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The Hero’s Journey as a Recovery Metaphor

A dear friend and colleague, Emi Berger, recently wrote a blog post about a concept called “The Hero’s Journey.”

Joseph Campbell, the creator of this “monomyth” (the technical term used to describe his creation), has outlined three distinct stages the hero takes.

  • Stage One: Separation
  • Stage Two: Initiation
  • Stage Three: Return

Of course, each one of the three main stages then has several sub-stages, meaning it isn’t quite so streamlined to get from One to Three as you might assume (and as I might like).

Right now, Emi is tackling her biggest athletic challenge to date – competing in an Ironman event this coming July. She is planning to use her competition to raise money for MentorCONNECT, the nonprofit organization I founded in 2009 for which she is currently a board member.

In her post, Emi describes first feeling called to compete, then resisting, then eventually answering the call (this being stage one – Separation).

In the next stage (Initiation), Emi talks about having to face her many fears full-on as her training progresses – a stage which for her is currently in-progress.

When Emi reaches the third and final stage of Return, she will have conquered each of those fears, whether or not she wins her competition.

As I was reading about Emi’s amazing journey (from the comfort of my couch), it occurred to me that the Hero’s Journey is also a great analogy for recovery.

First, we become aware that something about how we are living life, the choices we are making (or not making), our relationships with self and others, are no longer serving us well. We go back and forth, struggling with doubt, disbelief, wanting to hide, but then finally we heed our own inner intuition and accept that we need to make changes and new choices in order to achieve the life of our dreams.

Next, we begin to learn about recovery (which for me typically has meant learning about all the things I’m afraid of and how very afraid of them I am). We quake and shake, relapse and retreat, run and are caught – often by our mentors, who see our strength when we are literally too scared to even try – and eventually turn and face each fear head on.

Finally, we begin to emerge into recovered life. No longer does every little shadow and sound make us jump. We are becoming aware of our inner strength and courage in a new way. We feel much more firmly committed to living a life free from the inner bully. We become solid, steadfast, serene.

I can look back at my recovery from anorexia and bulimia, depression and anxiety, and see the Hero’s Journey at work. I feel reassured by the presence of a trustworthy pattern amidst the seeming randomness of the day-to-day hard work of recovery. I wish I had known there was a trustworthy pattern I could cling to when I was actually doing all that hard work!

But, life being life, doubtless there will be new hard challenges ahead, and I will be taking Separation-Initiation-Return with me as I face them, each in its turn.

Today’s Takeaway: Does the Hero’s Journey metaphor resonate with you? Can you see evidence of the three stages in past or present struggles you have experienced? How might knowing about the Hero’s Journey help you stay centered and trusting during future challenges?


The Hero’s Journey as a Recovery Metaphor

Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering.

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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2014). The Hero’s Journey as a Recovery Metaphor. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 15, 2019, from


Last updated: 24 Mar 2014
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