We’ve all been there–or at least most of us have. The point where we go from obedient to full-on rebel. Where freedom is more important than comfort, the familiar. Where we rattle the bars of our cages in order to figure out the things that move and inspire us to be.
It’s a bumpy and uncertain road full of all kinds of scrapes and bruises, but it’s how we figure out who we are and what we want to be. Hany is no different.
And although those who might have known him during that time of exploration might frown with contempt, he teaches us that sometimes one must hit rock bottom in order to understand what you’re made of on your own path to greatness.
I feel like life didn’t happen until I was in 5th grade where my friends were able to do things that I couldn’t. My family was strict and traditional based on Lebanese and Venezuelan culture, which made me almost an outcast. I often found myself trying to validate myself as a kid, which led to me experimenting with different things and styles.
For example, I wasn’t allowed to have a girlfriend so I lied about. I immediately was considered a player because I would build it all up but would never really allow it to happen. As I got into high school, I got more rebellious which led to different things in my life, more of a downward spiral. That led into college which is where everything exploded, and the shackles were released.
I had an awakening moment where everyone didn’t believe in me except for myself and my girlfriend at the time. I wanted to prove everyone wrong, and that’s when I did a complete 180, and did. I just slowly learned more about myself and grew immensely since then. Now, here I am. People who have known me all my life, they’ll see me and not recognize me because there was a point where I fell off.
My parents were raised to be obedient. But those traditional elements of Lebanese and Venezuelan culture weren’t considered normal in America. In many ways, it’s like the restrictions I experienced when I was younger made me want to take the risks I wasn’t supposed to.
Back then, I was really trying to experience freedom. There were so many things I wasn’t allowed to do growing up. For example, I wasn’t allowed to have sleep overs. I couldn’t have girlfriends. I wasn’t allowed to do things by myself. And it was always a huge ordeal if I wanted to go somewhere or do something with a friend. It always felt like I was talking to the gatekeeper that was trained to say, “no.”
My parents were raised to be obedient. And I don’t know why obedience was so important, but it was. But those traditional elements of Lebanese and Venezuelan culture weren’t considered normal in America. And around my peers, it made me feel like an outcast, the oddball. In many ways, it’s like the restrictions I experienced when I was younger made me want to take the risks I wasn’t supposed to.
There were so many things I wasn’t allowed to do growing up. For example, I wasn’t allowed to have sleep overs. I couldn’t have girlfriends. I wasn’t allowed to do things by myself…. As I got into high school, I got more rebellious….[eventually] everything exploded, and the shackles were released.
So when I got a taste of freedom and finally had the opportunity to make my own decisions, I tried everything: If I wanted to get food late at night, I did. If I wanted to stay out all night, I did. It was being able to do whatever I felt I wanted to do without having to ask. It made sense to me at the time, but my actions didn’t work out in my favor. I found myself bouncing between houses, nearly living out of my girlfriend’s trunk.
At one point, my two uncles reached out to me. And since neither were in my life as much growing up, I trusted them more because I didn’t feel the same overwhelming judgement I got from my parents. One of my uncles did the unexpected: he told me that if I wanted to, I could reach out and talk to him. So, I did. That kickstarted a number of quick epiphanies that ultimately led to me doing a 180.
He helped me realize that although I wanted to experience freedom and break free of the restrictions I’d experienced growing up, there was a limit–I had gone too far. My other uncle made me promise I would stop doing many of the things I was doing. I didn’t stop. I didn’t keep that promise.
One day, my girlfriend at the time had a camera and tried to put it in my face and I slapped it out of her hand. I accidentally hit her cigarette, which burned her hand. Immediately, things changed. I then associated pain, not pleasure, with what I was doing at that time in my life. That came not too long after one of the biggest moments where I felt helpless, which was the first night I was kicked out of my house and ended up having to stay at a friend’s dad’s house.
I remember thinking, “What am I going to do?” It sucked. It sucked a lot. I was already emotional but I remember lying there, doing everything I could to keep myself from crying too loud because I didn’t want his father to hear me, to ask if I was okay. I was so afraid, but I didn’t want to show it.
I remember feeling like shit for having to stay there. I felt like such a burden. My friend wasn’t there because he was up at school. I remember going to the gas station and getting a pint of milk and a little box of cereal because he was going to come pick me up for school. I remember laying in his bed and thinking, “Fuck, I’m homeless.”
My girlfriend had fallen asleep, so she wasn’t answering my calls. And I remember thinking, “What am I going to do?” It sucked. It sucked a lot. I was already emotional but I remember lying there, doing everything I could to keep myself from crying too loud because I didn’t want his father to hear me, to ask if I was okay. I was so afraid, but I didn’t want to show it. I didn’t want him to pity me. I couldn’t admit it at the time, but I just wanted to be welcomed with open arms. But I felt more like a burden, even though that wasn’t necessarily the case.
In that moment, I realized I had so much more to offer the world–that was the ground, the rock bottom that so many talk about. It taught me not to blame others for my current situation. Yes, there are things you can’t control that happen. But there were things that I could control that forced me into a situation where I couldn’t control anything. That level of pain felt empty, like nothingness. And that’s what hurt and made me feel the most powerless. I had a choice: to build and grow or to stay empty. I chose to build because there was nothing else to lose.
All of those experiences made me who I am today: the strict upbringing, rebelling against everything, and eventually hitting rock bottom…Every choice I make is to prove to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to. To do what is considered impossible.
Suddenly, all of the opportunities and advice made sense, changing my perspective on everything. I took everything more seriously. I took myself more seriously and began investing more in me, taking care of myself, which slowly but surely got me up from what felt like rock bottom. It wasn’t perfect, obviously, but each step got me closer to who I was trying to be.
All of those experiences made me who I am today: the strict upbringing, rebelling against everything, and eventually hitting rock bottom. I’m very emotionally invested in the things I’m told I can’t or shouldn’t do. It’s just how I’m wired. And although that caused me to make some choices I’m not proud of earlier in life, it also led to some of the things I’m most proud of. Now, it’s not about rebellion for rebellion’s sake. Every choice I make is to prove to myself that I can do anything I put my mind to. To do what is considered impossible.