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Clean: 'Going the Distance'


Published February 21, 2022 at 2:00 p.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
The sound of clattering pots and pans echoed through my apartment as I scrubbed down my cookware in a metal sink. I was three years sober, and I had just finished eating a superbly satisfying dinner. After rinsing down the edges of the last remaining frying pan, I sat down in a comfortable armchair and looked outside my window. The sun was setting over the edges of a faraway mountain, and it was a beautiful sight to behold.

As I reclined in my seat, I made a conscious effort to relish all the fleeting joy that the breathtaking vista could provide me. It had been several months since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I was living a relatively isolated existence. I was grateful to be alive and sober, but my cloistered lifestyle was beginning to have a negative effect on my mental health. It had been months since I had gone on a date, seen one of my friends outside of my work circle in person, or seen any of my family members. I was desperate to connect with other people, but it seemed that everyone else was equally as fearful and withdrawn as I was.

Suddenly, I heard my phone ring. It was my mother, who lived hundreds of miles from Vermont. Her voice was shaky and weak as she spoke the following words:

“It’s so wonderful to be able to talk to you. It’s been very difficult for me to be all alone and so far away from you. I want to come up and visit you, but I don’t know how to safely travel to where you are. I’m afraid to take any form of public transportation, and I’m not good at driving on highways. I don’t know what to do, and I’m beginning to lose hope.”

Overwhelming feelings of heartache and guilt rushed through my body with the intensity of a nuclear explosion. It had been a little over a year since I had left my hometown to move to southern Vermont, and my relocation had significantly impacted my mother’s life. She was eight years sober herself, and she had served as a vital source of emotional support in the earliest days of my recovery. I felt like I was falling short in my duties as a son. I wanted to pay her back for her years of love and encouragement, but I didn’t know how to assuage her fears and console her from so far away. It was then that I remembered the words of a wise friend from my sobriety fellowship:

“When I was still actively drinking and using drugs, I felt lonely, even when I was in the middle of a room full of other people. It was hard for me to connect with anyone in a sincere and meaningful way. As a result, a noticeable distance began to grow between me and the people I cared about. In recovery, I’ve found that I feel closer to other people than ever before. Even if I only get to occasionally talk to them over the phone, I’m still able to be more helpful and considerate than I ever was in active addiction. Recovery gives us the ability to form unbreakable bonds over large distances — and to be there for others when it matters most.”

After taking a pause to gather my thoughts, I decided that no barrier of physical distance was going to prevent me from connecting with my loved ones. I invited my mother to join me at an online sobriety fellowship meeting, and I told her that no matter how far away she was, she would always be close to my heart.

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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