If you’re in any kind of 12-step recovery, you’ve likely heard the phrase experience, strength, and hope (ESH). I believe ESH is an important part of our journey of healing and recovery, whether we’re involved in a structured program or not. And ESH benefits both the giver or the receiver.
ESH is about connection, encouragement, reflection, and guidance, to name a few. It can be a lifeline in recovery.
Let’s take a closer look at at each of these concepts.
We need to hear from others who have walked similar paths. It reminds us that we’re not alone. It provides guidance. As we hear other’s stories, we may see glimpses of ourselves, giving us insight into our experiences or behaviors. Experience includes your life before recovery, what you’ve learned, things that have gone well and things that have gone not so well. As you share your own experience, you are being of service to others and honoring your story.
This isn’t pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps strength. In this context, I equate strength with courage—the courage to be honest, the courage to connect with your story, the courage to be vulnerable. I also think of the strength that comes from being bolstered by connection with others. The work of recovery isn’t for the faint of heart!
As I’ve said before, it can be hard to hope that things will change; that life will be different; that healing will happen. However, when you see the changes in others’ lives through recovery, it offers hope that change and healing are possible. It brings hope to life, shifting it from a concept to a living, breathing reality.
A word of caution
Authentic sharing of ESH isn’t about comparison or judgment. It’s not about “shoulds.” You might hear someone’s story and think, “Well, my childhood experience wasn’t that bad, so what’s my problem?” or “I could never do recovery like that.” This isn’t about another’s journey versus your journey. It’s about another’s journey and your journey. Whether you bear witness in a therapy group, 12-step meeting, or while spending time with friends, try to frame it as a time to hold space for the other and be open to what might resonate with you.
A couple of suggestions
- Look and listen for experience, strength, and hope in your everyday life—in a meeting, within your family, out on a walk, listening to a podcast. Notice what resonates with you and reflect on it.
- Be aware of opportunities to share your experience, strength, and hope, whether through words or actions.
Peace on the Journey,