12 Steps and the Hero’s Journey

12 Steps and the Hero’s Journey

Review of the film Finding Joe, and how it relates to addiction recovery and the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

 12-steps-hero's-journeyFinding Joe is an inspiring film about living your purpose, discovering your true self and seeing new possibilities for your life. In the early 20th century, while studying world mythology, Joseph Campbell discovered a pattern in every hero’s story. He called it “The Hero’s Journey.” Finding Joe is  about Joseph Campbell’s encouragement of the quest to find ourselves. This relates to the recovery journey of the alcoholic – addict seeking to find sobriety, peace and contentment.

Main Faces of the Hero’s journey 

According to the film Finding Joe, we love heroic movies because they resonate on a deep level with our hero nature. We all have the seed in us that is waiting to be actualized. It appears we are not separated from the characters of our favorite movies.  It is one story, one journey we can all take.

The Hero’s Journey is divided in three main phases; separation, initiation, and the return phase. In the first phase, we are in our natural environment and we suddenly receive a call for adventure. This calling can come as a result of one’s personal reflection or from outside circumstances forcing the separation upon the person. The calling usually comes in the least expected time and way. The adventure begins when, despite the crisis, one accepts the call to embark on a personal discovery. The second phase happens when the person is transformed from an average person into a hero.  The result of overcoming fears, struggles, and various tests is that we realize the dragon is actually an external projection of our own inner demons. The third phase is when the hero returns back carrying the message to others.

Overall, the hero’s journey demonstrates that the importance lies not so much in what happens to us, but more in what we do with life’s circumstances we are given. We can all become the hero of our own journey.   

The Hero’s Journey in Addiction Recovery


The Hero’s Journey relates to the 12 steps of AA and the journey of recovery from alcoholism or other addiction. Using the above schematic, this will be demonstrated using a fictional person named Lea as an illustration.

Lea is in her Ordinary World. She has been drinking heavily. Her mother just passed away and she realizes that in order to have a chance at a more satisfying life, something needs to change. Introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous, she learns about the twelve-step program. Still believing she can stop drinking on her own, she tries to stay sober by will power. One day, Lea relapses, and realizes she can’t control her drinking on her own. She accepts that her life has become unmanageable, and that she is powerless over alcohol (step 1). Soon after, Lea receives a Call to Adventure. Lea is stepping into an adventure of self-discovery as she comes to believe that a power greater than herself can restore her to sanity (step 2). She accepts the call to get in touch with her dark side. She decides to turn her life over to the care of God as she understands Him (step 3).

As much as Lea wants to change, all of a sudden, fears come rushing back and what seemed so obvious all of a sudden isn’t. The universe is calling Lea to embark on this recovery journey in order to continue to heal, but she Refuses the Call. Lea doesn’t want to give up on her bottle anymore. She is terrified with worry of how things will be if she stops. However, one day, in a moment of surrender, she goes back to AA, and accepts help from a sponsor. This is the Meeting of the Mentor. As she goes through the steps with her new helper, Lea finds herself breaking down emotionally. After being sober for a little bit, all the feelings she has been running away from come out. She realizes she needs to learn how to handle her emotions or they will continue handling her. In confronting her dragon, she is Crossing the Threshold.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. ~  Joseph Campbell

Now, she is moving from the known world to the unknown world where resides all the Tests, Enemies, and Allies. In this phase, old patterns come back strongly. This is when she is challenged with her ego who is resisting sobriety. It is the time to put in practice new ways of responding to those cravings.

Out of the battle comes a Renewed Approach. Lea realizes she has been her own worst enemy for all these years. She is now prepared for a major change in her life. At this crossroad, she overcomes emotional traumas and pain as she makes a searching and fearless moral inventory of herself (step 4). She admits to God, to herself, and another human being, the exact nature of her wrongs (step 5). She understands that she needs to change her failing patterns that have brought her only misery. She is entirely ready to have God remove her defects of character (step 6).

This is her Ordeal. By humbly asking God to remove her shortcomings (step 7), Lea experiences the Death of who she used to be. Reborn, she is filled with a sense of endless possibilities for her fresh new life. Before Lea can feel the Reward of her new life, she needs to accept the consequences of her old life. She makes a list of all the persons she has harmed, and becomes willing to make amends to them all (step 8). After having written these down, she puts it in practice by making direct amends with them (step 9).

Having a new perception of herself, others and life, Lea still struggles but with strength and courage to face the best she can whatever comes her way. She keeps taking personal inventory of herself, and whenever she is wrong, promptly admits it (step 10). Whenever she feels doubtful, she finds her Road Back to her true self though prayer and meditation. Doing so, she improves her conscious contact with her higher power (step 11). Out of this process, Lea is filled with a feeling of being empowered. It’s the Resurrection. She has transformed and is now Returning with the Elixir. She has had a spiritual awakening as a result of the 11 other steps she has carefully taken. She is now ready to carry on the message (step 12).

This is a powerful movie, highly recommended for any person willing to examine their life and be open to change. It is especially relevant to those embarking on the journey of recovery from alcoholism and addiction. It provides helpful direction and is very inspirational. It is a valuable film in Serenity Vista’s film library viewed by guests going through addiction treatment on their quest to find new meaning for their lives.

Click here to learn more and to start your own personal journey of discovery and recovery.

We save the world by being alive ourselves. ~Joseph Campbell

Written by Maya Morgan, internship student at Serenity Vista


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