My Dad Was Not A ‘Junkie,’ He Is A Hero

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“My mom told me that my dad tried cocaine a month after they got married. She said it was 1986. She said one try was all it took for him to become a full-blown addict.

He was the nicest person you could ever meet. He did everything for everyone. Everyone wanted to be his friend. Friends wanted to date him, too (even though he was married). He was a looker and his personality was that of the class clown. He was dynamite on the outside. He had just as much pain on the inside, though.

Despite what the books tell you, cocaine wasn’t his number one. I know he loved us in ways that are hard to find in this life. But, in a way,  cocaine was his only one — the only one that had enough influence over him to change his life and ours in a way we will never get used to. He couldn’t stop.

He tried, but he failed, over and over. Everyone: friends, family, and even strangers had an opinion. Some still do. (The nerve. I know.)

Someone told me that I put my dad on a pedestal and I would flood my Facebook with our picture. That’s a hell of a thing to say considering that most days, I can barely look at photos of him. Some of us cope by avoiding.

Another told me that they would do anything for their child (even if it meant getting off of drugs). I guess they were implying that my dad didn’t do anything for me.  The joke is on you. He did everything for me.

Others have told me he should ‘stay where he is.’

A little backstory: When I was 16, he got deported to Lebanon because he wasn’t a U.S. citizen and he has a record in the states. Sometimes, addiction sways your decision-making. I’ve learned an addict will do almost anything, or anything, to get that next high, so where you see a criminal or an illegal, I see grace.

You also need to know this before you spew information I don’t need to hear, at all: the day my dad was sentenced, so was I. During the initial sentence, before all the appeals, I was in my early teens. I sat in the courtroom next to my mom and waited to hear the verdict. All I can remember was feeling like I was going to puke and squeezing her finger as we awaited the decision because I was terrified of how I was going to live without my dad. I’m 33 now and still terrified of how I’m going to keep living without him. I also have O.C.D., and an irrational fear of prison topped with immense separation anxiety. I don’t need sympathy. But, man, I could think of so many other ways to punish my dad other than removing him so far away from his family. I digress.

The person I love the most carried far more than a record and an addiction. He was labeled, intensely and relentlessly. They may not have always said it directly but he was thought of as: The deadbeat. The loser. The junkie. The addict. The one who never grew up. The black sheep. The mistake. The problem. The criminal.

As I type these labels, I’m reminded of one thing: judgement can be just as toxic as a deadly addiction. Remember that the next time you try to categorize someone with a problem. Yet, no matter how much we’d like to think we know better, many of us still can’t seem to treat those addicted to substances with dignity. Before you’re anything in this world, you’re a human.

Girl in pink dress and glasses sits on father's lap
Courtesy of Felicia Naoum

That ‘junkie’ and that ‘loser’ was someone’s dad and someone’s reason to run off the school bus with a smile that was bigger than her strides because she couldn’t see him fast enough. We belittle anyone who hasn’t ‘won’ under our definition of winning in life. But, maybe, those who didn’t win at life the way we think they should’ve won, maybe they really are the winners.

Maybe those who can go through hell and still stand, whether they’re still in hell, back from hell, or succumbed to hell, are the ones who are winning. Maybe those who can be the face of all those nasty labels and still find a reason to live through another day are the ones who are winning.

Maybe those who can lose everything, including their family, scream and cry through the pain, and still not end it all are the ones who are winning. Maybe those who can get clean, with nothing other than their own self-will, are the ones who are winning.

Maybe those who live this life as addicts, of all lives to live, are the ones who are winning. Maybe those who weren’t as lucky as my dad are the ones who are winning. Just from a different place now.

Maybe we need to cut them a break. I think so.

So much was ripped away from my dad. He often has said to me, ‘Cocaine wasn’t my whole life, Felicia.’ Because so many think it was. People, the law, and society, well, they like to define him by that one choice he made in 1986 that came with unforgiving consequences.

It kills me because many even try to rip his own accomplishment away from him, too. My dad finally beat his addiction after many years of us believing it would never happen. He’s been cocaine-free for over 20-years. People will say that only happened because he was deported to Lebanon. Lebanon didn’t save my dad. My dad saved my dad. If you want it, you will get it. Every addict knows this. Drugs don’t discriminate based on location.

He deserves every accolade he fought to have and I’m tired of the public trying to take those away from him (he has lost enough). It’s easy to say we would never be someone else when we never were someone else. It’s easy to say what we would or wouldn’t do if we were met with that one temptation until we are actually met with that one temptation. (Talk to me only when you go through it.)

It’s easy to say someone should be punished for decades for a poor choice when we’ve all made poor choices that usually don’t cost us having to sever ties with our children. It’s easy to say insensitive things to someone about their situation when it’s not your situation. I can have opinions all day about lives I’ve never had a role in. That’s easy.

What’s hard, I’ve learned for many, is not having an answer to every predicament outside of their own. Try to silence yourself. Sit in the audience and let people tell their own story. Why define something you’ve never known? I mean, how could you?

And why discredit someone, who fought demons with weapons coming out of every end only meant to destroy, without ever offering one moment of mercy? Addiction is one of the most unforgiving worlds there is. It’s inhumane. It doesn’t live here. It’s a place I hope you’ll never go.

You can call him a deadbeat. That’s fine. I know him so differently, though. And I would think that the opinion of the one he raised (yes, he still raised) would mean the most. He taught me so damn much. He gave me so damn much.

(What he gave was never measured in dollars. His heart didn’t have a price like the house, or the child support, or the new bike). He gave those things when he could. But drugs came with a heavy price, too, I’m sure. And all those things would eventually fade. But that heart, I’ll always have that — his and mine; it’s the same one, after all.

Man in suit battling addiction holds cup of alcohol
Courtesy of Felicia Naoum

The memories at Geauga Lake, Sea World, Gettysburg, Pymatuning, Girl Scouts, Skateland, Cleveland Metroparks, Kiddie Park, and others, those ‘beat things.’ The mentality to not crack too much when the rest of the world will crack in half came from him. He taught me that hell will kidnap you, and turn your world into one you never knew you could live through, and you will still find a way to breathe. Some days, barely. No, many days, barely.  But you will still breathe.

Some days, the loss that came with that deportation physically hurts if you think about it even for a second. I can’t even acknowledge it, at times. Some days, it suffocates you. Some days, it makes you wish you didn’t have to feel a thing.

Some days, it makes you wonder too hard and too long of what your life would have been like without it, or who you would have been without it. Would my relationships be different? Would my coping mechanisms be different? Would I have joy in ways I don’t know? Would I have other pains? What would they be?

Some days, it still feels like the first day it was finalized when you were 16. And once wasn’t even enough. Once should have been never enough. But here we are.

Just the other day, I told someone in an email that the pain I’ve experienced from this loss is too great for any human tolerance that I know of. But I could never hate him for any of it. I just hurt for him, instead. That, my friends, is the biggest lesson in empathy you could ever learn. Another thing he taught me.

You may wonder why I don’t have one venomous urge inside me that lashes out at him. Well…

He barely stands. (Figuratively.) He cries and screams to me. (Literally.) I have never heard pain that way I hear from him (other than my own). And you wonder why people cope the way they do, drugs and all. But he still stands. His pain takes precedence over my own.

I ache for him more than I will ever ache for myself. I hate that he feels so alone where he is. They say you will never know love like you do when you have a child. I always say, you will never know love like you do when you have a dad like I have. How can you hate someone that you just hurt for?

Hurt aside, he reminds me to get up, even if I have to carry boxing gloves to beat down every demon that tries to keep me from conquering. Boxing gloves might be too kind. Some days, you need way more than a glove. If he can stand, I can stand. Even if barely. Even if on opposite sides of the globe.

He taught me how to love others.  That’s the biggest. People think that because he was absent at times, I went without his love. (If I could name the biggest lie, that would be it.) As a child, I knew he loved me more than anything. There was no doubt. He still does. He’s a third-world country away and he is there for me more than any guy I’ve ever dated.

A therapist once told me that if he really wanted to, he could’ve locked himself in a room to withdraw from drugs. How invalidating. To me and to him. But that’s okay. I know he did all he could. I saw him. I had a front row seat to my own life. Nah. I was on the stage.

I visited him when he was in the halfway house. I went with him to 12-step meetings. I saw him cry to my mom that he wanted to stop but couldn’t. He was my dad. The world had the labels. I just had the dad. The therapist’s opinion was just another person who had something to say. Let them talk.

I know he fought. Some battles in this life don’t find victory when WE want them to. Remember that, too. I know many want me to hate my dad. But he’s probably the only person in this world (minus a few more) that I could never hate, ever.

He really is my hero. Cliche? Sure. So damn true? Absolutely.

When people would judge him, I’d silently laugh. Most people probably couldn’t sustain a quarter of his life. He is all-the-steel-in-the-world strong. Prison, addiction, more prison, more addiction and deportation. He adapts. Maybe his soul doesn’t. He weeps for his family. But his physical adapts.

I love Lebanon. I’m not here to feed the stigma that the Middle East is scary. But it’s still a third-world country and that comes with a burden many of us will never understand. It’s a simpler life, but it’s also a much, much harder life. You think he would’ve picked up what was once his only one, his cocaine. He didn’t. Instead, he created a miracle those with addiction dream of: he became cocaine free and sustained it in what once was an unknown territory to him, without his immediate family for years to come.

Where and when many would surrender to pain, he accomplished one of the biggest things in his life. Proud is an understatement. I don’t even have a word.

So, before you judge his shortcomings and all he did wrong, judge his strength, too. You probably won’t be able to measure it. It’s off any chart I know.

I love you, Dad. Way too much for this world.”

Selfie of daughter and recovered addict father
Courtesy of Felicia Naoum

Read more from Felicia here:

‘If you never land that dream job. If you never reach that ‘perfect’ weight or get the mansion. You will NEVER waste this life’: Woman shares powerful reminder ‘life isn’t defined by wins and losses’

‘I’ve been told my feelings are ‘too much.’ The more I heard it, the more I believed it. The world always seems to find a way of telling us we need correcting.’: Woman urges ‘your gift isn’t your shortcoming’

‘With tears in his eyes, my boyfriend said my weight bothered him.’: 22 shocking comments plus-sized woman has received

‘My friend said, ‘You’re trying too hard.’ She made fun of me. The digs got old. Every time I put myself out there, she tried to hold me back.’: Woman urges ‘never let someone take away your courage’

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