Why Addiction Isn’t Your Real Problem

The Father Effect: Hope and Healing from a Dad’s Absence released on October 24 through FaithWords. Within those pages, I share my story of growing up without a dad and how God showed me what true father forgiveness looks like.

Part of that story is how I essentially lost decades of my life to being a social alcoholic. As a young man, and even a young father, I was Goodtime Johnny far too many times. I was addicted to how alcohol numbed my pain and blunted the sharp edges of life. As a traveling salesman with an expense account to wine and dine prospective clients, I was given too many opportunities to be away from my family on a routine basis and, on someone else’s dime, to buy my happiness at the bottom of a drink in the name of being a good employee.

Eventually, I came to understand that my “problem” wasn’t my problem. In other words, just as alcohol drowned whatever bad feelings I didn’t want to feel—abandonment, loneliness, frustration, anger, confusion, grief—my addiction masked the real issue: my father wound.

John Eldredge said it better in The Father Effect documentary (and I’m grateful for his shared expertise in both the documentary and my book). Eldredge said, “If you simply try and tinker with your addictions—‘I just gotta stop. I gotta get off the drugs. I gotta get off the alcohol. I gotta quit the porn.’—rarely does self-disciple work because those aren’t the issue. You are medicating an internal pain. Deal with the internal pain; you won’t need the medication anymore.”

Through God guiding me toward the work of Eldredge and others, I learned that I’d been trying to fix myself in reverse. I was treating the symptom (alcoholism) and not the disease (the father wound). To have the grip of alcoholism release me, I needed to stop fighting not to drink. Rather, I needed to fight what was leading me to drink: intense, soul-level, long-abiding feelings of deep hurt and betrayal by my father.

This wasn’t an overnight change. The process I endured is detailed in The Father Effect, and includes a harrowing moment of stark realization while drunk driving to an airport following a long night of “business-related selling.”

The shortened version is that I did forgive my father, and just like Eldredge said, I didn’t “need the medication anymore.” My desire to drink dried up. The wounds I’d tried so hard to submerge in the numbing effects of alcohol didn’t need to be assuaged anymore because God had healed my heart. The Great Physician had ripped off the Band-Aids I’d been using for so long and had performed the surgery I’d needed all along.

Whatever your addiction may be, I pray that God leads you to the source of that addiction. For many of us with father wounds, the abandonment we experienced and still feel today may be that source. I hope that the words in The Father Effect lead you toward a better understanding of how to overcome those addictions: by asking God to heal your internal pain and help you forgive your father.