If you’ve attended a certain 12 Step fellowship that starts with an N and ends with “arcotics Anonymous,” then you’ve no doubt received a fair amount of hugs.

When I first arrived in those rooms, it was a strange feeling to be pulled into the arms of a stranger and embraced. Most of us, I think, come to recovery like beaten dogs: Backed into a corner by our disease, we react the same way to hands extended in friendship or anger. We cower and recoil, because we’re so used to the pain of our daily existence and the cold and unforgiving nature of our associations that we can’t possibly fathom how anyone would want to give us a hug without any expectation of reciprocation.

Many of us feel unworthy — of love, of kindness, of respect, of love. We don’t love ourselves, and if we hate what we see in the mirror, why wouldn’t the rest of the world? Surely, I thought, this person who’s hugging me wants something. There had to be a catch.

It took me a while to warm up to the concept, and even longer to realize that a hug is so much more than one of those awkward mannequin embraces — stiff body, three pats on the back and a quick disengagement. It wasn’t until I began to take ownership of the recovery process that I started to truly understand that the hugs we give are a powerful part of the bonds we establish between one another. “The therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel,” and when we embrace, it’s an acknowledgement of the kinship we have as survivors of a most perilous conflict for our very souls.

Eventually, we become “huggers” — those individuals who spread their arms wide instead of offering a hand to shake. We extend to joy we have for our new lives with those with whom we share this world, regardless of whether they’re in recovery or not. No doubt, we’ve startled more than a few “normal” folks with our penchant for hugging, but over time, it becomes second nature to us. We give of ourselves until maybe, just maybe, we start to take for granted how sacred such a connection can be.

I was reminded of that a couple of weeks ago when I took part in the Knox Pride parade through downtown Knoxville. My wife’s place of employment had a float and invited employees and their families to participate, and so the whole family went along. I carried a sign that said “free dad hugs,” because I’m keenly aware that so many in the LGBTQ community are turned away by blood family members. The fortunate ones find a new family among supporters and loved ones who accept them as they are; others struggle to make a place for themselves in a world that can sometimes be cruel and unforgiving.

I had no ulterior motive other than to offer a hug if asked, and I honestly expected them to be few and far between. I don’t look like the typical “dad,” unless your father is/was a skinny, horse-faced, tattooed, shaved-headed dude with a proclivity for jeans, boots and band T-shirts, and I thought any hugs I gave would be those quick “hey, look at us celebrating Pride together!” types of embraces.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The first girl who stepped off the curb and opened her arms had tears streaming down her face, and when I wrapped my arms around her, she collapsed. Another trans guy shuffled up and through choked sobs kept saying, “Please? Please?” Almost every embrace followed suit, with those who sought one hanging on as if, for those fleeting moments, they needed confirmation of their existence.

That, I understand, is what a hug really is. A true hug is a recognition that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience … that we are all worthy of love … that we are not alone. It’s easy, at least for me, for hugs to become second nature, yet when I allow those moments to be the exchanges of spiritual energy, selflessness and love that they truly are, then I make a little bit of difference. For those fleeting moments, I make the recipients load a little lighter and their path forward a little brighter.

And they, in turn, do the same for me.

Give some hugs today, friends. Truly give them, because they’re so much more than a simple embrace. Don’t take them for granted, and don’t defer to a handshake instead. It’s an exchange of blessings and light, and we could all use a little more of that.

Here’s your Friday motivation.