Clean: 'A Reasonable Compromise' (4/18/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'A Reasonable Compromise' (4/18/22)


Published April 18, 2022 at 12:08 p.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

Birds chirped outside my window as I stared at my computer screen. I was three years sober, and I was attempting to craft the opening paragraph of a challenging article that was due the next day. As I brainstormed potential ideas for the first sentence, my front door swung open. My girlfriend had arrived at my apartment, and I had not managed to complete my task before our date. She walked up to my desk and greeted me with a beaming smile.

“I’m so excited to spend tonight with you,” she said. “I’m going to go do my makeup, and then we can leave.”

I nodded my head in silent accord, then watched her walk toward my bathroom with a heavy heart. I didn’t want to tell her that I wasn’t ready to go to dinner. Throughout the course of my journey of recovery, it had always been hard for me to set healthy boundaries. I didn’t know how to say no to anyone.

I began furiously typing out clunky and slipshod sentences in an effort to quickly complete my assignment. Minutes later, my girlfriend reemerged from the bathroom. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders as she motioned for me to join her by the doorway. I didn’t want to deflate her happy mood, but I knew that I had to rewrite the article to make it better. My heart began to palpitate as I struggled to find the right combination of words. Suddenly, I remembered what a wise friend from my sobriety fellowship had once told me:

“In the earliest days of my recovery, I went out of my way to try to make people happy. I overextended myself at work, and I moved mountains for my family members, friends and loved ones. Although I garnered the favor of everyone around me, I ended up burning out and gravely endangering my sobriety. I learned that it was vitally important to strike a good balance between selfless action and self-care. That began with staying grounded in the principles of honesty and acceptance. Over time, I learned that I didn’t have to be a faultless superhero — I just had to be willing to tell the truth and admit that I wasn’t perfect.”

After taking a deep breath, I realized that there was only one solution: a reasonable compromise. I looked my girlfriend straight in the eyes and told her the truth.

“I’m very excited to go to dinner, but I have some work that I have to get done. How about this: Let’s go get something to eat and enjoy our night out. When we get back, I’ll take an hour to finish my work. If you’re willing to wait for me, we can watch our favorite show after I’m done. I want to enjoy every moment with you, but I don’t want to let my anxiety ruin our date.”

My girlfriend looked back at me with understanding eyes, then responded with an upbeat tone:

“That sounds great! I have to do some homework for my college class, anyway. We can do our work together before we watch the show.”

As we walked toward her car together, I took a moment to reflect on the healing power of truth. Recovery had given me the courage and clarity necessary to maintain a healthy and honest relationship, and I was grateful to be living life in the solution.

Always remember:

Keep moving forward.
Run towards the truth.
Don’t quit before the miracle happens.
Benjamin Lerner is a recovering addict, composer, writer, musician and radio host. He has been sober since June 13, 2016. In his weekly column "Clean," originally published in Vermont News Guide, he shares his personal journey and lessons learned from his life in recovery. Columns published before July 12, 2020, can be found here. Newer installments are available on

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