The father issue can be at the epicenter of many of our struggles with both addiction and abuse.
For years, I’ve written and spoken about the abuse from my childhood and its impact on my life and my disordered image, food and weight issues. My dad, knowingly or unknowingly, helped create an environment of terror. I learned, early on, I was not safe.
“I was not in safety, neither had I rest, neither was I quiet; yet trouble came.” Job 3:26
The Formation of Fear: The world is not a safe place.
Besides his rampages against my mother and me, besides his emotional, mental and verbal assaults of intimidation, control and isolation, my dad, as described by a therapist, indeed, also had “a mean streak” which set a stage for much of my fear.
She came to this conclusion when, in our sessions together, I shared stories of how my dad would use his unpleasant surprise technique, at my expense, solely for his personal amusement.
“Be not afraid of sudden fear…” Proverbs 3:25
He often taunted me by setting off cherry bomb firecrackers and laughing himself silly when the loud popping scared me. He loved to see my fear.
He was also fond of acquiring dead rodents from mousetraps and dangling them a millimeter away from my nose while I was sleeping. His goal was to wake me up and startle me with this unexpected, dead creature. He got what he wanted. After all, who expects to wake up in that manner?
And then, as I got older, I had yet another traumatic experience, one which could have killed me. Excited about buying an ATV three-wheeler, when he brought it home, my dad was eager for me to ride it in the backyard. I was nine at the time, probably too young and too small for this overwhelming beast of a machine.
Add to that, no one taught me how the vehicle actually worked. No one taught me to work the various buttons, gears and levers. My dad did not tell me that, if you press down on the handlebars, you would fly through time and space.
So, I hopped on and guess what I did?
I now know what the phrase, “my life flashed before me” means. I probably blasted through my backyard at 100 miles an hour, narrowly missing trees, my swing set and eventually, mercifully, making a sharp right turn into our lilac grove.
Startled? That doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind. My dad lifted the vehicle off me. I ran into the house, shaking, adrenalized and upset with him for allowing this situation to go down like this.
Miraculously, I had no broken bones. Mom did a quick check on me once I was in the house. My only wound was a muffler burn, resembling a barbecued rib. But, other than that, physically, I was okay.
But emotionally? That was a different story. In shock, coursing with adrenalin for hours, I could not stop shaking for the rest of the day. That night, I did not sleep.
What was the most brutal was the fear, the confusion and the dread of what my dad would be up to next concerning my being. I has PTSD each time I saw that ATV.
Still, I could not anticipate his next behavior. In the days, weeks and months to come, he joked about this incident with his friends, mentioning my reaction and how funny it was.
I felt betrayed. Again, my dad was amused by my pain; again, he laughed at my fear.
“But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied.” Psalms 38:19
Eventually, after a number of months, he sold the three wheeler and stop joking about the incident. He had moved on.
Mission: Find Safety in Addiction
“Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.” Judges 10:14
But I hadn’t. I was still traumatized, fearful and in dire need of security.
It certainly didn’t help matters any that, by this young age, I was also already struggling with food issues. So, over the years, as the abuse and terror continued, as my dad flew into each rage episode and as he diversified each mind game, I needed safety. I needed something that was the antithesis of this misery.
And, if my parents, mired in their own dysfunctional patterns, would not keep my safe, I guess I had to find it on my own.
So, like many of us in recovery, I discovered the “cure” of self-medication. I turned to food for comfort.
Scripture gives us warnings on participating in this quest…
“Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.” Romans 13:13
“What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.” Habakkuk 2:18-19
But, because I learned wrong, distorted lessons about safety, my parents’ trustworthiness and my own spiritual need to relate to God as my haven, I, of course, could only look to external things, consumption of things, to fill up the large black hole of hopeless fear, hurt and frustration.
I was sick and didn’t know how to be well.
So, from a recovery standpoint, it sounds like a great intro for our Great Physician…
“ …‘They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick.’” Luke 5:31; Matthew 9:12
“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
And, yes, we need this.
But healing is a complicated, multi-faceted issue. It goes beyond just stopping a self-destructive behavior. It also expands to uncovering and dealing with the underlying, often, hidden-from-view, beliefs and traumas we’ve acquired, especially when it concerns our family of origin.
So, for there to be a more comprehensive healing, there also needs to be the mention of God as the protector as well.
“For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.” Psalms 61:3
This can be tricky, especially for those of us paralyzed by only a wrath-filled, abusive portrayal of God, punishing us for any infraction.
Again, from my own personal experience, I wrongly learned I was not safe. “Father,” on some level, automatically meant pain/punishment to me.
“But now, O LORD, thou art our father…” Isaiah 64:8
How many of us, struggling with addiction and abuse experiences, have a similar oppressive view?
Father, fear, fear, father…Potato, po-tah-to…
Scripture tells us repeatedly to “fear not.” That’s often easier said than done. For, many of us have internalized fear as our “normal.” It’s all we know. The chaos which both addiction and abuse bring desensitizes us to such a consistent, day in, day out, degree, anything which represents health or safety can often feel like abnormality.
Therefore, it can be a mind scrambler to embrace a healthy or safe viewpoint when it, indeed, is contrary to our lived experience.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:18-19
No, health, safety and healing are not easy.
Yet, “God is a not man, that He should lie” (Numbers 23:19). Thank GOD for that.
So, it bears mentioning the importance of following Isaiah 64:8 to its end…
“But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.”
What I glean from that verse is the imperfect and painful reality we are in process, even concerning our complicated issues and, yes, our fear/father issues.
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” Isaiah 41:10
Father, Healer, Helper and Protector: whatever we need Him to be for us, He is that.
Part of the work of our healing comes when we shift our thinking to view and internalize God as our loving ally Father, not our punishing, hell-sending enemy.
Challenging that concept, therefore, challenges our fears. The starting point can come from Jeremiah 29:11…
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
If we can grab ahold of that, perhaps, we can open ourselves more easily to the loving Father aspect of God…
“Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.”
“…your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things…Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:30; 32
So, if we have a loving, healing, protective Father, wouldn’t He work on our behalf to deal with those things closest to us?
If we’ve come from a past which is abusive or oppressive, in any way, God assures us how He is, indeed, dealing with that particular enemy…
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” Psalms 23:5
“Say to them that are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you.’” Isaiah 35:4
Again, it’s not easy to allow these thoughts in. They challenge our core beliefs about everything. These thoughts dare us to accept concepts which affirm our lovable natures and our value. They speak safety to our insecurities. It’s quite discombobulating.
But, whatever our ugly, scary root causes to our present circumstances and identities may be, He is there, offering that much needed safety.
“But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.” Proverbs 1:33
Are you quiet or filled with noise from your issues? When you think of “father,” are you struck with fear and pain or love and hope?
God wants to help you heal from one to the other. He wants you to have a happy Father’s Day with Him, every single day of your life.
Why not start today?