Clean: 'Balancing Act' (6/13/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Balancing Act' (6/13/22)


Published June 13, 2022 at 10:19 a.m.
Updated June 13, 2022 at 11:47 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

Colorful napkins flew off a wooden table and danced in the breeze as my friend carried a large and ornately decorated cake toward me. It was a windy and cloudless June afternoon, and I was celebrating the fourth anniversary of my sobriety. As I watched him balance the cake on a thin and flimsy decorative platter, I was astounded by his grace and dexterity. I had never been good at achieving balance in a literal or metaphorical sense, and my inability to smoothly juggle my work life, social commitments and self-care regimen had taken a significant toll on my sanity during my first several years in recovery.

After spending the next several hours at the party, I left my friend’s backyard with a plate full of leftover cake and a feeling of gleeful euphoria. I looked up toward the sunny sky as I walked back to my apartment, and I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and serenity that no substance had ever given me. I was on top of the world, and I thought there was nothing that could bring me back to earth.

Suddenly, my phone rang. My heart sank when I read the number on the screen and looked at the time. I had forgotten all about the online sobriety fellowship meeting that I was scheduled to attend with my mother, and she had called me several times while I was at the party. I picked up the call as I walked through the doorway of apartment, then stumbled and dropped the cake onto the stairs. As I listened to her voice waver and crackle at the other end of the line, it became clear that she was deeply hurt by my forgetful and inconsiderate behavior. The fallen piece of cake served as a perfect metaphor for my inability to effectively balance my social life and my family obligations, and I had no one to blame but myself.

As I awkwardly attempted to wipe the cake and frosting off the ground, it felt like I was cleaning up the wreckage of my thoughtless actions. I didn’t know how to make things right with my mother, and I was consumed by self-centered fear and shameful guilt. It was then that I realized the best way to pay her back for her kindness and help was to take responsibility for my mistakes. I couldn’t turn back time and stop the cake from falling off the plate, and I couldn’t undo what I had done to my mother either. I could, however, clean up the cake one piece at a time and attempt to rebuild my relationship with her in a similar manner.

As I cleaned up the last crumb of cake, I put the paper plate in the trash and spoke the following words to my mother in an apologetic and humble tone:

“I’m so sorry that I forgot about the meeting. I’m not the best at balancing the different sides of life, but that’s no excuse. There’s another online meeting later tonight. Why don’t I come over, and we can join it together? I want to make things right.”

My mother graciously agreed to my request, and her voice perked up and slowly began to regain its normal cheery and optimistic tone. As I walked out of my apartment and headed out to meet her at her house, I took a moment to reflect on the importance of accountability and honesty. Recovery had given me the ability to own up to my mistakes and work toward making amends — and the feeling of living life in the solution was even sweeter than a scrumptious dessert.

Always remember:

Keep moving forward.
Run toward 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