Getting My Marbles Back: Reflecting On Five Years of Sobriety

help-soberI got a lot better by getting a little better – a little at a time.

Five years of slowly diminishing anger.

On October 10, I celebrated five years of sobriety through the program and fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In AA, five years is a milestone associated with “getting your marbles back” – meaning that, after a half-decade of personal growth through the 12 steps, a recovering drunk like me can expect a vastly improved mental state to complement his physical sobriety. As another saying goes, we came to AA for our drinking, but stayed for our thinking.

Five years is seen as a benchmark in this process, a point at which those earnestly practicing their recovery should react and respond to the chaotic world around them with more calm, maturity and thoughtfulness. We should, per our expressed belief in Step 2, have been restored to some semblance of sanity.

A person with five years of recovery shouldn’t just act better, he should be better. Character defects, especially those earmarked as urgent at sobriety’s outset, should be significantly subdued.

Anyone who knew me five years ago could easily diagnose my most pressing problem: seething, consuming anger. An outsized subset of my recovery from alcoholism, then, is an ongoing – and sometimes faltering – recovery from rage-aholism (some, including my wife, would say assholeism). And in five years of sobriety, I’m delighted to report that I’ve progressed from a persistently insufferable, incorrigible hothead…

… to a less predictable, more tolerable semi-curmudgeon with an excitable streak.

Hey, we claim progress, not perfection. And what agonizing, snail’s pace progress it has been. But that, I think, is the spirit behind the five-year mark: We don’t simply wipe away our most glaring of character defects all at once. It takes years of trial and error – of negative reinforcement and recurrent attrition – to chip away at these boulder-sized barriers to true sobriety.

For me and my belligerent anger, this has meant a repetitive yet gradually (very gradually) diminishing cycle of (a) finding myself in a situation where I’m prone to anger – traffic, for example; (b) eruptive anger; (c) realizing how silly and useless this anger was… and then getting slightly less angry the next time I find myself in “park” on the highway.

In short: I got a lot better by getting a little better – a little at a time.  Read more “the fix”…

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