Clean: 'Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired' (11/29/21) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired' (11/29/21)


Published November 29, 2021 at 11:36 a.m.
Updated November 29, 2021 at 12:45 p.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Floorboards creaked underneath my feet as I stumbled toward my kitchen in a groggy daze. I was three years sober, and I had recently returned from a trip to the West Coast. I had stayed up all night before my early morning cross-country flight, and the turbulence and noise had made it impossible for me to sleep through it. I was drained and debilitated, but there would be no rest for the weary. I needed to power through my jet-lagged exhaustion in order to properly readjust to my native time zone.

I struggled to keep my eyes open as I pulled back the door of my refrigerator. As I scanned the shelves, I was greeted by a dismal display of overripe fruit and withered vegetables. I slammed the door shut in an irritated huff, muttering curses under my breath as I wrestled with my infuriating predicament. I was too tired to drive to the grocery store for more food, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to stay awake if I didn’t get anything to eat.

I gritted my teeth as I simmered in a mental marinade of wrathful dissatisfaction. I was hungry, angry, lonely and tired, and my pessimistic thinking was making the situation even worse. As I plopped down in a plush and wobbly armchair, I slowed my breathing as I attempted to make peace with my dilemma. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to calm my anxious thoughts and overlook my physical and emotional discomfort.

My dark deliberations were interrupted by the sound of my cellphone ringtone. It was my friend from my sobriety fellowship. His cheery and upbeat vocal presence stood in stark contrast with my brusque and curmudgeonly demeanor. After unsuccessfully attempting to make small talk with me for several minutes, he offered an unprompted invitation:

“You don’t sound like you’re doing too well. Why don’t you come with me to a sobriety fellowship event? I can pick you up from your apartment, and we can go get some food afterwards. Does that sound good to you?”

In my enervated state, I misinterpreted his friendly offer as a condescending and judgmental attack on my recovery. My mind began to twist and contort his words to align them with my own bitter worldview at the moment. I couldn’t believe that he had the nerve to tell me that I didn’t sound like I was doing well! As I readied an explosive cascade of blistering retorts, I jumped to my feet and started to angrily pace around the room. After opening my mouth to unleash my tirade, I tripped over my shoelaces and fell forward before I had the chance to utter my first insult. As I slowly rose to my feet in a state of painful dysphoria, I came to a startling realization: Tripping over my shoelaces served as a perfect metaphor for how my lack of self-awareness was destroying the sense of balance and harmony that I had achieved in recovery.

I had become so oblivious to the emotional effect of my hunger and loneliness that I had nearly sabotaged a perfect opportunity to enjoy some delicious food with a good friend. It was time to move past my pride, get out of my own way and detach from my destructive impulses. After dusting myself off, I got back on the phone with my friend and told him that I would meet him outside of my apartment shortly. Although my hunger, anger, loneliness and exhaustion would prove only temporary, they had still taught me a timeless lesson about the importance of self-awareness and optimistic thinking in recovery.

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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