Clean: A New Beginning (7/12/21) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: A New Beginning (7/12/21)


Published July 12, 2021 at 12:00 p.m.
Updated July 14, 2021 at 9:53 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Thick clouds of dust spread through the cold and calm winter air as I unfurled a small carpet and slapped it repeatedly against a metal rail outside of my apartment building. I was two years sober, and I had just moved to southern Vermont to pursue a new career opportunity as the resident artist and composer at a music studio in East Arlington. I was spent and exhausted after a long day of recording sessions and creative consultations, and I was looking forward to winding down and watching one of my favorite shows.

After carrying the carpet back into my apartment and placing it on the ground, I took a moment to acclimate to my new surroundings. As I pensively paced through the room, I began to hear a high-pitched ringing in my ears. After struggling to identify the source of the discordant din for several minutes, I came to a humbling realization: It was the sound of complete silence. I had spent the past several years of my life in a densely populated city, and I had become desensitized to high levels of background noise to the point where I was uncomfortable and antsy without the sounds of passing cars and honking horns.

I heaved a heavy sigh of relief as my propane heater came to life with a low and eerie hum. The mechanical whir was a welcome distraction from my rapidly accelerating train of thought. Although I was incredibly grateful to be working as a paid musician for the first time in my life, I was still grappling with doubts regarding my ability to perform under pressure and adapt to my new environment. I had come further than I had ever thought possible in my recovery, but I was still scared of failing and disappointing myself.

Suddenly, I began to feel my stomach rumble. I looked down at my phone to check the time and saw that it was almost midnight! In my haste to prepare for my recording session, I had forgotten to take a trip to the grocery store. Unfazed, I clicked on a food delivery application on my phone and began to search for a local restaurant that could deliver a nourishing meal to my doorstep. My heart sank when I read the following message on the screen: “There are no restaurants offering delivery in your area.”

I began to tense up and panic as I ran to my refrigerator in search of a snack that could tide me over through the night. The empty shelves I found inside served as a perfect metaphor for my emotionally drained mental state. I had made every effort to prepare myself for my transition from urban to rural life, but I had fallen short. I hung my head in shame as I pondered my fate. I didn’t know if I was strong enough to adjust to my new reality.

It was then that I experienced a life-changing epiphany: Every problem that I was presented with was actually an opportunity for growth. Instead of allowing myself to wallow in my hunger and melancholy, I opened up my phone and began to search for a nearby grocery store. After finding one miles and miles away, I laced up my boots, zipped up my coat and headed out into the snowy unknown. I was tired, frightened and out of my element, but I was far from broken.

Recovery had taught me that growth never came without significant adjustment, and I was excited to enjoy every awkward and challenging moment of my transition into the next phase of my life.

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