Mighty kind

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Kindness is the mightiest force in the world,” according to One Day at a Time (299).

In the past, I didn’t feel kind. I didn’t even feel like being kind. I felt like stabbing my ex-husband’s eyeballs with a handful of forks. If you know me now, you may be laughing and trying to imagine me doing this. You may be thinking, “Now Bethany… surely you’re exaggerating!” No. I am not.

That anger and resentment masked my disappointment, bitterness, depression, anxiety, sadness, and fear. I was in pretty sad emotional shape a decade ago (and in the preceding years as well). Thankfully I chose to reach out, get help, and get better.

I have learned I have a choice in every situation. The truth of this notion made me sigh (or gag) for a few years. Martyrdom had become a way of life. I couldn’t see the efficacy in changing my ways because it was tough to take actions and let feelings follow, and I was afraid to admit my part in problems, particularly in relationships. It was much easier to let men, bosses, or relatives take the blame, allow all of you to feel very sorry for me, and go on with life.

I didn’t just omit the truth of my mean part in situations. I also behaved in mean ways. Just ask one of my exes. I’ll spare you the details, but trust me… I’ve been cruel, cold, and calculating.

I haven’t just struggled with being kind in intimate relationships. I still find it tough to be kind—even courteous—to family members who don’t live life the way I do. When someone interrupts me repeatedly, or when a relative tells racist jokes in front of me, I absolutely do not feel motivated to treat them as God’s precious children or want to pinch their adorable cheeks and bless their little hearts. It’s really my problem because “when I am disturbed, it is because I find… some fact of my life… unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, 417).

Kindness blooms from acceptance.

Acceptance really is the solution to all my problems.

Another root of kindness is gratitude. “When I focus on what’s good today, I have a good day” (Big Book, 419). Three long years of creating detailed, original gratitude lists helped instill this principle in my heart, but it’s still easier when I feel disgruntled to focus on the problem rather than the solution. When I choose to focus on the solution, I feel better. Many times the quickest way out of a grump is to create a gratitude list. Sometimes I write the items on paper. Many times I pray aloud and say, “Thank you, God, for the chance to stay home and spend time with Maggie right now. Thank you that she cared enough about my reaction that she asked me to quit writing and to come see her new space heater. Thank you for the 30 minutes to write this morning before James left for work.” Hearing myself express gratitude verbally brings me back to where my hands are; the present is where I find the solution.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I am thankful, I treat people around me with kindness and compassion. When I am thankful, I am more likely to accept others as they are. And lastly, when I am thankful, mindful, present, and accepting, I like myself. This is something I struggle with but am willing to grow toward today. In moments when I like myself, I’m kind to myself. I don’t lash out in my head with judgmental and critical statements. I smile more often. I relax. I listen well. I laugh. And when I love myself, I love others well.

And kindness and love really do cover a multitude of sins.

Day 1: Sharing the treasure of gratitude

*Today begins my “28 days of love” project on this blog, a project to explore the connection between love and gratitude in our lives. Special thanks to Linda Unger for sharing her spiritual insights on how to share gratitude as well as a bit of her wonderful photography with us today.*

Photo by Linda Unger

Photo by Linda Unger

For me, gratitude comes in waves. Very much like the storms we have here on the Gulf Coast. Wild, overwhelming and consuming at first, then retreating slowly as life takes back over. Early in recovery it was easy to find these storms of gratitude, but as the years go by, as my life has evened out, there are fewer high highs and low lows.

So today gratitude is something I have to work at. I have to make a deliberate effort to remember that I am blessed. It’s very easy to fall back into a state of comparing myself to others. It’s very easy to look outside myself and find someone who seemingly has more “stuff” than me. I love what the next to the last paragraph of the Seventh Step in the 12 x 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous says.

“Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration.” That to me is life without gratitude.

I can’t begin to tell you the gifts that a state of gratitude has brought to me. If we could bottle that feeling we would be rich! But I can’t give gratitude to anyone; I can only practice it myself and hope that somehow it rubs off!

There is a spiritual event that happens when we practice gratitude. I know of an instance where I had called a friend complaining about my life and this friend suggested I start a gratitude list. Starting the list was hard. I had to get down to fundamentals. But as the list progressed it became easier and easier to find those things that are gifts in my life. My anger and sadness were strong, though, and it took over 100 items in the list to break the spell of resentment. I think of that time often and realize that each time I do a list, it takes less and less items to break through.

I talked to a friend last night, who was telling me about some clouds she saw. They were pink. But the sadness on her face said she was still troubled. I made a pact with her. Each day we will search for God and take a photo of it. Each day we will treat gratitude as if it’s a treasure to be found, a gift that is hidden or a prize to be won. Each day we will send what we have found to each other. You see, that is how it works… reaching out to another and sharing.

Blessings to you,

Linda Unger