Clean: 'Moving in the Right Direction' (2/28/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Moving in the Right Direction' (2/28/22)


  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Floorboards creaked and rattled underneath my muddy boots as I stumbled through a dark hallway. I was three years sober, and I was clumsily attempting to move a large and unwieldy chest of drawers through a narrow door frame. My mother had rented a small house down the street from my apartment in East Arlington, and she was due to arrive from the city at any moment. Although she had originally leased the cottage with the intention of visiting me sporadically throughout the course of the spring and summer season, the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had caused her to hastily reassess her living situation.

My mother was also a recovering alcoholic, and she had been unable to attend any in-person sobriety fellowship meetings in the months that followed the nationwide shutdowns. After the two of us shared a series of emotional phone calls, we made the collective decision that it was better for her to move to Vermont full time so that she could live closer to me. I was incredibly excited to see my mother in person, but I was ashamed that my efforts to prepare for her move-in date had been relatively fruitless.

After awkwardly shimmying her wooden bureau through the doorway, I heaved a victorious sigh as I set it down next to a bare mattress and an unrolled rug. My short-lived triumphant celebration was interrupted when I felt a vibration from inside my jacket pocket. It was a text message from my mother. She was less than five minutes away. I started to panic as I surveyed the untidy scene that lay before me. The floors were strewn with packing tape and bubble wrap, the bed was still not made, and there were cardboard boxes everywhere. I had done everything I could to get her house ready, but I had fallen short of my goals. I was overwhelmed with feelings of shame and misery. I didn’t know what to do. It was then that I remembered the wise words of my friend from my sobriety fellowship:

“When I first got sober, I traded in my old chemical addictions for a different type of dependency. I got addicted to self-betterment, positive progression and the payoff that comes from hard work. My compulsive need for success and validation helped me get my life back on track, but it also came at a price: If I did anything wrong or failed to live up to my own unrealistic expectations, I became incredibly impatient with myself. I began to develop feelings of self-hatred that were every bit as destructive and unmanageable as the substances that once consumed me. As I’ve continued to progress in my recovery, I’ve learned that I don’t have to do everything perfectly. As long as I remain grateful and treat others with kindness every day, I’ve already won. No situational outcome can ever take that feeling away from me.”

After pausing to reflect, I slowed my breath and allowed myself to accept my shortcomings. Although I had failed to accomplish many of the goals that I had set for myself, I had still managed to perform a good deed for someone I cared about. As I watched my mother’s taxi pull up in front of the house, I felt my insecurity and anxiety melt away. Recovery had given me the ability to detach from my need for perfection and the clarity to understand that happiness didn’t always have to be situationally dependent. Even though some of my mother’s furniture still hadn’t been moved into the correct place, I knew that my life was still moving in the right direction in recovery.

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