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Clean: 'The Truth is Complicated' (8/5/22)


Published August 5, 2022 at 10:51 a.m.

  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

The soothing smell of floral-scented summer wind hung in the air as I hunched over my dining room table. I took a generous sip from my water glass, then heaved a pensive sigh as I scanned a series of wordy paragraphs on my computer screen. I was four years sober, and I was proofreading an article that I had to submit to my editor the following morning.

As I pored over the final sentence of the article’s detailed and dense conclusion, the following thought popped into my head:

“Why do I always have to write in such a vague and drawn-out manner? Why can’t I ever get straight to the point without going off on indulgent, rambling tangents?”

My introspective analysis was cut short when my girlfriend walked through the front door of my apartment. I closed my computer, rose to greet her, and walked toward her with outstretched arms. She had just come back from a long work shift, and I could tell that she was completely exhausted. As I drew closer to her, I noticed that tears were streaming down her cheeks. She collapsed in a chair and began sobbing with passionate intensity. When I asked her what was wrong, she sheepishly turned away from me. I kept peppering her with invasive questions about her mental state, and she deflected my inquiries with a series of intricate and circuitous stories. Although each seemingly unrelated, confessional monologue brought me closer to grasping the challenges that she was going through, I still felt like I didn’t completely understand the primary reasons for her distress. As she continued to peel back the metaphorical onion of her emotional identity, it was clear that many layers remained before her inner core was exposed.

I began to feel frustrated, inadequate and helpless as I sat in front of her and stared into her despondent and watery eyes. Although I was the only person in our household that was writing an article, it was clear that she was also having a difficult time expressing herself in an efficient and transparent manner. I was on the verge of abandoning hope and taking out my exasperation on my hapless romantic partner, but I remembered the wise words of a friend from my sobriety fellowship:

“Although we all want to be immediately rocketed into a new dimension of freedom and joy when we start our new life in recovery, we must remember that everyone’s journey of self-discovery is different. Some people are able to directly confront their underlying trauma or mental health issues very quickly. Others take a less direct and linear path towards understanding their truth. The same principle applies to the way that we communicate with others. Some people cut to the chase in an abrupt and organized fashion. Others may take a more serpentine and subtle route with their conversational approach. Regardless of the how we arrive at the destination of truth and self-actualization, we must be kind to ourselves and others throughout the duration of the process. As long as we’re willing to be honest and do the necessary work, it doesn’t matter how long it takes or how the work gets done.”

After taking a moment to reflect, I realized that I didn’t need to judge myself for my dense and tangential writing style, and I didn’t need to judge my girlfriend for speaking in a cryptic and roundabout way, either. Recovery had allowed me to understand that the truth is often complicated, and I was grateful to be able to take on the challenges of my life and my writing career one day – and one word – at a time.

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