Ryan Hampton is one of the most powerful voices our country has today for the recovery community. He’s been able to accomplish a lot in a short time. I’ve known Ryan through the recovery community for the past couple of years and recently I was lucky enough to talk with him about his life and his recovery.
In speaking with Ryan, our conversation flowed pretty easily and minutes into it, he started telling me how the #Voices Project came about. https://ryanhampton.org/voices/ Ryan commented, “Early on in my recovery I decided to share my story, which then led to others sharing their stories and so on.” He said that it was the time for America to start hearing about recovery stories. He started his site as a way for others to share their stories out loud. Ryan felt the timing was right, as there was a lot of media attention being garnered about the addiction crisis and what was happening in our country. Further, “it was a lot of folks, who are in long-term recovery, that haven’t been vocal about it and they too wanted to share their stories.” Initially Ryan said that people told him to wait a few years to speak about it – his thought was, “What do you mean; I’m fresh off this thing, so why would I wait?” That thought started the movement and he hasn’t looked back since.
Ryan commented that the history of the conversation (about addiction) is that parents have ample space to share, as do folks in long term recovery, but what about everyone else? Ryan decided to take his experience and to give young folks a voice, which was the missing piece in the media message.
In order for me to get a frame of reference on Ryan’s addiction, I asked him to share more insight into his story. Ryan’s sobriety date is 2/2/2015 and his drug of choice was Heroin. In 2003 Ryan was 23 years old, and he broke his ankle while hiking one day. He soon was prescribed Oxycodone 15 mg, which then turned into 30 mg and then 80 mg – and then it was Xanax. All of this was from his Doctor. In 2008, he showed up at his Doctor’s office and was told he was blacklisted, as he was drug seeking from other Doctors. Ryan graduated to Heroin that day. He said he left his Doctor’s office dope sick. He called a friend to buy some pills, and was told that he didn’t have any. Then his friend shared that he had Heroin, and that it was a lot cheaper and more accessible. Ryan started snorting it and very soon he was shooting it. Ryan started running that crazy train of addiction and into his dark hole. He tried to quit and went to treatment numerous times and was kicked out. He was homeless, couch surfing, pan handling, and staying in shelters. Ryan said he was also extremely terrified about telling folks what was really going on with him. His mom realized that she was powerless over his addiction, but she did have some empathy and compassion for him. Sadly, Ryan’s father passed away in 2001, so it was very tough for his Mom, being a single parent and struggling as a school teacher, while her only son was withering away to Heroin addiction.
In June 2012, Ryan was taken to a public treatment center by his drug dealer – as he didn’t want to see Ryan die. Ryan ended up staying for 30 days and then moved into sober living for a year. In late spring 2013, he landed a job in California, and with no program or recovery, he stayed silent about his sobriety. In August he started drinking and within two months he was out looking for drugs on skid row – now using heroin and cocaine. Ryan ended up in treatment again in February 2014. He again went for 30 days, got out and started using soon after. Thanksgiving of 2014, Ryan checked into treatment again and was released on 2/2/2015 – his sobriety date.
Ryan said that this time was different, as he immediately plugged into a community and didn’t have shame talking about his recovery and he connected with people that had more time than him. Ryan went to meetings, got a sponsor, worked the steps, and became very involved with his recovery program. In October 2015, Ryan started telling people about this recovery – only to soon find the Facing Addiction rally that was happening that year in Washington, DC. He watched the rally and concert on Facebook live stream and it pumped him up. Ryan said he got excited seeing others sharing their recovery out loud and he wanted in. This was when he really started sharing his story publicly and creating accountability for himself.
In January 2016, Ryan was asked to join the Facing Addiction organization. https://www.facingaddiction.org/ Ryan shared his story with one of the founders and since Ryan had a communications background, they hired him to work the Los Angeles recovery community. Ryan said that something shifted in him in late 2015 where he had reached a turning point. He had lost four of his friends in 90 days. This catapulted Ryan to reach out to Facing Addiction and see what he could do to help make an impact. This was the catalyst that brought him to wanting to help others and end the stigma of being in recovery. Ryan said, “I was angry about what was happening to my friends and the 2016 election was coming up, and I registered as a democratic delegate where I showed up at the caucus, along with 70 others in the recovery community. I soon saw how powerful our voices were. And then other people, not in recovery, shared their stories with us about their son, their granddaughter, their friends, and so on.”
Ryan said he went home that night and reflected on the NEED for these stories to be told. Since that time it’s been a snowball effect which led to his film, Addiction Across America – addictionxamerica.com where he documented his trip cross country as he made his way to the Democratic National Convention. (It’s a great documentary and I highly recommend viewing it) Other people are now recovering out loud and the recovery movement is getting national attention. Ryan commented, “Our audience keeps growing and growing. Social media has become the norm for marginalized communities where they are getting their voices heard. These groups are being formed on social media and we are making a difference.” With a mere $20 investment Ryan started the Voices project (which has now been adopted by Facing Addiction) as this issue now affects 1 in 3 Americans, and as Ryan said, “We need to change these conversations.”
I asked Ryan where he saw himself in the next few years and what would that look like? He commented “If you would have asked me a year ago, I would have said something different than what I’m telling you today. A year ago I wanted to own a home and celebrate my 5 years in recovery and own a business. Today, I’m just living in the moment, day by day to end the silence about addiction and end the crisis – these are my immediate goals – it’s where we WILL be as a movement.”
I went on to ask Ryan about his personal heroes and his mentor; “My mom and my sisters, without them I wouldn’t have made it. They believed in me when nobody did and saw that there was something there when I didn’t. Now I get to see how my Mom is telling her own story.”
For his Mentor, Ryan emphatically said, “Greg Williams, hands down. He believed in me when I didn’t know what was inside of me, and he’s guided me down the path to where I am today.” Greg Williams, http://speakersforchange.org/greg-williams/, is one of the Founders of Facing Addiction and along with Ryan, is one of the leaders in the public eye in helping end the stigma.
When I asked Ryan about what was down the road for Facing Addiction, he shared, “What’s coming up is that Facing Addiction is collaborating with the Voices Project and we are starting to do a lot of Facebook live content and we are building our presence in the media and marketplace. We are developing an expansion for our social media platform.” Clearly, Ryan already has this platform, now we all get to embrace his efforts and join him in this movement. Thanks Ryan for leading the way for me and many others.
Ryan Hampton serves as an outreach lead and recovery advocate for Facing Addiction, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to ending the addiction crisis in America. Prior to that, he worked with multiple non-profits across the country and served in a staff capacity for various political campaigns. In 2016, Ryan publicly disclosed his decade-old struggle with heroin and prescription medications, along with his journey in recovery, in an effort to advocate for reform on a national public policy level. Hampton produced a 7-part documentary series, Facing Addiction Across America, chronicling his cross-country road trip to the DNC advocating for reform and seeking out other like-minded people in long-term recovery to join the growing movement to end the addiction epidemic. Ryan has been feature on Huffington Post, CBS, ABC, Dr. Oz and the White House. To learn more about Ryan, please visit, www.ryanhampton.org