How My Recovery Community, With A Nudge From Hillary Clinton, Helped Me Find My Voice

Sweaty and nervous, I sat in front of one of the most powerful leaders in the world, ready to tell my story. I mentally gulped, looked towards Hillary Clinton, and told her my story of recovery from addiction and how it’s ended the lives of so many that were close to me. I voiced my outrage at the lack of options available for people who need help and my frustration of the stigma that hangs over this public health crisis. At the end of my story she grasped my arm and said “Keep talking out there, Ryan. I want you to know that I’m going be your partner in addressing this.”

Now how did a guy like me, in recovery from a life-threatening heroin addiction, get an audience with Hillary Clinton? Well now, that’s a great story.

Months back, me and 70 other young people were sitting on the steps of a sober living home discussing our outrage at how many of our friends and family members have died from substance use disorder. So, we came up with a plan to mobilize politically and get me elected as a delegate to the DNC to try and move this health crisis from the shadows and into the spotlight.

Many of these young people had never voted before, but we were now all strongly united in our cause. When we showed up to the delegate election site we saw hundreds of people and a ballot that had over 68 candidates, but we were not deterred. We went up to every voter and offered them our lived experience in recovery and the stories of those close to us who weren’t lucky enough to become survivors. What we found was that everybody had a story about their brother, sister, parent, child, or friend who was afflicted or affected. Then came the vote – and we ended up winning despite the incredible odds against us. Our community in Pasadena, California agreed that addiction is not only worthy of a national conversation; but long overdue for solutions coming from actual lived experience. That we can no longer only rely on the droves of mortal statistics and talking heads on television to steer the national agenda around addiction. Hillary understands this. And she’s building an agenda that not only relies on the experts for their opinions, but from the normal, everyday people like me and my friends who walk this journey of recovery every, single, day.

When Hillary caught wind of our growing movement, she asked me to come speak with her. I was admittedly nervous about telling her about my own recovery story, but I believe that she truly embraced the message that I was trying to send. From that point forward, I’ve acted on her advice, by reaching out to communities, visiting with public policy leaders, recovering out loud, and adding my voice, in every way possible, to the growing movement of people facing addiction from every corner of America.

What happened next some may consider a momentary lapse in sanity. If you would’ve told me that I was about to pack up and travel across 15 states and log over 2,500 miles to seek out others who share my passion about stepping up and addressing this epidemic, I would have called you crazy. But that’s exactly what I did.

When I left California, the finish line was always arriving in Philadelphia for the convention. But somewhere along the trip, that changed. I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, but when I walked onto the floor of the DNC, I felt as if I was a changed person. As I walked into people’s homes, visited their communities, heard their stories, and realized that we’re all in this together, the end goal changed. I realized our power exists in unity. Voices that have walked this long, windy road for decades to search for an absolution to end the stigma and shame. To search for compassion and empathy. And to search for understanding and truth.

As I left Philadelphia to drive back home to California, the remnants of the DNC were still plastered all over the city. Most notably, placards and billboards that read Stronger Together. Yes, indeed, we are stronger together. Because it is only through our collective human experiences that our leaders will ever understand what this community is fighting for and why we’re doing it. And it’s actually pretty simple, we’re fighting for the American opportunity to live, and to live the fullest and most productive lives possible.

So, thank you Hillary Clinton for helping me find my voice. I’m going to continue using it, and loudly at times. And thank you to the countless Americans facing addiction with me everyday. Your stories are forever imprinted in my heart. This long, and often times audacious, trip may be over. But our shared journey and experiences together have only begun.

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