Clean: 'Gratitude Has No Limits' (1/31/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Gratitude Has No Limits' (1/31/22)


Published January 31, 2022 at 11:07 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
My shopping cart rattled and shook as I pushed it through a busy parking lot. I was three years sober, and I was excited to get home and cook a tasty meal. I opened the trunk of my car, set my grocery bags down on top of a quilted tarp, and took a moment to pause and enjoy a peaceful moment of measured meditation. It had been a long and difficult day, but I had managed to navigate its challenges without resorting to impatience or anger.

After taking a deep breath and reclaiming my serenity, I sat down in the front seat of my car and turned the key in the ignition. As I pulled out of the parking lot, I cranked up the volume on my car stereo and began to sing along to my favorite song at the top of my lungs. Over the course of my journey of recovery, I had learned to savor every small daily victory with unabashed enthusiasm. By allowing myself to indulge in shameless feats of cathartic self-expression, I was able to find happiness and fulfillment when my schedule was overwhelmingly packed.

My impromptu musical celebration was cut short when I noticed a stationary car directly ahead of me. I pumped the brakes, turned the music down and felt my spirits begin to sink as I slowed to a stop. After noticing that the traffic jam ahead of me was exceptionally long, I began to feel incredibly anxious. In a matter of moments, my joyful feelings of freedom and childlike glee melted into a pungent stew of rancorous resentment. I had made every effort to apply principles of acceptance and detachment throughout the day, but my patience was beginning to wear thin. As the clock ticked and my car engine hummed dissonantly in the background, I attempted to slow my mind by focusing on my breathing. Suddenly, I heard an excruciating high-pitched honk from the car behind me. My blood began to boil like an overheated kettle. In my compromised state, I felt that I was no longer capable of remaining calm. I raised my hand above my head as I prepared to emphatically slam it down on the car horn. I wanted to put the driver of the car behind me in their place and let them know who was boss. As I placed my palm on the steering wheel, I remembered the words of a wise friend from my recovery fellowship:

“In the midst of active addiction, there is no limit to the emotional despair that we can experience as a result of our selfishness and ingratitude. We get so wrapped up in our substance-use pattern that any minor inconvenience can send us rocketing off of the rails. In recovery, we find that the opposite is true — there is no limit to how much gratitude we can bring to our everyday affairs. As long as we remain grounded in gratitude, no one can take our serenity away from us in sobriety. We can only give it away to them through acts of selfless kindness.”

After realizing the futility of my frustration and rage, I loosened my grip on the steering wheel and turned the music back up. I realized that regardless of what obstacles lay in my way, it was up to me to remain grateful and happy. Recovery had allowed me to move forward in my pursuit of self-awareness and personal growth — and there was no traffic jam in the world that could hold me back.

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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