Clean: 'Home Is Where You Make It' (3/7/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Home Is Where You Make It' (3/7/22)


  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Thick clouds of automotive exhaust lingered in the air as I stood outside a small wooden cottage. I was three years sober, and my mother had just arrived in southern Vermont. As I watched her step out of a taxicab, I was overwhelmed with feelings of joy and relief. It had been several months since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was the first time that I had seen her in person since the national shutdowns had taken effect.

The majority of my mother’s face was covered in a cloth mask, but I could still see her eyes light up as she stepped out of the cab and walked toward me. She gave me a warm hug, then began giddily chattering with superabundant zeal. I grabbed her bags from the trunk of the car, thanked the cabdriver and followed her through the front door of the house. After setting her bags on the ground, she unpacked her coffee machine and brewed a fresh cup for herself. We then sat down at opposite ends of a long table in the dining room. Once seated, she removed her mask and looked at me with a seemingly hopeful smile. As our conversation continued, I saw her beaming grin slowly transform into a crestfallen and melancholy expression. Although she was making a valiant effort to conceal her true feelings, it was clear that the social isolation she had been forced to endure during the pandemic had significantly impacted her morale. Tears welled up in her eyes as she spoke in a sorrowful tone:

“I’m so happy to see you, but I’m very frightened about what’s going on in the world right now. It feels like everything is upside down. I’m hundreds of miles away from my home, my friends and my recovery fellowship. I don’t know what to do.”

Her impassioned words caused vivid visual recollections to flash in my mind’s eye. My mother had gotten sober five years before I did, and she had served as an invaluable source of support in the earliest days of my recovery. I knew that it was now up to me to be there for her in her time of need. I cleared my throat and replied to her wistful proclamation in a soft and soothing voice:

“I don’t know if you remember this, Mom, but when I first got back from the inpatient treatment center, I was trapped in a similarly insecure and fearful mental state. My entire world had changed overnight, and none of my friends wanted anything to do with me. I was living in a recovery house with people I didn’t know, and I didn’t think I’d be able to adjust to my newfound situation. I’ll never forget what you told me on the day that I called you up and said that I felt homesick and wanted to leave the recovery house. You told me, ‘Home is where you make it. As long as you stay grounded in the solution, you never have to feel afraid. Recovery gives us the chance to feel at home no matter where we go, but it’s up to us to clean house emotionally on a daily basis by maintaining a strong sobriety program.’”

My mother’s lips curled back upward as she pulled a sobriety fellowship textbook out of her handbag. After opening up the weathered tome to a bookmarked page, she made a brilliant suggestion:

“Why don’t we have our own sobriety fellowship meeting right here — just the two of us?”

I felt my spirits rise as I responded with emphatic elation:

“I’d love nothing more than that, Mom. Welcome home.”

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