David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

The Hole Story

From Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing: A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, “Hey you! Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole, and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, “Father, I’m down in this hole; can you help me out?” The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, it’s me. Can ya help me out?” And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, “Are ya stupid? Now we’re both down here.” The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.” 

From Gary Ferguson’s Shouting at the Sky: Troubled Teens and the Promise of the Wild:

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Chapter One

I walk down the street.

There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost… I am helpless.

It isn’t my fault!

It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter Two

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in … again.

I can’t believe I am in the same place!

But, it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter Three

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it there.

I STILL fall in … It’s a habit.

My eyes are open … I know where I am.

It’s my fault.

I get out immediately.

Chapter Four

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Chapter Five

I walk down another street.


It is often said that the first step in getting out of a hole is to stop digging. What is it about this metaphor that is so cogent, that keeps showing up across contexts? Being down in the dumps, suffering from depression, being melancholy are all connected. Being “in the hole” is to have student debt. Getting out of the hole doesn’t get you “up in a tree” or “floating on a cloud.” Getting out of the hole only gets you “back on your feet,” “on level ground.”

Louis Sachar wrote an entire book by that name in which a morally repugnant person forces children to dig, ostensibly to find buried treasure. The young people have been designated as “bad” by a malignant or at best indifferent world. The kids are said to have committed crimes, although the nature of their transgressions is not specified. Did they get a C in algebra? Did they fail to clean their rooms properly? Did they run afoul of authority in some novel way? Would it be too much of a stretch to suggest that the children are searching for their true selves? Each time they come up empty have they uncovered another aspect of themselves that doesn’t work, doesn’t connect, isn’t who they truly are?

Much is said lately about parents putting their own oxygen mask on first. But having taken a breath, the greater responsibility is to immediately support your child. You can’t comfort them or help them put on their life preserver if you’re incapacitated. But being our best selves is a considerable part of being a good parent. The cliché of the man coming home from a hard day at work and being unpleasant to his spouse, children, and dog is indicative of how bad feelings roll downhill. Perhaps those negative vibes end up all the way down in a hole.

I’m not suggesting that everyone has choices. The hypothetical man in the paragraph above may be trapped because of his (imperfect) education and (paucity of) opportunities. He may not be able to quit his job or work fewer hours to take his kid camping and play parcheesi with them.

But readers of my columns frequently are in control of their own destiny.

A man in my office recently opined about how he couldn’t afford therapeutic boarding school for his oppositional son. It seemed the son was crying out for attention and affection, that skipping school and underperforming in class were ways of making himself known, if not heard, to his father. The son was sneaking out at night, using and selling dangerous drugs. The 17-year-old did no chores around the hours. Every conversation was a vicious argument followed by deathly silence. F**k you, Dad, you f**king b***h, I hope you die, the son repeated.

I can’t keep on like this, nothing is working, dad complained. Yet dad declined to internalize any of my suggestions, began every response with yes, but. I couldn’t even begin to explain my recommendations about family therapy or a placement in a therapeutic boarding school. That will never work, dad said. And we could never afford expensive treatment like that.

And then drove away in a $350,000 Jaguar.

Could it be said that the man had dug his own hole? Could even writers as gifted as Aaron Sirkin or Gary Ferguson help him find his way out?

I’m sure there are worse things than having an adolescent child who speaks disrespectfully to his father, who is emotionally disengaged from his family, who hates his parents and viciously articulates his disapprobation.

I just can’t think of any. And I’m not sure that I’ll be able to come up with anything worse than a hateful child–even given a hole week to do so.

Picture of David


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