Love Takes the Lead: A Story of Struggle

Guest Post from Caroline McGraw of A Wish Come Clear

What if a couple you loved, two people you were close to, people you loved and respected, chose to remain in an extremely difficult (at times physically harmful) relationship … for over a decade? 

You’d probably think they were crazy. You’d likely imagine that they were in deep, dangerous denial. But if you did make those judgments, you’d be doing so without knowing the whole story. 

But OK, I admit it:  I’m still tempted to make those judgments, even though I do know more of the story. 

As it happens, I’m talking about my parents, but the relationship in question isn’t their marriage. It’s their relationship with my younger brother, Willie. 

My parents have chosen to love, support, and walk with my brother in the midst of some very challenging behaviors. On bad days, I think that we, as a family, can’t possibly bear these behaviors a moment longer. On better days, I see that we are all being given a crash course in unconditional love.

The Story Begins 

My younger brother Willie has autism, and I love him dearly. He’s my only sibling, and aside from the usual sibling squabbles, we enjoyed each other’s company growing up. 

But everything changed when Willie became a teenager. During those years, Willie started struggling with self-injurious and aggressive behavior, and it’s a struggle that continues to this day. 

Understand:  Willie is an incredibly smart, kind, hilarious young man, and I’m proud to be his sister. (In fact, my website, A Wish Come Clear, takes its name from a phrase he coined!) But when Willie has ‘meltdowns’, he doesn’t seem to be able to control his behavior. 

For reasons that my parents and I don’t fully comprehend, he flies off the handle on a semi-regular basis, hurting himself and us. He always apologizes and feels awful afterward, but that remorse, alas, isn’t stronger than whatever is driving the behavior. 

When I was a teenager, I was fearful and ashamed of my brother. I didn’t want to invite friends over to our house; I didn’t want to acknowledge that these things were happening in my family.

As an adult, then, I can empathize with people who are afraid to tell the truth about their eating disorders or abuse or addiction — it can be so, so difficult to break the silence and share the real story of what goes on at home. And yet it’s so, so vital that we do tell our truths to compassionate listeners. 

It was only when I took the risk of inviting my best friends over to our house — only when I started writing stories about my brother and sharing them with the world — that my healing began. 

Truth Be Told 

But the fact is, some days go better than others. And I struggle to manage my emotions when my brother engages in self-destructive and aggressive behavior. 

For example, recently I heard the news that my brother had had an outburst in which he hurt himself and our mother too. I never get ‘used’ to hearing this; it hurts, every time. 

When I heard this latest news, I went through a period of deep sadness and anger. Through tears, I said the simplest, most desperate of prayers, “Help. Please help.” 

When Help Arrives 

And once again, I have received help – not the help I wanted, but the help I needed. This help came in the form of encouragement from friends, writing, and reading Tess’s most recent post (which reminded me to live fully and practice forgiveness NOW, not ‘someday’). 

And this help also came in the form of an important realization:  I cannot change Willie’s behavior. (I keep forgetting this; perhaps I need to put a Post-It note on the fridge to remind me.) 

True, I can support our parents in finding helpful therapies, protocols, and treatments, but I cannot effect change in my brother. That is out of my control — it always has been, and always will be. 

However, I can choose my own thoughts and behaviors. I can choose to see how holding on to anger depletes me; I can choose to forgive and be a person of peace. 

Right now, I'm choosing to embrace fear, to make my mind and heart peaceful even in the face of my family’s ongoing difficulty. This is, of course, much easier said than done. 

Vast quantities of good books, yoga classes, and talks with friends have all helped, as has this truth:  We can choose our own interpretation of the challenges we face. For my part, I choose to believe that none of my family’s pain is meaningless. 

I choose to believe that, in the end, love will win out over fear. And in the meantime, I keep my eyes open for the occasional, beautiful glimpses I get that love is, indeed, taking the lead.   

Caroline McGraw is a would-be childhood paleontologist turned storyteller, digging for treasure in people with autism and intellectual disabilities (and empowering caregivers to do the same). Caroline writes about loving and caring for people with special needs at A Wish Come Clear, where she invites you to visit her and receive your complimentary copy of her digital book, Your Creed of Care:  How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive). 

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dan Garner November 13, 2012, 5:02 pm

    Boy can I empathize. I have a sibling that has struggled with substance abuse, been homeless numerous times, and suffers from minor mental illnesss. Every time someone tries to help he sabatoges the situation making it worse. It often seems hopeless. Anger, sadness, fear, love, sorrow…an emotional rollercoaster through the years.

    Thank you for sharing. It helps to deal with our situation just reading of yours.

    Dan @ ZenPresence

  • Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear November 13, 2012, 5:19 pm

    Dan, thank you so much! That’s the best affirmation I could hear, that sharing our story has, in some small way, helped another family to deal with theirs. An emotional rollercoaster it certainly can be; thank you for sharing.

  • logan mathis November 13, 2012, 5:55 pm

    I love your post. I can relate a lot to it. My brother also has the same condition and when I was younger I was a little ashamed of him. I believe that is perfectly normal because as humans, we fear the different. When we are younger, our minds are not as made up with our own logic. Instead, it’s more “id” like. I hope you don’t feel bad about your feelings back then. I felt the same and I am sure a lot of other people did too. I am happy you posted this. It’s a good reminder on how much my brother means to me. Thank you

  • Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear November 13, 2012, 6:34 pm

    Logan, I really appreciate that – thank you! And you’re so right – we do tend to fear what’s different, what we don’t understand, until we are able to come closer and love what is.

    You and your brother are lucky to have each other. πŸ™‚

  • Vidya Sury November 14, 2012, 3:17 am

    Hi Caroline, so nice to see you again. You are incredibly brave to face the situation as it is and realize that you cannot change your brother’s behavior. This is an amazing post and of course, Tess is always inspiring.

    Sometimes, seemingly normal families with “normal” people and relationships go through issues they never want to admit. They keep fighting. Somewhere down the line they realize that it is their big fat ego that is causing all the problems. And then they are scared how people will see them if they come clean and own up. πŸ™‚ Fear can be all-encompassing or just blown away, and we have the power to allow both.

    Hugs, Caroline! I am glad you chose to embrace fear.

    Thank you, Tess.

    • Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear November 14, 2012, 10:22 am

      Vidya, great to see you too! Thank you for your encouragement as well – and yes, I totally agree, so much of the pain we (I) feel is based around ego and fears of being seen as somehow less-than. It’s very liberating to embrace it, as you say.

      Big hugs right back! πŸ™‚

  • Megan Bord November 14, 2012, 5:42 am

    Caroline, your story of enduring love and forgiveness has moved me. There is such wisdom in your words about allowing “what is” to simply be (recognizing that it has a place and purpose), without trying to change it. The idea that nothing happens in vain – especially suffering – is perhaps one of the biggest struggles each of us faces in these human forms, and yet it’s also such a delicate example of God’s grace in action.

    There is such powerful energy moving in and around you, and I’m grateful you shared some of it here.

    From my heart to yours,

    • Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear November 14, 2012, 10:24 am

      Wow, thank you Megan! You put it so beautifully – though I am blind to it at times, when I’m clear-sighted I can see the grace within the challenges. Thank you for reading and for sharing! <3

  • Elle November 14, 2012, 9:57 am

    What a wonderful post Caroline. I’m filled with admiration for your willingness to keep returning to love over fear. And I do believe, like you, that love will triumph…sometimes it might be just for a little while…but if we stick with it, it returns and we are made stronger and lifted higher, in the process.

    And Tess, you are always my inspiration for living courageously. I thank you both.

    Love Elle

  • Cathy | Treatment Talk November 14, 2012, 10:14 am

    Hi Caroline and Tess,

    I love this line – “As an adult, then, I can empathize with people who are afraid to tell the truth about their eating disorders or abuse or addiction.” The stigma and shame does keep us hiding in the shadows when we feel our situation will not be accepted.

    You sounds like such a kind sister and your brother is lucky to have you. It is wonderful that you are so close, and look beyond his outbursts to the person he really is inside. All the best.

    • Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear November 14, 2012, 10:27 am

      Thank you, Cathy! I appreciate the work you do to support those in recovery from addiction; you are helping others to step out of the shadows of shame and into the light, and for that, I am so glad.

  • KarenYvonne November 14, 2012, 12:58 pm

    Wow… This is an excellent post. I had many issues moving past my anger with a family member as well and it is very hard to do. In fact, it is STILL hard. I think you are right; you only have control over your actions and thoughts. As long as you are aligned with you actions that is all that should matter… and to love unconditionally

    • Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear November 15, 2012, 10:25 am

      Karen Yvonne, I’m so glad the post spoke out to you! I can relate to your words; for me, as you say, it’s a constant practice of returning to that alignment. Not easy, but easier than the alternative! All the best to you on your journey.

  • Jane Rochelle November 14, 2012, 3:32 pm

    Hi Caroline and Tess ~ this is a lovely post, thank you for sharing part of your story. During a recent session these words came to me “that I be only love, and that I see only love” … not sure where they came from, maybe I heard them somewhere and they just returned, but I’ve held to them, and have found much peace residing in their space. With big love for all those who suffer, both in and and out of silence.
    <3 Jane

    • Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear November 15, 2012, 10:26 am

      Hi Jane – Thank you very much, both for the affirmation and the beautiful, true words you’ve shared. They will be my prayer today. <3

  • Sandra / Always Well Within November 14, 2012, 6:12 pm

    My heart goes out to your whole family! You are all so brave and courageous. I really appreciate the honesty in your post, the challenges and the bright spots. I pray that love wins out too!

  • Carolyn Hughes November 17, 2012, 5:35 am

    What a heartfelt and honest post to share. So glad you did. I loved your comment ‘I choose to believe that, in the end, love will win out over fear.’ That shows such strength.
    Wonderful post!

  • Galen Pearl November 17, 2012, 10:48 pm

    Bless your heart. I have a son and a foster son with autism. I have struggled through many years of parenting, and also helping my daughters grow up with autistic brothers. My youngest daughter really struggled with it at times. I ached for her and always tried to find the right balance between making sure she had her own life and also hoping she would have compassion for her brothers. I wasn’t always successful at that. Your post touched me very deeply.

  • Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear November 19, 2012, 3:26 pm

    Galen, thank you – that means so much to hear! I’m thankful to connect with you here. And also, your book sounds amazing – I hope to order copies as holiday gifts, and support you in the work that you do! πŸ™‚

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