- Mental Health
Buried Alive: Uncovering Insight From Addiction to Freedom
A Metaphor for the Emotional Side of Addiction
Have you ever felt stuck? I mean—so stuck—that you can’t imagine ever being unstuck? So stuck—that you don’t think you ever really WERE unstuck? Like you’ve lived your whole life with your legs being stuck inside of quicksand? At first, you deny the fact that you are even in quicksand to start with. “It’s just sand,” you try to convince yourself. “I can step out of it any time I want!” But little by little you sink. Then one day you realize that you can’t even wiggle your toes. And you realize that you are stuck. Not only are you stuck—but you are sinking! You freak out and think, “I need to get out of this—NOW!” So you do everything you can think of to get out. You work—you sweat—you sacrifice—you focus all your strength and energy on trying to get out. And you move—a little—but the fact is that you are still stuck. Maybe you can wiggle your toes a little—but you still can’t move—you can’t get out. You become angry. Stupid sand. So you think, “Who needs legs anyways? Life is about the head—the thoughts—and the heart. I don’t need legs to have a good life.” And so you forget about your legs. You think deep thoughts—you experience intense emotions. You almost forget that you ever had legs in the first place. But then one day you notice that everybody around you seems free—they walk—they come and go as they please. And there you are—still stuck. You panic—you wriggle and fight and scream and cry. And you feel like all the commotion makes you sink deeper and deeper. The harder you try—the more you want to get out—the more, it seems, you sink. You want to get out, desperately—but you don’t know how. “Just get up and get out,” somebody screams. They are not stuck in the sand—they must know how to live in this freedom. “But how?” you scream. “Just get out!” they repeat over and over. But you don’t know how to get out. You’ve tried for so long—that it hurts to even try. One day you fall in love—with one that has strong, strong legs. You admire his strength. You think to yourself, “If there is anybody that can help me get out—it is him.” And so you call out to him. As he approaches you notice that though his legs are strong—his heart is weak. It is hard and self-seeking. He tells you that he admires your heart—your strength—but that you are not enough because you have no legs. “But I have legs!” you scream. “I just don’t know how to use them…I’m stuck.” He replies, “You are not stuck—just get out.” You cry because you want to get out—but you can’t move. “His legs are strong…if he was in here he could get out,” you think, “but his heart is not strong enough to teach me how to get out,” you conclude. It is not his strength that will help you—it is his heart. You make many attempts to get out—you really, really try. And all the while he stands above you, shaking his head, with a look of disappointment in his eyes and the sound of coldness in his voice. You feel utterly ashamed—embarrassed—because the one thing he wants—you can’t give him. You don’t even want to try anymore—your hope is gone. You begin to resent him for caring about legs in the first place. “But look at my heart!” you scream out to him. “I have a good heart!” But he does not hear you because he is still looking at the fact that you do not have legs. “If you love me,” he threatens, “you will come out of that quicksand now!” You want to come out—but you’ve tried so many times before—and you just could not do it. So you reply, “If you love me—come sit by me.” You don’t want him to tell you to get out anymore. Each request is a sting to your heart. He doesn’t understand that you can’t get out by yourself. You want him to get close enough to see what it is like. You want him to get down on the ground and to start scooping up the sand around you—one handful at a time. You want him to look at you and say, “I know it is hard—I know you feel stuck—and I know you don’t know how to get out. But I love you and I know that beneath that sand is a pair of legs. And I will stay here by you and one scoopful at a time—I will help you to remove the sand.” Of course you know that if the sand is removed—you will still have to move your legs. You will still have to be the one to take that step out of the hole—and you will have to learn a new way of life. All you have ever known is life in the sand. Even though life outside of the hole beckons to you and calls out with excitement and freedom—it terrifies you. You have never walked before. You have never known anything else. You are afraid of seeing your own legs. You are scared of people looking at your legs. You are worried of losing your heart and your mind to the appearance of your legs. You fear that you will not be recognized and valued for what you’ve always been known as—a smart head—a big heart. Now, what if you are valued for what your legs look like? “Please—I am afraid—help me out of here—but just a little at a time,” you plead. You picture it this way. He stays. He encourages you—with each scoop of sand that he removes—he whispers words of affection and love. He affirms your worth apart from head or heart or legs. He affirms you for your very existence. He is there for you when you wiggle your toes for the first time. He is not impatient. He celebrates the wiggling—though a small feat for him—it is a step into a new way of life for you. He removes more sand. He still loves you the same. Now you can wiggle an entire leg. He celebrates with you. You feel safe to continue. Scoop by scoop—the sand is removed. Each scoop of sand that he removed was the very thing that softened his heart. Time and sand and perseverance and patience took the sand away from the legs—and took the hardness out of his heart. There is no more barrier of sand. The obstacle has been removed. You stand still—not sure what it even means to take a step. He reaches out his hand and supports your first step. Your legs are wobbly and your first instinct is to pile the sand back atop your legs—to find comfort in the protection of the warm, moist sand. You stand for minutes—hours—you stand. But he stands with you. He smiles—he waits. He speaks and says, “Come—I will not let you go.” You take a step. You feel like you will fall to the ground—but he is with you. Now that he can see your legs, he realizes that while he is excited for you to run with him, it is still your heart that he most treasures. You take another step—then another—then another. You fear that if he lets go you will fall. But he stays by your side. Finally you are strong enough to walk alone. Your legs are exposed—you are walking—you are still afraid. Everyone is staring at your legs. You fear they will forget who you really are. Then he says to you, “Your legs ARE a part of who you are. But so is your head—and your heart. I’ve never seen your legs until now—but I knew they were there beneath that sand. I’ve always loved your head and your heart—and that has not changed. I loved the legs that I knew were there because it is a part of you. My love for you has not shifted—it has merely grown. Now I can see the part of you that was hidden.” You smile—you celebrate—you run. You are no longer ashamed that you have legs—you learn to like them—to make the most out of having them. You climb—you crawl—you run—you sit. Thousands of little sand piles ago you could not see what was beneath the sand. But he knew and for your sake he sat with you and scooped one pile away at a time. Of course he knew that he could have gotten a shovel and scooped you out in a moment—but you were not ready to transform in a moment. He saw that you were afraid and took the time to help you, one spoonful at a time. Tedious—yes. It took more time than was logically necessary—but in the end it was what you needed to transform. In the end, it was what he needed to transform. It was what you needed to feel loved. It was what he needed to be love.