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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

08-29-17 | By

Backpacker Ben – Turning One Story of Grief Into One of Awareness

Ben had the world on a string. He was an enthusiastic young man with a fruitful personality, full of charisma, charm, and wore his heart on his sleeve. Ben grew up in a loving and supportive family in Pennsylvania, and was well-rounded and well-liked. He had a loving Mother, a strong Father, and a best friend of a Brother. He had a passion for sports and music and gracefully played the guitar and sang. At a young age, he got involved in alcohol and drugs and that soon spiraled out of control to a full blown Heroin addiction.

Ben was in and out of treatment and finally landed in South Florida for a couple of years with some clean time under his belt. He found friends, belonging, and a common ground where others like him flocked to get sober.

By the time Ben and his supports felt ready enough to take on the world, he moved back to Pennsylvania with a roommate and was able to move into an apartment of his own.

Unbeknownst to Ben, the terrors of his addiction and every families nightmare became a reality when Ben got caught in the mind-set of “one more.”

Ben spent just one night in his new apartment. On August 1, 2016, he overdosed and passed away.

As you can imagine, calls, posts and messages flooded Ben’s family and social media. The unbearable pain and loss that his family felt was nothing short tumultuous and the grief-stricken family of someone who was lost too young and too soon each had their own way of dealing with Ben’s passing.

But, it’s Ben’s brother, Alex, who is keeping Ben’s memory alive in an extraordinary way. He is jet-setting the globe with his brother and sharing his story. Alex created “Backpacker Ben.”

What is “Backpacker Ben,” you ask?

Alex turned his brother into a look-alike bobble head and traveled around the world with him.

ben in london

The look-alike doll is seen wearing a shirt that Ben often wore, a backpack, a camera, and attached is a guitar case; some of the things that he loved the most, and compared to pictures I’ve seen of Ben, the bobble-head looks like a carbon copy of him.

Alex shares more:

“As a younger brother, Ben was many things to me – the occasional nuisance, a rival, a friend, and a partner for life. I longed for the day that we could share adventures together, freed of his demons. As I continue to grieve I know, more than ever, that day will never come. Backpacker Ben was created in memory of my fun-loving, talented brother who touched the lives of many in his nearly twenty-four years of life. May his adventures illustrate what should have been, while echoing the tragic nature of an epidemic that seems to have no end.”

Alex could have sat in his pain, (I can’t even imagine the pain of losing a sibling) behind closed doors, sulking in the devastating loss. After all, I don’t think I could have traveled far from home after something like that. However, Alex’s pain was great enough that he decided to do something about it. Alex traveled for three months across six different countries with Ben raising awareness and funds for “Natural High” – a non-profit that inspires youth and young people to develop the skills and courage to live life well. He shared stories to those that he came across and seemed to re-live some of those memories. Some of those places included Morocco, the Netherlands, and Spain.

“There were times when it became so difficult that I considered heading home early, but the encouragement of everyone around kept me going. Backpacking with Ben has helped push me along in my grief journey (more than I could have imagined) but there is still a long way to go. Please don’t forget about those that are still fighting addiction; they need our help and support.”

As Alex traveled he posted a commentary of pictures of his Brother in front of picturesque landmarks like “Big Ben.” One picture that caught my eye speaks for itself; two young children propped on their knees seem to be in awe of Ben.

“Chefchaouen is a beautiful gem tucked into the mountains in Morocco. While looking for a nice place to take photos, we met some local kids playing in one of the more picturesque alleys. Immediately infatuated with Ben, we bonded while I tried to explain the meaning behind what I was doing (probably unsuccessfully). It was still one of my favorite moments.”

What can we do for Ben?

back packer ben

“My hope is that Backpacker Ben will serve as a tool to increase awareness for a cause that touches far too many lives – addiction. Together we can #SpeakUpForBen by offering encouragement and hope to those that still have the opportunity to choose life. Smother them with love and support; lets break the stigma”

By 2020, mental health and substance abuse disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide. 

Ben is not a just a statistic. He had a life and a story – a very important one, and he is jet setting the world one story at a time. I can’t wait to see where he adventures to next.

Sometimes the most beautiful stories come out of the most terrible tragedies, and there is not doubt that a small story is being remembered in a huge way.

Keep up with Ben’s adventures on instagram here: 


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