Finding Peace and Joy Through Gratitude with Heather King

Blog, Tillman Tuesdays | 10/04/2022

Our Tillman Scholar community is made up of more than 800 remarkable individuals taking on a wide swath of issues facing our world today. While they work tirelessly in their endeavors to make an impact, it is important to remember the human aspect of taking care of themselves. 2013 Tillman Scholar Heather King is no stranger to that. 

Heather’s journey towards self care wasn’t a straight and narrow path, but through her dedication toward a life filled with gratitude, she finds herself enjoying a happier and more fulfilled life. Heather detailed her journey to practicing gratitude everyday; we hope you enjoy and find some inspiration for your own approach to self care and gratitude:

My gratitude practice has become the foundation for my recovery. It has also become the foundation for finding inner peace. Gratitude isn’t simply a feeling, it’s a verb. Throughout the day, I can tell someone thank you for letting me go first in the checkout line or when my kid lets me have the last Christie’s chocolate chip cookie. But, those are only words and can feel routine and empty. 

When I first entered recovery, my sponsor had me write five things I was grateful for every day. After some time had passed, he started asking me how I showed my gratitude. What actions did I take to show I was thankful for the people, places, and things I had in my life (or in some cases, didn’t have). 

I wasn’t sure what that meant. I didn’t know how to show my gratitude. Until I saw my sponsor put it in action. There was a girl in my home group who I admired. She was this little hippie who was full of life. We grew close. We were both sponsored by the same man, so she was my sister in sobriety. Shortly after she celebrated two years in recovery, she unexpectedly passed away. I received the call before my sponsor did. When I called him, I could hardly get the words out. I was so distraught. When I finally uttered the words, “Bethany died,” I expected a wave of emotion to come over him. I wanted to find comfort in the pain I assumed we would share. He gave me no such comfort. Instead, he taught me the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned. 

His first words were, “Thank you. It won’t change, but I will.” His next words cut me like a knife. I felt a raw wave of anger well up in my eyes. “Everything in the universe is exactly the way it’s supposed to be, whether I think it is or not.” 

Everything in the universe did not feel like it was the way it should be. As he reminded me, it didn’t matter what I thought, the truth was, Bethany was gone. That was reality. No amount of anger and anguish would change the finality of her passing. My sponsor began sharing all the reasons he was grateful: he was grateful he was a part of her journey, grateful he knew and loved her, grateful she brought us together. This was gratitude in action. I understood. 

After this, I was left with a question: how do I show my gratitude? When I really sat with this question, I was left with, my actions weren’t aligning with my thoughts or feelings. I was often cold to my mother, short tempered with my children, and unprofessional at work. While I may have said I was grateful, I didn’t act like it, and the people I said I was grateful for, certainly did feel it. So, I started showing up. First in my own life and then in the lives of others. 

Today, I show my gratitude for my sobriety by showing up to meetings, even when I don’t want to go. I work with other alcoholics and addicts, even when it’s inconvenient for me to give up my time. After all, another alcoholic gave up his time, lovingly, to teach me how to live without alcohol. 

I show my gratitude to my mother, who has shown up for me day in and day out, by spending time with her, even when I’m frustrated by our conversations. I show my children I am grateful they trust me by actively listening to them, even after a long, grueling day at work. I demonstrate my gratitude to my boss and my organization by showing up on time, working hard, and contributing to making our organization better. They pay me a damn good wage; the least I can do is earn it. 

The hardest display of my gratitude has been toward myself. I’ve caused a lot of harm to myself, emotionally and physically. Yet, here I am, still alive and relatively healthy. To show my gratitude for this body that has kept going, I move it. I show up on my yoga mat, I run, and I cycle. My body loves how movement feels. Inside my head was a war zone. When I can meditate, however it looks for me, it’s an opportunity for me to express how grateful I am that I didn’t act on every thought. The stillness is a reminder of how much work I’ve done, while knowing there is still room to grow. 

Gratitude is a simple concept, not always easy to practice. In finding gratitude in my daily life, I have found peace and joy. I’m grateful for the journey and all who read my story.