The Role of Kindness in Recovery

The longer I’ve been sober, the more I realize that what is needed in sobriety isn’t so much rigor, devastating self-honesty, good routines or self-depreciating humor – although these practices can all be incredibly helpful – but rather a kind of radical kindness that surpasses most worldly practices.

Kindness, for me, is a two-stage process. First, kindness requires I accept myself in whatever situation I’m in. Whether I am depressed or anxious, or whether I am over-excited and involved in Self, or even whether I’ve just done something horribly cruel, I have a moment, a brief moment of choice, where I can accept my circumstances. I don’t have to be happy about it (and I’m often not!) but that moment of acceptance is a moment of clarity, intelligence – and contains the seed of serenity. The second stage of the kindness practice is helped by acceptance, because now I must do something intelligent about my circumstances. Sometimes, this intelligent action is first and foremost halting the harmful behavior and taking a break – perhaps taking a rest or eating some food. Perhaps my intelligent action is calling another alcoholic in the program – whether to ask how they are doing, or whether to tell them I’m in need of advice, help, or companionship. Perhaps my intelligent action is putting aside my plans and helping another human being – whether my children or spouse, another alcoholic, or someone in the community.

I’ve found kindness to be a great help, perhaps greater than anything else, in my recovery.

Before I got sober, I often didn’t behave with kindness, acceptance, or intelligence. Nothing can fully explain the couple years before I got sober, when I knew deep-down I was an alcoholic, and that drinking was very bad for me. Someone acting with self-kindness would seek help high and low for such a devastating condition. But instead I drank more, and I re-doubled my efforts at trying to make my life work while still drinking. Later, when I’d read the sentence, “Most people try to live by self-propulsion” in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, I knew exactly how that applied to my life.

Employing the practice of kindness gives us a break from self-propulsion, this latter being a behavior very few human beings ever rid themselves of entirely. No matter how long we’ve been sober – or if today is our first day – we can practice just a little more radical kindness. You have only yourself, and countless others, to help save.

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