Former baseball star Darryl Strawberry filled a packed conference room with Major League-sized inspiration on the first day of the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD), offering an emotional plenary address that closed with a plea for selfless service.
“We have so much to offer when we realize it's not about us,” said Strawberry, accompanied at the meeting by his wife Tracy; together they run a ministry in St. Louis and have partnered with healthcare management company Oglethorpe Healthcare Inc. to open addiction treatment facilities in Florida and Texas. “When I work with someone, I never forget, 'That was me.'”
Strawberry's words resonated on a day when a panel of treatment leaders in an earlier session of the conference discussed problems in business ethics that hurt the field's reputation and potentially damage its standing in a more integrated healthcare system.
But the afternoon plenary talk was mainly a gripping recounting of Strawberry's life, from his early home life with an abusive father to his descent into addiction in the early years of his baseball career to his turnaround after moving to Missouri 11 years ago with no driver's license, a criminal record, and millions in debt.
Strawberry said that even several treatment stays at well-known centers did not help him at first (“I was just very defiant”), not to mention that he often heard discouraging words from clinical professionals that hardly spoke of recovery.
“A clinical director told me, 'You celebrities never make it,'” he said. I thought, 'He sounds just like my father.'”
These messages only reinforced an emptiness that Strawberry had experienced for many years, even while being the subject of adulation as an athlete who received a healthy signing bonus in professional baseball and reached the major leagues by 21. “No matter how successful I became, all I believed is that I was nothing,” he said.
His celebrity both hurt him in the sense that he endured harsh treatment from the media and also became something of a crutch in that he always had access to attorneys who could maneuver to work him out of a situation.
His insecurities manifested in part in heavy use of alcohol and marijuana; introduction to cocaine on his first Major League road trip; and the need to take larger quantities of amphetamines to maintain his focus on the field.
Strawberry credited his wife, who is also in recovery, for being truthful with him when no one else would, and also made special mention of Ron Dock, who has been a behavioral health consultant to the New York Yankees and who Strawberry referred to as his first project for the Yankees.
Strawberry's current treatment initiatives include the Darryl Strawberry Recovery Center in St. Cloud, Fla., and a Christian recovery program that he and Tracy launched at Oglethorpe's hospital facility in Longview, Texas. “It's not to say, 'Look at me,'” he said of these business ventures. “You don't know how many people I've put in for free, already.”