Two years ago, my mother called me from Texas to tell me a story I could hardly believe. She recounted how one of my brothers had come to her home, beaten my sister and threatened her life. She said that he had gone crazy, and that crack cocaine was the reason.
I had made a decision not to use drugs when I was a senior in high school. But I had known for a while that my older brother used drugs heavily, because I had lived with him years ago, when he was using cocaine.
Crack, made by cooking cocaine and baking soda together, has an intense 15-minute high that is said to be greater than anything else a person can experience. Those who have experienced a crack high come crashing down into a deep depression that makes them crave the high more. This continues in a cycle that eventually leads to total dependence on the drug, and the addict will do anything to obtain the next high.
My brother had spent $30,000 in a matter of months. He had lost his house and his job of 12 years. He had attacked members of my family and neglected his three children. He had begun to write bad checks and even to shoplift.
The cops had picked him up a couple of times, but my mother always went and got him out of jail.
In her call to me, my mother pleaded with me to do something. I told her to have him call me, and I would see if there was anything I could do.
For a while, I didn't hear anything. Then one day I got a call from him. He told me that he needed help but realized he could never get it where he was. He asked me if I would fly him to California, where he said he would check into a program. I said I would, but he must get help.
I was apprehensive about him coming and was even relieved when he missed the plane the first day. I expected him to be different from the person I remembered, but it was not until he moved in that I realized how bad the situation was.
Before my brother started doing drugs he appeared invincible. He was impervious to pain and would never let anything or anyone control him. He was a great athlete who often bragged about his physique. He seemed to have a knack for getting back up after a fall. He was also arrogant and obnoxious. He treated other people as if they were his intellectual inferiors.
Now, he used every form of deceit and manipulation to get me to do things his way. He cried the first time we talked about his checking into a detoxification program because, he said, he didn't want to be locked up. When I softened my stand, he stopped crying.
He threatened to beat me when I insisted he check into some kind of program, when all he really wanted to do was take a vacation in California. He threatened to walk out of the house and live on the streets if I didn't comply with his wishes. It wasn't until I told him he would have to go back to Texas that he decided to check into a program.
He checked into an outpatient program and we participated in discussions together. He hated the studying they made him do. He hated the discussion groups. He hated the counselors. He told them that they didn't know anything about him and he wasn't about to tell them anything.
For three months, I attended meetings every Tuesday and Thursday to help my brother with his problem. After two months, my brother stopped attending the meetings.
He went back to Texas. He said that the programs didn't work for him and he had to do this his way.
Six months later, my brother was back in Los Angeles. He was sleeping on a sidewalk three blocks from where I work downtown. Some days, he would walk into the lobby and have the security guard call me. I was always amazed that they didn't just kick him out. He often carried a water bottle and a rag in his pocket to wash the windows of parked or stopped cars.
He had asked me again if he could stay with me. I told him no. I said that the only way that I could survive his addiction was to not be involved in it. I told him that if he had decided to do things his way, he would have to do it without my assistance.
I put my brother out on that street corner for his own good.
People ask me when I relate this story how he had fallen so far and how I could have let him sleep on the street.
A word I learned at the counseling sessions was co-dependent. For years, I thrived on helping members of my family solve their problems. At 26, I have high blood pressure and the beginnings of an ulcer. By this time in my life I realized that I am just as sick as my brother, and the only way to help him was to take care of my illness.
Refusing to take my brother in was the toughest decision I have ever had to make. But it was the best decision for me.
One of my worst moments was walking into my apartment complex and seeing my brother waiting for me by the pool. He had lost considerable weight. He was dirty and hungry and his clothes were so ragged they were practically falling off him.
At times like that, I wanted to protect him from all the hurts in the world. But I couldn't. All I could do was give him a hot meal and some clean clothes and let him take a shower. Then I sent him on his way.
Seeing him on the street never got any easier. I remember walking down Spring Street near my work one day and seeing a man coming toward me with a sign that said, "I will work for food." It took me a minute to realize that it was my brother. He had been using the sign in front of a restaurant--not really to find work but to get money.
Sometimes, he would call me to come and bring some food. I would walk down to San Pedro Street and there he would be, with all of his possessions in a bag and his blanket spread out on the sidewalk. The gravity of his situation hit me one day when I saw him walking down the street talking to himself.
While I was discussing this with a friend one day, the friend asked: "What is the worst thing that could happen to your brother?" I answered that he could die. My friend pointed out to me that if he died it would be his choice, a choice I would have to let him make.
I have learned that my brother is not my responsibility. He made his choices in life and now he would have to suffer the consequences. By being left to deal with the consequences of his mistakes, he would learn that he was responsible for his problem. At the same time, I learned that I was responsible for me.
My brother called me two weeks ago. He was in Kansas City, Kansas. He was snowed in and couldn't head out to Utah until the next day.
He's a truck driver now and is sober, from what I can tell. He told me how much he loved me and how much he appreciated what I had done for him.
"You really taught me what tough love is," he said, "and I will never forget that."
And that is the key to overcoming dependencies: loving someone enough to let them live their lives the way they want, letting them have the fruit of their decisions--good and bad.
People will ask if I care about my brother. Of course I do. But do I worry about whether he is staying sober? No.
Letting go has allowed me to love my brother more deeply. It allows me to enjoy the times that I talk to him now, because I can actually believe that he loves me. Through all the anger, pain and guilt, he came back to me to say, "I'll always love you for what you did."