Yesterday was Day 44 of my year of living sober.
It was a Saturday—Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve I took this photo of my daughter, Honey Rose. You can see at the bottom of the frame a copy of one of Joseph Campbell’s books. Honey often takes other books by other authors out of my less and less well-ordered shelf but she seems particularly drawn to Campbell, much in the same way I was some twenty-odd years ago: repeatedly.
The book Honey most often carefully places on the floor, at the feet of my swivel desk chair, is Pathways To Bliss, a gift from my wife for my birthday two years ago. Pathways To Bliss has a few dog ears but is by no means as well read as my copy of Campbell’s perhaps most famous work, The Hero With A Thousand Faces.
But J.C. is not only one of my favourite authors he is also one of my favourite speakers. Thanks to The Power of Myth television interviews he did with Bill Moyers I have been able to enjoy Campbell’s eloquence directly from the comparative mythologists mouth. Well, almost directly.
One famous saying attributed to Campbell is “follow your bliss” and whether we know it or not, Campbell has either directly or indirectly influenced most people alive today; if you’ve ever heard of a movie called Star Wars you have benefited from some of Campbell’s work, lifetime study and investigation into the reoccurring themes expressed across cultures in myth and religion.
Campbell knew better than anyone how the religions and mythologies of diverse people’s all share symbols of sometimes varying appearance but always relatable—often identical—meaning; the names in our stories may change but the path we tread from birth to death is greatly shared.
Campbell focussed a great deal on something he described as ‘the Hero’s Journey’. He was fascinated by the stages any individual encounters when making a major change or encountering an unexpected life-challenge. While I have not yet mapped out what I might expect with the rest of my Year Of Living Sober, I imagine I will be able to identify the stages Campbell first described in his seminal (always wanted to use that word) book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
The ‘Hero’s Journey’ of a man choosing not to drink for a year might include these basic stages inspired by Campbell’s analysis:
1) Normal World: In which a man thought nothing of drinking alcohol everyday. Generally not to the point of wild drunkenness but more than he knew was healthy.
2) Departure: After a series of excruciating migraines this man begins thinking it is time to make a change in his drinking habits. After an especially painful post-wedding (not his own, fortunately) bout of heavy drinking, and the subsequent blinding migraine, he vows to go a full year without drinking alcohol
3) Initiation: The man’s resolve is tested by everything from seasonal celebrations (Christmas/New Years) to the temptation to mark the birth of his second child with a single glass of Champagne. Other challenges come from within, when the would be hero doubts his own intentions, citing his need to keep a public blog about his endeavour as proof of his own egomania and narcissistic tendency. Searching within for the part of his self which embraces change and fears not judgement from the world, the hero continues on his adventure with the aid of helpful allies (his wife; his parents-in-law; a few understanding friends) and reaches his goal of 365 days without a stiff drink.
4) Return: Having accomplished his goal, the hero learns that it was only part of what the universe had conspired to ‘teach’ him; living now with the realization life can be more than a pint of cold beer with mates, or a bottle of wine alone with a David Lynch DVD, the hero brings a new moderation to his ‘new’ normal life, secure in the knowledge when it comes to booze he can take it or leave it: the important thing is he knows he always has a choice, and one he has the self-discipline to employ.
Campbell broke the hero’s journey down into more stages than these four but hopefully this gives a basic idea of what he was on about.
After Campbell, Christopher Vogler continued helping writers like me (and anyone interested in the art of great storytelling) to understand the nuances of mythic structure, in his book ‘The Writer’s Journey’. If you are lucky enough to get anything by Campbell or a copy of Vogler’s book this Christmas, and you know nothing of either’s work, you are in for a real treat.
And some kind of journey.
Little Booze Joke 44:
A one-eyed monster walks into a bar and the barman says, “Eye.”