When I was 16, my father was ripped away from me.
In the eyes of the law, my father’s departure is called deportation. He was deported to Lebanon, the country where he was born. In my eyes, my father’s deportation was so much more than that, it was the event that turned my life completely upside down and has lasting implications, nearly 15 years later.
The message in this story is not related to the cause of my father’s deportation but instead the impact it’s had on me and my relationships.
I’ve learned that loss can come in many forms. Loss does not always mean death. Not to dismiss anyone who has experienced the death of a parent, but some losses can carry a similar weight.
When you think of loss, you often associate it with pain, suffering, fear, and unfinished business. While all of these are true, I never thought of the long-lasting impact my loss would have on me. I never imagined as a teenager, or even an adult, that losing my dad would be connected to so much more.
I never thought I would be 30 years old and in constant fear at the thought of losing someone I love — especially a man. I never expected I’d feel the same things now that I felt as a teenager sitting in the courtroom when my father’s fate, and essentially my own, was sealed.
The verdict was deportation not lifelong separation anxiety.
Or so I thought.
If a man I’m truly attached to disconnects from me in some way, I cling to him for dear life (now, I’m not speaking of chance encounters or a few dates, I’m talking truly meaningful relationships with men who I deem worthy). If a man leaves me, or slowly begins to distance himself, I panic. This particular panic greatly mimics the emotions I felt when my father walked away in chains. The word ‘deportation’ alone doesn’t carry enough weight; the more appropriate words for me are ‘the end of my life.’
When you’re 16 years old and you lose the only real love you’ve ever known, it is the end of your life.
My father played a strong role in my upbringing. I have countless memories with him. He took us camping; he taught us the Bible; he was active in my Girl Scout adventures. We went to amusement parks with him; he taught me to ride my bike; he taught me archery. He taught me how to rough it in the wild; he decorated my birthday cakes; he took me to the hospital each time I broke my arm.
More than anything, he taught me how to love with all of my heart and then some, because he loved me with all of his heart and then some. He was the first person to show me the most unconditional of love. I always say that I love the way I do because of him.
So, when you’re a teenager and someone you’ve always adored is taken away from you in the most permanent way, you panic and panic, but you never truly process.
How does a 16-year-old process such an ordeal?
Because I couldn’t deal with the trauma, it became a part of me. It’s etched into my being. I never let go of that feeling. I can’t stand to experience the same thing again, so today, at 30 years old, I hold on tight to the men in my life… almost too tight. I leave no room for separation because separation is my worst fear.
Sure, I have already faced that fear and you might think because of that, I was safe from it. In a perfect world, my motto would be, “I lost the best person in my life, I can get through anything.” But the cold, hard truth is even someone who has been through hell and back still can’t always muster the strength to get through tough times — and that’s okay.
I don’t always do things differently or even better now because of my past trials. That is not how the song of my life goes. If I love you, and I lose you, I hold on for dear life. I don’t just lose you, I lose my dignity, too. At least for a long while until it becomes impossible not to let go.
So now, here’s how I cope with separation anxiety at 30. It may be wrong, and it certainly may not be medically approved, but it’s Felicia-approves.
1. I recognize my own worth.
I am and forever will be an undying lover. Yes, I hold on so tight because I can’t let go, but I’m still my own person. I’m still capable of loving in spite of my separation anxiety. I choose to embrace the fact that a girl who struggles to let go because of her past is also a girl that is undeniably loyal, and willing to give some love all she has.
2. I always keep love within me.
I find solace in knowing that I always keep love within me. I can’t control who leaves me, but I can control my own self-love. Society expects us to cut off all emotional ties to a person, especially an ex, for the simple fact that they are an ex. If you read my prior story, What My Exes Have Taught Me About Love, you’ll see that I treasure those I’ve loved, always. Instead of viewing my breakup as a full separation, I find a different place to keep those I have to learn to live without. If they can’t be in my life, they can forever be in my heart, or forever be a part of my character.
3. Keep thinking ahead.
I always look at separations as the end, but lately, I’m learning to adopt a new perspective. I now look at them as a time in my life that brought me what it needed to bring me. Life is short, and it’s up to us to fill our lives with as much joy and variety as possible. If we live the same life for too long, we could be missing out on another grand experience. Instead of thinking of separation as final, I try to think of it as a journey to the next.
Instead of fighting so hard to change who we are, why not be who we are? Instead of beating ourselves up for everything we’re not, why not breathe and know that it’s okay to have defects and shortcomings. Instead of running from the girl who loves too hard and holds on too tight, why not just say, “This is me. This how I love,” and turn that negative into a positive?
And maybe, maybe the biggest gift I got out of all this was a dad who taught me to love with all I have and fight every single day for the love I believe in just as he did with me.
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