How to say no even though I can say yes?
November 23, 2014 5:08 AM   Subscribe

I have a troubled half brother who has recently come into my life. He was just released from prison, there on possession charges. He lives across the country, is jobless, homeless, and without family (aside from my mother and me). Yesterday he asked if I could wire him money. Just enough to buy some food. I can easily do this, so without thinking, I said I would.

Then I spoke with my husband (who was unavailable when I was put on the spot with brother). My husband was against it, even if it was 20 dollars. I spoke with my mother who agreed... no way. So I told my brother that it was not possible to do because he has no identification (I think this part is actually true, but won't be once he gets an id). I keep going back and forth. I feel terrible guilt in almost all ways. It was just my brother's birthday and it's almost Christmas, so I am sending him a package with clothes and a gift card to Subway. But I know sending money, even a small amount, is a slippery slope, and this is not just for me to decide. This affects my marriage. My husband has been very patient with this complicated situation, but was definitely not pleased when I told him about the money thing (which is a first here. I have sent food before, but brother has never asked for cash).

So friends, how do I say no next time, when I can say yes? I'm not wealthy, but I have a stable income, and when I picture my brother hungry and unable to do anything about it, I feel terrible. I feel like I could so easily help with that. It's when I picture him or hear his voice that the guilt sets in. When I step back and look at the facts, I am confident in the "send no money, even a small amount" rule. But if I am so back and forth now, I know it will only get worse when I speak to him next.

I know that I did not cause his problems, and he is responsible for his choices. He has a long record involving substance abuse, and is quite bitter about authority. I did not come from privilege... I worked for everything I have, and continue to do so. My mind knows this. But my heart! Oh how it breaks for him.

If a back story would help, I did post something called "lost and found, sibling edition" a while back. I actually printed out the advice I got here, which was AMAZING and profound. This site always gives me faith in humanity.

Thank you, and happy holidays.
posted by hippychick to Human Relations (56 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If your concern is that he does not have food but you don't feel comfortable sending him money, could you place a Peapod delivery for him? Then you know that he will be fed and you won't be sending him cash?
posted by polkadot at 5:18 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well if he's homeless it's difficult to have groceries or other things delivered to him.

How do you and your husband feel about getting him more gift cards to Subway or similar restaurants?
posted by Jacqueline at 5:23 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like the idea of gift cards for food - Subway is good too since you can eat pretty healthy there. Is there a way to help him connect with other resources in his community where he lives? We have some soup kitchens, places to get free clothing and even free medical options in the town where I live. Would you be willing to share where he is? HiveMind might be able to help make local suggesdtions...
posted by Toddles at 5:27 AM on November 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

But know this, your brother has options, he needs to stand on his own two feet and exercise them.

Sending money to an addict, especially one who is in a precarious recovery, is folly. Don't do it. If he asks again tell him, "I love you too much to enable you. I will help you get public assistance, I will direct you to a food pantry, I'll do whatever is in my power to do to support your sobriety and to help you be a productive member of society, but I will not send you money."

Be totally up front about it.

And if you want to see how manipulative junkies can be, watch Sid and Nancy. Watch how they try and work Nancy's parents over for money by claiming that she's ill and needs to see a doctor. It's ruthless.

If you still struggle, head over to Al-Anon. There's nothing new under the sun.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:28 AM on November 23, 2014 [30 favorites]

I don't understand. If he's in prison and it won't diminish your standard of living, why not send him money to marginally improve his life in prison and give him some commissary autonomy? I mean presumably the man needs shampoo and deodorant and socks on top of snacks, so this is a pretty common thing for family and friends of prisoners to do.

If your husband and mother are concerned about boundary pushing, then use this as an opportunity to lay down boundaries and the three of you can agree that none of you will be pushed past them. Here is the commissary price list for the State of Mississippi; I'm sure you can find one for whatever state he's serving his time in. Would it actually be a problem for your household budget to say to him "I've spoken to Mr. Hippychick and we're agreed that our household budget can stretch to sending you $50 a month on the prison credit system."

And then say no to anything beyond that and any kind of boundary pushing.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:29 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of gift cards for food - Subway is good too since you can eat pretty healthy there.

Except don't do this. Junkies will sell ANYTHING of value for drug money.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:29 AM on November 23, 2014 [16 favorites]

If he's in prison...

He's not in prison, OP said he was just RELEASED from prison. Right now he's homeless.

Junkies will sell ANYTHING of value for drug money.

Yeah, it's kinda hard to figure out how to feed him without giving him something he can just turn into cash.

One way you could make his life a lot better without giving him something he can turn into cash is to buy him a membership to a 24-hour gym in his city and have the monthly fees billed to you. Then he'll have a safe place he can go to take a shower (I've heard a lot of horror stories about people being attacked or all their stuff stolen while showering at a shelter) or just hang out at night when it's cold out.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:35 AM on November 23, 2014 [13 favorites]

Oh sorry, my apologies, I did completely mis-read that.

In that case, on reflection:

Is there evidence that he is not maintaining his sobriety? What are the circumstances of his release in terms of housing, food and finances? I mean, should he be able to make ends meet and eat regularly with the resources available to him, or is it plainly obvious he is going to need support to keep his head above water?
posted by DarlingBri at 5:37 AM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Does the jurisdiction he was released from offer any kind of halfway housing or re-entry support services? I would be kind of surprised if there weren't a social worker of some kind at least nominally in charge of helping him find food and shelter and stay sober. Maybe finding that out can help reassure you he has *some* help, and then see what you are comfortable offering.
posted by pantarei70 at 5:44 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

For food, maybe you could find a fixed-price all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant near him and arrange to prepay for a certain number of visits? With the understanding that they are not to issue him any sort of gift card or gift certificate or let him transfer his meals to anyone else so he can't convert the gift meals into cash.

I don't know how receptive most restaurants would be to this idea since it requires a bit of extra work and administration for them. However, money talks, so I think at least a few restaurant owners/managers might go for this arrangement. You'll probably have better luck approaching small family-owned restaurants instead of local branches of big chains.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:45 AM on November 23, 2014

Also, nthing the request to please let us know what city your brother is in so we can help you research specific local resources.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:47 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

But my heart! Oh how it breaks for him.

Your heart is breaking because he seems to be jobless and homeless. But as a drug addict, these are all choices that he made. He could have gone to rehab and worked on his sobriety, and tried to get a job, and made local sober friends, but he hasn't. (The current horrible state of mental health care in this country means that he can only do this voluntarily, no one can force him.) His request for money is nothing more than a ploy to get money from you so that he can continue to finance his lifestyle (addicts are pros at knowing EXACTLY which of your buttons to push so that you will feel sympathy). Do not give him money. Do not give him food. Do not give him anything, no matter how much he tugs at your heartstrings. Do not fall for his pitch, which he spends a lot of time on perfecting.

Do not do ANYTHING for him, except say "I hope you get yourself into a program, and I wish you the best of luck in that program." Anything even remotely more than that means just falling into the abyss of his need and enabling him. Yes, your heart is breaking, but there are a lot of heartbreaking things in the world, and you don't need to be pulled down with him. I hope your husband is much more firm with you about not getting involved.

Spoken by someone who was in your exact situation. Oh, what hell that was.
posted by Melismata at 5:55 AM on November 23, 2014 [17 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback! My brother is in Ventura, California. He is adamant about not going into sober living (says he doesn't need it), and right now is staying with a friend, but his sense of pride kicks in at odd times. He won't eat his friend's food. He knows his time there is limited and he hopes to be able to leave before he is asked to. I think he plans to live in his truck.

When I ask what he will do next, he is vague. He does not like rules, and insists that he has a handle on the addiction, that he has been clean in the past. I believe he is still smoking pot, to "self medicate". I know what this means... how can he afford to buy this? I have no idea. I have been in touch with a few of his friends, who are all in some stage of recovery. I am trying to get to know him from 3000 miles away. They all vouch for him as a good man, someone they trust their kids with, someone with a huge heart who is in a tough place.

We have met only once. My mom and I flew out last year and he was in jail at the time (serving a sentence from which he was just released, for possession). He has a very long record, all involving driving without a license or possession. For the year he was in jail, my mother was paying for commissary and I was sending letters and books. Before that, when he was living in his truck (for which he has no driver's license), I sent him periodic gift boxes, and my mom send him a phone, even a cheap laptop. I cannot say that he was overly appreciative. I chalked it up to him having a tough time with pride.

Now that he is out, I want to encourage him to be independent. The package I am sending with clothes and a Subway card shouldn't be a regular thing, I don't think.
posted by hippychick at 5:59 AM on November 23, 2014

Don't confuse "sense of pride" with "just being an asshole".

I want to encourage him to be independent

Why? He seems pretty capable of being independent (e.g. his disdain for authority) on his own. It doesn't sound like he welcomes this encouragement; again, don't fall into his bottomless pit of need.

We have met only once.

Not quite sure why you're so emotionally attached to someone you've only met once. (I recently met a relative for the first time, and it took many, many meetings before I could form an opinion one way or the other.) Has he manipulated you into feeling like you're responsible for all his problems? Classic, classic, classic.
posted by Melismata at 6:07 AM on November 23, 2014 [28 favorites]

You will have to expect vagueness until you or an agent working on your behalf is able to intervene successfully. I would suggest finding out who his parole officer is and seeking that person out to be the bank account for this person. I have worked with people who have been in prison for possession and come out and found fulfilling roles in sales jobs or sales management. If you can set up a reward program for him, for getting a job and keeping it, for completing drug tests, for meeting with people, do it. Consider an investment of $5,000 over two years, enough to cover part of a house purchase. He sounds like he is drifting because of his pride. I do know from personal experience that speaking to people who have been through the same difficult experience offers a real chance of closure. I don't know how you go about suggesting this, but I have a feeling the parole officer can locate someone for your half brother to talk to.
posted by parmanparman at 6:11 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

The package I am sending with clothes and a Subway card shouldn't be a regular thing, I don't think.

Don't do this unless you ask him if he wants it and he enthusiastically accepts.
posted by Gray Skies at 6:14 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I find that "no, but" can work for saying no when it's hard to do so. So, no, you won't be able to wire him some money, but you will research nearby food kitchens and other resources that are available to him.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:20 AM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Don't send him any sort of package.

Anyone who resists sober living instead of being homeless is doing so because he doesn't want to be sober. Sober is sober. Smoking pot means that he is not sober.

The assessment of his worthiness by his friends is unreliable, they're all new to sobriety, not good at sobriety or like your brother, have a lifetime of shitty judgement and poor decisions.

I'm serious as death eating crackers, GO TO AL-ANON!

You don't encourage independence in a person by supporting them financially.

Here are some resources in Ventura County:

Ventura, Ca
Shamrock House
1334 East Channel Islands Boulevard
805 486.8924

Anacapa by the Sea – Steps
224 East Clara Street
805 488.6424

Action Family Counseling Inc
1736 Erringer Road
800 367.8336

Hook your brother up and let him decide how to deal with his life. Do not get sucked into the vortex.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:20 AM on November 23, 2014 [29 favorites]

Best answer: Your kind and want to help and of course that's a good thing.

I think you recognize that $20 here, a gift card there isn't a big deal for you.

And maybe it helps him in the immediate here and now, for maybe 1/2 hour. He can eat something. Or buy some weed and self-medicate.

But what's the big picture here? You have a family member who needs to get their shit together, period. And sure, your gifts aren't a financial burden for you but you know that looking long view, these little gifts are tiny ways of enabling his bad choices. He gets to eat and he didn't have to do anything but ask for $. He gets some weed and he didn't have to earn that money.

Sending him money isn't helping him get work, a place to live, any real way of becoming a member of society. It's not. You have to use that old Miss Manners line, "I'm sorry; that won't be possible." Repeat as necessary.

I know it seems simplistic and your heart is in the right place. But sending him a few bucks here and there is the equivalent of watering a teeny twig spark and ignoring the raging forest fire that is about to engulf you.

I mean, he's asking for a few bucks but his longer term plan is to live in his truck? He's not doing things to indicate he wants to get better and every time he gets money from you that's pulling him further away from making good decisions.

"I'm sorry, that won't be possible." And maybe don't talk to him on the phone if he pushes your buttons. I give you permission to ignore his calls.
posted by kinetic at 6:30 AM on November 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

Please go back and read the responses from your previous question. He is behaving in exactly the same way that those of us who responded previously predicted.

Do not give him any money. Tell him you can't afford it and don't feel guilty. Addicts will bleed you dry and then go on to the next sucker with never a twinge of guilt. You're not family to this guy, you're a mark.
posted by winna at 6:31 AM on November 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: OK I've gone back and read your first question about him. I take it then that you and your mom decided against helping him transfer his parole to your state?

My brother is in Ventura, California.

I'm paging Michele in California to this thread. She is an expert on resources and lifehacks for being homeless in southern California and should be able to give you some good advice on how you can best help him without giving him money or things he can just turn into money.

...right now is staying with a friend, but his sense of pride kicks in at odd times. He won't eat his friend's food.

For food, as long as he's staying with the friend, you could pay to have some groceries delivered to him. That's a cheaper way to feed him than fast food gift cards and you won't have to worry about him selling the gift cards for cash to buy drugs.

It looks like Vons delivers groceries locally. You can also order shelf-stable foods (e.g., canned foods, pasta, etc.) from Amazon and have them shipped to him.

He knows his time there is limited and he hopes to be able to leave before he is asked to. I think he plans to live in his truck.

Well the good news is that he's unlikely to freeze in that climate. But if/when he starts living in his truck, I think offering to pay for a monthly membership at a local gym would be a really nice thing you could do for him. Most gyms insist on having a credit card or bank account on file to bill and I'm assuming that his banking life is probably a mess too so he might not even be able to purchase this for himself even if he had the money. And again, having a safe place to shower regularly can make a huge difference when you're homeless.

I've found three 24-hour gyms in his area: Anytime Fitness, Hollywood Fitness, and 24 Hour Fitness.

He is adamant about not going into sober living (says he doesn't need it)

You can reference this when you tell him that you can't send him money. "Your my brother and I love you and I want to help you, but until you go to rehab and enter a sober living program, I can't send you money. But what I can do is ..." [send groceries] [buy a gym membership] [help you find rehab program] etc.

IMO, going to rehab and several months in a post-rehab sober living program should be some of your minimum requirements for him before you and your mom reconsider helping him transfer to your state.

Here are some free or sliding-scale rehab programs in California.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:40 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

And for the love of all that is good and holy, don't help him transfer to your state.
posted by kinetic at 6:59 AM on November 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'd lke to lend some support to DarlingBri's thoughts. I think you can offer to send $50 every month (whatever you think is the right amount), and this would be better and in fact more empowering and independence-building than sending a peapod order or other stuff. You can be clear that you won't make any other kinds of financial help, and you could even say "I would prefer if you please not use the money I give you for alcohol or drugs," but then leave him in control of his decisions, and let go that some mistakes will happen. Some growth will, too. Like DarlingBri suggested, I'd set a boundary and make it clear and unwavering --- but set it in the place you absolutely feel is the right one.

(If you decide to go this route, you might want to tell your folks about it, for the support in keeping the boundary if there are extra requests in the future, but if it were me, I'd wait until I'd set the whole thing up first. I think their fears are well-meaning, and I think that they may feel more worry if it's "potential" -- if they feel some responsibility for helping you make the decision. You should decide though if you think that would be inappropriate.)
posted by spbmp at 7:17 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

"he won't eat his friend's food" out of "pride"

But he can manipulate you into sending him money because he's "proud"?

He has ways of meeting his needs, but he'd rather you sent him money?

Listen, nobody cares more about her child's welfare than his mother. If his mother says you're not to send him money, you don't do it. She doesn't want you to kill him with kindness. If this upsets you now, imagine the heartbreak at seeing your mother's distress because you paid his way into disaster once again.
posted by tel3path at 7:23 AM on November 23, 2014 [26 favorites]

Best answer: Make any help you offer him conditional on his living in a sober house and seeking help from professionals. "He doesn't want to live in a sober house," "doesn't like rules," "pride kicks in" - all these are indicators of someone who will continue to make poor life choices. Dollars to donuts he'll wind up right back in jail on the same damn charges because he won't seek help or live by "rules."

Give your brother the list of agencies Ruthless Bunny provided, and anything Michele in California comes up with. Then say, "Not one penny or gift card until you contact these agencies and get help from professionals. Until you demonstrate a commitment to sober living and getting your life together, I cannot help you."

After this - if and when your brother goes to a sober house, joins AA, whatever he needs to do to get on a more productive life path - then you can think about how much help you can afford to provide. Needless to say, discuss this with your husband first. You two are a team.

Your brother really has to commit to getting his life together with the help of professionals, otherwise you're just pouring sand down a rat hole. To hell with his "pride" and hatred of "rules." Brother needs to suck it up, get humble, get sober, and abide by some rules until he gets his life together.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2014 [9 favorites]

He is adamant about not going into sober living (says he doesn't need it), and right now is staying with a friend, but his sense of pride kicks in at odd times.

Does he have sober living that's available and feasible, and he's refusing? Then I agree with Jacqueline, this is a fine reason to give for not sending him money or only token amounts. I mean if he was on the street and desperate and you were sending a bit of money which you suspected he spent on drugs, you might think, where is the harm really? A lot of people give money to homeless individuals just because they deserve kindness too. But your brother may need to reach a certain level of desperation in order to accept available help. And you know, he may prefer not to accept available help; that's his decision but you don't need to empower him not to. (My answer changes if getting into sober living is not straightforward.)
posted by BibiRose at 7:24 AM on November 23, 2014

He needs to go to DHS. Homeless with no income he is qualified for food stamps and general assistance. If he has no money he can get it done quickly if he is assertive. I haven't been in CA in awhile so general assistance may be different and or not exist anymore. But he does qualify for food stamp assistance.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:06 AM on November 23, 2014

Here is a thing I heard a woman say at Nar-Anon when she finally realized what was happening when she gave her drug-addicted son money: "I was putting that needle in his arm myself." I know it feels like you're helping. You aren't helping him do anything other than continue to not help himself. Stop helping. Go to Nar-Anon.
posted by something something at 8:13 AM on November 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

I do want to comment that in jail he most likely had little to no access to drugs. He had spent 4 years in a sober living facility ( jail ). It is very normal for a man to not want to be constrained by rules after spending 4 years in jail. No one knows if he is sober or not now. However sober living after a long jail sentence doesn't nessisarily make since.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:14 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just to add to my previous comment, I'm not offended by putting on conditions. I like how Rosie M. Banks put it.
posted by spbmp at 8:18 AM on November 23, 2014

He should be eligible for food stamps in California. Is he refusing to apply?
posted by DarlingBri at 8:24 AM on November 23, 2014

He needs to go to DHS. Homeless with no income he is qualified for food stamps and general assistance.

If his drug-related conviction(s) include a felony, that could preclude him from receiving food stamps in California until the overturn of the lifetime ban on food stamps for felony drug offenders goes into effect April 1, 2015. :(

But it's still worth a shot for him to apply and see what he can get. Even if he has to wait until April 1, at least he can find out whatever documentation he'll need and have it ready to go once he's eligible.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:25 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

I won't repeat what I said in your other question; I'll just say that when you give him food or money, you're not helping him get better. You're helping yourself feel better. It's the opposite of helping him.

When you let him keep his "pride" -- which is an illusion, by the way -- you're preventing his survival instincts from kicking in. He will never get better until he knows he has to, in order to survive. Whether his survival instincts are stronger than his addict's instincts is anybody's guess, but that's a fight he has to win on his own.

Putting off that fight doesn't help anyone.

Listen, I know it sucks. Believe me. You're a decent person and you want to help your brother, and I commend that instinct. But what you need to understand is that when dealing with an addict, everything's backwards and upside down. Helping hurts him. It's not intuitive, it doesn't make sense. But it's true. Anything you put between him and rock bottom makes it possible for him not to get better.
posted by kythuen at 9:12 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

So to provide some bleeding heart perspective, his drug problems are alcohol and pot, nothing harder, and his possession charge was for a consumption level amount of pot, correct? A lot of the advice here seems to be predicated as if he is a meth or heroin addict, something that will drive people to do almost anything to get it. Pot doesn't do that (though alcohol can). I've known people that committed crimes to get pot, but that was because they were lazy assholes, not because they were driven by addiction. He's admitted to smoking some pot and doesn't think it's a problem - has he indicated that the same thing about alcohol? That's the drug problem that he really needs to address.

Is the friend he's staying with is one of AA friends? Would they be willing to tell you if your brother came home with $20 of groceries?

You might make sure that he knows that California now allows social net benefits for people with felony drugs addictions but only if they are in/have completed treatment. This has changed since his previous convictions and he may not be aware of it.
posted by Candleman at 9:20 AM on November 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

Once you promise to a family member, you must follow through.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:21 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

...his drug problems are alcohol and pot, nothing harder, and his possession charge was for a consumption level amount of pot, correct?

I thought California stopped imprisoning people for marijuana possession in 2011.

A lot of the advice here seems to be predicated as if he is a meth or heroin addict, something that will drive people to do almost anything to get it.

OP, can you please let us know whether your brother's substance abuse problems are only alcohol and marijuana or if he'd been using harder drugs before prison? I think how you handle his addiction does depend somewhat on what he's addicted to. Some addictions are harder than others to break, some fuck up your life a lot more than others, etc.

And have you seen his criminal record for yourself or are you just going off what he's told you? Given that marijuana possession is only an infraction now in California, it seems weird that he was sent to prison for a year for it.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:34 AM on November 23, 2014

Nthing that you shouldn't send him money. I like the idea of a gym membership (although I wonder that the gym might not be so crazy about it) because (I am told) one significant but less-than-obvious barrier that homeless people face is staying clean and presentable. A Subway gift card isn't much use if they won't let you in the door.

Once you promise to a family member, you must follow through.

posted by doctor tough love at 9:34 AM on November 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

From your previous question, I'm guessing he is about 47/48 years old? Then to be blunt, what you see is what you get: someone who would rather sponge off other people than do anything to support himself (witness living in a friend's place, begging you for money), won't work (does he have a job right now? has he even looked for one since he got out, even as a janitor at a fastfood joint?), and who totally refuses to change any of the things that got him where he is right now. He hates rules? Well sorry, but I rather like the 'rules' about things like driver's licenses and not endangering other people --- and yes, I have family in Ventura (in Oxnard, to be specific) that I would prefer he doesn't kill or injure with his selfishness.

You need to stop thinking of him as your 'brother': he really isn't. What he is, is a 47-year-old stranger you've met exactly once, a career criminal and a lifelong drug addict who will almost certainly never change: heck, he's told you he doesn't want to change. He manipulates and uses people to do for him what he can't be bothered to do for himself.

The best thing you can do (for both you and for him) is to just use that old Miss Manner phrase: "I'm sorry, that won't be possible" --- or even better, a flat "No." No, no more packages. No more money or gift cards or anything else. And if you find it hard to tell him no yourself, try passing the buck and telling him your husband won't let you: I'll bet your husband will be willing to back you up on that, too. I don't know how he keeps calling you, but do not accept any collect calls from him; if necessary block him entirely.
posted by easily confused at 9:39 AM on November 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I have seen the record, and it's long. It started in 1988 with a DUI. I have trouble understanding the codes, but I believe he has indulged in drugs beyond pot. My guess, based on his physical appearance, is meth. He has not said the word, and I have not asked this specifically. Several of his drug charges from the past have been labeled as felonies, but I believe that the very new law that passed in California (3 strikes rule has been overruled) might turn them into misdemeanors. He has also been driving without a license.

I will investigate food stamps. I know sober living is available to him, and my mom and I have spoken to his probation officer to get help, and I think there are a lot of services out there. The hard part is that we thought he'd be getting out in January, and we thought we'd have more time for research. He's out earlier than we'd expected, and we have a flight booked to visit him in February.

I think that as far as my vulnerability goes, I need to stick with texts and emails. His voice kills me. I have this guilt as the child my mom did not give up for adoption, and my own desire to connect to family at play. I'm an easy mark.

I plan to attend al-anon, though the one meeting I went to was not all that helpful. I know, all meetings are different, and one try does not a valiant effort make.

Thank you again kind strangers. I have shared some of your feedback with my mom, and she is equally amazed by the insight.
posted by hippychick at 9:53 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think that as far as my vulnerability goes, I need to stick with texts and emails. His voice kills me. I have this guilt as the child my mom did not give up for adoption...
This makes me question what possible benefit--for either of you--visiting him
(in February, or ever if he doesn't change)
would have.

If it's a trip that you're only making out of guilt because you feel you "should", it sounds like it's going to be resources (emotional and other) that end up being regrettably mis-spent.
posted by blueberry at 10:13 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just a thought: if you decide you want to support him, it seems like helping him get a valid driver's license and getting his truck legal and some kind of minimal insurance might be a very basic thing you could help him with.
posted by doctor tough love at 10:25 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "I have this guilt as the child my mom did not give up for adoption"

This is a good insight into yourself. This is your own burden, and I think you are very unlikely to resolve it through another a person. Recognizing what you are trying to get out of this relationship with your half brother is important. Realizing that you can't re-write his life or save him is also important. I have the impression that Al-Anon can be very helpful for the latter part, so I would encourage you to attend. Resolving your guilt over your past as compared to your sibling's strikes me as very individual angle that you might want to approach with a therapist.
posted by ewok_academy at 10:26 AM on November 23, 2014 [8 favorites]

and his possession charge was for a consumption level amount of pot, correct?

Not in California it wasn't.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:36 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know several people with heroin or meth addictions. These are people from two parent households, who were given every opportunity, who did not suffer abuse or trauma, who have been in and out of expensive rehab, etc. etc. The fact is, they are addicts because they want to do heroin/meth more than basically anything else. Your mom putting your brother up for adoption did not cause him to be a drug addict. You not being adopted did not cause your brother to be an addict. He has a drug problem because he wants to do drugs more than not do drugs.

In my observation, partial sobriety does not work. I would cut ties until he is sober for an extended period of time, has a job, and is supporting himself. He didn't become a drug addict by your or your mother's actions, he won't continue being one (or, conversely, get sober) by your actions either.

I've heard the song and dance: "well I have a record, I don't have xyz specific experience, so it's too hard to get a job; I need xyz certificate program so I can get a job, I can't get an apartment without a job, I need a car so I can get a job" and on and on and on...It's an excuse to kick the responsibility can down the road. People come here in shipping containers, without papers, without speaking English, without any connections, and with a literal gun to their families' heads back in their home country. They find jobs, they support themselves and their families.

The pity play is a tool of sociopaths.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:42 AM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

People come here in shipping containers, without papers, without speaking English, without any connections, and with a literal gun to their families' heads back in their home country. They find jobs, they support themselves and their families.

Well, the people who come here in shipping containers have no trouble getting work because they have a completely underground existence and are willing to be exploited by people who pay them very little money, illegally, with the threat of deportation or worse hanging over their heads. So it's not the same thing.

It's hard enough for people with master's degrees to find work now. Do you think it's easy for someone with no skills who's just gotten out of prison? Even working as a janitor in a Burger King? Who would hire him? Would you?

I think that the OP should feel OK with not sending her brother money, if she's concerned that he would take advantage of her charity and use the money/gift in inappropriate ways. I would encourage her to be upfront with him and treat him like an adult, telling him why she's not sending him money if she chooses not to. I understand that people with a history of drug abuse can manipulate the hell out of people to get money that they can then use to buy drugs, and it's OK to say, "I'm not sending you money right now because I'm worried that you're going to use it to buy drugs and I couldn't live with myself if that happened because I want to see you sober." But at the same time, this "He should just pull himself up by his bootstraps" stuff is just delusional and quite frankly, cruel.
posted by Leatherstocking at 11:32 AM on November 23, 2014 [16 favorites]

Yes, addicts will sell *anything*. But I would consider sending loving cards and notes, with small (10 - 15) gift cards from Trader Joes or another market in the town he's in. Yes, he may sell it for drugs, but he will also know someone loves him. Addiction is a terrible beast, but compassion is a fine thing. It's a mystery.
posted by theora55 at 11:38 AM on November 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

Mod note: Friendly reminder, I know people have different views on the question, but AskMe's not a space for back-and-forth debate among commenters. Please address answers to the OP and keep it constructive. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:45 AM on November 23, 2014

I think that as far as my vulnerability goes, I need to stick with texts and emails. His voice kills me.

Good plan.

I have this guilt as the child my mom did not give up for adoption,

I actually have some idea what that feels like - but it's only a feeling.

Remember, you didn't ask to be born any more than he did.

I'm an easy mark.

You seem like a conscientious person who realizes that she's at risk of getting manipulated by other people. It takes time to train yourself to hold your own while still remaining the ethical and generous person you are at heart. You're doing the right thing by coming here for a reality check.

We don't want to see you exploited or manipulated. Blessings.
posted by tel3path at 12:10 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

FWIW: I am familiar with the failure cycle of addiction and recovery. I have also kicked a family member to the curb. But I have not done that until my clearly stated boundaries were broken, and that doesn't sound like what's happening here.

You said you'd send him the $20; send him the $20. Then decide what you're going to do moving forward. It's not like after two of these threads, you're not well schooled on the probable pitfalls.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:36 PM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your brother's first offense was in 1988. IIRC he's about 47 or 48 now. So he's spent almost thirty years, and his entire adult life, in trouble with the law. This suggests, to me, that if your brother is to turn his life around he needs intensive, professional help. His troubles go deep, and are not something that a family member can fix with love and hugs and gift cards.

Seeking out sober living, applying for food stamps, and contacting any professionals - such as his parole officer, social workers, psychiatrists, etc. - who are in a position to help - if your brother is serious about turning his life around, these people are who he needs to be in contact with. If his drug and drinking habits are self-medicating, he needs a psychiatrist to evaluate him and prescribe necessary medication. You can help him find these professionals - by sending him links or phone numbers - but your brother is the one who is going to have to seek help if he wants it.

You and your mom might be better off canceling your visit to see him for now (if you can get your tickets refunded). You do not want to find yourselves guilt-tripped into trying to rescue your brother, only to find yourselves dragged down with him. You have good insight into why you feel guilty about his situation. It's fine to keep in contact via texts and email - but don't try to rescue him. If someone who has spent his entire adult life out of mainstream society, in and out of prison, wants to turn his life around - he's looking to break thirty years of bad choices, bad habits, and brain chemistry. This is a job for the pros.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:37 PM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Hi. I got paged.

I have skimmed most of the answers but not read everything.

I personally believe if you want to help him materially, giving him X amount of cash, no more (as suggested above) is a decent plan. A lot of people on the street have health problems and I personally find it frustrating when people give me food because they think they know better than I do what I need to eat/what would be healthy for me (because I am homeless, so, obviously, I must be uneducated, incompetent, etc) and the reality is that I have a long list of dietary restrictions, so it is not uncommon for me to be unable to eat it. Thus I often give it away or trash it. I find that really galling. So, in most instances, I far prefer cash gifts from well meaning strangers, so I can decide for myself what I most need to get for myself that day.

Okay, on the one hand, I personally believe that addictions are frequently rooted in undiagnosed health problems and that is part of why they are so hard to treat. Given my belief that addiction is often rooted in undiagnosed, inadequately treated health issues, I am not a big believer in trying to address someone's addiction. It's his problem, not yours. Having said that, it is still a real problem and can be hard to resolve even when you are trying like hell to solve it. So, if you wish, you can be compassionate. You can give him small gifts as an act of compassion. But don't try to control him.

Having said that:

He has also been driving without a license. and owns a truck.

I would tell him "Dear, darling brother. Please sell your truck in order to come up with the funds you need. Driving it is a good way to end up back in the pokey."

But I am kind of a hard-assed bitch who gets along well with my sociopathic/difficult sons because I love them deeply and I am also a hard-assed bitch with them when the situation requires it.

I am not personally familiar with homeless resources in Ventura. I do have a blog that lists some of the resources for San Diego County. San Diego is not far from Ventura. You could encourage him to sell his truck to raise the bus fare here and give him a link to the site (and please don't tell him my handle here on MetaFilter or how you learned of it -- I let people here know it is my site, but I do not indicate on the site who I am elsewhere on the web). I happen to be in the middle of updating it to make it more user friendly. Here is the page for food resources: It is entirely possible to keep yourself fed and clothed while on the streets of San Diego without a dime in your pocket. I did so for a month when my creditors locked up my bank account for non-payment of a loan where I have a legal agreement and blah blah blah.

Don't try to get him sober. That's his problem. If you give him any resources, in addition to small amounts of cash written off as acts of compassion, you might consider sending him a 7" tablet and encouraging him to get hooked up online (if he promptly sells it to buy drugs, don't ever replace it -- too bad, so sad). The internet has been a godsend for me while on the street.

And don't fly out to see him. Plane tickets are expensive. If you want to invest that much in him, give him money or a tablet or some other well-researched help that has some hope of helping him get his act together and not just be another means for him to use other people. You could send him a tablet on the excuse that it would help him stay in contact via email (per your plan to not let him punch your buttons over the phone, which is a very good plan). (I am assuming he currently has no computer, though that may be an inaccurate assumption.)

Re gift cards: Not only can gift cards be sold to people, there are businesses here that will buy them, at something like 60% of the value. So sending him gift cards may amount to a very expensive way to support his drug habit because so much of the money will just be flushed down the toilet in the sale. Also, once gift cards are below $10 in value, California law requires the establishment to cash them out. I have turned at least a couple of gift cards into cash this way. One was less than $10 when it was given to me and the other was over $10, so I bought something and then cashed it in so I could afford lunch for me and my sons.

I really like Jacqueline's idea of paying for a gym membership so he can shower. Showers are quite hard to come by on the street and a drug addict needs to shower to help them get clean and sober. As I understand it, not showering is one of the ways addicts try to keep drugs in their system. Showering helps reduce the amount of drugs in their system. So rehab programs sometimes require them to shower as part of the treatment -- or so I understand (I have never done drugs).

Rehab programs tend to tell people "change your people, your places and your things." Any friend he is currently friends enough with to stay at their place is probably a user or an enabler. That's another reason to encourage him to leave Ventura county and go to San Diego, to get him out of contact with all of his so-called "friends" there that will help him stay addicted and may actively discourage or prevent him from getting sober -- though I wouldn't tell him that was one of my motives. I would just say "There happens to be a website that has catalogued some of the resources available in San Diego. These resources seem to be hard to find and many of them are only known to locals. Help for the homeless is practically like an underground network. Since you aren't that far away, going to San Diego is probably the easiest way for you to readily find enough resources to take care of yourself while you decide what to do with your life."

Also, a lot of grocery stores in California take recyclables and, as I understand it, the law here where items 24oz and over pay 10 cents instead of 5 cents means you make better money recycling here than in most states. Some able-bodied homeless young men in downtown San Diego fill a shopping cart with recyclables every day for probably around $10 to $20 worth of cash. For just one person, that absolutely is enough to keep you fed, even without relying on soup kitchens or getting food stamps -- though it probably isn't enough to do much to support a drug habit. It also keeps you constructively occupied, which is a nice antidote to idle hands being the devil's workshop. So I would encourage him to take up recycling as a means to put cash into his hands. He doesn't need a job, or an interview-worthy suit or the ability to get up at a particular hour of the morning or a character reference. He can be scum of the earth, disorganized, disheveled and dirty and make money this way. Though he does have to get off his ass and work for it instead of just making a phone call.

If he does sell his truck to get bus tickets here, you might also suggest he use some of the proceeds to invest in a good backpack and a tiny one person tent. It rarely rains here, though we are going into the rainy season currently, so if he comes down soon, he will be dealing with rain (like once or twice a week until the end of February). Generally speaking, but especially when it rains, a really small tent is a much, much better solution than a pile of comforters or a big sleeping bag for staying warm at night. Big piles of bedding on the street are a huge burden and, when it rains -- ugh. They turn into ridiculously heavy piles of soaking wet bedding and now it smells of mold and will never be the same again. If I were on the street alone (instead of with my sons) and not too strapped for money, I might also consider buying a silk sleeping bag liner. They are incredibly lightweight, take up almost no space and are good at holding in warmth, but, the last time I bought one, they were around $100. A cheaper solution is a set of flannel sheets. A big backpack can hold a set of sheets and a small tent. Flannel will keep you warm even when you are damp. I have seen a lot of people look really, truly pathetic with their big pile of wet blankets after a storm. Meanwhile, my flannel sheets and tent solution has consistently kept me reasonably comfortable in the rainy season down here (this is the start of my fourth rainy season, fwiw -- though my tent has three bodies in it supplying heat, so he might also need, oh, a wool jacket instead of the t-shirts and sandals I live in year-round). I find rain merely a big annoyance. My impression is most homeless people dread rain and really suffer.

So, if his plan is to be homeless, there are ways to help him be homeless in reasonable comfort. And I strongly suggest you take that route and make your peace with it and feel okay about it.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 2:36 PM on November 23, 2014 [24 favorites]

I will add this: Having a vehicle means you have to pay tag and title every year, you have to pay insurance every month and gasoline is about $4/gallon out here (assuming it never, ever needs maintenance -- ha ha ha). If he can afford all that, he can probably afford to feed himself if he gets rid of the truck. I would take a real hard line on that and tell him that as long as he has a truck, he doesn't need money from you. Once he really has nothing, be more compassionate. But if he can manage to keep a truck, he isn't as destitute as he claims to be. Or he is driving not only without a license, but also without tag, title, and insurance and is stealing gasoline to do it. In which case, he will be back in jail at some point, and that will solve that whole homelessness issue.
posted by Michele in California at 3:13 PM on November 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Just a small note - as someone with alcoholics in the family, I will share a quote I often share on the green. It was said to me by a good friend, who has an alcoholic father.

"With addicts, it's not the addiction that hurts you as a family member. It's the hope - the hope that this time is the time they become sober. That's what does you in, in the end."

Best of luck you. You also might want to look into some therapy to unpack the guilt over being not-given-up-for-adoption. That sounds really heavy, and it might be good to talk over with a professional.
posted by RogueTech at 7:32 PM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh for heaven's sake, give him the money. Who cares what he does with it. As long as you are giving from your heart and not out of a sense of obligation, it is as much you who benefits from giving as the person you are giving to.
posted by macinchik at 9:28 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just for the record: don't feel that you have to go to Al-Alon. I went to several different meetings, and found them all useless. How was hearing a bunch of stories from other people going to help me and my loved one? I'm sort of introverted anyway, and found it much more useful to read books and go to therapy.
posted by Melismata at 2:54 AM on November 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

when I picture my brother hungry and unable to do anything about it, I feel terrible.

I wanted to address this one piece of your post, because I have been there, though not with my brother. When I would have these thoughts - feeling guilty, knowing I had money and food, wanting so badly to help - I would remind myself that when he wanted drugs, he was crafty, innovative, smart, and resourceful enough to come up with the money. Not only that, but he found drugs, no matter where we were, and also found a place to do them. It would have been oddly admirable if it weren't so damn sad.
posted by lyssabee at 7:04 AM on November 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

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