Interview: How to Become a Light Hustler with Ryan Hampton

Recovery advocate Ryan Hampton
Recovery advocate Ryan Hampton

I'm a big believer in people sharing their dark to find their light.

This may be obvious. I do, after all, have a site called Light Hustler.

But here's what I find truly exciting: over the past decade, I've watched light hustling transform. Those things that everyone thought they needed to be quiet about have started pouring out, in articles and speeches and books and blogs.

I believe that the bravery of these people is saving lives. I'm not being dramatic, either; they're helping to destigmatize those things others have judged by busting out and showing the world their fierceness and that frees others who have been wallowing in shame to come forward, in turn encouraging other people to come forward...and so on. Pretty soon, we've got a revolution.

This post is the first in my series of interviews with these revolutionaries: Ryan Hampton.

So who is Ryan Hampton?

Three years into recovery from a decade-long heroin addiction, Ryan Hampton has been rocketed to the center of America’s rising recovery advocacy movement. He is now a prominent, leading face and voice of addiction recovery and is changing the national dialog about addiction through social media. With content that reaches over 1 million people a week, Ryan is breaking down cultural barriers that have kept people suffering in silence and is inspiring a digital revolution of people recovering out loud through his #VoicesProject. He's also advocating for solutions and holding public policy makers accountable. He was part of the core team that released the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General’s report on addiction and was singled out by Forbes as a top social media entrepreneur in the recovery movement. Ryan connects a vast network of people who are passionate about ending the drug epidemic in America. His writing on recovery and addiction related issues regularly go viral in online journals such as HuffPo and The Hill. He also serves as an outreach lead and recovery activist for Facing Addiction, America's leading non-profit dedicated to ending the addiction crisis in the United States. In 2016, Ryan created the web series Facing Addiction Across America, documenting his 30 day, 28 state, 8,000 mile cross-country trip visiting areas hit hardest by the addiction crisis.

(If you're looking for even more inspiration, click here to get my guide to becoming a light hustler, which features interviews with some of these other impressive folks.)

What made you decide to share some of your darkest experiences with the world?

RYAN HAMPTON: Watching some of my closest friends die from overdoses had a tremendous impact on me. I just kept thinking to myself, “In what world is it okay to not be outraged when dozens of your friends under the age of 40 just fade away? Like poof. Gone. Game over.” It never sat right with me. And I just kept thinking to myself that maybe I needed to open up. Not just about addiction. But about who I was. I had ZERO idea what I was doing at first.

Honestly, opening up about one thing led to another, and another, and another. Things and experiences such as my sexual identity, childhood trauma, and shit I never in a million years thought I’d be talking about just made its way to pen and paper. Stuff I’d locked away for decades just surfaced and I finally felt comfortable accepting that it was part of my story.

When did you realize you were making a difference?

RYAN HAMPTON: Last year I received an email from a young man in Lansing, Michigan. It was a really short email but when I read it, I knew I was on the right path. Up until this point, I was kind of unsure as to what I was going to do with this storytelling thing or if it would be sustainable, or even if people liked me. But then Josh’s email came unsolicited and unexpected. It just said this: “Thanks for what you do man. I found your email addy on a website and wanted to just say that I can relate. Last night I told my parents that I needed help and they are going to support me. I’m having a hard time with heroin but I watch your videos and read your stuff and it’s pretty awesome what you’re doing.”

Like, what???? I was blown away. I knew at that moment that as long as I kept it real, I was making an impact. I didn’t need to curate my story into this perfect little package, all I needed to do was tell it. And to inspire others to tell their – that’s the really cool stuff.

How has your life changed since?

RYAN HAMPTON: That’s a loaded question. I sometimes need to pinch myself and ask, “Is this really your life?” To think that telling my story, and being honest and authentic about it truly for the first time, would have led me down this journey of connection and impact is unthinkable. I can’t wait to wake up in the morning. I can’t wait to meet new people and share experiences with them. I can’t wait to take on new challenges and opportunities. I feel empowered, and I feel gratitude in the ability to empower others to do the same. This, all of course, coming from a guy who couldn’t get out of bed 3 years ago; take on simple tasks; had ZERO ability to follow through or complete ANYTHING of value; and was ashamed of who he was and felt unlovable.

What do you tell other people who are wrestling with whether or not to share their struggles with the world?

RYAN HAMPTON: Embrace your story. Own it. I had no idea how many people out there shared the exact same experiences as I did. And it seemed as if they were just waiting for an invitation to share their own story, too. In a weird way, by telling your story – you give courage and invite others to do the same. We can shift cultural perceptions by owning our narratives, and not allowing others to own them for us.

My advice: do it. Tell your story. Drop the mic. And watch what happens. It’s a pretty rad experience.

What are some of the unexpected benefits of putting yourself out there in this way?

RYAN HAMPTON: The most valuable unexpected benefit was the ability to love myself no matter what. I’ve found purpose and value in what I do. My story doesn’t scare me anymore. Through telling it, I’ve found freedom. And now I’m on a mission to re-create my experience in doing so for as many people as possible.

What were some of your biggest fears about opening up to the world?

RYAN HAMPTON: Rejection. Every single fear that I thought was real (at the time) stemmed from rejection. What if people laugh at me? What if people think this is stupid? What if I fail? What if people start pushing me away?

Guess what? It’s all bullshit. None of those fears were real. And to the few people who actually did think those things (yes, there were just a few), I’m okay with it. Because for every one of those, I’ve gained meaningful connections with thousands more. I guess you can call that a fair trade.

(If you're looking for even more inspiration, click here to get my guide to becoming a light hustler, which features interviews with a bunch of others, as well as light hustling career ideas.)

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