The Starfish

Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean for exercise. 

One day, the old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. 

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the boy replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)


I am pretty out spoken. That is not much of a shocker to those who know me. Those of you who follow me on Social Media might think that I may not have much of a life because I post so often. But I do. A pretty awesome new life, thank God. And those of you who follow my author page, and sometimes my personal page may tend to see things like; “Local Intervention this morning, Female/Male in their 30’s Alcohol/drugs, Just accepted the gift of recovery and is willing to give it a shot!” As I tout the successes of the miracle that has just unfolded before our eyes during an intervention. I know that often times, this may garner mixed reviews and equal parts criticism because “Herb is self promoting and blah blah blah.” “Fuck that Herb dude.” Anyways, I don’t care. Talk all you want, I know my truth and I know my walk. But perhaps, maybe, it is not self promotion at all. Perhaps, it is because I am constantly, and I mean daily- reminded of this ugly, nasty, life or death underbelly of this world that I have found myself in- and up against. And it is not self promotion so much as it is HOPE Promotion. You know, it is very easy and typical for us addicts to forget where we came from. There is something about it, I don’t know- the returning to life maybe? Ego? Pride? That somehow just automatically takes place once we get clean. I am guilty of it, although I do my best most days to remind myself, and my family that I am nothing more than one bad decision, one mental breakdown- away from pissing everything away, smoking crack, shooting dope and living on the streets again. Maybe not in such gory detail with the family, but you get what I am saying. I know what I am. And I am no longer confused by any stretch of the imagination. Drugs can and will destroy my life again, if I make one terrible choice to pick up. But anyways. The underbelly.

You might see all the posts celebrating people accepting help, successful interventions, and all the “Bright Places” that I have selected for you to see. And, again, it is because of HOPE Promotion. But there is a lot about what I do that you do not see. And I don’t even know if I should be telling you this, but I have always vowed to share openly, so here we go.

Yes, It is a Fact, that we have come to know, over the course of the years that we have been doing this- INTERVENTION WORKS. It is a statistical fact that it is the most effective and successful way to get someone into treatment. There is no arguing it, its fact. that’s irrelevant- but I did include that little note there just in case there is someone reading this who needed to see that, and now we move on.

But what so many of y’all may not recognize, and that’s on me, because I don’t share it very often, is the absolute heart break of active addiction and death that I hear, on a weekly basis. I hear grown men’s teeth grit as their voices crack and they cry to some guy they’ve never met before- because He answered the phone at 11:00 at night. I hear grandmother’s so desperate just to find their sweet grandchild who is being pimped out on the streets of Detroit. I once took a call from an ELEVEN YEAR OLD LITTLE BOY, who was calling because his mommy “Was on drugs, I think” (And yes, I am a mandated reporter so please, don’t ever in one second think that I would not, or did not immediately get that case into the local authorities hands). I take calls from broken hearted and lost parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and even co workers, who are just watching as someone slowly kills themselves at their own hand. 18,19,20 year old girls- KIDS!! Who are selling their bodies on the streets for 10 and 20 dollars worth of crack at a time. They are desperate and dying for help- and over the years I have kind of fashioned a saying that I remind myself of daily: The one’s who want it(Recovery) can’t get it, and the one’s who can get it(those with means), Don’t want it. Our system is so upside down right now it makes me sick- but that’s another topic all together and I am working on that behind the scenes as we speak, but Covid kind of put a halt on that for a few months, but trust me, I am doing all that I can, but I digress.

Alot of people may have the misconception that what I do is some kind of “Paid 12th step work” or some bullshit that I have heard from the peanut gallery over the past. But it isn’t. I take my position and role in this world very seriously. I spent pretty much my entire Father’s Day helping a few families, because my phone rang- I am not bragging and I do not need a pat on the back, that’s not what this is about. This is about the Dark side of it. This is about what you wont see in some celebratory post on FB. The reason I took those calls, and I very could have easily just have been selfish and thought, “It’s father’s day, I am spending it with my family.” And I did, we had a very nice father’s day. I enjoy the silence when it comes. But the reason that I always answer my phone when it rings, is because, Most of the time, I know who is calling: A Potential Starfish. A Soul in pain. Someone who is literally praying a prayer I know all too well: “Please, someone, pick up…Please God I need someone to help us…” I have made that call more times than I care to recall. But I have, as one of my former colleagues once put it, “The Most Unique Job in the World.” Not meaning that it is some God selected ivory tower position, it’s just, unique. It is unique in the regards that, people can call out for help, praying as the phone rings hoping someone answers, because they’re so desperate for answers that they’ve found themselves calling an intervention crisis line- only to be met with an understanding, and (I think) helpful guiding person who is offering solutions- and then I STILL have to talk them into doing an intervention. It is one of the most paradoxical things that I have experienced. *And if you’re wondering why that may be, please refer to my previous post “How it Works”* I am not going to go over the ins and outs of it again right now. But to be honest, those are the calls that I absolutely dread the most. I can feel the connection between myself and the callers, I can feel that they’re nodding yes in agreement with me. I can sense that they KNOW in their heart of hearts that this is the necessary step to take to save and salvage at fragile life. And we get rrrriiiigggghhhttttt thereeee….right to the point to where it’s time to move forward; and then something clicks off for them. And my blood literally runs cold. And I am NOT exaggerating- listen, if you’re at the point where you’re talking to me on the phone, then odds are you have run out of tactics and options and this is one of your last gasps and available attempts to help someone. And I mean that. No one ever randomly calls me to tell me how great someone is doing. We are interventionists. We are the “Seattle grunge rock swat team gritty MFs” We enter the trenches along side you. We educate, we empower, and then we fucking extract. This is not a game. Sorry, I got a little emotional there. But this is life or death. You mean to tell me that: “Sally, 23 year old female from JohnDoe, Indiana” is living on the streets, covered in sores, prostituting herself for heroin and eating out of garbage cans, and I STILL have to convince you to do this?! I cannot tell you how many times I have had this conversation- It breaks my heart. But anyways. I hate these calls, because They are the only ones that ever preface the absolute worst call that I get….

“Hey Herb, it’s (John Doe). I just wanted to thank you for all of your help and effort last week. I just wanted to let you know we won’t be needing an intervention anymore. I am so sorry to have to tell you this, but her/his body was found ________ from an apparent overdose and her/his funeral is ______.


Or the young lady who’s body was found on her front porch in the morning by her two elementary school kids. Their dad had called the day before. She hadn’t been home for several days. Someone just dumped her there like a piece of trash. She’s gone too.

Or the Dad. Or the Mom. Or the Sisters. I could go on and on.

I am they. ANYONE who has gotten their life back is THEY.

It is still happening out there. Every day.

Right here in Indiana, last year, it once took me an entire week and over 300 phone calls to find a bed for a young lady. Wheel chair bound who needed help with her daily routines like showering and etc. She only had medicaid and no one would give her the time of day. I know what it’s like to be rejected from centers and hospitals because I’m a “have not” So I absolutely cherish those calls. “No one gets it, Herb, I want help so bad, and I just cant get it.” I do. Let’s get it done.

Active addiction destroys so much more than “Just” our health and “Life”, it destroys our families, it destroys our identity, it destroys mental health, our community, our worth, our children, morale, self image, etc. it literally destroys everything and everyone around us, and then we die. A lot of us seem to forget that.

I have attended more funerals then I ever thought I would. And I received countless funeral notices. Sending flowers to a father who lost his child to addiction is probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I honestly see more death and destruction from addiction now that I am clean and doing what I do- than I ever did while I was using. Because I was in this little “protected/numb using bubble” I was cut off from the world. I had no real outlets or exposure, and If I heard that someone had OD’d and died, at first I would feel briefly saddened, and then I would try to locate the dealer they bought it from. Yeah, I was very sick. But that is a big reason why I just cannot muster it anymore, to attend any more funerals of those lost to addiction. I just can’t bear it. It’s like I can feel their death inside me. It’s like a flash of My own life, and their life- in one giant wave of Woe, like a movie, and then they’re gone. The grief and hurt, the unspoken questions, unvoiced broken hearted prayers, the unbearbale weight. The weight… And not to mention what comes along with the loss, in my experience- divorce, separation, PTSD, depression, anxiety, subsequent suicides, loss of children. TRAUMA. This is the magnitude of addiction. This is it’s depth and penetration on our family, friends, ourselves, our legacies, and our communities. It’s kind of like a pain eater. It feasts on our pains when we’re alive, and once it claims us, it feasts off the pain our death created in the lives of out loved ones. Its vicious and unrelenting.

I see it. I hear it. I feel it everyday.

The wreckage is unbelievable. The stories that I could share, If I could. but anyone who knows me knows that I take my role very seriously, and these are but vague, generalized, and anonymous accounts of just one fraction of the hell that I share with those who reach out, and a very real, raw, and painful reminder of where I myself came from. But for the Grace of God there go I. And it’s easy for those of us, who have recovered and gone on to work at the Mills, or whatever career path they have found themselves in- to forget. And honestly, it is probably very healthy for them to forget and just move on in their new lives. I do not judge, I am proud of each and everyone of you for doing so and I pray for each and every addict, using or clean every day. But for me, This is my place. This is where God wants me. It’s fucking grim sometimes, but it is a battle worth fighting, and these people are worth fighting for. “We will be a light to all who live in the shadows.” Yes I will.

So then, Herb, if it is so Dark, Ugly, and Painful, do you persist? Why do you keep drudging the trenches, why do you stay so immersed in it if you deal with so much hurt and pain and woe and misery?

Because I have been there. I have lived it. I have felt it. I have at many times prayed through my own gritted teeth, for death. To just let this shot of Heroin just finally do me in. I am so sick of suffering like this. Please, God, Just take me now. I am so tired. And I will never forget where I came from. I will never forget where I’ve been. The saddest part about much of my story is that it is someone’s reality today.

And, because of the Starfish.

I know for a fact that I cannot help, serve, assist, “save”, help, all of them. But I’ll be damned if I don’t try. And the success stories… oh the success stories. If I only had one, I would still continue doing what I’m doing. but there are so many. So many families and addicts alike are stored in my phone now. Friends now. People that call just to tell me about the fish that “Timmy’s” Son caught while they were out on the river celebrating his 2 year clean mark. Or the Scholarship offer that “Sally” Got from a school. Or how “Tim” Is 1 year clean and back in school, or the trades. They’re my starfish. And They mean more to me than I can ever mean to them.

It’s like I tell every single family that I speak with, whether we work together or not. Maybe it’s just a one time phone call, and it is brief and we never really speak again, I tell them that they’re helping me stay clean for one more day. They’re keeping my own bottom close. They’re reminding me what’s out there and waiting for me. Sometimes I’m the Starfish and they’re the child rescuing me by tossing me back into the waves offering me a renewed chance at life.

I may not be able to save them all, or even help them at all. But I made a difference to this one. And they made a difference to me.

And that is why I continue to post in celebration when someone accepts the gift of new life. That is why I keep sharing the successes that we witness. It is such a powerful path, timeline, and journey to walk with the still suffering. From their lowest low, to their highest high. I GET to witness, partake, and feel their entire process of coming back to life, and life more abundantly. It is such a beautiful and soul touching process to see and embrace. To know the darkest and emptiest secret places that some of my people come from and then watch their walk is such a joy to me. It is like watching my own journey from the pit all over again. There is so much Joy and Love that comes back into their lives.

Sometimes we’re the Child. Sometimes we’re the Starfish. We’re all connected. We can all make a difference.

Be not a perpetrator.

Be not a Victim.

But above all else, be not a by stander.


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