The third stop on our 2,500-mile trek to the DNC in Philadelphia was Denver, Colorado. During the past two weeks we’ve crossed five state lines. As we passed through the wide open plains of Nevada and salt flats of Utah, I couldn’t help but marvel at the vastness and ever-changing beauty of this country. But what is more inspiring than the majestic landscapes are the truly extraordinary people we’ve met along the way. The communities we’ve visited, the stories we’ve heard, and the connections we’ve made. The resilience of these remarkable people, and their support for us and each other, is incredibly heartening. But, then, it should be no surprise these people are this way. In recovery, community is everything.
As I’ve traveled my own journey of recovery these past 18 months, I often think of where I’d be without the community that has been there to lift me up when I was down, lend a hand when I reached for help, and show me the way when I was lost. Unquestionably, I would not have made it without them.
My first day out of treatment was more than rough. Sitting on the front porch of the rehab center I’d just been discharged from, I was nervous, fearful, ashamed, and unsure of the future. I didn’t know if I was going to make it. Although my detox had ended and a flicker of hope had reignited within me, I didn’t know what to do. I was eager to get back to life, but I felt incredibly alone in this new world I was about to embark upon. And then Adam came to pick me up. Adam is a young person in recovery who volunteered to give me a ride to the recovery residence I would be spending the next several months of my new life in. He rolled up in his black Honda Accord to find me standing with everything I owned in two, oversized trash bags. He jumped out of the car, offered me a cigarette, and introduced himself. I quickly tried to get my belongings together and into his car, but one of the bags had a hole in it and some of my stuff fell out. I was so embarrassed. Adam just grabbed the bag and offered to help. Then he looked at me and started to laugh. I’ll never forget what he said: “It’s going to be alright man, we’ve all been there.” With those ten words, my fear and shame were disarmed and, for the first time in the outside world, I began to feel that everything was going to be okay.
Growing up I don’t think I every truly understood the meaning of the word community. Sure, it was used all the time at my school and church. But I always thought it was just somewhere that I lived, or a group of people who met regularly, or a unifying name for an assortment of people brought together for one reason or another. It wasn’t until I began living a life in recovery that I experienced a real sense of community – people supporting one another not just in words, but in action, and with heartfelt compassion and concern for each other.
About a month after I completed my rehab, I was already attached at the hip to a group of young people in recovery who were experiencing a new way of life together. For the first time in my life, I felt a part of a real community. A year and half later, I can tell you that many of those same people are now my best friends, as close to me as my own family has ever been. Today, I realize that, together, we are stronger. Together, we can live a life one day at a time free of substances. And, together, we can experience the freedom, joy, and opportunity that recovery offers.
Our community has grown as we’ve travelled across America these past two weeks. Every stop on our way to the Democratic National Convention has been filled with people who have welcomed us as if we’d known each other for years – people from all walks of life, from all political affiliations. Living in a digital age, I’d be remised if I didn’t mention the thousands of people who’ve joined us virtually with their own “I Support Recovery” stories. Family members, allies of the movement, and people in recovery from every corner of America reaching out to offer their support. I am overwhelmed, excited, and inspired by the belief that we are on the cusp of something really special in American history.
It is a fact that I wouldn’t have been able to sustain my recovery without the strong sense of community and support that has been so freely offered to me. People who see the good in each other, believe in each other, and want to see a better life for themselves and for all around them – and who live this loving philosophy every, single day. That same sense of community shouldn’t end with those in recovery – it should extend to the American way of life. Maybe our policy makers and media pundits can take a few hints from my brothers and sisters in recovery to understand that, without genuine caring, understanding, and compassion, there is no community. Once we all begin to live that fundamental principle, I know we will begin to look at addiction in a different way. And just maybe we all can begin to live in a better world.
For more information or to reach Ryan Hampton, please visit https://ryanhampton.org