Clean: 'Here and Now' (3/15/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Here and Now' (3/15/22)


  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Dim lights cast spindly shadows on the walls as I stood at the corner of my kitchen counter. I was three years sober, and I was getting ready to prepare a stir-fry dinner. After dropping several handfuls of diced vegetables onto the surface of a hot frying pan, I turned the flame down to a simmer. I then walked away from the kitchen into my bedroom, where I sat down and turned on my television. After flipping through the channels for several minutes, I randomly stumbled upon a prime-time news program. The reporter had a troubled expression on his face as he read a series of frightening statistics. It had been several months since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the news regarding the exponentially growing case numbers seemed to be getting worse every day.

While listening to the reporter’s worrisome proclamations, I quickly became overwhelmed with feelings of dread and apprehension. It had been months since I had last attended an in-person sobriety fellowship meeting, and I was gradually beginning to regress into irrational patterns of thought. I was a prisoner in my own self-imposed fortress of psychosomatic torture, and my mind felt like a burning house that was impossible to escape.

I was awakened from my pessimistic daydreams by the unmistakable scent of acrid smoke. For a split second, it seemed like my apocalyptic and infernal hallucinations had manifested in the real world. I rose from my bed and sprinted towards the kitchen. Once there, I discovered the source of the smell: I had left my stir-fry dinner cooking for nearly half an hour without stirring it! I swiftly turned the flame off underneath the pan, grabbed a glass of water and dumped it over the burned vegetables. Clouds of pungent steam immediately rose up from the stove, which caused me to hack and wheeze as I collapsed against the kitchen counter. It felt like the whole world was crumbling around me. I didn’t know what to do.

It was then that I remembered the wise words of a friend from my sobriety fellowship:

“During the worst part of my active addiction, I would use anything as an excuse to justify drinking or using drugs. Every time I had a difficult day or saw a depressing news story, I would run to my dealer or run to the liquor store. I didn’t want to deal with the truth, but I didn’t know how to accept unsettling events without self-medicating. In recovery, I’ve learned that the easiest way to accept hard truths is by staying grounded in the moment. I might not be able to solve all of the world’s problems, but it’s not up to me to keep the whole world from burning down. Before I can rescue anyone else from the fire, I have to make sure that my own house stays standing.”

As the smoke from the burned vegetables began to clear, the proverbial haze inside my mind began to similarly dissipate. I had been so distracted by the tragic nature of the events that were unfolding on a global scale that I had forgotten to tend to the tasks that were right in front of me. I might have been relatively powerless over the world beyond my kitchen, but I did have power to apply the lessons of acceptance and surrender that I had learned in sobriety. Recovery had given me the courage to confront reality head-on, the clarity to accept my limitations, and the humility necessary to remain grounded in the here and now.

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