Clean: 'Comfortable With Discomfort' (12/6/21) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Comfortable With Discomfort' (12/6/21)


  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
The robust smell of garlic mashed potatoes lingered in the air as a strong gust of wind rattled the eaves of my apartment in East Arlington. I was three years sober, and I was enjoying a quiet evening at home. It had been three weeks since I had completed my first live performance as a musician in recovery, and I had started to settle back into my daily routine.

Although I was grateful for my artistic victory, it had come with a noticeable drawback: Due to the increasing frequency of my creative commitments, the owners of the restaurant I worked at had been forced to cut my shifts in half. I had adjusted to my recently imposed financial limitations with a mixture of willpower and frugal ingenuity, but it was clear that I had to find a new source of income in the near future.

As I sprinkled a pinch of rock salt onto a plate of lightly spiced root vegetables, I felt a sublime and liberating sense of coolheaded contentment. After living in southern Vermont for almost a year, I had fully acclimated to the pace of rural life. I had also learned to masterfully maintain the balance between my service job and my arts residency fellowship. The stress and unease that formerly dominated my mental landscape had been replaced by lucid confidence. It was a feeling of comfortable tranquility that I relished with great enthusiasm.

Suddenly, I heard my phone ring. It was the music producer who oversaw my artistic residency. I casually twirled my fork in the air as we proceeded to trade sardonic and lighthearted witticisms in between bites of my meal. I was expecting the conversation to drift toward the musical project that we were working on together, but my initial thoughts were instantly invalidated when he revealed the surprising reason for his call.

“I know that you’ve been worried about not having the money to pay your bills, because your work at the recording studio has been interfering with your day job. I think I’ve come up with an inventive solution. I’ve read your social media posts where you talk about your journey of recovery. It’s clear that you have a real passion for writing. I own several magazines, and I want you to come work for me as a staff writer. Is that something that would interest you?”

I dropped my fork down onto the plate as I pondered his enticing yet intimidating offer. I didn’t know if it was a good idea to change careers when I had only recently adapted to my newfound circumstances. I was ecstatic that I had been offered an exciting new job, but I didn’t want to endanger my recovery and sacrifice my serenity. I held my breath in stony silence as I grappled with the important decision that I had been presented with. I didn’t know what to do. It was then that I recalled the wise words of a friend from my sobriety fellowship:

“Recovery is all about learning to be comfortable with discomfort. If we refuse promising opportunities due to fear of failure, we will find ourselves repeatedly stuck in stagnant and disappointing cycles. As long as we remain willing to take things one day at a time, we can move past the temporary awkwardness that accompanies significant positive changes with strength and courage.”

After a drawn-out pause, I made the decision to accept my producer’s job offer. I had no experience as a professional writer. I didn’t know how I was going to make it work. All I knew was that I was grateful to be sober, ready to face my fears and excited to move past my comfort zone.

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