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March 14, 2014

Tears, fears about alcohol and drugs

Students open up to ex-pro athlete who fought for sobriety

HAVERHILL — Former pro basketball player Chris Herren told more than 400 students at Haverhill High that if his message about the dangers of drug and alcohol connected with just one of them, his talk will have been worth it.

Herren, who told students he is 5 1/2 years sober after a lengthy battle with drug addiction, touched more students than that, judging from the responses he received.

He bared his soul to them, and with a little encouragement, they reciprocated.

Surrounded by their peers, students bravely raised their hands and talked about problems in their lives such as alcoholism and drug addiction in their families, along with substance abuse issues and suicidal thoughts they are dealing with.

The students, members of the school’s junior class, told Herren that his talk gave them the strength to face their challenges.

“I had an alcohol problem since I was 7, but I’ve been sober now for a month,” one student said, explaining that he lived in a troubled household.

His peers applauded his courage, and so did Herren.

“I admire that month (of sobriety) more than I admire my five years” without drugs and alcohol, Herren said.

One of the most emotional moments of Wednesday’s event came when a student said that when she was in the fifth grade, her mother died while in detox and that she’s never had a “normal life.”

“I don’t have anyone,” the girl said, adding that she lives with a foster family. “How do you move past that?”

“Honestly, you just did,” Herren told her. “By you raising your hand today and sharing, that’s step one. Don’t be afraid to walk out of here and pull someone aside to talk to them.”

Herren speaks nationwide to various groups, including sports teams, at corporate functions and at high schools, where he’s shared his story with 500,000 students as part of The Herren Project.

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