In the process of doing these Notes, I keep coming back to the Odyssey, by the ancient Greek poet Homer, as a particularly rich text with many stories that fit the parallel of our own individual journeys to Sobriety. The companion piece to the Odyssey is the Iliad, which is the definitive story of the key closing events of the monstrous Greek war with Troy, the powerful kingdom on the western edge of modern day Turkey. In many ways, the Iliad is about men in war, the men of the various Greek states locked in a mad, addictive rage over deep resentments against their enemy, the people of Troy. It has all the elements of an epic military struggle in which its protagonists are locked in a berserk-like confrontation. In this sense, it is very similar to the states of our own being when we were mired in our own diseases, engaged in insane actions and behaviors induced by various substances and actions.
But the Odyssey, on the other hand, can be seen as a parallel to the long process of recovery in which all of us are steeped. It is the story of the men of Greece trying to recover from the excesses of the Trojan War and find their way home to lives of peace and family. Odysseus, who was the key figure in the final conquest of Troy, is the central figure of the Odyssey. His part in the conduct of the war put him in the center of this analogous process of recovery. We can see his journey home, which was the longest and most tortured of all the Greek leaders, as particularly intense when compared to the events in our own processes of recovery.
Odysseus’ journey takes him to many places with encounters of both intense danger and beautiful delight. Of these encounters, three key ones are, first, with the beautiful Calypso who detains him for 7 years as her lover and offers to make him immortal; then with Circe, the enchantress, who tries to enslave him, but eventually gives him the key to find his way to Hades where he gets the information he needs for his continuing journey; and lastly Nausicca, the young maiden who convinces her father, the King of Phaeacia, to equip Odysseus for the last leg of his journey home. Forgetting about the romantic elements of the first two of these, what Odysseus is receiving from these goddess-like personages are the wonderful elements of nurturing and recovery that will enable him to return as an authentic ruler of his homeland. In a sense they are much like what we learn in our tireless working of the fourth to ninth steps of our own recovery.
In many ways, I see one of the key themes of the Odyssey story as that of the futility of war and all the elements of war. His journey to Hades, where he meets many of his fallen comrades from the war is very poignant here. Achilles, the key player in the Iliad story, tells him that all of the glory of his life as a warrior was all for naught. He would take one day as a simple common man for all his years of glory as a warrior. Similarly, Odysseus’ stay in Phaeacia at the urging of Nausicca results in his telling his long grim story to an assemblage in court, much as we do in our Steps 4 and 5.
The message for all of us here is to see our recovery, our getting sober, our going to meetings, our working the steps, and our immersing ourselves in service to the cosmos, as a journey so very similar to Odysseus’. It is one where all of our encounters, all the people we meet, all the friends we make, all the advice and direction we seek of our mentors in recovery form a spectacular web for a life in the sunshine of the spirit, just as all of Odysseus’ adventures made him a much more authentic ruler of his homeland once he got there.