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Clean: 'Full Circle' (11/8/21)


Published November 8, 2021 at 11:36 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
The air was cool and crisp as I walked out of the lobby of a posh urban hotel in Washington, D.C. I was three years sober, and I was about to perform a set of songs that told the story of my addiction and recovery for an audience of politicians, doctors and health care industry magnates at the Aspen Institute. Although I was making a valiant effort to remain calm and focused, the familiar sights, sounds and smells of my hometown were stirring up recollections of my addicted past. As I weaved through the crowded downtown sidewalks, every building and storefront held memories of the hedonistic and destructive debauchery that had defined my life for so many years.

After walking for several blocks, I found myself staring directly at a seemingly nondescript apartment complex. My heart skipped a beat when I realized that I was passing one of the places where I had bought and used drugs many times at the apex of my active addiction. As I watched someone walk through the front entrance, the familiar creak and click of the door sent electric shockwaves through my body. The unexpected sensory triggers reawakened my addictive tendencies with overwhelming intensity. I felt myself losing my sense of mental balance as I straddled the wide and treacherous gap between my present and past realities.

I was roused from my desperate reflections by a brisk gust of November wind. After regaining my composure, I stopped in my tracks and took a moment to study my surroundings. I found myself standing on a curved sidewalk at the edge of a bustling downtown roundabout. Several wide and open avenues branched off from the center of the circle, each leading to a different destination.

If I walked down one road, it would lead me directly to an open-air drug market, where I could restart the deadly behavior pattern that had nearly cost me my life.

If I walked down another, I could run back to the safety of my warm hotel room.

The third option was to take the road that led to the performance venue, where I could move forward with my life in recovery.

My head started to spin as I watched swiftly moving processions of fancy cars zoom around the circle and veer off onto different paths. I didn’t know if I had the strength to keep moving in the right direction, much less broadcast a message of hope and recovery to an audience of influential changemakers.

It was then that I remembered the words that a wise member of my sobriety fellowship had once told me when I was faced with a similar predicament in the earliest days of my recovery:

“When we first get sober, we make every effort to distance ourselves from the harmful patterns that, in the past, held us back. As we regain our strength through sobriety, we often find ourselves in situations that put us face-to-face with our most powerful fears once again. When we face those pivotal moments, we are given the opportunity to draw on the wisdom that we have gained through our time in recovery. As long as we remain grounded in the solution, we have nothing to fear. Just because our lives come full circle, it doesn’t mean that we have to get trapped in the same dangerous and toxic cycles.”

I turned away from the apartment building, took a deep breath and took the first steps toward the road that led to the performance venue. As I walked away from the circle, I understood that my past addictive tendencies no longer had the power to hold me back. Recovery had given me the courage to keep walking in the right direction and the clarity to understand that I didn’t have to give in to my lesser urges.

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