One of the realities of sobriety is what I call “the hundred foot hole”. Participating in addictive behavior is like digging a hole; one drink, one hand of poker, one inhale, one ‘shovel of dirt’ at a time. You are so focused on the motion of shoveling that you don’t think about the fact that you are digging yourself into a deeper and deeper hole.
It is not an issue until you stop digging. Only at the point where you stop using do you look up and realize you are at the bottom of a hundred foot hole. The realization that it is going to be a long, hard climb only to be back where you were months or even years ago is frustrating and disheartening.
There is no easy way to get up and out of this hole- one must actively climb out and climbing is a lot of work. Simply not using will not get you out. This hole is not simply empty, it is instead filled with the emptiness of shame, regret, lost time and opportunities, fear and frustration. Those emotions weigh on you and create a situation where even when you have stopped actively using you are still being pressed into the bottom of the pit. Stopping participation in the addiction is usually nowhere near as hard as living without the addiction. This means you have to deal with daily life as well as do all the work to get back to the surface without your most beloved coping skill. At this moment a common thought occurs, “I am screwed”. A phrase that sums up this moment is, “I am too sober to deal with this.”
This is a normal feeling. It can be overwhelming to look at living the rest of your life without ever using again. It needs to be taken in little chunks. Do some laundry. Write a resume or fill out one job application. Go to one meeting. Take a shower. Get through today, the afternoon or even just the next 5 minutes. As you get practiced in living without your addiction and find new ways to cope with daily life it will become easier.
Addicts believe they are in control of the behavior, while in truth they are only in control of that single shovel of dirt. They are not thinking of the all the previous dirt they have shoveled and how it is all adding up. It is a shock to the system to see the hole – to add up all the time and money lost to the addiction, the opportunities passed by, the dreams and goals abandoned. Facing this huge loss and working through the grief is a long process. Every time you do something you “should have done years ago,” or discover a new casualty in your life, it reminds you how much you “messed up” your life. Although not as horrifying as the first look up from one hundred feet down, every new discovery reminds you that you are still in a hole and working to get out.
Recognizing this hole is part of recovery and so is climbing out. This process can be dealt with as a necessary evil or viewed as a time of growth and discovery. The time it takes to get out of this hole gives your emotional eyes time to adjust as you slowly climb out of the gloom and into bright light of the world. You can also learn to embrace this time and the perspective it gives you; for as you face the worst parts of yourself in the darkness of your self-dug hole you also find the best. Sometimes we discover the most about where we want to be by learning where we never want to be again.