Depression, Mental Health

Why is There Always a Hole in My Sidewalk?

I sometimes believe that I live on a street that has been bombed, full of deep holes just waiting to gobble me up.  Have any of you ever lived on my street?  Have you ever been afraid to go outside because you know that those holes are out there and you know that you are bound to get too close to one and fall in again?

For years, I had heard people make statements about  a “hole in the sidewalk,” but had never really thought about what they meant.  Then, one day in therapy, Roz read me the short story,”There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk,” and it was as if it had been written about me. So many times in my life, I had fallen into those holes. I spent years in those holes, able to crawl out, only to fall right back in. It has been an ongoing cycle — fall in the hole, find a way out, fall in again, get back out, fall back in, get back out — over and over and over again.  After that session with Roz, I ordered a book that contained the short story.  (She ought to be getting a commission from Amazon; it seems as thought all she has to do is to show me a book, read one sentence out of it, and darn – I have to have it. My children will most likely be able to furnish a Mental Health section of a library with all these darn books when I die and they have to clean out my house.) I was looking through my bookcase today and ran upon this book and thought I’d share it with you all.  I think this is something that each of us should think about.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson


I walk down the street.
There is 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.


I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately


I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.


I walk down another street.

Have you ever walked along this sidewalk?  Were you aware of the holes in your pathway? What did it take for you to get out of the hole?   Have you thought about WHY you keep falling in these darn holes? Have you found the new street to walk upon?

The following information was found at concerning the short story, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk.

Chapter One’s hole is a natural hole in the walk of life.  It is there for us all.  Life is always throwing unexpected things as us.  Losing a job, being in some type of accident, being a victim of some type of natural disaster,  losing a loved one – we don’t ask for any of these things, but they happen.

Any of these events can place you in a hole of darkness, despair, anger, loss, anxiety, worry, or grief. You did not have anything to do with creating the situation but you must live with it. The hole can indeed be deep and dark, and you have to struggle long and hard to climb out of it.

This is the nature of life. Some things are out of your control. Unexpected events happen. Change always occurs. The most that you can do is adapt to them the best you can. You must struggle out of the hole into which you were thrown and journey on. Hopefully, you grow from such an experience and become a more mature person who is better able to cope with other pitfalls of life.

My thoughts — These pitfalls and holes are certainly a part of life.  I don’t think that there is anyone who has not experienced something to lead them to a hole of grief, anger, anxiety, etc.  It’s just knowing how to handle these feelings that is so important so that we can live a happy, healthy life.

With Chapter Two,  the question to consider is, “Have you ever found yourself in exactly the same hole more than once?”

  • Are you in exactly the same bad relationship (but with a different person) for the twentieth time? Are you starting to wonder how all of these jerks find you?
  • How is it that you always get into the same type of conflict with the boss? She is so negative and critical and always expects so much. She makes you feel miserable.
  • Maybe you are in the midst of the exact “word for word” argument with your spouse for the ten thousandth time. He says this and you say that just like you always do and you fall into the hole once again.
  • Your son, mother, sister, or brother does that thing that they always do. It pushes your buttons and you respond as you always do. The cycle of conflict begins once again.

You cannot believe that it has happened one more time. You wonder, “Why does this always happen to me? Why do they always do this to me? When will they ever stop? Why can’t they understand what they make me do?” If other people would just “act right” life would go better. You begin to work harder and harder to get others to change.

My thoughts — Wow!  Don’t we all do this at some point?  “If we could just get s0-and-so to see things my way”, life would be so much easier.  I think that habits fall into place here.  Even if things dont change by our actions, they are what we know and what we tend to do.  Breaking these habits are tough.

Chapter Three challenges us to wake up. Fall into the same hole often enough and you may come to a realization. With the frequent occurrence of the same or similar events you sense that these things do not happen by chance. Maybe this repetition is a pattern that is not just inflicted on you solely by others. Such a reoccurrence of events must mean that you are playing a role in creating them.

As we go along the sidewalk of life we all fall into holes of psychological and spiritual distress. Sometimes it seems that we were shoved. Initially, it appears that it is not our fault to be in such a situation once again. However, as we continue in the journey of life we often find ourselves falling into the same hole more than once. When we do so we are given the opportunity of recognizing that there is actually a pattern in our lives. Patterns do not exist until an event happens more than once. A pattern cannot be recognized until we have encountered a situation (in all its various forms) several times. Only with repetition is it possible to see the pattern or cycle. Once the pattern is seen then the possibility of new insight arises.

The next time you find yourself once again in one of life’s familiar holes, and are busy saying:

  • “It is not my fault,”
  • “Don’t blame me.”
  • “Who is responsible for this?”
  • “They are doing it to me again.”

Call for a time-out. Now, look to see how you might be responsible for your situation. Ask yourself, “What did I do to get here? What role did I play in creating the circumstances that placed me in this hole?” The terrible truth is that if you are not responsible for being in this hole once again then you are in real trouble. This is because if you are not responsible, it must mean that someone is. Maybe, it is not just one person but a group of people like your coworkers or your family. It is even possible that the entire world has decided to conspire against you. If you are truly not responsible for your current situation, and you do not like being in these recurring holes then you face a dilemma. What you have to do is find out who is making you miserable. Next, you have to change that person, or group, or the entire world to make it or them be exactly the way you want them to be so that you can be okay. Your strategy becomes to change others.

This is the trap of playing, “Let’s fix you.” Husbands and wives and parents and children often play this game. One spouse shows up at the counselor’s office claiming that their mate is the problem. Parents bring in the child saying the child’s behavior needs to change. Children say that their parents make them act this way. Employees blame the insensitive boss. The overworked boss criticizes the inefficient employees. No one is responsible for anything. (How many times have we heard this or said it ourselves?)

Playing “Let’s fix you” doesn’t work. Have you ever tried to change someone? Of course you have. Maybe just change a small child making them just a little more the way you want. Perhaps you have tried to make a few minor adjustments in another person’s personality. It seems that if you just gave this person a little bit of a “tune up” then you might be able to live with them. Did you succeed? The answer is, “No!” Changing others is an extremely difficult, if not impossible task. The other person may actually try to cooperate but often cannot make or sustain the change. Your effort is directed in the wrong direction.

Fall into the same hole enough times and you might awaken to the true nature of the problem. You are responsible for being there. You played some role in the process. You must change. Learning this is good news. If you can find out what you are doing and stop then you can avoid these holes into which you keep falling. Having some responsibility for your problems means that you have control. All you have to do is to change yourself and the situation can improve. While this task is very hard, it is at least possible. Changing others is not.

  • When you find yourself once again in that same bad relationship, but with a different person, you need to realize that it is you who is making the same mistake over and over. Maybe it is time to ask yourself, “What am I doing?” “How did I get here once again?”
  • When you are in that same tired old argument, ask what did you do to get there? When you wake up with a hangover once again, ask what went wrong with my resolve to never drink again?

When you discover what you are doing, or why you are doing it, then change is possible. You can begin taking responsibility for yourself.

If you change yourself, your experience of the situation will change. Surprisingly, if you do this, the other people you were wanting to change may change as well. You cannot change others by directly trying to influence them, but if you change yourself, then they may be forced to change as well. Once you are different and can maintain that difference, then others around you are given the opportunity to change in relation to you. By effectively changing ourselves, we may actually change another person, a group, and perhaps, the world. But we must start with ourselves. When you start with yourself a good place to begin is with your attitude.

My thoughts — Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!  Seven years of therapy is helping me to change myself (I hope).  My problem with this is that at one point, I did change myself, thinking it would help my marriage.  I thought that being a better wife would somehow make him a better husband.  But, I guess this goes to prove the idea that one should not change themself FOR someone else.  Change yourself for YOU and then if they change, GREAT.  If not, that’s on them, not on you.  

Chapter Four is indeed a new chapter in your life. Once your responsibility is seen you can change. You can begin avoiding the holes on that street of life. You are now able to see what is coming, because you know your pattern. This knowledge gives you control and you can intentionally respond to life in a different manner. A different response gives new possibilities.

When someone invites you into a familiar hole, you do not automatically enter. Your friend, who has been awaiting your arrival to leave for a party, sarcastically says, “Well, you are late again!” Your typical response is to defensively say, “Must you always complain?” Now when you see that familiar hole of an argument and a bad evening looming, you make a different choice. You realize that your friend has had the legitimate frustration of waiting and has also been worried about you. You speak to these issues and say, “I am sorry to be late. Traffic was terrible. I couldn’t get to a phone. I know that you were wondering what happened to me.” Your choice allows your friend to acknowledge the concern and apprehension rather than just voice the frustration of waiting. The hole of another repetitive fight is avoided, and the evening goes well.

My thoughts — My favorite line here is “When someone invites you into a familiar hole, you do not automatically enter.”  I am working very hard to learn to take a deep breath and think before I react.  I’m not always successful, but when I am, I can certainly tell a difference in the outcome.

Chapter Five is a new day. Finally, you change streets. You change your inner dialogue and behavior so completely that the old pattern no longer occurs. Once on the new street, you must be careful because, unfortunately, this street will have its own holes. It will have holes that you have never seen before. But you now know the rules about the “holes” in the sidewalk. The first time that you encounter one you should ask, “How am I responsible?” It may be that you are not responsible, but the sooner you ask this question, the sooner you can take charge of your life.

This process is like a spiral that leads us upward towards psychological and spiritual wholeness. The sidewalks of life do not go in a straight line. They may not be flat. They may be like a trail that winds round and round a mountain until it reaches the top. Each time you break out of an old pattern of thinking and living, you begin a new switchback that leads you ever upwards to the fundamental goal of life.

Fall into enough of the holes in the sidewalks of life and you may become whole. Through the lessons of the holes of life, you approach wholeness. Becoming whole means striving to be all that you can be. All potentialities are explored. You know what you do, and why you do it. Choices are made, and you are responsible for these choices. The holes in the sidewalk are actually invitations to grow. Are you open to the invitation?

My thoughts — As I read this, I realize that many times I don’t change streets because of some purposeful thought; I do so because I have chosen to isolate.  I tell myself that if I don’t put myself out there, the temptation to stay off the holey street is less.  This is a pretty ridiculous choice, isn’t it?   I know that I have to learn to live among the holey streets and avoid those streets, not stay out of town.  


Thoughts about my thoughts: I love this short story.  Not sure why I had never heard it before Roz read it to me, but I’m certainly glad she did.  I think that each of us probably wonder why things happen to us and this story certainly gives us a bit of insight. This short story is appropriate for everyone to read and think about.

Todays Feelings’ Barometer:  Made myself get up this morning, take a shower, wash my hair, put on makeup and go to town.  I haven’t been doing this lately and I know (in my head) that I have a better day when I make myself do that, but I’m terrible about actually doing it.  When will I learn?

~~ Betty