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Clean: 'Writer's Block' (6/20/22)

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Published June 20, 2022 at 4:00 p.m.
Updated June 20, 2022 at 4:46 p.m.


Benjamin Lerner - JOSHUA SHERMAN PRODUCTIONS
  • Joshua Sherman Productions
  • Benjamin Lerner

My palms were sweaty as my hands rested on my computer keyboard. I was four years sober, and I was attempting to finish writing a song that I had been working on for several weeks. I had stayed up all night, but I still hadn’t made any discernible progress. I was unproductive and indecisive, held back by a textbook case of writer’s block.

As feelings of doubt and unease took hold of my fragile psyche, I began to nostalgically recall the period of creative freedom that I had experienced in the earliest days of my recovery. At the time, I was still unemployed and living at a recovery house. Although I was constantly plagued with fear, loneliness and uncertain thoughts regarding my future, I was able to effectively channel my angst and insecurity into my songwriting. As my recovery continued to progress, I reached new levels of emotional security and self-esteem by working a full-time job and rebuilding connections with my family and loved ones. Although I was grateful for the stability that my sober lifestyle had given me, I was convinced that the peace and fulfillment I had found in recovery had completely dulled my artistic edge.

After snapping out of my dreamlike and reflective state, I turned my attention back toward my computer screen. As I continued to chip away at the verse, I found myself beginning to resort to cliché metaphors and lyrical devices that glorified my experiences in active addiction. Ironically, by trying to recapture my artistic authenticity, I was actually veering further away from my true creative identity. I wanted to write a song that reflected my feelings in a powerful way, but I didn’t know how to rekindle the same fiery passion that once fueled my artistry without betraying the principles that guided my recovery.

It was then that I remembered the wise words of a fellow sober musician:

“When I put together a few years of continuous sobriety, I found it incredibly difficult to replicate the same creative process that I used in early recovery and active addiction. I second-guessed myself at every turn, because I didn’t think that my music would resonate with people who were still stuck in the same destructive cycle that nearly claimed my life. After taking some time to reflect, I realized that I hadn’t lost my creative powers or artistic voice — I just hadn’t discovered that it was possible to use the lessons that I had learned in recovery as the inspiration for even better music. If we become willing to detach from our fear of change and approach our creative endeavors with a clear and open mind, we have the chance to grow on both a personal and artistic level. We just have to trust ourselves, step out of our comfort zones and embrace our new creative identities. Sobriety isn’t the cause of artistic stagnation. It’s the cure for it.”

As his words reverberated clearly in my mind, I understood that it was time for me to take the first steps toward true artistic progression. I let go of all of my preconceived notions of what I wanted the song to be, let down my guard and let my emotions flow freely through my fingers onto the page. By tapping into the experience, strength and hope that had been passed on to me by other sober creatives, I was able to stay true to myself and move past my self-imposed limitations.

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 sevendaysvt.com.