Clean: 'Food and Fellowship' (5/23/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Food and Fellowship' (5/23/22)

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Published May 23, 2022 at 11:26 a.m.


Benjamin Lerner - JOSHUA SHERMAN PRODUCTIONS
  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

The blade of my stainless steel knife rattled the edges of my wooden cutting board as I chopped up a fresh cucumber. I was three years sober, and I was getting ready to participate in an online sobriety fellowship event. It was a beautiful spring evening, but I had spent all day slogging through a series of difficult work assignments at home. I was lonely, emotionally drained and in dire need of human contact.

As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I had been unable to meet with any members of my recovery circle in person on a regular basis. Thankfully, a longtime friend had invited me to attend a recovery meeting that was being hosted through a videoconferencing application. Due to the fact that the meeting was composed of a group of complete strangers, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.

After looking down at my computer screen to check the time, I realized that the event was about to start. I clicked on the link my friend had sent me, placed my plate of cucumber slices down on my kitchen table and took a moment to compose myself. As the videoconferencing application opened, an intimidating array of unfamiliar faces materialized on my computer screen. As I took a massive bite of a large and crunchy slice, I was startled by the piercing and high-pitched interjection of an unfamiliar recovering addict:

“Welcome, newcomer! I don’t think I’ve ever met you before. By the way, are you eating unpeeled cucumber slices? That has to be the strangest snack that I’ve ever seen in my life.”

I was caught off guard by his unprompted question, and I began to feel a deep sense of unbelonging. It had been almost a week since I had last made contact with anyone from my recovery circle, and my prolonged period of solitude had rendered me completely incapable of reading social cues. In the heat of the moment, I had misinterpreted his playful teasing as judgmental condescension. As I struggled to summon the courage to respond, I considered the possibility of logging out of the meeting. I didn’t want to risk being humiliated by a group of strangers.

It was then that I realized that I was not doing myself any favors by focusing on the negative and stressful aspects of the situation that I was presented with. Although I had been forced to deal with a potentially awkward social dynamic, I decided to see it as an opportunity to grow on a personal level and move past my comfort zone. I might not have been in the same room as the other people at the meeting, but I still had the ability to connect with them through honest self-expression. I unmuted my microphone, detached from my resentments and spoke from the heart:

“It’s great to meet you, too! I don’t go to online meetings that often, so I’m a little bit nervous. I chopped up these cucumber slices so that I could enjoy them as a ‘serenity snack.’ I find a lot of satisfaction in the crunch, and it helps me decompress and move past my social anxiety. I highly recommend it!”

I was expecting my response to be greeted with intense mockery or skepticism. Instead, the host of the meeting offered me kind words of encouragement. I felt the weight of my self-imposed isolation fall off my shoulders as I savored another cucumber slice. Recovery had given me the ability to move past my fear and make profound connections with others, regardless of their geographic locations or personal preferences.

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.