I had two little brothers. One was by blood, and one was adopted. They were within a year of each other in age, but their life experiences were very, very different.
But, I’ve always loved them both as …. just like in the advertisement above … my brothers.
I was 8 years older than one, and 9 years older than the other. So, there were some very major differences in the kind of love I had for them, and the love they had for me.
I will admit, the adopted one struggled with his life. His experience before coming to us was, shall we simply say less than sweetness and light. There were good parts, it wasn’t completely bad – but it was bad enough. There was a lot to work through for a very, very young boy.
And, because of those bad parts, he spent a greater part of his adolescence and adult life making some extremely poor choices. It didn’t make me love him any less, but it did require making some hard choices in my own life.
I will always thank my parents for teaching me about unconditional love. I’ve come across far too many people who seem to think that unconditional love means that no matter what someone does, no matter what choices they make (good or bad), no matter what destructive behaviors they may have – unconditional love somehow means you must accept all of that shit.
That is a radically over-simplified view of an extremely complex emotion.
You see, there are two parts to every single human being. There is the core (and, no, I’m not talking about the soul – I’m talking about who someone is at the very base of their life, heart and mind), and then there is behaviors, habits and learned responses.
It’s not that the core never changes, it’s that it only evolves – never devolves.
On the other hand, behaviors and habits and learned responses change sometimes in the blink of an eye. Or they take intense therapy and serious soul-searching to change.
Take my situation with my ex for example. For as much as I strove to be the right kind of person, to love him unconditionally but stand firm on my boundaries and not allow him to repeat certain choices and behaviors in relation to me – I failed. I failed him and I failed myself. I couldn’t – or wouldn’t in some cases – keep my boundaries firm. At best, they were about as firm as Jello. But, if I look back with clear, unblinking eyes over the last 20 years, I was pretty much a classic enabler. I had excuses for every bad behavior, every bad choice, every bit of abuse. I protected him from the consequences of his behavior. I defended him blindly. Any comment about him, even if it was innocent and not accusing him of anything, I would jump in defensive as hell.
What I did NOT learn in my romantic life, that I did learn in relation to my brother, is to have a boundary beyond which I will not allow someone to go. With my brother, I could have a healthy boundary, saying “I still love you, but I cannot be around you or even in contact with you if you insist on making these choices.” I couldn’t do that with my ex-husband.
Strangely enough, reconciling with my brother – with the man who has completely turned his life around, and who I not only love but am extremely proud of – happened the same spring of 2014 that I ended my marriage.
I don’t know what lesson I need to learn from that.
But, just like the boy in the commercial, I don’t see a difference. He’s just my little brother.