The Twelve Steps are a hero’s journey. They enact the classical pattern of the hero’s adventure as described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:
The mythological hero, setting forth from his common day hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure. There he encounters a
shadow presence that guards the passage. The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion). Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers). When he arrives at the nadir of the mythological round, he undergoes a supreme ordeal and gains his reward. The triumph may be represented as the hero’s sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or again-if the powers have remained unfriendly to him-his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft); intrinsically it is an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom).
The final work is that of the return. If the powers have blessed the hero, he now sets forth under their protection (emissary); if not, he flees and is pursued (transformation flight, obstacle flight). At the return threshold the transcendental powers must remain behind; the hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread (return, resurrection). The boon that he brings restores the world (elixir). (pp. 245-246)
The hero’s journey and the Twelve Steps amplify each other powerfully. An individual is moved toward the threshold of adventure by the paradoxical admission of powerlessness over whatever binds the conscious ego into patterns of addiction/ compulsion. Implicit in an admission of powerlessness is the beginning of a relationship to some Higher Power that can
restore the hero to wholeness or sanity. The hero may attend a Twelve Step meeting, in which he/she meets other heroes, who become helpers to the hero in discerning the call to adventure. They provide the hero with tools of power for the journey through their example and sharing in working out their recovery through the Twelve Steps. The hero then directly approaches the threshold of adventure by turning his/her life and will over to the care of the Higher Power.
Next, the hero encounters a Shadow presence at the threshold, which is literally a personal shadow, experienced at first as projected onto others. This is the “brother battle” with
an adversary more intimate than a blood sibling. The hero encounters fear, anger, pain, and especially shame, some of it absorbed and carried from the family of origin, as blocking the
path to recovery. The withdrawal of the projected shadow can seem like a trne dismemberment or dismantling, opening up a conscious relationship to the personal and collective unconscious.
The attack on shadow projections enlists the hero’s courage in “a searching and fearless moral inventory,” which thrusts him/her into the kingdom of the dark (the unconscious). Campbell notes that the hero now “journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces,” which acquaint him/ her with the root causes of his addictive/compulsive behavior. This may involve a painstaking review of early childhood and family relationships, to discern what has been internalized and unconsciously acted out in adult life. As the hero strives to bring these shadowy patterns to light, he/she may experience profound threat in admitting these to God, to self, and to another human being. But he/she has helpers in this strnggle: a Higher Power, the members of the Twelve Step group, a sponsor, and the person with whom the hero does a Fifth Step. Instead of finding that he/she is shamed and rejected when revealing the shadow, the hero discovers acceptance in brokenness itself, and discovers that what seemed. to threaten the hero is now a gift. This alchemical transformauon of the shadow and its shame into conscious strength is the alchemists’ dream of transmuting lead into gold, verifying Jung’s statement that “ninety percent of the shadow is pure gold.”
The supreme ordeal of embracing the very depths of the shadow in conscious relationship with God, oneself, and another human bemg opens up the hero to a new mode of psychological existence. He/she gains a reward of unshakeable self-esteem (“If, therefore, God is for us, who is against us? . .! am convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God … “(Romans: 9: 31,38). This self-esteem is based on atonement with the Father, and so fortifies individual identity that the sacred marriage with the goddess-mother of the world becomes
poss~ble (an acti,ve relationsh.ip with the unconscious). In Jungian personalIty theory, thIS produces the conscious relationship of the ego with the Self, an overall organizer of the
psyche, and the result is called the ego-Self axis.
As the ego-Self axis develops, there is a progressive openness to God’s. action, through the Self, which permeates everyday life. This is shown in a profound readiness to have God remove all defects of character, a cooperation with the Higher Power’s ability to “divinize the hero (apotheosis). The hero actively cooperates in this self-transformation, humbly asking
God to remove all shortcomings, which leads to the great boon of the hero, “an expansion of consciousness and therewith of being (illumination, transfiguration, freedom).”
Now the hero begins the return to the ordinary world, under the protection of the Power that blesses him/her. In fact the hero is to become the emissary of that Power. He/she begins
the difficult task of translating self knowledge into practical conduct. To aid in crossing the return threshold to the ordinary world, a list is made of all persons the hero has harmed and he/ she becomes willing to make amends to them all. This listing helps the hero to discern between the inner world, previously encountered in projection, and the outer world of actual relationships. This practical plan to make amends aids in delineating the threshold between the world of transcendental powers (the previously projected unconscious) and the external world (daily life of actual relationships).
The hero re-emerges from the kingdom of dread and carries a boon that restores the world; wherever possible, the hero makes direct amends, reconciling with others and bringing
restoration to the world of relationships. Even in the act of making amends, the hero is cautioned that the boon cannot be exercised indiscriminately, and he/she must exercise prudence
in disceruing between the rules of the inner and outer worlds. This protects other persons and the hero from attempts at amends which would only cause further injury. The precious “pearl” of an active relationship with the unconscious shadow is not to be tossed before “swine” (unconscious, compulsive people), who will trample it under foot and perhaps tum and tear the hero to pieces (Mt: 7:6).
The life of the hero has been forever changed by the adventure of recovery. Now he/she values the necessary adventure of encountering the shadow and admitting it to others, especially
in meetings with fellow adventurers (Step 10). The hero continues to remain in contact with a personal Higher Power, who may send him/her on new adventures and will give him the strength for heroic deeds day by day (Step II). Finally, the hero becomes an emissary of the Higher Power to others, relating the tale of personal adventure (recovery) to them and helping them to face their own call to adventure (Step 12).
The Call to Adventure:
1. We admitted we were powerless over __ -that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (Helper)
3. Made a decision to tum our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (brother-battle, dragon-battle, dismemberment, crucifixion, night-seajourney, whale’s belly)
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. (nadir, ordeal and reward)
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked God to remove all our shortcomings (sacred marriage, father atonement, apotheosis)
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all (threshold struggle, discrimination between transcendental and daily life).
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except to do so would injure them or others (resurrection, return).
The Boon That Restores the World
10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other __ persons, and to practice these principles in all our affairs (elixir).
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces
, by Joseph Campbell. New York: Meridian Books, 1949.