Clean: 'Just the Way I Am' (3/28/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Arts + Life » Clean

Clean: 'Just the Way I Am' (3/28/22)

By

Published March 28, 2022 at 10:44 a.m.


Benjamin Lerner - JOSHUA SHERMAN PRODUCTIONS
  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Shivers reverberated through my body as I stepped out of my shower onto a cold tile floor. I was three years sober, and I was getting ready for an important first date. I grabbed a towel off a nearby rack, walked up to a foggy mirror and began examining my reflection. After scanning my face for blemishes and discolorations, I reached for a bottle of topical skin care solution. It was the first of many steps in my intricate grooming routine, which always provided me with a temporary sense of comfort and security.

During the worst part of my active addiction, I was constantly overwhelmed by potent surges of self-hatred and shame. I felt like a subhuman monster whenever I looked at my bony chest and oily skin. I detested the way that my sternum poked out at an asymmetrical angle, and I abhorred my facial blemishes even more vehemently. In the years that followed my decision to get sober and clean, my emaciated frame had filled out and my skin had started to clear. Although my physical transformation had allowed me to reach new levels of confidence, I still felt like I was ugly and flawed.

In a tragic twist of fate, I was beginning to use my fitness and hygiene practices in a compulsive and ritualistic manner. I didn’t want to admit it, but the behavioral pattern closely mirrored my past addiction to harmful substances. As I slathered high-strength acne medicine across my face, I began to feel restless, irritable and discontent. I dropped to the ground and began doing push-ups until I could barely breathe. My ego and insecurities were engaged in an all-out battle, and I was caught up in the crossfire with no way out.

Suddenly, I felt my eyes begin to burn with the intensity of an exploding star. The sweat that had been generated by my vainglorious exercises had dripped down from my forehead, carrying an excessive amount of chemical ointment onto my eyelashes and eyelids. I rose to my feet and screamed out in agony as I attempted to wash the skin cream off of my face. In a matter of seconds, I had literally become blinded by my impatient pursuit of superficial perfection. I felt lost and disillusioned as I submerged my face in my bathroom sink. I didn’t know what to do.

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

“One of the best things about sobriety is that it allows us to regain control of our lives. Sadly, that newfound sense of control can sometimes lead to the development of unhealthy and obsessive behaviors. If we are dealing with unresolved feelings of inadequacy, we may go to extensive lengths to groom ourselves and reshape ourselves in a way that makes us feel more desirable. Though self-care is certainly important, that search for external validation can rob us of our sanity if we’re not careful. I’ve found that when I can detach from my reflexive need to prove myself to others, I’m able to return to one of the core truths that I’ve learned in recovery: I’m good enough just the way I am — and I don’t need anyone else’s approval to feel worthy of inner peace and happiness.”

After resurfacing and taking a deep breath, I understood that I didn’t need to look perfect or impress my date. I just needed to be honest, open, humble and willing to accept my flaws. Recovery had given me the ability to move past my self-centered tendencies — and the clarity to understand that true strength comes from vulnerability.

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.