For one young man’s family, recovery and healing are a team effort.
For the late Paul Robert Alleman Jr., Boggs the ballplayer was a fervently followed favorite—and for Paul’s family, “Boggs” the rescue dog is a crucial team player in a process of recovery and healing; a bright and outgoing presence who’s been said to embody much of Paul’s own personality.
That passion for Baseball—both as an ace pitcher, and as an uber-fan of his beloved New York Yankees—was as much a part of Paul as his professional music career, and the company of the people he loved. It’s appropriate then that on this October day, Paul’s family is gathered on the Babe Ruth diamond at Rock Spring Park to honor the son, brother, bandmate and teammate who “touched many lives in a very special way,” but whose personal demons would overtake him on the base paths, before he could make it safely home.
It’s been more than four years since 22-year-old Paul, exhausted from his long fight with heroin addiction, checked himself out of the Blake Recovery Center™ at Carrier Clinic® over the protestations of his parents, Patty Benson and Paul Alleman Sr. Four years since the Carrier counselor begged him to stay and continue his program of treatment. Four years since a fatal overdose silenced the beating heart of the drummer who gigged and toured in bands with names like Carnapple and Loss of Breath.
At first glance, Paul’s story would never be looked upon as one with a happy ending—but where some may see only defeat and tragedy, this extraordinary family has reclaimed his legacy; channeling his energy into a dedicated effort toward helping others, and drawing positive inspiration from his spirit.
Back at the Long Valley home that she shares with her second husband Jim Benson and Paul’s younger sisters Lauren and Cassie—in a room where one of the drummer’s shattered cymbals hangs framed on the wall as if it were a precious platinum record —Patty is quick to recall her only son as “an entertainer from the time he could walk and talk.” A good and decent kid who wrote a letter to his favorite teacher, thanking her for changing his life. A popular boy who befriended “the girl nobody talked to,” and a championship player who won games for Long Valley Baseball Traveling League— as well as for Metuchen, where he spent his high school years living with his grandmother and aunt.
She also speaks frankly of his heroin habit as “the thing that brought him back to live in this house.” “We knew he was an addict…he was sweating, freezing, moaning, he couldn’t eat,” says Lauren, who at 24 has matured into a passionate advocate for addiction counseling and treatment; one who recalls her brother as “always so outgoing and happy, you didn’t know if he was high or not…you didn’t know whether to kick him out or to coddle him.”
It was Lauren who got everyone in the family to take part in Carrier Clinic®’s annual Walk of Hope event on the Belle Mead campus—and it’s Paul’s sisters who are perhaps the most profound tribute to his legacy. At the age of 20, Cassie Alleman is in her junior year at Rutgers School of Social Work, studying toward becoming a substance abuse counselor and interning at New Brunswick’s Damon House treatment center—while Lauren has been inspired to join the Walk of Hope committee, and has pledged “to do anything I can to make a difference at Carrier.”
Before coming to Carrier, Paul’s family had been told by more than one treatment center that “kicking him out” and “letting him hit rock bottom” was a viable option in dealing with a substance abuser—although as far as Patty was concerned, “A mom can’t just throw her kid out on the street and say we’re done.”
Instead, it was the rehab facility that kicked Paul out for using, after a fellow patient managed to sneak heroin into the building where Paul was receiving treatment. A subsequent overdose forced Patty and Jim to rush their screaming, combative son to the hospital—and to confront the realization that, in Lauren’s words, “Paul got failed by the system.”
Searching for an alternative, Patty would recall the name of Carrier Clinic®—and she knew that the family had arrived at the threshold of a crucial decision; that Paul would need to be transported directly from the hospital to Carrier, without being allowed to return home. As Jim recalls, “We were very happy with Carrier …we thought there was a lot more personal interest in the patients. They actually knew everyone by name.”
While the Carrier substance abuse counselor Anna indicated that Paul was making some progress, the restless young man was growing increasingly impatient—and being of age, he checked himself out the Blake Recovery Center™ despite the urgings of Anna and his family. “It’s the worst feeling in the world; to know that you can’t help your child, no matter what,” explains Patty, her positive demeanor clouding over with emotion.
The weeks following Paul’s fatal overdose brought little peace to the family, who struggled to reconcile the warm and gregarious “natural comedian” with the tragic figure who was cut down, as so many other friends and classmates have been, by a destructive force that he could not control.
“I didn’t want to talk about it afterward… I was in denial,” adds Patty. “You don’t want people to look at you and think you’re a bad parent…you walk into grief groups and you’re still being judged, because your son died of a drug overdose.”
The more that Patty, Jim and the sisters thought about it, the more they looked to Carrier Clinic® as the place that offered Paul a ray of hope in his final days. It’s a thought that took hold as early as Paul’s wake—where the home plate from the old Yankee Stadium was on display—when the family suggested donations to Carrier’s addiction programs in lieu of flowers.
It wouldn’t be long before Patty was paying tribute to the young man in the drummer’s seat by organizing a “Battle of the Bands” fundraiser for Carrier in Woodbridge. The area in and around the Blake Recovery Center™ is the setting for the family’s donations of a commemorative mural (see sidebar story) and a Chinese weeping cherry tree, which shares its planter with a plaque that features a photograph of Paul.
The Carrier connection continued into September of 2012, when the family’s participation in the Walk of Hope “raised over 2,000 dollars because of the way Paul touched so many lives while he was alive,” as Lauren explains.
Since the tragedy of addiction hit home for the Benson and Alleman household, Patty and her family have never stopped believing in the Paul they knew and loved—the Paul who, in his last appearance at a family get-together, took photos of everyone in attendance (“it’s as if he knew,” says Cassie).
The people in his world know that Paul Alleman Jr.— athlete, musician, life of the party, good friend and loving son—will always be more than someone who was defined by his addiction. Working hand in hand with Carrier Clinic®, this dedicated family has continued to do everything in their power to ensure that Paul’s story can be as life-changing for the most troubled neighbors in “this nice town where people don’t lock their doors,” as it has been for them.
“At Paul’s wake, one of his uncles said ‘please don’t let Paul’s death be in vain’,” says Patty. “It’s rewarding to think that you may have made a difference in somebody’s life.”
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