A man in a hole : Part 1 - looking up

The hole is only a problem when you recognize it as a hole

June 4, 2023


minute read


Mental health


A modern day parable of sorts, a quick look at the powerful throws of addiction, and how hopeless it can all seem.

Once there was a man who had a shovel. He didn't really have a plan, but one day decided he would start digging. He dug for a couple of hours and eventually grew tired. He had overdone it a little and his hands were blistered. He took a day or so off and swore he'd do better next time.

A couple days later he grabbed his shovel and started digging again. He was at it for half a day this time and found himself having a good time. He even invited some friends over to help him dig. They dug into the late evening and all laughed and sang while doing it. They all agreed that on the weekends they would get together and dig some more. It was good.

A couple of months passed and eventually the man would find himself thinking of digging during the week, and would on occasion go and sit by the side of his now relatively substantial hole. The weekends would come and go after a while some of his friends would ask "What are we doing?" followed by "We can't just dig this way forever. Someday we need to finish this hole." It wasn't long until his friends stopped coming over to dig, but he didn't know how to stop.

He would lie awake on the nights he didn't dig thinking about his hole. He had a hard time sleeping without putting in a couple of hours digging. He began to find his identity in not just the hole, but the act of digging. The hole was barely in his periphery, it was all about the digging. His friends eventually noticed the hole, and how it was becoming unsafe, and at times embarrassing.

He decided to start a new hole, one in private, one no one would find out about. He took his shovel, found a spot on a lesser traveled path and started digging by himself. He would spend hours on this hole, sometimes he would even start digging as soon as he woke up. Everything became secondary to digging, everything.

Eventually he settled into his hole and made it his home. He would dig all morning and dig all night. He would dig to the point of exhaustion and pass out in the hole, only to wake up and start digging again. The hole eventually became too deep to climb out of, and while he hadn't planned on leaving it, staying in the hole became his only option. As long as he had his shovel he was happy and he couldn't see the prison he'd built for himself.

Around this time a friend had walked by and noticed the hole. They leaned over and called down to the man "Looks pretty deep, I think you should stop." The man held onto his shovel and simply called back "I'll be fine, thanks for stopping by." He was upset that his friend would have the audacity to even consider saying such things. If only everyone would just leave him alone.

Not long after a priest walked by and noticed the hole. He paused and looked over the edge, saw the man, and called down "This hole looks dangerous, are you sure you're safe down there?" The man hid the shovel behind his back and called back up "I'm just fine, I've got all I need down here." The priest simply called back down "I'll pray for you, and when you're ready to get out of that hole, I'll bring you a ladder." The man was overwhelmed with anger. Why can't everyone just leave him alone and let him dig in peace.

Some more time passed, the man's hole had grown so deep that he wasn't even really digging anymore as much as he was just moving dirt from one spot to another. Day in and day out just moving the same dirt. Every day became the same. What was once his joy had become a job, a mission, a chore.

Eventually a physician passed by the hole and called down to the man "This is very dangerous, all the digging you're doing. if you don't stop soon and come out of this hole you will die down there." The man didn't know how to respond, this was a doctor, maybe he knew what he was talking about. The man called up "I don't know how to stop digging." The physician responded with "Here are some pamphlets, maybe they'll help." The physician, satisfied that he'd reached the man, gave one last shout before he left "Schedule an appointment next week and we'll see how you're doing."

The man didn't look for a way out of his hole. He just started moving dirt again. In his hole there were exposed roots and as he grew more and more exhausted with his constant chore of moving dirt he began to think maybe the physician was right. He was going to die in this hole. He was somehow comfortable with that. He would dig himself to death.

If death was inevitable then so be it. He continued to dig. There were some nights where he would look at his shovel and think "What am I doing?" He would, in moments of desperation, even pray "If there is a God, take this need to dig away from me, either just let me die or show me a way to put this shovel down." Eventually the second part of that prayer fell away. He just wanted to die. He would even consider taking off his shirt and tying one end around an exposed root and the other around his neck.

Some time had passed, and while he never found the courage to end it himself, he continued to dig his way to the end. Around that time another man had passed by the hole. The hole was a familiar sight to this man. He had once dug a similar hole, but had found his way out. Rather than calling down to the man in the hole he climbed down.

The man in the hole watched this other man climb down. At that moment he realized how desperately lonely he had become. How intense the fatigue of digging was and how miserable he was. The man who had climbed down then asked a simple question "Are you tired yet?" The man in the hole kept shoveling dirt and said "I'm fine. I'll be just fine." The man who climbed down nodded and sat. He then said softly "I remember when I dug a hole like this. It was a fine hole, but the hole for me stopped being the point. I just had to dig, and I didn't know to not dig. I was so afraid that if wasn't digging I would fade away. The sad part was that the I had already faded away, I was just trudging through the act of digging." he continued with a tear glistening in his eye "I was so lonely. I was so tired. I was helpless. I didn't know how to stop. I would have died in my hole but luckily for me another man climbed down in my hole just like I'm doing for you. He asked me one question, and I'm about to ask you the same question."

As tears streamed down his face he asked the man in the hole one last question "Have you had enough digging? Are you done?" He waited patiently for a response as the man in hole began to weep. They stayed in the hole a couple hours neither one speaking just sitting in silence. Eventually the man in the hole said "This hole is too deep. I don't know to start to think about getting out." The man who climbed down smiled and simply replied "I can show you, if you're willing." The man in the hole asked "Can I bring my shovel?" The man who climbed down replied "I can't promise you it will be easier or better without your shovel. It will be different, you will have to decide if that different is better. You can leave your shovel here and if you need to come back to it you'll know exactly where it is." he paused for a second to let what he said sink in then continued "I can't climb out of this hole for you, you have to chose, and you won't be able to make it out unless you put the shovel down. It won't be easy, but I'll be here with you and will help you, guide you. You just have to decide that you've had enough of all this fucking digging, all this fucking loneliness."

The man in hole looked down at his shovel, looked at his bruised and callused hands, looked at the root that was to be the post for his noose, looked at hole. He then looked at the man who climbed down and after a small pause said "I think I'm ready, but I'm terrified." The man who climbed down said "I know." Then he held out his hand and said "Let's go"

The two men climbed out together, the man who climbed down showed the man where to put his hands and his feet, offered support when needed and comfort when the climb was overwhelming. They eventually reached the top of the hole and once they were out the man in the hole embraced the man who climbed down and asked "What now?" The man who climbed down simply replied "We just keep doing this, every day, we just don't dig and talk to each other. We keep our eyes out for holes and whenever possible we climb down and help the next guy."