Recovery is Heroic

Recovery is heroic. And I don’t mean that just because recovery is a journey best taken in spandex tights and knee-high boots. That’s obviously true, of course. But it’s also heroic in that it literally follows the different stages of an archetypal heroic story. A journey of recovery encompasses all of the qualities that make a story “heroic”.

First of all, for a story to be heroic, you need a person (or a robot, or a dog, or a fish, or something else) who can be heroic. That’s you. You CAN be heroic. But at first, you won’t be heroic. That’s so typical of you heroic people.

At first, a key characteristic of the heroic archetype is that you be in a difficult, weak, seemingly powerless situation. You might be stranded naked on an island far from home (Ulysses), or you might be from the poorest area of a country under authoritarian control (Katniss), or you might be a lonely kid that everybody shuns because of something totally outside of his control (Naruto), or you might be somebody struggling with mental health issues (you).

The next step in any heroic journey is to think you can’t overcome the challenges you’re dealing with. You’ll think you can’t make tough changes. It seems impossible to face your fears or overcome the huge barriers in your life. You didn’t ask for this. Why do you have to take this on?! You’re not prepared for it! You don’t even know what you’re supposed to do! How are we even going to get into Mordor?!

It’s fine to think those things. That’s so very heroic of you! After years of reacting to fears and practicing mental illness, it is totally reasonable that it seems impossible to live differently or take the journey ahead of you. Doing something like leaving the house without checking the door lock, or being around other people without drinking a bottle of whiskey, or getting out of bed in the morning when you don’t feel like it, can seem as ridiculously impossible as lifting an X-wing fighter out of a swamp without touching it, or defeating Ronan with the help of a talking raccoon and a sort-of-talking tree. All of those are on the same level of possibility and reality.

Once you’re in that weak position, then it’s time for the journey. Two things usually happen on heroic journeys: 1) You get help. 2) You gain skills and tools.

Nothing heroic can happen without help. There is no Aang without Sokka and Katara. There is no Luke Skywalker without Yoda and Princess Leia and the droids and Han Solo. Heroic journeys do not happen without help and that’s going to be true for yours as well. The irony is that we often think being heroic is about doing things on our own and taking all of the burden on ourselves. But if you try to do that, your journey won’t be heroic. There might not be a journey at all if you’re just going to sit in a corner with your brain and try to figure this out on your own. So go to get help, accept help, experience help that you don’t even ask for. It might be tough to get help and you may have to overcome challenges to get it.

As you overcome those challenges and get help, you’re going to learn valuable skills and pick up useful tools. Practice using them. Study harder than Hermione. Get more help to learn how to use them. You can journey out of that place that you started in but you’re going to need a new set of skills to do that. You’ll keep the old skills that were helpful, but replace the ones that contributed to you being in that place you didn’t want to be. After years of trying not to feel things, believing everything in your head, reacting to fear, trying to control other people, and all sorts of other unhealthy skills we pick up, it’s going to take the same amount of practice to get good at healthy skills.

And then after many challenges, and lots of help from unexpected places, and learning new skills, you’ll overcome those massive challenges that seemed so impossible to beat. And the journey will come to an end, maybe. But since we’re all still on our heroic journeys, I don’t want to spoil the ending by giving it away. You’ll just have to discover it for yourself.


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