In my first days of recovery, the hole poem helped me as a meaningful metaphor for rearranging how I wanted to move through the world. I had a conversation with the kid last night about the difference between being a victim and a survivor. I hadn’t had that conversation in a long time. It provided a nice opportunity to take stock of changes. Today, I drift between chapters three, four, and five. There are some holes that are habits, and very hard to change. Sometimes, negotiating the holes on the street has become easier, and for the most part I do take a different street. Still, there are those difficult “wtf?” times that I fall into a hole. Moreover, sometimes I wonder if avoiding certain streets is a good thing, or just another form of denial. But maybe, following the metaphor, different streets can take you to the same destination, and so you end up where you were going anyway.

There Is a Hole in My Sidewalk
Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson

Chapter One
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.

Chapter Two
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.

Chapter Three
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep whole in the sidewalk.
I 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,

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.


  1. Been in the hole, have gotten out. Never seem to pick the right block. Been down so very many. Tired now, been looking for seventy-six years and getting old. Feel like I’m circling the drain. I related.

    1. Author

      Thank you for your post. I’m sorry you’re there. Maybe there’s a map or a compass for you somewhere? Or a better metaphor to help you reframe? Anything besides draino, though.

  2. I was searching for another recovery poem that I’ve not been able to find when I saw this one. I remember this one quite well and it was so helpful in understanding that recovery is a process of steps. I’m wondering if you might know the other one? It seemed to be read and passed along in AA Al-Anon, Coda – etc. It had to do with building walls around yourself to keep other people out and then realizing you have walled yourself in. I’m thinking that the name or the poem was called The Box – but might not be. I just remember the last lines being something like, “And I, I can’t come out.” Any thoughts?

  3. A friend recently shared this poem with me and I had my “aha” moment. I printed it out and put it on my closet where I could see it every day and remember that in the beginning we’re trapped but once we become conscious we begin to free ourselves. As I’m struggling with my own issues, it’s good to keep this around as a reminder that eventually I will simply walk down another street. It gives me hope. Thanks for sharing this for others, like me, who are still working on walking around their holes.

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