Show compassion to those that are struggling. To be clear, enabling is not compassion. Compassion is “I love you and am here to support you when/if you want to live a life in recovery”.
As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Wes Hurt.
Wes Hurt is the Founder and CEO of CLEAN Cause. An Austin-based better-for-you beverage company, CLEAN is a mission-first venture whereby 50% of profits support individuals in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. An entrepreneur, person in recovery, and man on a mission, Wes founded CLEAN Cause with the commitment of creating a sustainable source of funding to support the fight against the epidemic. Prior to CLEAN Cause, Wes founded the iconic Hey Cupcake! chain, igniting the Austin food truck wave. Now Wes and his team are scaling CLEAN Cause across the United States, with aspirations of one day spreading the brand globally to support recovery across the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Wes! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?
My story isn’t that different from most addicts and alcoholics. I began drinking and smoking pot in my teens. After high school, I was drinking daily and my, once experimental, drug use became full dependency.
In my late 20s, despite my addictions, I managed to build a successful business — cupcakes of all things.
Extreme negative consequences weren’t enough to curb or stop my drug use. Stints in rehabs and a psych ward, the deterioration of my marriage and loss of trust from everyone I loved, getting fired as CEO of my own company, multiple DUIs and arrests, physical injuries and, finally, living in an office of a beat up warehouse — still weren’t enough.
The turning point came one night in that warehouse, lying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling. My heart did something I had never felt before, an eerie fluttering for some time. For the first time, I believed that addiction would take my life.
The next day, I called my wife to tell her I didn’t think I was going to live much longer. Up until then she had taken the tough-love position and had refused to watch me die. But that day she extended yet another lifeline telling me to come home “right now” if I really wanted to get help. I accepted her offer.
They say it’s darkest before the dawn. Cliché, but true. Through God’s grace, relationships have been restored, I’m a father of two beautiful sons (Jude and Otis) and I’ve found purpose in CLEAN Cause.
Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid and drug addiction?
There wasn’t one specific event that inspired me to incorporate addiction recovery into my profession / our business model. Prior to getting sober, I was actively addicted to alcohol and drugs for a period of 20+ years. In short, I had “done the research” and understood the impact my addictions had on myself, others, and society as a whole. Knowing that I was only one of millions of Americans struggling with addiction, with the remaining population dealing with the consequences and pain caused by their loved ones — I felt this was a cause the country could unite behind. Simply put, addiction affects us all.
Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?
Wow, this is a complex question. I’m not certain anyone can answer this as addiction has been around for thousands of years. Honestly, it provokes more questions in my mind than answers. Examples: Is addiction a disease? Are you “born with it” / predisposed? Does trauma cause addiction? In order to create a comprehensive solution for a problem you have to fully understand the problem. With that said, we don’t claim to, but will never stop doing our part to be part of the solution.
Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?
I founded our company CLEAN Cause with the Cause and mission to support individuals in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. While the product is important and the quality of our organic sparkling Yerba Mate drinks is what people continue to come back for, the Cause is the backbone of the brand. While we’re not the solution, we want to be part of one. 50% of our profits fund our sober living scholarships initiative coined CLEAN Kickstarts, for people in early stages of recovery, coming out of rehab, homelessness, and incarceration. Our scholarships enable these individuals to focus on establishing a recovery routine and finding employment. To date we have granted over 1200 sober living scholarships valued at over $600,000. We “Give Where You Swig” and allocate scholarships to individuals across the country where people drink CLEAN.
Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your initiative?
We have had the opportunity to help over 1200 people with sober living scholarships. One individual has now been in recovery and sober for almost four years and has now founded his own sober living and recovery center where he is helping others to find their own paths to recovery. Another scholarship recipient is a former professional athlete who became addicted after an injury and today remains sober, in recovery, and has a new career.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
We are grateful for the opportunity to help every individual that is granted one of our CLEAN Kickstarts sober living scholarships. It is always impactful and uplifting to hear from the scholarship recipients, but we also hear frequently from the families and loved ones of recipients. Every business has extreme challenges — but hearing from the folks impacted always tops off our tanks with gratifuel!
Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?
- Compassion — Show compassion to those that are struggling. To be clear, enabling is not compassion. Compassion is “I love you and am here to support you when/if you want to live a life in recovery”.
- Connection — reach out to folks you know are struggling. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of a kind or encouraging phone call, text or email. Sometimes that little gust of wind is what someone needed to fill their sail for the day.
- Shame — Let’s work together to not shame anyone who struggles with addiction. I’m a firm believer that we all must take full responsibility for the life we were given and choices we make but that doesn’t mean we should kick someone when they’re already down. There’s no upside to expressing shame to someone.
If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
CLEAN Cause is a brand for all people. That said, we do not speak to political matters and try to remain as open, agnostic, and inclusive as possible. Our cause is what we all have in common — and we remain apolitical as to not alienate anyone from feeling welcome.
I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?
I’ve seen the power of extending grace and compassion to others. Seeing folks find new life and hope is what drives us to press on. Not to mention my amazing wife and two boys. Life is good.
Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?
There’s no cure for addiction and I don’t believe there ever will be one. Regardless of that opinion, I try not to look at addiction as a whole but rather focus on the individual struggling. We live our lives one day at a time…all humans. Folks in recovery — recover one day at a time. CLEAN Cause helps one person at a time and each person. My hope and prayer is that these folks live life to the fullest and pay-forward the gifts they’ve been given in recovery to those that are less fortunate or in need of support.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is being willing to do whatever you ask someone else to do. I feel some of the most powerful displays of leadership are getting in the trenches. Humility is one of the greatest characteristics of a leader. For the record, I struggle with humility as I forget sometimes of all of the reasons I have the life I’ve been blessed with. In short — it wasn’t me — it was we that gave it to me.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Be easy with yourself — realize that the shame and guilt you feel from things you did when you were using are just that — crappy things you did WHEN YOU WERE USING. You’re not NOW, so you’re doing less crappy things!
- Exercise — Admittedly I have a tough time with this aspect, but it is one of the most powerful ways to kickstart your recovery. Maximize your chances to stabilize your emotions and mind by releasing the stress, confusion and anxieties by sweating that crap away!
- Find someone in recovery you really admire and can relate to AS SOON AS YOU CAN. Support and community are crucial to get into and remain in recovery.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
To show others compassion. To “lean in” and be vulnerable with others so that we may all realize that we’re really not that different from one another. I like to say “addiction is just my flavor of affliction”. Why? Because all humans struggle with something — that we absolutely have in common.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Control the controllables.” Oftentimes we all try to find ways to control the things that are truly uncontrollable. This “lack of control” and obsessing on it breeds anxiety and fear. So, instead of focusing on what you cannot control — try to identify the things that you can and then take action.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
God. I want to know why he/she/it designed this world the way he/she/it did.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Please follow along @cleancause on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and TikTok. We have also added a Community Inspiration page to our website (cleancause.com) where users from across the country can submit their own stories of inspiration, recovery, and hope to share with the CLEAN community.