By Sean Saint Jacques
It is free time hour at a Lancaster, Pa. rehab facility in July of 2013 and the urge, no the need, for drugs is too much for Dennis Chambers to handle. After a week spent in rehab, the 19 year old and a friend break out to find something, anything that will get them high. They sneak through the woods to escape and start looking for anyone who can sell them some drugs. After searching they find man at a nearby gas station who has just what they are looking for—heroin.
“After I got back, I was caught nearly immediately, and getting high at rehab is like a huge no-no, for obvious reasons,” Chambers said. “But the director that oversaw the whole place sat me in his office and offered me another chance. I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life. After a few hours of talking, more so crying on my end – I really had no idea what to do, I wanted to stop so bad I just couldn’t – the guy looked me dead in the eyes and said ‘Dennis, I’m going to let you stay here. I truly believe you want help, I just don’t think you know how to get it yet. That’s what we do here. I’m going to help you find your help.’ It was maybe the single most powerful moment of my life.”
Chambers drank his first beer out of curiosity when he was just 14 years old in the backyard of a friend’s house after one of his buddies stole alcohol from their parents. Things progressed quickly from there and by 15 years of age Chambers was smoking pot on a regular basis. A year after that, he took his first opiate painkiller. What started as curiosity had turned into addiction.
“From there, I could never stop chasing the dragon,” Chambers said. “From my first drink at 14 and first time smoking pot you could say I was addicted. I truly never wanted to stop, even when I did. But was my real downfall were opiate painkillers and then eventually heroin. I started with the pills at 16, and did my first bag of dope at 18. Heroin is insane. It brings you to your knees like nothing else in this world. I was doing that daily for only about six months until I entered a rehab facility, as opposed to the two years I was addicted to the pills.”
The battle is one that does not let up and can drain a person mentally and physically.
“Hopeless. You wake up, your body is sick, you ingest what you need immediately to feel okay,” Chambers said. “From that point on, the rest of your time awake revolves around the next high. Everything else just seems so irrelevant. You can’t ever get enough. It really is just a depressing existence and something I would never wish upon anyone. Living a life of daily addiction is like living in hell on earth.”
Like many fighting with drug and alcohol addiction, Chambers did eventually hit rock bottom after his freshman year at Seton Hall.
“The summer of 2013,” Chambers said. “During that time I was doing about 10 bags a day, at minimum, of heroin. Upwards of $100 a day habit. It was brutal, the day in and day out struggle of having to get high just so I didn’t feel sick – mentally and physically.”
Chambers checked into that aforementioned facility to get help and after getting that second chance decided to make the most of it.
“I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and a worker of the 12-step program, while there was no one individual to get me sober,” Chambers said. “The work of this program and the countless people it brought in to my life is virtually completely responsible for my current recovery.”
Finally, Chambers could get back to doing what he really loved even before all of the drugs and alcohol. Sports became front and center in his life once again.
“I’ve known since I was 13 – before all the drugs and distractions – that I wanted to be a sportswriter,” Chambers said. “It’s my passion, truly. My vision and love for knowing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life really helped motivate me to stay focused and understand that I could have a life in front of me again if I just got my mind right.”
The mind of Chambers is now focused on sports and making a difference for those who are going through what he did just a few short years ago. To help make that difference, Chambers and his mother looked to former college basketball and NBA star Chris Herren to help spread this message of sobriety.
Herren, like Chambers, grew up playing basketball and could relate to what so many others have gone through when it comes to addiction as he had to live through it on a national stage. Herren was a college basketball star at Boston College and then Fresno State before playing in the NBA for his hometown Boston Celtics.
“When I returned to Seton Hall I knew the campus needed awareness,” Chambers said. “If anyone was out there struggling like I was when I was a Pirate my first time around, I wanted to extend a helping hand. So with the assistance of my fraternity I got Chris to come to campus and hold an event. He’s just such a good guy. A true embodiment of the program and living to help others. [Chris] and I got to develop a special bond between talking and organizing the events. I even had the chance to interview him that night for a story I was writing, that was such a surreal moment.”
Sports writing is now Chambers’ calling and he is looking to make up for lost time.
“The vision and desire to be great in this profession has driven me to keep my life on track in terms of sobriety,” Chambers said. “I want to do this so bad, and I want to be great at it – my competitive nature really comes out when it comes to reporting – I want to be the guy that people can rely on and go to, to get their information first and with top shelf quality.”
Chambers began his journey towards that goal by becoming the Sports Digital Editor and sports writer for The Setonian, Seton Hall’s student newspaper. At the student publication, he turned heads with his stories relating to drug addiction in sports with columns about players like New York Yankees’ pitcher CC Sabathia who went into rehab during a Yankees’ playoff push a few seasons ago to deal with his alcoholism. Chambers’ overall knowledge of the games he loves and his passion for the profession also stood out.
“Dennis always added an upbeat and comical attitude coming into the [Setonian] meetings,” Joey Khan, Setonian photography editor said. “It truly made it worth sitting around in the meetings all night long. Things could get pretty stressful in the meetings due to our nightly deadline to get the paper assembled, but you could always count on Dennis to lighten the mood and reduce any tensions. It’s definitely sad not having him around anymore, but I’m glad he’s taken that next step. I’m sure it’s the first of many. He’s going to be very successful.”
Chambers moved on from the Setonian after last year to start working for Adam Zagoria, who runs a popular blog for SNY called “Zagsblog” that covers college basketball around the nation.
“Working with Adam has been great, a blessing even,” Chambers said. “He’s a really good guy and offers me all kinds of advice and critiques. He’s been in the business a long time and has garnered a lot of clout and respect. He has also given me a lot of cool opportunities, like the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. Taking me under his wing and introducing me to guys like [ESPN writer] Jeff Goodman and [CBS Sports Network’s] Jon Rothstein is irreplaceable stuff. Learning under someone of his caliber is an experience I’m immensely grateful for and I know will benefit me for years to come. I have Adam to thank for a lot of my growing as a writer and reporter.”
From addiction, to rubbing shoulders with some of the best reporters in sports. The passion for sports and sports reporting has taken Chambers far in a short amount of time. What is also clear is that his passion for sports rubs off on others.
“Sports have never really been a huge passion of mine,” Khan said. “Since joining The Setonian, I’ve certainly gained a new love for college basketball. Covering games with Dennis certainly added to that. He was the first person to drive me to a game when I took over as photography editor. I was sort of skeptical since the first time I met him was when I got in his car. We didn’t really talk much that car ride, he was mostly conversing with the other sports writers in the car, but my appreciation for his humor began on that ride.”
Chambers has been sober since August 4, 2013 and hopes to one day have the platform to continue to spread his message of sobriety to all of those who need it.
“Truthfully, I just want to be one of those figures that can impact people past sports writing and reporting. I would really like to gain a platform that can allow me to help people on a larger scale, like Chris [Herren] does. Giving a voice to the people who can’t yell loud enough to be heard, that’s where I want to be.”
For now, Chambers continues to follow his dreams and does have a message to those who are currently going through the tough battle he once endured.
“Ask for help,” Chambers said. “The biggest problem with addiction is that people don’t reach out when they’re hurting. I know it’s easier said than done, but a world of opportunity and a shot at life again is waiting with just one simple request. And when you finally do ask, listen to those who have been in your shoes before. They know how to get out and they’re just there to help.”