Understanding early days in recovery

Understanding early days in recovery

There is a concept known as the “hero’s journey” that nearly all Hollywood’s major movies and the world’s bestselling novels are based on. These movies and novels are so popular because they tell a story that resonates deep inside all of us.

Along with stories from centuries ago, such as some Greek myths and stories in religious books, they follow a journey that we know subconsciously we need to go on for a meaningful and contented life.

The term “hero’s journey” is attributed to professor of literature Joseph Campbell. In his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, published in 1949, Campbell describes the template of all these stories.

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

A growing number of mental health experts are recognizing the striking similarity between the hero’s journey and recovery. In fact, it is now seen that the Twelve Steps recovery program takes people through their very own personal hero’s journey.

Be your own protective force

In this context the word “hero” is more akin to the meaning of the Greek word it derived from – meaning “protector”. That is to be someone who can look after themselves well and without harm, as well as be there for other people when they need some help.

This can be seen in movies including The Wizard Of Oz, Star Wars, Batman, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, The Matrix, Rocky, Superman and The Lord Of The Rings. The main character in all of these stories discovers the treasure that was always inside them – that is the impressive inner strength to deal with an adversity that threatens them and usually their community if not the whole world.

The main characters in films such as these strike a chord in all of us because they represent our lives when they face their greatest fears and in doing so find the hero that was always inside them. They will always have some sort of guide or mentor to help, encourage and believe in them.

Here is the undeniable connection with recovery. To find recovery and then maintain it we all need to have the strongest resolve to have the utmost courage to change something.

It usually means looking back at unresolved histories with a professional who has expertise in these matters. They will help, encourage and believe in the person who has asked for their help.

They will help them recover something – their true self, that at some point became hidden and that might have seemed lost forever.

From ordinary to extraordinary

In a hero’s journey one of the first stages is going from the potential hero’s ordinary world into an extraordinary world. Any potential hero knows deep down that where they presently are is not where they can be or need to be to know happiness and fulfill their potential on this earth.

So it is the same with recovery: someone’s ordinary world might definitely not look ordinary to most of us, but to that person it has become that way. For instance, the alcoholic drinking every day until blackout; the cocaine addict snorting lines as soon as they wake up; the workaholic who never sees his children; the sex addict in debt due to paying for sex…

It might be extremely chaotic and distressing, but this has become their ordinary world. To leave it to go into an extraordinary world – meaning somewhere extremely different – needs courage and desire.

As Stoic philosopher Seneca said: “To wish to be well is a part of becoming well.”

It is why such as a rock bottom or breakdown is frequently needed before people get well in recovery. As with the hero’s journey stories, people often reach the stage where there is nowhere else left to go.

Pema Chödrön put this clearly in her bestselling recovery book When Things Fall Apart where she wrote: “Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape.”

New discoveries during recovery process

New discoveries

No matter how they get there, when someone makes that courageous journey from their ordinary world into the extraordinary world – that could be from such as attending a Twelve Steps meeting, seeing a therapist or booking into a recovery center – what then?

If it is someone’s first time, then it will certainly seem like they have entered a strange world. There might be people like themselves there and they find identification for the first time.

There will be people there to help them, and for some people this is a first. People will listen to them about their emotional issues. For many who start recovery – even those who might have had hundreds of people under their leadership in business – it’s the first occasion they have felt listened to genuinely.

There might be some new words and phrases that are heard for the first time, and it can initially seem like learning a new language. But thankfully it is the language of recovery that’s easy to learn.

There will almost certainly be new concepts too as methods for living life on life’s terms. Discoveries will be made that often seem obvious – but that couldn’t be seen before talking to such as a therapist.

This could be, for instance, that we all have a choice over which thoughts we pay our attention to on a daily basis. Or that how we’ve always responded to certain situations is merely how we learned during childhood – but that it’s never been the best way for us or those we are around.

New realizations

Another realization that many people who start recovery make is that sometimes the support from some family members and certain friends might not be there for them as they believed it would. This is frequently due to the other person and should never put anyone off entering or continuing recovery.

There’s a recovery phrase for this: Those that matter don’t mind; and those that mind don’t matter.

It’s a useful phrase to remember – but sometimes it is not so simple. This is because at times someone in recovery might discover that their partner or a close friend does not seem to like that they are making positive changes in their life.

For instance, this could be that someone has a codependent partner who actually got something from the relationship by being the one who was always needed to pick up the pieces caused by the messiness of such as an addiction. It helped them deal with their own emptiness and was a constant distraction from their pain.

Sometimes too someone like an old drinking buddy might not want to lose their mate as an accomplice. They liked that they were always on hand to go out and get drunk with them, yet again. The fact they had a friend who drank as much as them meant their own drink problem had somewhere to hide.

By someone like this going into recovery it is as if this person then sees a mirror held up in front of them and they cannot face what they see because they do not like it. As well, perhaps they do not think another way is possible.

So they might avoid the old friend who’s making positive changes now. Or even make attempts to sabotage the relationship no matter if they have known each other since childhood.

Feeling good after recovery

New you

People in early recovery will start to realize they have more time as they are not spending so much of it on things such as an addiction or battling anxiety. Frequently people notice they have more money too – and wonder before long how they ever could have afforded such as a drink or drug addiction.

Business and work achievements will improve. Family time will increase in quality. Friendships can be rekindled. 

There are other fantastic benefits that are usually noticed in early recovery. Heads will clear, people will feel physically fitter and stronger, a sparkle will come back into their eyes, aches and pains felt for years can dwindle or cease…

Sometimes some of these things might not be noticed by the person in recovery, but they are noticed by others especially if they’ve not seen the person in early recovery for some time. Sometimes the person looking at the other who’s in early recovery cannot put their finger on it – but they sense and see something different and it’s wholly positive.

If you are in early recovery, don’t be surprised to see people looking at you with a slight sense of wonder, maybe with their head tilted, as they ponder just what it is that has changed for the better in you.

Another thing that is often felt by someone in early recovery is an inner strength either coming back – or seeming to be there for the first time in their life. Day by day they get the growing sense that they can live their life in a better way. If they had an addiction they will get to know that the balance of power is changing in their favor.

There is also the sense of finding parts of themselves they remember as being their true self. There’s a sense of familiarity about this, a return home as they recover their true self.

Everyone who has successful recovery today also had their first days in recovery – and they will tell anyone thinking about seeking help that they would not want to miss this priceless feeling of recovering their real sense of self.

Tikvah Lake’s experienced team has helped people for many years with all emotional and mental health problems. Get in touch with us today to speak in confidence about how we can help you or someone you know.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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