Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Challenge of Loving Someone Just as They Are (And Not How We Think They Should Be)

Last night I watched an excellent movie called "The Soloist." It was released in on DVD in 2008 and happened to be the next item in my Netflix queue. 

All I knew about it prior to watching was that it starred Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx (as well as many others in this brilliant cast) and that the story was about a Julliard trained musician whose mental illness contributed to him being a homeless on the streets.  I also had a hunch that there would be an uplifting message, so I decided to watch this emotional film.

In the movie, Robert Downey Jr. plays a writer for the L.A. Times, and Jamie Foxx plays a man who is an amazing musician who ended up on the streets of Los Angeles, homeless, disoriented, and alone.   This is a story about two men who rescue each other on a number of levels.

Spoiler Alert!!! (Even if you read the spoiler, I still recommend checking this movie out.)

Throughout the film, Foxx's character, Nathaniel, suffers from auditory hallucinations - voices in his head. He is tormented by these voices, and as a viewer, I wondered how and when Downey's character, Steve, would help his friend to get on medication. That's what I thought he needed - to be medicated so that he could be well and live "normally" like the rest of us (in a home/shelter, thinking logically, not hearing voices, focusing on his talent.)

Steve eventually did bring this idea up and discussed it with the head of the shelter staff where Nathaniel would sometimes visit. Interestingly, the particular staff person that he questioned asked Steve if Nathaniel wanted  to be on medication.

I was torn at this point.  I knew that I wanted him to be on medication - for his own good.  I think that Steve wanted him to be on medication for what he thought were the right reasons. After all - this man, Nathaniel, was a brilliantly talented musician with immense potential, and he was suffering with the voices in his head, living on the streets, right? Was it really humane to not push him to take medication?

When Steve found out that the law could only make Nathaniel take medication if they had him in observation in a psychiatric unit for being a danger to himself or others, Steve contemplated creating a story to get his friend admitted to the hospital against his will. But, with some discussion with the shelter staff, Steve decided not to betray the trust of Nathaniel.

Instead, he began doing everything he felt he could do within his power to help him. At the same time, he felt uncomfortable being what he perceived to be the only beacon of light (besides music) in this man's world. He tried to help Nathaniel by securing him an apartment; Nathaniel was resistant. He wanted to play his violin or his cello in a tunnel or in a park, out in the open, not hidden from the world.

When Steve suggested that Nathaniel's estranged sister have custodial rights over him, Nathaniel essentially had a violent episode, hurting Steve and repeating that he did not want to be put away. No matter how much Steve tried to convince Nathaniel that he would not be put away, he could not be soothed.  He also felt confused and offended when he read the custodial paperwork that Steve had brought him. He told Steve that he did NOT have a "schizophrenic mind."

In the end, Steve ends up loving and accepting Nathaniel - as he is - without continuing to try to fix him.  Of his own accord, Nathaniel ends up spending more and more time in his apartment and practicing his music.  We never see him seek treatment for schizophrenia, however we do see a shift in Nathaniel's behavior as a result of someone reaching out, caring about him, loving him, and accepting him.

It is a powerful story with very difficult lessons to actually implement in our daily lives with the ones we love.  We may have people in our lives who are mentally ill. We may have people in our lives who are alcoholics or drug users - who are in denial that they use or that their use has become a problem.  We may have people in our lives who have other self-destructive behaviors.

We want to rescue them. We think we have the remedy - the obvious answer or solution.  If the person is not ready, he or she is not ready.  In this case, it can be incredibly difficult to accept the person where they are at (while not trying to push them to where we think they should be).  If we hold them in love...if we accept that this is where they are at on their journey and that we have very little control over the decisions that they will freely choose, we create space for trust, healing, and even change. We can continue to pray for them all the while.

May you be blessed as you witness your own reaction to the path of someone you love. May you be filled with courage, peace, and love as you open your heart to accepting them just as and just where they are.

Debbie aka Sulilo

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