“We were just babies!” Monique laughs while showing me a photo of her 21-year-old self smiling next to a friend.

Monique seemed so happy in the picture, unaware that six months later she’d have lost track of how many days she’d been drinking.

“I remember being on the kitchen floor in a desperate state,” Monique says. “I called a friend in the middle of the night and she stayed with me.”

An act of kindness, Monique says, that changed her life. “I don’t know, if she hadn’t done that, if I’d be alive today.”

It began a journey towards sobriety that’s included seeking treatment, making amends, and considering misconceptions about kindness. “It seems like if I’m kind to myself or if I receive kindness then somehow I’m weak.”

Now, almost 30 years sober, Monique couldn’t be stronger and strives to practise kindness daily. She walks in the nearby woods, nourishing herself with the calm and serenity, and empowering herself to be kind to others.

“As human beings we need people,” Monique says, before laughing. “Like that great Kenny Rogers-Dolly Parton song!”

Cue the stars singing, “We rely on each other a-ha.”

It wasn’t hearing “Islands in the Stream” that made Monique suddenly wake up in the middle of the night two years ago. It was words rushing into her head like a stream.

“The words are coming so fast,” she recalls. “I capture them as fast as I can.”

Monique captured the words in the notes app on her phone, fearing they’d never return otherwise. The next morning she realized they were sentences about kindness.

“There’s been a couple of edits,” she says. “But it mostly is as it was.”

It’s now a book titled When We Are Kind. Monique Gray Smith’s words (supported by Nicole Neidhardt’s illustrations) encourage young readers to cultivate kindness in all aspects of their lives, and perhaps better their brain chemistry too.

“When we are kind, or receive kindness, our cortisol goes down and our dopamine goes up,” Monique says, explaining the actions of the stress and pleasure hormones.

“I don’t know about you, but there is a lot of stress in the world, a lot of cortisol. The more we can have our little citizens not feeling that, and feeling the good benefits of dopamine, then we are just different people in the world.”

People who learn how to be kind to themselves and others, Monique suggests. People who — when shown kindness like Monique was all those years ago — never stop finding creative ways to keep fostering it.