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The Marble

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By: Pat McGinn, CEO Harbor Hall

When I was a child in elementary school, marbles were a valuable asset.  We would go to school with a big bag of marbles that was filled with a variety of sizes, shapes and color.  There were Cats eyes, steely, glass, clay, aggie, boulders, red devil mixed color, opaque, black, swirly, tiger, shooter and the most coveted of all (in my school) the puree.  As soon as the snow started to melt and spring was in the air, all of the kids would bring in marbles for games and we played for keeps.  Playing for keeps was very serious, so we had to choose wisely the type of marble to be used.  In those days purees were hard to come by,  so in our own made-up value system, the puree has the highest desire attached. 

As I grew older the excitement of the marble games diminished, and the bags were put away.  Maybe it is was just a kids game but I find it funny how you don’t see kids playing marbles anymore today.

About 25 years ago I met one of my most important mentors who was a great inspiration to me.  As a tradition he would give marbles to people who were completing addiction treatment.  He would say to me that the marble was an important symbol for persons new to recovery.  He had a presentation that was very special and unique in the presentation of this symbolic gift.  Over the years I had adapted this presentation that continues today. 

Over the past 25 years I venture to guess that I have given away hundreds of marbles.  These marbles are purees and crystal clear…the most coveted of all marbles (in my opinion).  So at each presentation I pass out a clear marble to each person they all look the same at first.  Then I talk about the symbolism of the marble as it relates to changing thinking.  (To understand grab a clear marble and look at it as I describe the meaning).

First notice that it is round.  The round is 360 degrees, reminding us that what goes around comes around.  It’s a completeness, it is the beginning and the end, the circle of life. 

Notice that it is clear.  This symbolizes that as we practice a routine of sobriety, our thinking clears up, we begin to learn how to live life in a rational manner and the choices we make become better. 

Notice that it looks perfect, but if you look closely you will see nicks, chips, scars, bubbles.  This reminds us no one is perfect and we all have our scars, chips, nicks, bubbles.  This is a reminder to be patient and tolerant of ourselves and of others.

Notice that when you look through it everything is upside down.  This reminds us that no matter the clarity of our thinking, the world around us sometimes feels upside down.

The group is told that this can be a powerful relapse prevention tool.  They are told that first they need to keep in in their pocket otherwise it will not work.  If you find yourself in a situation where you are on the verge of using, take the marble out of your pocket at place it on your forehead, then hit it with a hammer, if the marble breaks it is okay to use.  Okay that is meant to be funny, but I have had folks come to me and tell me that this is exactly what they thought of and in diverted attention.

Then finally, Keep the marble I your pocket and on those days when you feel like you have lost all of your marbles, you will have at least one.

From a game as a child to a powerful symbol of recovery.  I have had many people over the years come back and tell me that they still carry their marble as they pat their pants pocket. 

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