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Clean: 'No Longer Afraid of My Fear'


Published December 20, 2021 at 11:08 a.m.
Updated December 20, 2021 at 11:09 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Shimmering light reflected off an icy road as I drove through a scenic mountain valley. I was three years sober, and I was on my way back from an interview for an article that I was writing for a local publication. It had been just under a month since I had started my new job as a magazine journalist, and I was riding high on a wave of euphoric confidence.

After parking my car and stepping out onto a patch of freshly plowed asphalt, I experienced a moment of dissociative shock when I looked down at my newly purchased dress shoes. At the apex of my active addiction, I had often made trips to drug-infested corners in a pair of dingy and disheveled sneakers. It had been several years since I had last visited those troubled streets, but I was still coming to terms with my newfound reality. I zipped up my jacket and began walking towards my apartment at a brisk pace. I had several more articles to complete before my upcoming deadline, and I had no time to waste.

I walked through my doorway, sat down at my kitchen table and opened up the audio recording application on my smartphone. In the midst of scrolling through my archive of recorded interviews, I made a startling discovery: I had failed to successfully capture the interview that I had conducted several hours earlier. I pounded my fists on the table and rose to my feet, cursing my fate as I stomped around the room. After kicking the edge of my refrigerator in a fit of rage, I noticed several large scuff marks on the surface of my brand-new shoes. My heart sank when I realized that I could no longer hide behind a flimsy façade of superficial egotism. I might have had fancy clothes and a fancy job, but I was every bit as fearful and insecure as I was when I was a desperate and unemployed addict. I was scared to admit that I had made a mistake, and I was equally afraid to tell the person whom I had interviewed that I needed to speak with them again. I didn’t know what to do.

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

“Before I found recovery, I lived my life in a state of constant fear. I was afraid of learning who I truly was, and I was also afraid of being judged by others for my imperfections. Over the course of the time that I’ve spent in recovery, I’ve learned that other people don’t think about me nearly as much as I’d like to think that they do. Although it’s always nice to be the center of attention, it’s even better to realize that much of our fear comes from a place of self-centered anxiety. When we make an effort to apply principles of recovery to everyday situations, we can remove ourselves from the equation and remain grounded in the moment. By looking at things from an objective perspective, we can then arrive at the realization that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

After taking a deep breath and calming my frenzied thoughts, I sat back down at the table and began to write an apologetic text message to the person I had interviewed. I didn’t know if they would be open to scheduling another interview, and I didn’t know what I would do if they rejected my request. All I knew was that I was better equipped to deal with whatever consequences awaited me with an uncluttered and sober mind, and that I was no longer afraid of my fear.

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