that I left the school that I was attending for free. The truth is, I don’t think I would have made it much longer anyway. I was on a downward spiral, and was going nowhere very quickly.
I’m a firm believer today that everything happens for a reason, and I think the reason I gave up a lot of what I did and went through the pain that I did was so I could get clean and carry the message to the people who still suffer. I can now carry the message that life is meant to be enjoyed and cherished. No one has to live in the bondage of their addiction; there is another way to live, and if you want it, you can have it.