The Heroic Journey: Metaphor for the path through addiction and recovery. to becoming one who has gifts to share

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1 The Heroic Journey: Metaphor for the path through addiction and recovery to becoming one who has gifts to share There is a plot which appears over and over in stories told by all cultures, in books, movies, TV and epic poetry. Joseph Campbell and others have called it the heroic journey. I have recast this concept in a slightly different way, building on their earlier work. Here is the basic plot. An ordinary person is living a regular life in an ordinary community. The protagonist of the story is someone with whom we can all identify. She or he is not extraordinary in the beginning of the tale. Whether human, animal, or magical creature, this is just another member of the community, going about day to day life like others of the region. Something happens. This precipitating event can take a wide variety of forms. Sometimes it is a life event that changes everything. In other stories, there is an invitation from someone. The event can be something planned or chosen by our hero. Whatever the event that causes it, the ordinary person either chooses to, or must, leave home and go on a journey. The protagonist of our story can no longer stay at home, living the day to day existence he or she had been going through before this. Whether that life was comfortable, or boring, or painful in some way, it is never going to be the same again. The Journey is very difficult. No matter what precipitated the hero(ine) to leave home and enter on this new path, one thing is true in every version of the story. The hero is challenged beyond what he thought he could live through. There are millions of kinds of heroic journeys. Each one is unique to the individual living it. Each one is a wonderful and interesting story in its own right. There are some aspects of the journey that may appear in most of them. Heroic Journey: Metaphor for addiction and recovery * Dorothy Dunne Page 1

2 Along the way- Sometimes the hero or heroine has companions on the journey. It is always clear, however, that the companions are secondary they may help, or sometimes get in the way, but this journey is the hero(ine)'s to complete. Sometimes the hero(ine) has a guide. This may be an old man, a wizard, a magical creature, or a spiritual entity. The guide cannot do the task or the journey for the hero(ine) he or she must do it him- or herself. I often think of the old Christian song, You ve got to walk this lonesome valley, you ve got to walk it by yourself, for nobody else can walk it for you, you have to walk it by yourself. To me, that means each hero(ine) is responsible for her or his own struggle through the challenges of the journey. There are those who will provide much along the way, but in the end only the central figure of the story can make the choices and have the endurance and inner strength to undertake the whole journey. It is a frightening journey. The hero(ine) may come close to death or failure at times. This bears repetition. This journey is not a walk in the park. It is not easy or convenient. A heroic journey must take the protagonist all the way to very edge of what she or he believes can be borne. When someone says, God never gives us more than we can handle, a hero in the midst of this journey will wonder if that is true. It may well seem that the challenges of this path are beyond his or her abilities or stamina. It is a life or death venture. The stakes are as high as they can be. In fact, in most stories, the heroine almost doesn't make it through As we hear the story told, or watch the movie, or read the book, we must wonder if at some point our hero is going to be defeated. At long last, however the hero(ine) DOES make it!! The mountain is scaled, the dragon slain, the monster overcome, the illness survived. After all she or he has gone through, this ordinary being, with whom we identify, Heroic Journey: Metaphor for addiction and recovery * Dorothy Dunne Page 2

3 is transformed in the process. Now the hero(ine) has gifts which make him or her stronger and more capable. The kinds of gifts will vary from one story to the next. Sometimes the heroine has magical powers or objects won in the struggle. In other stories the gifts are more clearly a transformation of character. This being is not the same as the one who was raking a yard at the beginning of the tale. But this is not the end of the story. The hero(ine) returns to her or his own community prepared to use these gifts to help those who are still at home. A true hero(ine) has won those gifts for a purpose. They must be used for the good of others. The magic, the gold, the ring, the special weapon, the new strength cannot be held closely and used selfishly. To do this would be to become another kind of being entirely, perhaps the villain or despicable monster of another tale. Sometimes, the community welcomes the hero(ine) and accepts the gifts. It is able to benefit from the hero(ine) s new abilities and wisdom. In some stories, the community rejects the hero(ine). He or she is too different, no longer fits in. Or the hero(ine) may find that she or he no longer feels comfortable in the old community because of the changes in him or her. In these stories, the hero(ine) leaves again. He or she goes out on the road to help others who can use what he or she has to offer. In many of the stories, we see our protagonist trying to return home to the life that once seemed normal. It often happens that the community no longer fits the transformed hero(ine) as it once seemed to. She or he is no longer the same. Having known him or her as (s)he once was, the community may not be able to embrace the transformed and no longer ordinary being. With new strength, wisdom, knowledge or power, this being may seem like one who was once like those in the home community, but who now acts superior to them in an unwelcome way. They may not be able to accept what she or he has to give. They did not experience what he or she experienced. It is common, then, for the hero(ine) to have to leave that old place, and go somewhere where she or he was not known in the old days. The new community may be better able to receive the help our Heroic Journey: Metaphor for addiction and recovery * Dorothy Dunne Page 3

4 hero(ine) has to give to them. The old home may be visited once in a while, but may not be the place to live any longer. All cultures have heroic journeys. Stories of this kind are told in every culture, from as far back as we have memories of the stories of the ancestors. It is fascinating to think of examples from old and new times. A vision quest is a kind of heroic journey. Or a young person s first hunt. Here are a few more examples of Heroic Journey stories: Lord of the Rings Alice in Wonderland The Odyssey Keet Shagoon (Tlingit) Moses Joan of Arc White Plume Boy (Lakota) There are thousands more. A person who goes through the process of addiction and recovery has engaged in a real life heroic journey. An ordinary person going through day to day life enters into the path of addiction in any one of a wide variety of ways. It could begin by doing something fun with one s friends or family. It could begin with a need to deaden pain inside that is too much to endure. Whatever the precipitating factor that initiates the first engagement with alcohol, drugs, or some other siren song, there is a point along the path when the craving for it becomes much stronger than the realization that this thing is causing harm to oneself or to others affected by the user s actions. Addiction is a descent into hell alleviated only by those times when the object of one s need is temporarily satisfied. Heroic Journey: Metaphor for addiction and recovery * Dorothy Dunne Page 4

5 The path of recovery can be seen as another essential part of the heroic journey of the addict. Whatever the factor which precipitates the user to engage in this struggle, recovery is not easy. There may be companions along the way to help or sometimes hinder movement along the recovery path. There may be wise guides to provide wisdom, encouragement, a strong hand along the way. In the end, it is the hero herself or himself who must walk the path. A person who has been able to walk the path of recovery is a true hero(ine). This person has been challenged to the very edge of human endurance. Anyone who survives this journey has gifts to give to help others. She or he is stronger, wiser and more capable not only than she was when in the midst of using, but than she was before she started using. He or she has been tested in fire and has been forged like fine metal. Those who have been addicted to anything often think of themselves as victims or failures. A victim considers all that has happened to him or her as beyond his or her control. People or events outside of herself caused all the bad things that happened to her. A victim feels powerless. A person who considers himself a failure remembers all the things he has done, or has not done, and feels ashamed. It is true that things happen to people that are beyond their control. It is beyond appalling to consider the injustice that has been done to human beings, mostly by other human beings. Some groups of people have been abused, oppressed and exploited in ways that are completely unacceptable. We need to keep up the fight for justice. It is also true that people have done things, or failed to do things, that are good cause for shame. Making amends is one of the important steps of the recovery journey. At the same time, it is also true that when a person who has undergone the journey through addiction and recovery is able to reframe his or her experiences as a heroic journey, there is a truth that is more true than victimization or shame. Whatever has happened in the path, a person who has engaged in recovery from addiction and harmful behaviors is a hero. A hero has power. A heroine has gifts to help others, in her own community or a new community which can accept those gifts. A person who has survived hell and come out the other side is stronger and wiser than when he went into that abyss. We need these heroes and heroines. We need them to recognize their beauty and strength and wisdom. They are the wise guides and companions who will help the rest of us along the way on our own paths towards heroism. Let us write the stories of each of our heroic journeys. Dorothy Dunne Monday, February 3, 2014 Heroic Journey: Metaphor for addiction and recovery * Dorothy Dunne Page 5

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