The Hero’s Journey of Recovery

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Images of brave, noble men and women come to mind when thinking about the word “hero."  Perhaps you think of a military war hero, a first responder, or a police officer.  In a mythological sense, Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, and Mulan are all ordinary people destined for greatness.  You might not think of yourself as a hero, especially since addiction is stigmatized.  So, what constitutes a hero?  The two primary definitions that fit the context of this blog are:

  1. A person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character.
  2. A person, who in the opinion of others, has extraordinary achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.

Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell was born in 1904.  He became fascinated with Native American culture as a young boy having seen Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.  That began his personal journey towards studying myth.  His seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, looks at myth and the hero's mission, including the departure, transformation, and return.  Campbell was a comparative mythology professor who found a universal pattern common to a heroic tale in every culture.  Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous guide a person through 12-Steps of recovery.  You guessed it!  Campbell’s stages of the hero’s journey are also 12.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  Campbell’s heroic journey ended in 1987, after a brief struggle with cancer 

The 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey

  1. The Ordinary World. This is where we meet the hero and identify with him or her.  Recall Luke Skywalker helping his uncle, Frodo, preparing for a party talking with Gandalf, Harry Potter is at his aunt and uncle's home. He seems out of place, and Mulan is studying to impress the matchmaker.  You are known to your circle and likely view yourself as ordinary.  This is the very beginning of the story.
  2. The Call to Adventure. A challenge or quest is proposed.  Likely there is an event, conflict, or problem that prompts the adventure.  Maybe drug and alcohol use has placed relationships on rocky ground.  Or, your boss smelled alcohol on you as you walked by at work.  Perhaps legal consequences are pending.
  3. Refusal of the Call. The hero initially rejects this call because of fear, hesitation, insecurity, or another reason.  Perhaps family or friends have suggested that you go to treatment, and you aren't quite ready.  You might be afraid of what to expect in therapy.  Whatever the reason, the call to adventure is rejected initially.
  4. Meeting the Mentor. The mentor helps the hero gain confidence, gives insight, or advice to overcome the fears.  You might encounter a friend or family member that has had experiences with drugs and alcohol abuse.  This person can give advice, guidance, and insight to help you gain confidence.
  5. Crossing the Threshold. This signifies that the hero has committed to the journey.  Frodo packed food to take and set out past the Shire.  Luke Skywalker leaves Tatooine.  Harry Potter gets on the train at platform 9¾.  Mulan sets out to the military camp.  This is where our hero – You – say yes to treatment and head out to begin the adventure of reclaiming your life.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies. The hero needs to learn who can be trusted.  A sidekick emerges, like Hedwig, Hermione, and Ron, Sam, Mushu, and R2D2 and C3PO.  Tests might be barriers to treatment like childcare, time off work, finances, or looming court appearances.
  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave. Preparations are needed and might include maps, and reconnaissance to enter the cave.  In treatment, the innermost cave refers to working through feelings of shame and guilt.  Women drink and use mainly to cover painful, negative emotions.  To continue your journey, you must face the reasons why you chose to drink and use.
  8. The Ordeal. This is the greatest fear and most difficult challenge.  Perhaps you were physically or sexually abused as a child or had a miscarriage that was so painful.  Your therapist in treatment will ask you to delve deep into your psyche to address your most significant challenge.  The work is challenging, but so worth the reward.
  9. The hero overcame the greatest fear and challenge to earn the reward.  Mulan’s life was spared after it was discovered that she was a girl.  Luke received the Death Star plans, Harry Potter received the Sorcerer's Stone, and Frodo received a sword.  Your reward is much higher.  The freedom from being entrapped by maladaptive behaviors is priceless.
  10. The Road Back. This stage is comprised of the hero recommitting to complete the journey and accept the road back to the ordinary world.  You completed treatment and are preparing to return home.  Your clinical team will work with you on a relapse prevention plan.  The relapse prevention plan is like a roadmap after treatment to help you stay sober.  It might include craving and trigger awareness, social and emotional support, and alternative behaviors.
  11. The Resurrection. This can be the most dangerous life-and-death ordeal for the hero and is the climax of the story.  A final test that represents a cleansing.  It might be a showdown between the hero and the Shadow.  During the ordeal phase, you looked at shadowy places in your past.  During the resurrection, one final challenge awaits.  Mulan warns the rest of the army that Shan Yu is hiding to attack.  No one believes her, and she must convince them of the danger.  In your resurrection, you might face the deep, dark secret that you forgot about.
  12. Return with the Elixir. The final reward after the hero was resurrected, purified, and has returned to the ordinary world.  You have done the difficult work of looking within at the reasons you drank and used.  With the help of mentors, allies, and self-efficacy, you are prepared to return home.

Remember that sobriety is something that must be nurtured, fostered, and cared for.  Self-care, balance, honesty, openness, and willingness are all character traits that must be done regularly.

Dr. Serena Gupta, the founder of The Ho tai Way – Recovery for Women, completed her doctorate in depth psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute.  Depth psychology explores the unconscious and transpersonal aspects of the human experience. It may look at dreams, and archetypes, much like the hero's journey and myth.

Are you ready to begin your hero's journey?  Call our admissions team at (714) 581-3974.