Clean: 'Self-Acceptance' (8/9/21) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'Self-Acceptance' (8/9/21)


Published August 9, 2021 at 10:50 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Sleet and rain ricocheted off the edges of my windshield as I turned into the massive parking lot of a southern Vermont shopping center. I was two years sober, and I was on my way to the store to buy myself some groceries.

It had been over a month since I had moved up from the city, and I had finally started to adjust to the pace of rural life. I stepped outside, closed my car door and shivered, as I felt a frosty gust of wind hit the back of my neck. I walked toward my trunk, opened the hatch and began rummaging through it, determined to find a comfortable scarf, hat and gloves that would make my walk across the parking lot more pleasant.

After discovering a secret cache of winter accessories underneath a crumpled shopping bag, I tied my scarf around my neck and pulled the edges of a wool hat down around my ears. As I made my way toward the store, the happy faces of shoppers pushing their carts to their cars all seemed to greet me with welcoming smiles. Even though I was hundreds of miles from home, I felt like I was swaddled in an impenetrable blanket of self-sufficient emotional security.

Suddenly, I was roused from my positive reflections when I heard the sounds of raucous banter from across the parking lot. A group of young men was congregated around a large pickup truck. It was a cold and damp day, but they were all dressed in shorts and T-shirts. I looked down at my gloves and scarf with shame and embarrassment. As their laughter continued to reverberate at an increasing volume, I became increasingly self-conscious and insecure. In a matter of seconds, my feelings of comfort and emotional safety had been shattered into tiny pieces. I felt like an outsider who didn’t belong.

In the years before my active addiction, I had always struggled with social anxiety. Even though I was now several years sober, I found myself trapped in the same pattern of anxious thought. As I passed by the group of merry strangers, every one of their lighthearted jeers and exclamations seemed like a cruel and judgmental joke that was aimed directly at me. I closed my eyes and ground my teeth as I struggled to find the strength to keep walking. I wanted to untie my scarf, turn around and hide in a private hovel of self-hatred and shame. It was then that I realized the only person who was actually being judgmental and cruel in that moment was me.

In my overwhelmed and frantic state, I was being unfairly judgmental of the people in the parking lot who were simply enjoying a moment of carefree socialization. I was also being cruel to myself by allowing my senseless and unfounded fears to bubble and fester to an unmanageable and painful point. I knew that before I could learn to accept other people and face them without fear, I had to learn to accept myself as I was. I readjusted my scarf, took a deep breath and walked past the group of happy-go-lucky locals with a confident spring in my step. I knew that no matter what surprises the weather brought, I could always find warm refuge within myself. I just had to remember that true comfort didn’t come from the clothes I wore on my back. It came from the inner peace and serenity that I had earned by living life on life’s terms one day at a time.

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

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