The Addict in the Hole, a Parable of Empathic Support
If it feels like the people in your life don’t understand what you are going through, they probably don’t. This is why fellowship in recovery is so important….recovery from any challenge, not just addiction. There are supportive fellowship groups for those who have common experiences with miscarriage, infant loss, grief, cancer, divorce, anxiety, trauma, and addiction, just to name a few. People with shared experiences and common goals are able to offer empathic support, which drives healing.
My sister, Jean, is an Addiction Recovery Specialist and a Clinical Mental Health Counselor. It’s the perfect job for her, because she “gets it.” She is a person in long-term recovery who has successfully gotten out of the black hole of addiction. While most people can offer only pity or sympathy—driving disconnection, she offers empathy. Jean shares the experience of addiction and understands what it takes to recover; she is empathic to people struggling with addiction and knows how to listen in a way that destroys shame and fosters healing to allow recovery.
To learn more about the difference between sympathy and empathy, check out our Reclamation Sisters video chat on YouTube:
The Addict in the Hole: a Parable
The following modern-day parable, “The Addict in the Hole,” has been retold and adapted for years as a way of illustrating the power of empathy. The following is my own version of this powerful parable.
Image: Iswanto Arif via Unsplash
There was once an addict walking through darkness, and he fell into a deep hole. He struggled and struggled to get out, but he couldn’t find a way out of the hole. He was stuck.
The addict heard footsteps above and called out. His neighbor stopped and walked to the edge of the hole, looking down at the addict. The neighbor lectured the man about the evils of drugs and told the addict to build a ladder to get out of the hole. The neighbor wished the addict luck, and then he walked on. The addict was still stuck in the hole and could not get out.
Later, the addict heard footsteps above and called out. The addict’s loved one stopped and walked to the edge of the hole, looking down into the addict’s eyes. The loved one begged the addict, “Please stop using! Look at the damage you are causing yourself and our family!” The loved one cried and told the addict to just climb out of the hole, and then she walked on. The addict was still stuck in the hole and could not get out.
The addict later heard more footsteps above and called out. The addict’s clean and sober friend said, “I’m sorry you are down in that hole. I wish you weren’t. You’ve been in that hole for awhile now, so I thought you might be hungry. Here’s a sandwich.” The friend reminded the addict to eat well, and then she walked on. The addict was still stuck in the hole and could not get out.
Shortly afterward, a religious man walked to the edge and saw the addict sitting in the hole. This man said, “I’m sorry you are in that hole. Read this scripture and pray.” The religious man gave the addict a Bible, and then he walked on. The addict was still stuck in the hole and could not get out.
Finally, a person in recovery happened by the hole and looked in. He saw the addict sitting at the bottom of the black hole, so he immediately jumped into the hole. The addict said, “Why did you do that? Now we're both stuck down here in this hole!”
But the person in recovery said, “It’s okay, brother. I’ve been here before and I know the way out.”
And then both men climbed out of the hole together.
You might also enjoy our talk about shame. Check it out here...
Written by Laura B. Demers, © 2020 Reclamation Sisters