Clean: 'A Symphony of Serenity' (4/11/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'A Symphony of Serenity' (4/11/22)


Published April 11, 2022 at 11:09 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

Resonant and evocative chords rang out as I pressed down on the keys of a concert grand piano. I was three years sober, and I was attempting to complete a seemingly insurmountable musical challenge. My producer had tasked me with finishing a complex jazz chart for an album that he was working on. The assignment was well beyond the scope of my artistic expertise, and I was beginning to feel disappointed and pessimistic.

I felt my eyelids begin to droop as an incomplete demo recording of the song blared through my headphones. It was after midnight, and I had been chipping away at the musical chart for hours. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to break free from the proverbial quicksand of self-doubt. As I sat in front of the piano, recollections of scenes from my addicted past brought on crushing feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.

At the apex of my addiction, I had dropped out of a collegiate conservatory program to drink and use drugs. Although the progress I had made in recovery had enabled me to find work as a professional musician, I was beginning to think that I was incapable of completing the task I had been presented with. As I listened to an exceptionally intricate series of chords and notes, I struggled to wrap my mind around it. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t seem to grasp the structure of the song. Frustrated, I tossed my headphones to the side and rose to my feet. I then proceeded to stomp around the piano like a spoiled toddler. I didn’t know if I had the strength and skills necessary to overcome the obstacle that I was facing.

It was then that I remembered the wise words of a friend from my sobriety fellowship:

“In the earliest stage of my journey of recovery, I wasted several years trying to prove how strong and smart I was to everyone around me. Along the way, I lost sight of my true personal worth. I experienced frequent crises of faith, and I lived with the weight of the world on my shoulders. One day, I saw two phrases written on the walls of my sobriety clubhouse: ‘Keep it simple’ and ‘Attitude of gratitude.’ When the meaning of those words finally sank in, I came to understand the following truth: Sometimes when we don’t know what to do, the answer is right in front of us. We can get through anything if we remain gratefully grounded in a simple daily program of recovery, but we have to get out of our own way first.”

After taking a moment to pause and reflect, a proverbial light bulb flashed in my mind. Instead of trying to decipher all of the notes of the chords that I was listening to at once, I picked them out one by one. Within a matter of minutes, I had finished the demanding chart. My musical triumph served as an apt metaphor for the power of recovery. Although victory sometimes seemed impossible on my path toward sustainable sobriety, I understood that it was up to me to keep things simple and remain grateful. As long as I was willing to take things one day at a time — and one note at a time — I would always be able to effortlessly orchestrate a beautiful symphony of peace and serenity in 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