Who am I? Who are you? If our parents made us, are we just a petri dish concoction of their best and worst qualities? If this is true, is history doomed to repeat itself? Does being half our moms and half our dads mean we can never be our whole selves? The struggle of breaking out from their mold is no new battle to us, but, for Justin, it has been a lifelong war.

Born in West LA, Justin was raised by his two Iranian immigrant parents. His parents both experienced the Iranian Revolution and held on to lifelong trauma because of it. Naturally, this trickled down to their three children. Justin’s father drank profusely. Once the liquor touched his tongue, he often became belligerent and verbally abusive. This drinking drove a stake through Justin’s family. To his father, there was no issue. Alcohol is prevalent in Iranian culture, and it wasn’t uncommon for parents to feed their young children small glasses from time to time—Justin’s first sips.

From an early age, it was apparent to everyone in his life that Justin suffered from ADHD, but no one knew what to do. This persisted until middle school when Justin was signed up and ready to attend his local public school and then days before his first class, his mother decided to switch him to a school for people with disabilities. Justin went from feeling different to being labeled as different—immersed in a school full of children with the same title. Even surrounded by his peers, he was treated like a black sheep. He was bullied for what he wore, what he said, and what he liked. No matter what he did or where he went, Justin was “the other.” The longing to go to a “regular school” weighed on him every day. Before long, Justin was buying weed from his local middle school drug dealer. By the time he was ready to go to high school, he made the decision to break out of his school system and go to a more diverse one. His problems of being bullied and feeling less than seemed to shed off of him. Things seemed alright. But if you have read any spotlight before, you know it didn’t stay that way. 

Justin’s family was heavily impacted by the 2008 market crash. Simply put: they lost everything. This struggle certainly had an effect on his father’s drinking and the overprotectiveness of his mother. By the time Justin was ready to go to college, things only got worse. The divide between his parents eventually resulted in their separation and his mother decided the best course of action was for his father to go back to Iran to see if he could find a way to make more money for his family. Enter Covid-19… 

Justin’s father ended up spending three long years in Iran. The time away from his family only enhanced Justin’s anger towards him. They barely spoke, and when they did, Justin made his feelings towards his father clear. Eventually, Justin was able to make peace with his dad and forgive him for everything he had done to their family. Only a few weeks later tragedy struck. His father had a sudden heart attack and died. This escalated Justin’s drinking to a whole new level. Before this point, he said, “I drank the standard amount for a college kid.” After his father’s death, he searched for solace in the bottle. 

Unintentionally, Justin’s addiction became an homage to his father’s. He would drink heavily every single day and become angrily aggressive every time. Soon, he was the one driving a stake through his family. His mom, who had previously seen him as a sweet and loving child and had been able to control his every motion, lost all authority over her son and was eventually scared of him. His brothers were concerned and disappointed in him. His relationships crumbled in his clenched fists. Everything he had was falling apart and it was still not enough to stop him from picking up that next drink. He’s truly one of us. 

On March 27, 2023, Justin walked into a bar with the intention of having one drink—he doesn’t remember walking out. From what he was told, he was walking home when he passed out and fell, resulting in a gash on his head. As he laid there, filled with booze and covered in blood, his younger brother found him. Justin woke up in the suicide room of the hospital with arm restraints on. Apparently, he was so hostile towards the doctors that they needed to strap him down. After finally coming out of his psychosis and calming down a bit, the doctors put 26 stitches in his head and sent him out the door. When he walked out that hospital door, he knew one thing: he had to stop drinking. “That was the point I totally surrendered and I told myself that I really really need to get myself help.”

Shortly after, his mom logged on to the World Wide Web of Jewish Mothers and found out about Beit T’Shuvah. When he first got here, everything seemed like an impossible task. He had never lived on his own before. For the first time in his life, he came to the realization that this was his life. Justin started wearing the clothes he wanted to, acting how he wanted to, and even growing out the mustache he wanted to. Freedom never looked so suave. No longer standing in the shadow of his parents, their trauma, and their choices, Justin began a journey of discovering who he was. Before long, he started to find himself and love himself. In his growing process, he started family therapy with his mom and began to gain back his brothers’ trust. He’s realized that both his parents have always had the best intentions for him. Even though Justin’s parents were struggling financially and emotionally, that never stopped them from giving him the love and support that he deserved. “I owe my parents, especially his mom, a lot of gratitude for supporting me throughout my life, unconditionally, through thick and thin.” Even if his mom was strict and a bit of a helicopter mom at times, she did it all out of the kindness in her heart, to help him succeed in life. “I am forever grateful to her and the sacrifices she made along the way. I love my mom, so much, and my brothers Sammy and Josh. I love them no matter what and I’m sorry for any and all pain I put them through during my dark times.” Holding onto resentment wasn’t getting Justin far. Now, that he has embraced a new perspective, filled with love and gratitude, his whole life is opening up. 

Thanks to Beit T’Shuvah, and the work he has done here, Justin has become himself. “Before coming here, I kept things to myself, I would sugarcoat my problems, I would lie a lot, and steal from my family. Now, with Beit T’Shuvah’s help, I realize that I don’t have to do that anymore. I can lead a more honest life and be more open to the people around me.” The fear he once had of falling into an endless drink, like his father, or breaking his mother’s heart with disobedience has become admiration for everything they have given him. That love has made room for the excitement of becoming himself and following his truth. “I am becoming my authentic self. Discovering the essence of who I truly want to be.” Nowadays, it is hard to believe that Justin had ever been anything other than the man he is today. His personality breaks any tension, brightens any darkness, and lifts the community up in any and every way. Recently, he has started interning in the kitchen—putting his personal touch into every dish. Chef’s kiss!

The apple does fall far from the tree. None of us are the cookie-cutter products of the factories that built us. Justin’s story of redemption and acceptance teaches us that. His struggles and triumphs only highlight his ability to love the man he is today. The man he has always been inside. Justin is not his father. Justin is not his mother. He isn’t you and he isn’t me. Justin is Justin…and we wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Spotlight on Justin J. by Jesse Solomon

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