Clean: Darkness and Light (7/26/21) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: Darkness and Light (7/26/21)


Published July 26, 2021 at 5:10 p.m.
Updated August 2, 2021 at 10:53 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Hazy clouds drifted through the gray winter sky as I yawned, stretched and rose from my bed. I was two years sober, and I had just woken up from a restful night’s sleep. As I began my daily preparations, I watched in silent awe as a solitary ray of sunlight poked through the clouds and illuminated a row of snowcapped trees on a rocky hillside.

Staring at the expanding beam of light, I found myself contemplating its symbolic significance in relation to my life’s trajectory. Although my mind had initially been clouded with doubts regarding my ability to adjust to the challenges of life in southern Vermont, the proverbial horizon of my mental sky was becoming clearer with every passing day. As the sun began to stream in through my windows, I felt an exhilarating rush of optimistic clarity. I was basking in the warmth of fulfillment and self-actualization, and I was grateful to be alive in recovery.

Suddenly, my buoyant reflections were cut off when I heard a high-pitched cellphone ringtone emanating from the pocket of my jeans. It was a former girlfriend of mine from back in the city, who also happened to be a recovering addict. Although we had split on amicable terms due to my move, I nevertheless felt remorseful that I had ended our relationship before I had gotten the chance to truly get to know her. After a series of dry quips and self-deprecating jokes, she revealed the reason for her call. Her voice was hoarse and crackly as she began to speak: “I hope you’re enjoying yourself up there. I’m really happy that you’re doing what you love. To be honest, I really haven’t been doing that well. I relapsed last week, and I had to leave the recovery house that I was staying at. I feel so ashamed of myself. I don’t know how to start over. You’re the first person I’ve told outside of my family. What do you think I should do?”

My heart raced at a whirlwind pace. In my shocked and compromised state, I felt like I was directly responsible for her relapse due to our recent breakup. The sky outside began to turn dark again as clouds of fretful trepidation simultaneously re-formed in the stratosphere of my subconscious. In a matter of moments, my confident jubilance had been replaced with paralyzing feelings of guilty gloom. I felt like I was trapped in the darkness in more ways than one, and I didn’t know if the sun would ever start shining again.

It was then that I understood that in the process of chasing after both literal and metaphorical sunlight, I had neglected to realize that the brilliant light of serenity and acceptance would continue to shine on me as long as I practiced the principles that I had learned in recovery. I also knew that I could only stay in the light if I was willing to help others who were deeper in the darkness than I was. It was time to put my program of recovery into action. I took a deep breath, picked the phone back up and spoke the following words:

“I won’t pretend to understand everything that you’re going through, but I do know one thing: The skies might seem gray now, but it won’t last forever. The darkest nights can give way to the brightest mornings, but you have to be willing to walk towards the light.”

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

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