Former NBA player Chris Herren told his story of recovery at Delaware State University as part of the Delaware Goes Purple program

A sea of 600 people stretched in front of basketball star Chris Herren as he took the podium at Delaware State University Wednesday, Oct. 9.

“I’m so in awe,” Herren said simply. Less than 12 years ago the disease of addiction had him heating his house with diesel fuel and stealing food for groceries, he said. Now, he was sharing his story of recovery to a crowd in Dover, many wearing purple in support for substance abuse.

Herren played two seasons in the NBA, one for the Denver Nuggets and one for his hometown Boston Celtics, and seven seasons overseas. But, as he was chasing his childhood dream, he said, he was also chasing death.

He shared details from his years of addiction, from the Miller Lites he drank as a 13-year-old to the first time he used cocaine as a freshman at Boston College to the moment he became an intravenous drug addict at age 24.

“I thank God for all the bad days. The bad days eventually become a blessing,” Herren said.

He talked about his continuing recovery.

Herren has been sober since Aug. 1, 2008. He spoke about his relationships with his wife and children, and how he was driven to become a better father.

“The greatest gift I’ve ever been able to give is for the last 11 and a half years, I’ve been the same dad,” he said. “I’ve been the dad I wish I had.”

He talked about what he plans to do if his kids would edge toward substance abuse.

“I won’t punish, yell or take away,” he said. He explained that he would walk into their room, hug them and ask one question: “Can you please tell me why?”

Herren shares his story 200 times each year, often visiting schools to talk about prevention and early intervention with students. He said he thinks schools need to hire more guidance counselors and do more to educate kids about mindfulness.

“I’m ashamed that wellness and mindfulness is not a core class in our school system,” he said.

At the end, Herren took questions from the audience. Someone asked if he had a relationship with the man who first hooked him on pain relievers. He said yes.

“Forgiveness is critical,” he said. “When I was getting high, I wanted to kill him. When I was sober, I wanted to hug him.”

In every presentation he gives, Herren said he has one goal: he hopes one person will walk away wanting to get better, for themselves and for their family.

His nonprofit Herren Project began in 2011 to help others navigate the road to recovery and raise awareness about substance use prevention.

In 2018, he and his wife, Heather, founded Herren Wellness, a residential health and wellness program in Massachusetts. It helps guests lead healthy, substance-free lives. The mantra for the program is “discover your why.”

DELAWARE GOES PURPLE

The Sussex County Health Coalition and Delaware Goes Purple, a statewide campaign to raise awareness about substance abuse, hosted the free community presentation at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center at Delaware State University.

In her opening statement, executive director of Sussex County Health Coalition, Peggy Geisler, talked about raising awareness.

“All of us are leaders in our families, in our communities, for each other,” she said.

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long echoed Geisler’s call for community support when she introduced Herren.

“It’s OK to struggle and ask for help if you have a mental health or substance use problem,” she said. “Every person counts, and we care about you.”

To get involved with Delaware Goes Purple or learn more, visit DelawareGoesPurple.org or their Facebook page at www.facebook/DelawareGoesPurple.