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Clean: 'Aches and Gains'


Published May 2, 2022 at 1:13 p.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

Fiery twinges of pain shot through my forehead as I stood in front of my bathroom mirror. I was three years sober, and I was dealing with a terrible sinus headache. As the shrill crow of a nearby rooster reverberated through my apartment, it exponentially magnified my discomfort. The sound also served as an unwanted reminder of my upcoming professional commitment. It was early in the morning, and I had five minutes to compose myself before I left for an important work trip. A tour of an award-winning independent business had been arranged for me by my magazine editor, and there was no way to reschedule it.

I was overtired, underprepared and overwhelmed with apprehension. I had intended to spend the previous evening compiling a series of well-researched questions for the interview, but my pain had prevented me from completing the task. Upon waking, I had unsuccessfully attempted to relieve my persistent agony with a hot cup of herbal tea and a series of breathing exercises. With all of my options exhausted, I knew that I would have to power through and face the challenges that lay ahead. As I walked toward the pressed shirt and pants that I had laid out the night before, I found myself dragging my feet. I was afraid that I would be unable to perform effectively in my compromised state, but it was too late to turn back.

I buttoned up my shirt, put on my pants, tied my shoes and walked through my doorway onto a sunlit street. After fumbling for my fob in a state of groggy confusion, I opened my car door and put the key in the ignition. As my engine came to life, I was incapacitated by an exceptionally excruciating jolt of agony. I dug my knuckles into the side of my face and closed my eyes in an effort to detach from my suffering. I was seconds away from giving up and retreating back into my apartment when I remembered the wise words of a friend from my sobriety fellowship:

“In active addiction, we turned to substances to numb our emotional pain and physical pain. Although it is a natural human impulse to try to escape painful experiences, sobriety gives us the chance to confront our pain and learn from it. By accepting small everyday nuisances (and not letting them hold us back), we get to reclaim our lives one day at a time. If we greet minor hardships with a perspective of gratitude, we can turn our weakness into strength and build our confidence. We then find that we can gain more from our most difficult days in sobriety than we ever did from our easiest days when we were using.”

As I opened my eyes, I looked out of my windshield with a newfound appreciation for my pain. It had given me the chance to prove that I was capable of turning a negative situation into a positive one. I took a hearty swig from my bottle of water, cranked up the music on my car speakers and pulled out of the parking lot with an optimistic smile. Recovery had given me the ability to turn a setback into an opportunity for growth, and I was grateful to be alive and sober.

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