The Stupid, Terrible Choices of the People We Love
One late, balmy night this past summer, I’m on the phone with my little brother, my brilliant and very gifted and very drunk brother. He’s a thousand miles away, literally and figuratively. He has struggled with alcoholism for half of his life, he is crying. He is bottoming, though at the time, I’m worried it’s the end. He’s talking like it is. I am terrified.
I plead with him. I know he can’t go on this way, it’s gone too far, it’s gone on too long. His body is tired. His soul is tired.
“This is not your path.” I sob to him. “God wants something better for you.”
“How do you know my path?” He seethes, half slurring, half yelling at me. “You don’t know what God wants! Who do you think you are?”
His words feel like a sock to my stomach, they take the wind out of me. Because they’re true.
I know what I want, of course. I want him to be happy. I want him to conquer this disease and experience a life of healing and wholeness. I want him alive.
But how can I, for one minute, ever pretend to know what someone’s path is?
And can I open to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, this actually is his path?
How arrogant of me to think for one second that I know what is “best” for anyone.
To differentiate my opinions from “what is best” is a lesson I have learned, again and again, the hard way.
And sometimes, I learn it in a miraculous way. As of this writing, my brother is several months (sober date 9.2.16!) into his recovery. He is connected to a sober community, creating a new life, with new aspirations, supporting other addicts, after we weren’t sure he would make it out that time. He made it out. He’s fighting the fight, one day at a time.
An addict may need to bottom before they can rise from the ashes. And we need our missteps, bad choices and mistakes to find our way. In fact, our missteps, bad choices and mistakes ARE our way. This goes for others, too.
Even when we think we know what’s best for them.
When we think the ones we love have wandered from their paths, it behooves us to consider that this is exactly their path.
It’s something I have to remind myself of, over and over again, especially in my work as a life coach. And as a human being.
It’s not an easy pill to swallow, when ideally, I’d love to see everyone I love and care about happy and “fulfilling their potential”, a phrase I’m growing a little leery of, truthfully. Do we ever fulfill our potential? CAN we ever?
I have big, exciting visions for the people I care about, picturing what I think is their best, what I think they deserve, what I think they can achieve, what I think they should do.
Ah yes, a loving kind of arrogance, but arrogance nonetheless.
A friend writes me, frustrated and broken-hearted that her best friend has again fallen for Mr. Wrong. This time, she’s ended up penniless and homeless after he booted her out unexpectedly. “She is so lost. It’s killing me.”
A client laments over the poor choices of her young adult son, destined, she’s certain, for a life of tragic tales. He just got fired from his job for copping an attitude. He’s smoking too much weed. His girlfriend is under-age. He’s headed down a frightening path, and my client doesn’t know what to do. “He’s my baby.” She cries. Yes, he’s twenty-seven. But he’ll always be her baby.
My response is probably not what they want to hear.
Can you trust that this is their path?
Can you believe that Life is smarter than you?
Are you willing to surrender the idea that you know what is best?
It’s hard to watch people we care about fumble, and ache, and fall, and fail. It’s painful, heartbreaking, even devastating, at times.
We can choose to love them, hold them in prayer. Help, when and how we can. Show up ready to work when they’re ready for change.
But we must be cautious when we find ourselves thinking we know what is best for them. That’s our own agenda. And who are we? And what do we know?
What we think is best may be very, very different of what they came here to experience.
Let’s stop pretending we know, in this great mystery called Life, what is best for anyone.
Our opportunity here is to practice trust. To love without conditions. To take care of ourselves.
Our invitation here is to practice surrender. Again and again.
And yet, isn’t it always?