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Clean: Presidential Pardon (7/15/22)


Published July 15, 2022 at 2:55 p.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

The summer sun beat down from the sky as I coasted down a winding country road. I was four years sober, and I was on my way to conduct a high-profile magazine interview. I had scheduled a meeting with the president of a prestigious historical society, and I was looking forward to meeting him and learning some valuable new facts.

After rounding a treacherous hairpin turn, I arrived in front of a magnificent cluster of structures. They looked like they were pulled straight from the pages of a classic American novel. As I stepped out of my car and walked toward the front entrance of a beautiful Federalist-era cottage, I was overcome with feelings of awe and intimidation. After ringing the doorbell and waiting for several minutes, I was greeted by a well-groomed man with a deep and powerful voice. He led me through an intricate network of hallways that were lined with sepia-toned photographs of illustrious political luminaries.

Upon reaching the end of a narrow corridor, he invited me into a small room that was outfitted with antique lamps and mahogany furniture. I reached down into my bag to pull out my computer, then felt my heart skip a beat as I opened the screen. My battery was completely drained, and I had forgotten to bring my charge cord with me. I hadn’t written any of my questions down on paper, and I had no idea how I was going to proceed with the interview. I hung my head in shame as the president of the historical society calmly drummed his fingers on the hand-carved edges of his desk. I was terrified to tell him about my predicament. I didn’t want to seem incompetent and risk losing the opportunity to interview him, but I knew that I had exhausted all of my other options. It was then that I remembered the words that were written on the wall of a sobriety fellowship clubhouse I had frequented in early recovery:

“The truth shall set you free.”

I cleared my throat, took a deep breath, and uttered the following words in a meek and apologetic tone:

“I’m so sorry to tell you this, but I don’t have any of the questions that I wrote down for our interview. My computer’s battery is dead, and I left my charge cord at home. I sent the questions to myself via email, but I don’t have cellular service here and I can’t access them on my phone. I’ll understand if you need to reschedule the interview. I’m sorry for wasting your time.”

After a brief moment of silence, the man behind the desk raised his eyebrow, smiled, and replied in a compassionate and understanding voice.

“Not to worry! If you can access your email on my computer, I’m happy to print them out. Let’s work together to solve this issue. I respect your honesty — and I’m happy to help.”

I heaved a heavy sigh of relief as we walked down the hall to a corner office that was equipped with a large desktop computer. I logged into my email account, printed out my questions, and began the interview with a newfound sense of confidence and self-esteem. Recovery had given me the courage to tell the truth in a high-pressure situation, and I was grateful to be living life in the solution.

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