Clean: 'Gratitude Has No Price' (5/16/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Gratitude Has No Price' (5/16/22)


Published May 16, 2022 at 11:01 a.m.
Updated May 16, 2022 at 1:41 p.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

Cool air streamed through my open car windows as I barreled down a wide, rural highway. I was three years sober, and I was on my way to interview the owner of a small, independent business for a work assignment. As I drew closer to a cluster of grand and imposing mountains, I began to feel my stomach growl and grumble. I had left my house several hours earlier without preparing a meal for myself, and my hunger was becoming too strong to ignore.

After making a sharp turn onto a hilly country road, I found myself in a gorgeous small town I had never visited before. As I proceeded through a serpentine labyrinth of narrow streets, I came across an inviting and picturesque organic market. Although its hand-carved wooden sign and rustic décor were certainly visually appealing, what truly caught my eye was the handwritten note on the door that bore the following words:

“We are back open for business. Come on in!”

The COVID-19 pandemic was still raging at full force, but small shops and restaurants had begun to slowly reopen all across the state. I pulled over on the side of the street, put my car in park, grabbed my mask and walked through the doorway. Upon entering the foyer, my senses were overpowered by the heavenly aroma of freshly prepared comfort food. Even though the bottom half of my face was entirely covered, the scent of baked cheese and spiced vegetables had triggered a firestorm of olfactory anticipation. As I walked toward a refrigerator in the deli section, the walls were lined with an appealing assortment of gourmet premade meals. I had stumbled upon a spectacular treasure trove of farm-fresh food, and I was incredibly excited for the feast that was yet to come.

I pranced around the store like a merry bard in the court of a medieval king, filling my cart to the brim with piles of natural snacks and meal platters. As I triumphantly neared the cash register, I reached for my wallet and came to a startling realization: I had left my credit card at home, and I didn’t have nearly enough cash to pay for my food. My heart sank as I began to make the shameful walk back towards the refrigerators to return my merchandise. I was famished beyond belief, and feelings of anger and ingratitude were beginning to tear at the fabric of my sanity. I didn’t want to have to choose what dish I wanted to eat — I wanted to have them all.

At the apex of my resentful crisis, I realized that my greed and impatience were threatening my serenity and my sobriety. I thought back on the days when I had first gotten sober, when the emotional and physical wounds of my addiction were still healing. In those days, I was grateful for every day that I was alive, regardless of how much cash I had in my pocket. I didn’t need a full cart of expensive groceries to be happy back then. All I needed was the freedom that came from another day sober and clean.

After admitting to myself that I had lost sight of what was truly important, I humbled myself down to the point I was ready to accept and enjoy life on life’s terms. I put the pricey platters back on the shelves, grabbed the least expensive sandwich out of the cart and walked back to the counter with a sincere smile on my face. I might not have been able to afford the food that I wanted, but I was able to reclaim my gratitude — and that was truly priceless.

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



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