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Clean: 'Ask and You Shall Receive'

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Published December 13, 2021 at 6:00 a.m.
Updated December 13, 2021 at 11:47 a.m.


Benjamin Lerner - JOSHUA SHERMAN PRODUCTIONS
  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
The sounds of shuffling feet and hissing milk steamers rattled my eardrums as I walked through the front entrance of a crowded coffeehouse. I was three years sober, and I had just gotten a new job as a writer for a magazine. I was scheduled to meet with a local filmmaker to interview him about his newest project, and I had arrived half an hour ahead of schedule. 

After ordering a sandwich from a cheery barista at the service counter, I sat down in a leather-bound chair next to a small wooden table. I took my computer out of my bag and set it on my lap while I attempted to gather my thoughts. I had less than 30 minutes to get myself ready for my interview, and I was noticeably nervous.

After spending hours exhaustively researching the filmmaker’s past projects, I had concocted a series of detailed questions to ask him. As I read through them one by one on my computer screen, a sense of calm confidence gradually spread throughout my body. I was an inexperienced journalist, but I knew that I had done a good job of preparing for my first article. 



My self-affirming internal monologue was cut short when I noticed a warning notification in the top-right corner of my computer screen. My battery was running low, and I had 10 minutes until my computer shut off completely.

My heart sank as I looked around the room and saw that all the electrical sockets were occupied by the phone chargers of other coffeeshop customers. The filmmaker was due to arrive in 15 minutes, and I knew that I would not be able to read from the list of questions that I had prepared. 

My brain began to short-circuit as a slideshow of pessimistic worst-case scenarios flashed in my mind’s eye. In a matter of seconds, I had plunged from a lofty summit of egotistic optimism into a dark abyss of doubt and self-hatred. I hadn’t even started my interview, but I already felt like I was doomed to fail. It seemed as if all my hard work had been in vain. I didn’t know what to do. It was then that I remembered the wise words of a friend from my sobriety fellowship:

“When we first find ourselves in early recovery, one of the hardest things to do is reach out for help and ask other people questions about how to stay sober. We are so afraid of looking like we’re uninformed or ignorant that we shut ourselves off completely from the incredible wisdom that other people can offer. We often find ourselves doing the same thing in our personal and professional lives, as well. As recovering addicts, we suffer from the simultaneous curses of pride and insecurity. After spending time in recovery, we gradually learn that there’s nothing wrong with asking questions and admitting when we don’t know what we’re talking about. By approaching life with a grounded sense of humble curiosity, we find we can learn more about ourselves and others than we ever thought possible.”

As I watched the filmmaker walk into the coffeehouse, I took a deep breath and made a conscious effort to detach from my need to impress other people. I didn’t need a fancy list of questions, and I didn’t need to go out of my way to seem like I knew everything. All I needed to do was keep an open mind, stay present in the moment and remain aware of the fact that I could learn more from others than I could from myself.

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 sevendaysvt.com.