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The Experience of Fathers in Early Recovery from Addiction

The pressures of fatherhood hit harder than a punch from Mike Tyson. Trying to maintain yourself while being the best example of a man to your children can seem like trying to find your way out of a maze at a specific time. Parenting in recovery can be even more challenging.

University of Hawaii’s Izaak L. Williams wrote that “men disproportionately comprise the majority of substance use disorder treatment admissions.” Men are also likely to suppress their internal issues and turn to other coping methods instead of healthily expressing themselves with or without support.

Researchers believe that men “…are likely to find it increasingly difficult to maintain their self-concept as a loving, supporting, and caring father.”

It is more difficult because their vice puts them at a crossroads with their role as a father. The more time goes by, they fall deeper into the addiction to their preferred substance.

Recovery also doesn’t stop other problems accumulated before starting, such as unpaid child support, child custody battles, and other financial matters.

Call us today at (888) 906-0952, if you’re a father experiencing relapse or trying to get back on the road to recovery. We can help you with options for addiction treatment that fits your needs.

How Did I End Up in This Situation?

Don’t beat yourself up about where you are in your recovery. You’ve already been through so much getting here. Remember that your decision to go through recovery is probably the best decision you can make for yourself and your children.

If you wonder how you got here, then think about the path as steps to a brighter future. Can you imagine what it would be like if you didn’t choose to start the process of recovery? Your steps to a brighter future might not look too good, would they?

Your time in recovery isn’t just time for you to get better and go back out in the world mistake-free. We’re all humans. Sometimes we mess up. However, recovery is time for you to also reflect on your mistakes, addictions, and experiences to understand them and create a new and better way of living than your past life.

Trying to cope with feeling like you abandoned your family or destroyed your life is often one of the most difficult parts of recovery for fathers. Abusing substances will cloud your mind and pull you away from what’s important so you can focus solely on satisfying yourself with whatever your vice.

Remember, in addition, that’s a normal thing that happens. The good news is you’re in a better place now. Don’t consider yourself going into recovery as “abandonment.” You’re doing what’s necessary to be completely present in your children’s life as a father, and sometimes that takes time and patience.

Why You Need to Take on the Challenge of Parenting in Recovery

Don’t give up! You’re well equipped to take on the challenge of parenting in recovery. Take it easy. You can doubt yourself for a second but look at the big picture after asking yourself if you can truly be a good father while in recovery. Immediately ask yourself if your children can operate without you.

Research written within the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs states, “Whether they are in contact with their children or not, the fathers often believe their children are better off without contact with them.”

Unless you attempt to better yourself and treat your addiction, your children are not better off without you.

The benefits of remaining in recovery until the end of your rehabilitation journey are vast, including personal issues usually addressed when given the time and safe space.

According to Fatherhood and Recovery by Mark Sanders, some internal issues involve:

Father Hunger

Many chemically dependent men were abandoned by their fathers, which increases the likelihood that they, in turn, will abandon their children. Heavy substance use is one method of covering the pain caused by early childhood abandonment (Mayeda & Sanders, 2007).

The cycle of father hunger continues unless it stops at your doorstep. 

Father wounds

Many chemically dependent men have been injured by their fathers, whether from physical, verbal, or sexual abuse. Left unaddressed, a history of abuse increases the chances that men will injure their children—before, during, and after active addiction (Mayeda & Sanders, 2007; Bly, 2004).

Parental abuse can hurt children and leave them traumatized. 

Limited role models

Many chemically dependent men report having had limited experience with role models who could exhibit a variety of methods for bonding with their children, other than roughhousing behavior. It isn’t easy to know how to be a sensitive and caring father without these role models. Many men have not experienced firsthand bonding with their fathers. Thus, it is difficult to form intimate bonds with their children (Bly, 2004).

Imagine a world where your child has no one to look up to as a role model. 

Male depression

Terrence Real, an expert on men’s issues and addictions, has identified a type of depression unique to men, which he calls “male depression,” the underlying cause of early childhood abandonment by fathers (Real, 1997). Depression in men often goes undiagnosed because the great majority do not exhibit classic symptoms of major depression, such as observable apathy and sadness. Women are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with depression than men in

Managing these issues and others not only makes the recovery process easier for men emotionally and mentally, but it’s also motivating to break down the walls that have been overtly or subtly barricading them from reaching the threshold of genuine inner peace and happiness.

Sadness can permeate the lives of men abandoned by their fathers since childhood. 

How Do I Ensure That I Succeed in Recovery?

Keep pushing forward with your recovery! Stopping at any point before finishing will only make the journey longer. Once again, use the time you have in recovery to reflect on the addictive life you had before and compare it with how you feel now.

Look at how you think about your children now compared to how you thought about them then.

Any different? Of course, you love your children and want the best for them, but do you feel like you were truly involved during your addiction to the point where they felt the same way? What about your other family members?

You play a vital part in your children’s lives as their fathers. What their mother might seem to lack, you make up for, and vice versa. You can only make up for it if you follow through with your plan for long-term recovery.

If you participate in group meetings, don’t be afraid to talk about parenting in recovery. You will be surprised how many men can relate to your story. It’s not a strange or unique story. There might be unique details, but the storyline is all the same.

All of the men in recovery with you are trying to do the same thing that you are doing: trying to get better. Some of them might not achieve parenting in recovery because of the severity of their addictions.

Others have probably tried, failed, and have completely given up. That’s not the objective. Giving up isn’t even an option.

Repairing relationships after addiction is hard for many recovering addicts. Giving up doesn’t make it less hard.

Keep up communication with your peers, stay focused on the overall recovery goal, and have faith that the process works.

How Do I Mend Relationships After Addiction?

Even after feeling recovered from your addiction, it might still be hard to figure out how to maintain relationships with family after going to addiction rehab.

Depending on how affected your family is by your past life of addiction, it can be hard for them to accept your post-recovery life because they are unsure about the possibility of relapse.

You can take all those doubts and crush them in the palm of your hand if you’re determined enough.

However, you want to make sure that you’re prepared for practically anything that might come your way from your family.

When you’re preparing to reconnect with your family members, it’s suggested you speak with a counselor about making the initial effort.

After being advised by a counselor, you should:

Prioritize safety.

If any party’s physical safety is at risk, confrontation isn’t a healthy option.

Consider a mediator.

A non-biased third party can help facilitate a healthy discussion in a therapeutic setting.

Prepare mentally and emotionally for rejection.

Confrontations are unpredictable, so it’s important to remember that not everyone involved will be ready to reconcile.

Work through your issues.

Before expecting another party to make amends, consider where you need to heal from the events that occurred.

Reflect on the source of conflict.

Recount the events that led to the estrangement—it’s rarely only one party’s fault.

Ask for help.

Look for a support group or seek counsel from a professional or group of people whom you trust.

Make use of the tools available to you.

Use means of private communication to reach out healthily. However, lurking on social media platforms is unhealthy and quickly becomes unproductive and dangerous.

Avoid showing up unannounced.

Because surprises and unwanted presence can be stressful for all parties involved, consider sending a letter, email, or voicemail first.

Your Family Needs You But These Things Take Time

If your efforts in reconnecting with your family are successful, don’t be against participating in family therapy. Engaging in family therapy will help you understand how your family felt during your time of addiction and recovery in a more open atmosphere now that a therapist is there to guide them into it.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information says family therapy “increases engagement and retention in treatment, reduces the IP’s drug and alcohol use, improves both family and social functioning, and discourages relapses.”

Doing the same thing you have done for yourself through recovery with your family (reflecting on your past, finding the holes, and filling them with positive alternatives) will unlock plenty of doors leading to a healthy relationship with them.

Feel that you might need more time in a treatment program? Call us at (888) 906-0952 and press 1.


[1] Research Gage Publication

[2] Issues of Fatherhood and Recovery

[3] American Humane: Fatherhood and Recovery

[4] Blog

[5] Substance Abuse Treatment and Family Therapy

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