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Embracing Fatherhood Within Addiction Recovery

Posted by Melissa Steward

This is a guest blog post by Jeff Spencer, M.Ed., ALC of IMPACT Family Counseling. Jeff works as the Fatherhood Coordinator and outpatient therapist. Before working at IMPACT he worked as addiction treatment counselor and case manager in an inpatient treatment facility. 

IMPACT fam counselingIMPACT Family Counseling, located in Birmingham Alabama, has the unique privilege of working with fathers in two area residential addiction treatment programs.  Clients in both programs are typically low-income individuals whose substance abuse problems greatly exacerbate the challenges of single parenting and economic instability. Family relationships in general have often been severely damaged by addiction-driven behaviors, contributing to a sense of guilt, shame, and discouragement.

24/7 Dad Handbook CoverIMPACT has been successfully working with addiction treatment clients and 24/7 Dad® since 2012, however, there is one main difficulty in working with this population: the danger of sending mixed messages about priorities. Treatment programs typically stress the importance on self-focus as a prerequisite of recovery.  (Alcoholics Anonymous calls this “keeping our side of the street clean”). While at the same time, fathers in our program are encouraged to prioritize their roles as fathers (which naturally incorporates an “others-focus”), which for many clients may be a new and overwhelming paradigm shift. 

Specifically, clients enrolled in our treatment programs are immersed in a recovery culture based largely on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, a program that stresses the importance of consistency, honesty, and present-focused self-awareness as keys to recovery. We have found that drawing from these concepts as part of our fatherhood program allows group members to embrace their roles as fathers within the context of their recovery. 

In fact, we frequently reference the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous to strengthen the connection between participants’ roles as fathers and their recovery. In other words, becoming a better father does not happen as a result of, but rather as a part of their continued recovery. In teaching from the 24/7 Dad® curriculum, we highlight the fact that characteristics of the 24/7 Dad® begin with adequate self-care. I encourage my facilitators to read the Big Book (especially “Bill’s Story” and “How It Works”) to gain a better understanding of recovery concepts and how they relate to concepts presented in 24/7 Dad®.

We place heavy emphasis on the Fourth Step (a “fearless and searching inventory of ourselves”) during the co-parenting section of 24/7 Dad®. Using the fourth step in context of the practical methods presented in the curriculum helps to strengthens the concept of personal responsibility and empathy when relating to co-parents. 

In addition, exploration of family history in the 24/7 Dad® curriculum has been a beneficial concept for dads in recovery. Many clients have shared emotional stories of their own fathers’ absences due to addiction or other problems. This contributes not only to a better understanding of how these patterns repeated in their own lives, but helps clients to realize how breaking the cycle can benefit their own children. 

We also place heavy focus on the Getting Involved section in 24/7 Dad®. Discussions of practical ideas for becoming more involved seem to lessen the overwhelming prospect of reestablishing connections severed by drug addiction. Dads are challenged to complete Involvement Plans and reminded that even phone calls or letters can lead to stronger connections with their children. Family members of addicts become painfully familiar with the erratic nature of substance abuse. Constructing specific involvement plans and maintaining consistency, even in the smallest things, can help dads in recovery rebuild trust in their children.

The great news is that by using the concepts already presented in a program of recovery, along with integration of the 24/7 Dad® program, we are yielding positive results in participants' in recovery. Clients have reported renewed understanding about their roles as fathers and how consistency and self-awareness (both recovery concepts) can rebuild broken relationships with children. 

If you have further questions about IMPACT Family Counseling’s effective integration of 24/7 Dad®, please contact Jeff Spencer at JS@ImpactAL.org

Topics: fatherhood, addiction, addiction and fatherhood, father addicts, program success stories, fatherhood program tips

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