Joseph Campbell in two of his most famous books “The Power of Myth” (“POM”) and “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” (“THWATF”), has woven together a common theme of awakening and transformation through what he calls the “hero’s journey.”  Similarly, in those seeking long-term recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction (or as termed in clinical treatment Alcohol Use Disorder “AUD” and Substance Use Disorder “SUD,” respectively), the necessary process of transformation is not easy as Campbell states in POM: “It is a terrifying experience to have your consciousness transformed.”  This journey is not specific to gender, is universal and Campbell seamlessly blends together this theme of transformation through mythology, universal spiritual principles and modern psychology.

Recovery is often helped by removing oneself from the “people, places and things” that trigger relapse in order to create a safe space internally and externally that serve as a solid foundation for the process.  Campbell talks about three stages of the hero’s journey in POM:

  1. Separation or departure
  2. The trials and victories of initiation
  3. The return and reintegration with society

Separation or Departure:

In the 12-Step recovery community there is a concept of “hitting bottom” before lasting recovery can really take hold in someone trying to get sober.  Campbell seems to agree when he states in POM, “The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come.  At the darkest moment comes the light.”

The idea of a symbolic rebirth in recovery as a means to have a “new experience” –  different from previous AUD/SUD recovery episodes or while using – is a powerful tool to enable someone in recovery to have the honesty, open-mindedness and willingness to say, “yes” to solutions where they had previously said “no,” ultimately leading to relapse.  Campbell mirrors this concept in THWATF, “Only birth can conquer death – the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new.”

The Trials and Victories of Initiation:

In POM, Campbell describes The initiatory process of the hero’s journey in myth as, “The seat of the soul is there where the inner and outer worlds meet.”  The process of getting and learning how to live sober requires a reassessment of both one’s inner and outer experiences at their core and realigning them in ways that aid recovery. Campbell goes on to describe the awakening process that brings about transformation, “To evolve out of this position of psychological immaturity to the courage of self-responsibility and assurance requires a death and a resurrection. That’s the basic motif of the universal hero’s journey – leaving one condition and finding the source of life to bring you forth into a richer or mature condition.” This process describes well the condition most people find themselves in when entering recovery and what is needed to bring about lasting change.

Another impediment to being willing to do the hard work necessary to achieve long-term AUD/SUD recovery is well discussed by Campbell in THWATF. In it, he says “The usual person is more than content, he is even proud, to remain within the indicated bounds, and popular belief gives him every reason to fear so much as the first step into the unexplored…it is only by advancing beyond those bounds, provoking the other, destructive aspect of the same power, that the individual passes, either alive or in death, into a new zone of experience.”  Therefore, unless one perceives their life is at risk as a possible consequence of the fatal and progressive disease of AUD/SUD, it is hard to overcome and develop resilience to the patterns of behavior that lead to relapse. 

Once a solid foundation in early recovery is underway and the question of whether the work needed to overcome and develop resilience to AUD/SUD is reached, it then becomes about whether or not there is a solid enough foundation to continue to seek relief in recovery or return to search for relief in addiction.  The essential recovery tools of personal responsibility, consistent solution-based action and becoming more “other thinking” through being of service to others are not easily integrated in early recovery. 

The Return And Reintegration With Society:

Acquiring and integrating the tools to sustain long-term recovery can often take 1-2 years of consistent, sustained and hard work.  This work is typically done with one’s recovery support community and includes acceptance of one’s new life in sobriety as well as a continued seeking of limitless expansion of one’s recovery.  Campbell wisely reminds us in THWATF, “The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment.  His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity.  The Law lives in him with his unreserved consent.”

He also states, “His consciousness having succumbed, the unconscious nevertheless supplies its own balances, and he is born back into the world from which he came.  Instead of holding on to and saving his ego, as in the pattern of the magic flight, he loses it, and yet, through grace is returned.”

In my experience, recovery from AUD/SUD is a lifelong process, but through consistent effort the benefits far outweigh the trials and tribulations experienced along the way and positions us to live a happy, joyous and free life in our community with purpose, usefulness and peace.


  • David vandervelde

    Executive Director and Co-Founder

    Awakening Recovery

    David got clean and sober in 1988 at the age of 19, close to death from his own struggles with drug addiction and alcoholism. Now 35+ years clean and sober, he has been consistently active in his recovery community by mentoring others, serving on recovery and youth related non-profit Boards such as LifeWorks and the West Hollywood Recovery Center, and serving on panels at institutions speaking from his own experience about recovery.   In 2015, David chose to transition from a 25-year career in producing large-scale corporate events for the sports, entertainment and non-profit sectors, to co-founding Awakening Recovery, non-profit a sober living in Los Angeles, as its Executive Director and Board member, helping those looking for a long-term recovery solution regardless of access to funds.  Additionally, David has successfully completed his Certificate in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling from UCLA.  He now devotes his personal and professional life to helping those that need it the most find a long-term recovery solution from chronic and acute drug addiction and alcoholism through the life-saving work at Awakening Recovery and in his recovery community at large.