Clean: '“Overwhelmed With Gratitude' (7/29/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: '“Overwhelmed With Gratitude' (7/29/22)


Published July 29, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated July 29, 2022 at 10:44 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

My shoulders were stiff and tense as I hunched over a pile of bills and papers on my work desk. I was four years sober, and I was completely overwhelmed with professional projects, social commitments and family obligations. As I scrolled through a series of urgent text messages in my phone, my heart began to pound with the intensity of a symphonic drumline. I had a list of missed calls that was longer than the stretch of country road outside my apartment in East Arlington, and my mind was racing at the speed of the cars that were whooshing past my window.

I began responding to the missed messages and calls in a stiff and robotic fashion, crafting replies that possessed none of the warmth and deference that my coworkers and family members had grown accustomed to. I was hungry, anxious, lonely and tired, and I had neglected to take care of my basic human needs. As a result, my anxiety and fear had rendered me completely incapable of engaging in positive human interactions.

Suddenly, my phone rang. It was a friend from my sobriety fellowship. I felt a guilty shiver radiate through my body as I watched his number flash across the screen. I had promised to meet him at a sobriety fellowship meeting, and I had completely forgotten about our plans. The meeting was starting in less than half an hour, and I was still in the process of drafting a dense and detailed email to one of my work contacts. I answered the call with a harsh and aggressive monotone that was reminiscent of a drill sergeant from a second-rate Hollywood action movie.

After noticing my edgy demeanor, my friend gently inquired about my mental state with a thoughtful and kind question:

“You sound like you’re having a difficult day. Is everything all right?”

Although my first instinct was to lie and tell him that everything was fine, I had spent enough time in recovery to know that would only make things worse. I felt equally as worn down and desperate as I did during the worst days of my active addiction. My life had reached a point of complete unmanageability, and I knew that something had to change. I let a stream of cathartic tears fall from my eyes as I listed my grievances and worries to my compassionate friend. After spilling my soul for several minutes and clearing my conscience, I fell silent as I awaited his reply. Several seconds later, I heard a soft, pensive sigh through my phone speakers. It was followed by some of the most wise and insightful advice that I had received in a long time.

“You’re definitely under a lot of pressure, but it sounds like you’re putting more pressure on yourself than anyone else is. Why don’t you leave your phone and computer at home, come to the sobriety fellowship meeting, and come with me to get something to eat afterwards. Your family and coworkers will be grateful that you took the time to take care of yourself, and you’ll be better equipped to deal with all of your obligations.”

After realizing that I had worked myself up unnecessarily by mentally magnifying the external pressure that I was faced with, I closed my computer and took a moment to meditate and decompress. With my mind at ease, I grabbed my coat from a nearby hanger and walked outside toward my car to drive to the sobriety fellowship meeting. Recovery had given me the ability to take care of myself and balance my life in a rational and responsible fashion. I was no longer overwhelmed with worry and doubt — I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Always remember:

Keep moving forward.
Run toward 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