Letting Go: A Refresher Course

This post seems like deja vu. I’ve written about my “little” brother several times. Yesterday was his birthday. I called him to tell him I was thinking about him. His mental confusion seemed more pronounced. He admitted to using meth “so he could have some fun on his birthday.” Calling him is difficult. It brings his dire circumstances into focus. Somehow it’s easier when you don’t have to deal with someone up close and personal.

My brother has been homeless for many years. He’s addicted to alcohol and meth. Whether he had mental illness and self-treated with substances or has brain damage because of his drug use, doesn’t really matter at this point. It’s heart-wrenching and frustrating because there isn’t anything we as a family can do to help him. He’s reluctant to sign up for the now-mandatory health insurance. His pride gets in the way. Because he’s so emotionally volatile, he has difficulty working, so he doesn’t have any regular income.

After talking with him, I realized I need a refresher course in letting go. The “Letting Go” poem I received at one of the treatment centers my husband Randy went to is a good reminder.

Here are a few thoughts I had as I worked through letting go (once again) of my brother.

  •  To “let go” does not mean to stop caring, it means I can’t do it for someone else.

         I will always love my brother. I can’t make him want to make healthy choices, though.

  • To “let go” is not to cut myself off, it’s the realization I can’t control another. 

        I can reach out to my brother without any expectations or demands that he change. 

  • To “let go” is not to fix, but to be supportive. 

       I was able to talk with him without offering advice.

  • To “let go” is not to judge, but to allow another to be a human being.

      I didn’t scold him for doing drugs.

  • To “let go” is not to be in the middle arranging the outcomes, but to allow others to affect their own destinies.  

       I will never stop praying for my brother. I am powerless, but there is One who has all power. I pray  for him to find God in his life.                  

  •  To “let go” is to fear less, and love more.

What have you learned about “letting go?” How is this making a difference in your relationships? 

No Strings Attached

I recently watched the movie The Soloist, a moving true story of Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and his friendship with Nathaniel Ayers, an enormously talented musician who is mentally ill and lives on one of  L.A.’s most dangerous street corners.

It’s heart-wrenching to see the enormity of this problem, one I am well aware of, having a brother who is mentally ill and homeless. Lopez points out that 90,000 homeless people live on the streets of  Los Angeles. I can barely comprehend that number, but people like my brother Scott or Nathaniel Ayers who wander the streets put a face on this tragedy.

For years, my family members have agonized over how to help Scott. One year at Thanksgiving, he came to visit our parents, and ended up staying because he was arrested for his threatening behavior. He was court-ordered to attend out-patient therapy and started taking medication to help with his schizophrenic symptoms. He seemed to be making some progress, but complained about side effects from his meds. Eventually, he took off and went back to live on the streets in California.

Last year, when I was visiting there, I was able to contact Scott and we set a time to meet for lunch at a local Denny’s. Scott and another homeless friend pedaled to the restaurant on bikes and kept saying during lunch that they’d won the jackpot that day–having a Grand Slam breakfast.

Scott insisted that though he doesn’t like sleeping out in the woods, he does enjoy his freedom. His friend agreed. The mental health agency in their area could help them find a small, government-subsidized apartment, but there are rules and curfews. Neither of these men are willing to submit to that.

I gave Scott a piece of paper with a local church’s phone number. I had heard of their ministry to homeless people, and those who struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction. I thought Scott might find help there–if he chose to call them.

And that’s the key: if they are willing. It’s something I was reminded of while watching The Soloist. Steve Lopez learned that his good intentions to support his homeless friend didn’t always work out the way he anticipated. His agenda was to help Nathaniel get treatment, a noble cause. But what happens when the person you’re trying to help, doesn’t want any of it?

Though I can continue to pray for Scott and hope he will decide he’s tired of living like an animal (as he has admitted on more than one occasion), I realize I don’t have any control over his situation. What I can do is love him and accept him unconditionally.  No agendas. No plans to make a difference or force him into treatment. That’s a huge step forward for me and a no-strings-attached gift of love for Scott.