Clean: 'Move Out of Your Own Way' (2/14/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Move Out of Your Own Way' (2/14/22)

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Published February 14, 2022 at 11:50 a.m.


Benjamin Lerner - JOSHUA SHERMAN PRODUCTIONS
  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
The sky was a gorgeous shade of cerulean blue as I drove down a wide and open highway. I was three years sober, and I was grateful to be enjoying a beautiful and sunny day. It was late in the winter season, and the ice was beginning to slowly melt off the edges of the road. The hopeful patches of grass that had emerged from the receding snow served as a flawless symbolic manifestation of my spiritual state. It had been nearly two months since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but I was beginning to adjust to the newfound challenges that I was facing.

After a satisfying morning of hard work and reflective meditation, I had taken an hourlong break from my journalistic duties. I was headed to my favorite restaurant to pick up a glorious and decadent meal to take home. Life was far from perfect, but I was nevertheless thankful to be alive, sober and clean. I put my blinker on and coasted to the left as the road narrowed down from two lanes to one. Suddenly, I saw a large car approaching from behind me in my rearview mirror. Although I was driving at a reasonably fast pace, it continued to bear down on me at a barreling clip. As the car inched toward my bumper, I felt like I was being pressured to drive faster. I wanted to placate the driver behind me, and I was fearful that I would be forced to deal with an unpleasant and rageful confrontation if I didn’t speed up. After weighing my options for several seconds, I reluctantly decided to press down on the gas pedal. As my rate of speed increased, the driver behind me continued to move closer to my car. No matter how much I accelerated, it seemed that they were unsatisfied with my driving.

As I rocketed around a treacherous turn, I saw the car behind me begin to recklessly swerve. The car’s driver was barely dodging oncoming traffic while attempting to overtake me. I quickly became consumed with fiery wrath. I felt I was entitled to teach the irresponsible driver a lesson. I pressed down on the brake and began driving below the speed limit to spite them. I was determined to exercise whatever temporary power I had in any way possible. At the height of my passive-aggressive tantrum, I remembered the wise words of a friend from my sobriety fellowship:



“In the earliest days of our recovery, we were constantly in danger of sabotaging our progress by returning to using drugs and drinking. After overcoming our chemical obsession, we often find that the biggest hindrance to our progress isn’t the people around us or the frustrating situations that we encounter — it’s ourselves. If we hold tight to our need for power with the same selfish pride with which we once held on to our need to drink and use, we run the risk of sacrificing everything that we have worked so hard for. Sometimes it’s easier just to get out of your own way and let things go.”

After realizing that it wasn’t up to me to change the behavior of the driver behind me, I felt a sublime sense of liberating euphoria. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and watched the car speed off into the distance as it continued on its merry way. Recovery had given me the ability to detach from my addiction to power and control — and the strength to remain grounded in my principles without sacrificing my safety or my sanity.

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.