Clean: 'Alone in the Darkness' (1/10/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Arts + Culture » Clean

Clean: 'Alone in the Darkness' (1/10/22)


Published January 10, 2022 at 12:04 p.m.
Updated January 10, 2022 at 12:05 p.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Frosty vapor clouds formed in front of my face as I let out a long and pensive exhale.  I was three years sober, and the power had just gone out at my apartment in the middle of a frigid winter night. It had only been several hours since my heater had shut off, but the air was already freezing cold. As I curled up in my bed underneath a massive pile of blankets, I attempted to calm my racing thoughts. I had an article due to my editor the following morning, and the power outage was making it impossible for me to access the resources that I needed to finish writing it.

I restlessly shifted my legs beneath a thick comforter as I scrolled through a series of inane social media posts on my smartphone. I watched in fearful silence as the battery slowly drained down to single-digit percentages, dreading the darkness, boredom and silence that would follow its inevitable shutoff. Although I hadn’t ingested any chemical stimulants for several years, a mixture of anxiety and neurotic overthinking had rocketed me into a frenzied state of overwrought hypnosis. I sat up in my bed and began to rock back and forth in a fetal position as I savored my last moments of mindless procrastinatory indulgence. At the humorous climax of one of my favorite online comedy videos, my phone’s screen went black.

As I sat in complete darkness, it felt like I was locked in a sensory deprivation chamber. The silence was deafening, and it seemed as if the pitch-black room I found myself in was slowly closing in on me. I curled my legs underneath the folds of my baggy fleece sweater, rubbing my toes with my hands to keep them warm. I began to wallow in a rising sea of self-pity as I lamented my predicament. Pessimistic thoughts of future worst-case scenarios echoed through my mind in the form of nagging and incessant questions: “What if the power doesn’t come back on in the morning? What if I can’t finish my article and I get fired from my job?”

Suddenly, a distinctly different question overpowered all of the others: “What if the only thing that’s truly holding you back is your own hesitancy and fear?”

It had never occurred to me that the temporarily inconvenient situation I found myself in could actually serve as an opportunity for positive growth — if I used it in the right way. Instead of cursing the limitations of my circumstance, I began to clear my mind and focus my thoughts towards future constructive actions. In my lucid and calm state, I was able to mentally prepare myself for the article that I had to finish and properly organize the outline of its conclusion in my head. After reviewing the obstacles that lay before me in a rational and com- posed manner for several minutes, I closed my eyes, slowed my breathing and made a conscious effort to remain in harmonious balance with the world around me. Several minutes later, the lights flickered back on, and the gears inside my heater began to churn.

I got out of bed and plugged in my computer, then retrieved my quilts and pillows from my bed and brought them to the chair at my work desk. As I prepared to brew a refreshing cup of hot chocolate and finish my article, I reflected on the power of patience and self-awareness. Recovery had given me the power to resist the darkness and walk towards the light, and it allowed me to tap in to a state of calm and energized clarity that was stronger than any electrical current.

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

Speaking of Addiction, recovery