Clean: 'Forgiving a Former Friend' (7/22/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Forgiving a Former Friend' (7/22/22)


Published July 22, 2022 at 11:42 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

Popcorn kernels rustled inside a hot paper bag as I carried them from my microwave to my kitchen table. I was four years sober, and I was celebrating the completion of a long workday with a savory snack. I opened up my computer, queued up one of my favorite shows, leaned back in my chair and propped my feet up on a nearby stool. As I tossed pieces of popcorn up into the air and caught them in my mouth, I was overcome with feelings of gratitude and serenity. My mind was clear of doubt and distraction, and I was ready to kick back and enjoy a night of carefree frivolity.

As the dramatic opening theme song of the show played through my computer speakers, I noticed a small window pop up near the bottom of the screen. An old friend had reached out to me, and I was delighted to hear from him. He had been battling with debilitating mental health issues for the past several years. Despite his ongoing struggles, he had always been there for me when I needed someone to talk to.

After opening the chat window, I was greeted by several insulting and accusatory messages. Flabbergasted, I asked him why he had chosen to address me in such a hostile fashion. He then promptly greeted my inquiry with a series of additional expletive-laden remarks. As his personal attacks continued to amplify in severity, my initial feelings of disbelief began to morph into anger and frustration. I slammed my hands down onto the keyboard and began to type furiously, holding back tears as I conjured an equally spiteful succession of snappy comebacks. I didn’t know why my friend had decided to assault me with an unprovoked barrage of aggressive snubs, but I was nevertheless determined to put him in his place.

As I hovered my finger over the send button, I decided to visit his social media profile in an effort to understand what could have motivated his malicious behavior. When I saw a recently posted photograph at the top of his profile page, it was immediately apparent that his mental health had taken a turn for the worse. His face was gaunt and haggard, his clothes were dirty, and there were baggy circles underneath his eyes. Underneath the photograph, I saw a series of indecipherable and delusional rants. They were written in the same angry and frenzied tone as the messages that he was sending me. My exasperation and bitterness instantly dissipated, replaced by feelings of sympathy and understanding. As someone who had once found myself in a similar place of misery and dysphoria at the apex of my active addiction, I knew how difficult it was to break the type of destructive and self-isolating pattern that he was caught in. I took a deep breath, paused for a moment of silent contemplation and sent him the following message:

“I can tell that you’re going through some hard times, and I know what that’s like. Still, your words have really hurt me, and I can’t talk to you again until you apologize to me. I’ll always consider you a friend, and I hope that you can get the help that you need.”

As I closed the chat window and began watching my show, I dried my teary eyes and made a conscious effort to forgive my former friend for his tragic mistakes. Recovery had given me the ability to move past my feelings of resentment and the wisdom to know when it was time to let go.

Always remember:

Keep moving forward.
Run toward 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



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