October 23, 2015
By Muriel J. Smith
“I want to help other people, just like so many others helped me.”
That’s Christian Peter’s mantra in life.
It’s also the reason why Peter was the honoree at Infinity, the first fundraising event for the Tigger House Foundation, founded by Lisa and Richard Stavola after the death of their oldest son, Richard Jr., known as Tigger, from a heroin overdose.
The event, held on the beach at Edgewater Beach and Cabana Club on Oct. 9, marked the second anniversary of Tigger’s passing. It was an overwhelmingly successful event for the charity that works with law enforcement, medical, legal, and mental health professionals to help those who struggle with addiction.
Peter, 43, told his own unique story at the event, raising the hopes of both young people and their families in assuring them, “there’s always help there for you. There are people who want to help you.”
He was brutally honest when sharing his story. Courageous, emotional, and inspiring, Peter bared all and expressed his dedication in helping others learn about addictions.
Located in Middletown, the 12-bed house provides assistance for those suffering from heroin addiction and plays a key role in the Stavolas’ mission to have a positive impact by reducing the death rate of heroin and opiate addition, which, they believe, is “an epidemic in our community.”
Peter, the former leader of the Blackshirt Defense at the University of Nebraska, former New York Giant before he retired in 2007, is a positive thinker. He’s also a determined individual who was taught during his developmental years that if you really want to do something, do it all the way. That’s what got him a scholarship to the University of Nebraska after playing only one year of football at Middletown High School South. That’s what helped the Eagles gain the state title in 1990 with their undefeated record. That’s what got him into Nebraska’s Football Hall of Fame in 2006. That’s what got other professional football teams – the Patriots, Colts, and Bears – to want him on their side.
But that’s also what got him into alcohol addiction and trouble with the law.
In order to straighten himself out, he had to look closely at what he didn’t like about himself. He had to put ego aside and change certain aspects of his personality, of his lifestyle. He did it. But a few years after righting himself, when he thought he didn’t need any more help or medication or counseling, he slid back into some bad habits.
Fortunately, he managed to retain the Peter concept of “doing it all the way” and made a commitment. He would better himself. He would get clean. He would focus. He would become the loving husband, caring father, and successful businessman he is today.
Peter says what helps him the most in his everyday battle to fight alcohol addiction, is helping others. “I love supporting others. Helping someone solve their problems isn’t just a help to the individual, it’s a help to me. I become less selfish, less self-centered.”
Peter is far from selfish. He doesn’t mind telling his story about the bad times he’s been through; he laments openly and sincerely about the pain he caused his parents, his brothers, his sister, his extended family. He does it all because he sees it as a way of aiding others. And that’s what Christian Peter is all about.
Nor was Christian the only son who conquered his addiction. His younger brother, Jason, was a heroin addict and Peter reached out to help him as well. Their sister, Ashley, the youngest of the four Peters, reiterated this week how very proud she is of her oldest brother, “Christian will do everything and anything to ensure his past mistakes are not repeated. He’s built a connection to a younger generation of addicts and I have to think they respond to him because of his candor. He’s an open book and incredibly selfless. I couldn’t be prouder.”
Brother Damian is married, has two children and lives in Fair Haven, and the entire family is close-knit and loving. Peter added he talks to his mom frequently, sees his parents as often as possible.
Looking back, Peter can see now, both from his own experience and from professional and expert studies on the problems, behind so many drug or alcohol addictions there are underlying mental issues. “It all stems from something mental,” he explains with intensity. “Addicts have fears, are depressed, they don’t feel good in their own skin. Some have ADD, or are dyslexic. There’s always something mental behind it. They look to self-medicate; they think they can feel better, can like themselves more; they’re going for some kind of relief.”
For himself, Peter said he masked his own dislike of himself by playing football. It made him feel good. It made him forget he had to read the same book 10 times before he could understand what he had read. It made him forget the insecurities he felt.
But football wasn’t enough. Peter liked to party and learned that alcohol helped mask those same feelings that football did. And partying and drinking made him feel secure. So, in true fashion, he was doing it “all the way.”
It wasn’t until he started to realize that there were more bad things with his new habits than good, that Peter started to straighten out. He credits the New York Giants with giving him a major boost up. They got him into Alcoholics Anonymous, they got him counseling and they got him the treatment he needed. But when it all worked, and Peter was doing and feeling just fine, he thought he could go it alone. Hence the relapse.
Today, he knows better. He knows he has demons to fight every day. And he can fight these demons best by helping others. He had tried to help Tigger.
Tigger was 12 years younger than Peter when Lisa Stavola called on the former football player for help for her son after she learned of his addiction. “Tigger was wonderful,” Peter recalls, a tinge of sadness in his voice, “he spoke from the heart. He was honest, he was decent. Like so many others, he was just trying to help himself, trying to self-medicate. It’s important to remember this: Tigger was not a bad kid trying to get good. He was a sick kid trying to get well.”
Similar to how he had tried to help Lisa and Rick in dealing with their son’s illness, he’s continuing to help now, with the Tigger House Foundation. Service to others is a big part of Peter’s life. And an even bigger part of his continuing good health. “I constantly look back at my worst times and hope someone else isn’t having a similar experience. My moments of rock bottom urge me to reach out and help people. When I do, when I make a difference, my past becomes OK.”
That’s how Christian Peter lives every day.