Can You Forgive Your Father for His Addiction?

September 5, 2016
father2The concept of “Fatherhood” does not mean the same thing for all families. For many adult kids of dads who lived with addiction, fatherhood is a somewhat bitter, if not embarrassing, word that refers to a man who has been more invested in drinking or getting high than in his kids.

Too often, a father’s addiction can contribute to the development of a substance use disorder in the child. Not only is there a genetic component to addiction disorders, there is also often an environmental component – a double whammy for a child who grows up watching a father who is struggling with addiction.

For adults who are working to overcome that addiction, it can make it hard to forgive a father for that dubious “gift” of addiction – especially if he missed Little League games, family dinners, and birthday parties, and did so many things that were embarrassing and physically or emotionally painful as well.

For all who have or had a father living in addiction, however, forgiveness is a critical piece in recovery. Every day is a good day to either begin working on that process or check in with yourself to see how you are progressing toward that goal.

Forgiveness and Recovery

Whether or not your father is alive today or cares about how you feel about his choices in life, forgiveness is a huge part of your recovery. Residual anger and bitterness, feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem triggered by being neglected by a parent, or a sense of self-righteousness (as in, “I deserve an apology! I demand reparations!”) is not going to improve the situation, make you happy, or help your recovery. In fact, holding onto these feelings may actually serve to trigger relapse instead. Everything you can do to let go of these difficult and painful emotions will help you to move a little bit closer to balance in your recovery.

Turning Intention into Reality

When it comes to forgiveness, it is often easier said than done. If it is not even an easy thing to get to a point where you can consider forgiving someone for past harm done to you, it is going to be that much harder to let go. Depending on your past relationship with your father and the current circumstances, there are some truths that may or may not be useful:

  • Feelings of pain can be harmful to your recovery. Feeding those feelings by dwelling on past hardships or attempting to ignore them can ultimately add up to relapse.
  • No one expects you to forgive a lifelong damaging relationship overnight. It is a process and one that you are encouraged to undertake with the support of a professional.
  • In some cases, it may be helpful to involve your father in the healing process, but only if he is balanced and in recovery. If he is continuing in his addiction or struggling, then it may be preferable to work through this on your own.
  • If you cannot forgive, it may be helpful to get a place where you are no longer angry or deeply hurt.
    It can also be helpful to remember that forgiveness does not mean agreeing to re-enter the relationship. It simply means truly letting go of hurt feelings about the past and choosing instead to focus on the positive things you have going for you today.

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