Clean: 'The Beauty of Truth' (4/4/22) | Clean | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Clean: 'The Beauty of Truth' (4/4/22)


Published April 4, 2022 at 11:17 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner
Colorful flower bushes rustled in the spring breeze as I walked past a babbling stream. I was three years sober, and I was enjoying a long, adventurous hike. It had been several months since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the restrictions had started to loosen in rural Vermont. The reopening of local shops had coincided with the arrival of warm and sunny weather. This happy confluence of factors had set the stage perfectly for an important social engagement. I was on the first romantic date that I had been on in several months, and my companion was several hundred feet ahead of me. Although she was over a foot shorter than I was, she was a much faster hiker.

Admittedly, part of my reason for walking so slowly behind her had nothing to do with my athletic ability. Although we had exchanged smiles and pleasantries during our outdoor lunch several hours earlier, I had not yet revealed the full extent of my past battle with addiction. I had managed to forge a fairly deep connection with her in the weeks before our initial meeting with dozens of humorous and flirty text messages. I knew that I owed it to her to be honest, but I was afraid that she would reject me if I told the truth.

As we approached a small wooden bridge, she slowed her pace and looked back at me with a bright smile. Her eyes lit up as she shouted an excited proclamation across the trail path:

“This is the best part! It’s my favorite stretch of the trail.”

I finally caught up with her after crossing the bridge, and we resumed our conversation and synchronized our walking pace. As we strolled side by side underneath the swaying branches of birch and maple saplings, the sounds of chirring insects created a hypnotic springtide overture. Suddenly, she paused in front of an exceptionally massive tree and knelt down on a dry patch of leaves. She ran her hands over the tree’s roots as a pensive look came across her face. After emitting a melancholy sigh, she spoke in a soft and reflective voice:

“Before we spend any more time together, I want you to know that I read one of your sobriety columns in the local paper before we went on this date. I didn’t want to say anything at first, because I didn’t want you to judge me, but I’ve dealt with some mental health and substance-use issues of my own. I’m still early in the process of working through my issues, but I’m here for you if you want to talk about anything that you’re dealing with.”

Her words hit me with the force of a high-speed hurricane. I had been on dates with other people in recovery before, but I had never met anyone who had been as open about their past as she was. It was both liberating and disarming to hear someone else speak on the struggles that they were going through, but I was overjoyed that my fears about her rejecting me for my past were unfounded. I knelt down on the patch of leaves with her and smiled as I watched her pick small spring flowers out of the grass.

“The same goes for me,” I said. “I’m here for you, too.”

As we made our way towards the end of the trail, I could feel myself gradually beginning to let down my self-protective emotional shield. I didn’t know what the future was going to hold for our relationship, but I did know that I had finally met someone who fully understood the beauty of truth.

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