By: Marilyn L. Davis
Why Can’t I Use the Dog Excuse?
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I swear.”
He grunted. “Like I’ve never heard that before. Funny, but I expected a little more originality from Moira’s daughter.”
“Yeah, well, the dog ate my notebook with all my good excuses.”
But I Need an Excuse
Most of us give excuses when we do not want to do something, or someone questions us about why, when, or how we did or did not do something. We use excuses to:
• Avoid change
• Placate authority
• Get someone off our back
• Defend the actions
• Argue the point
Do You Tend to Use the Same Predictable Excuses?
Most of the excuses have worked for you, or you would have dropped them from your speech, but they will keep you stuck, and that means that you are unable or unwilling to change. However, when you continue to use your predictable excuses, you seem as if you are not changing or not taking responsibility for your actions, behaviors, and attitudes. We tend to use the same excuses, and typically only stop using them when they no longer work with people.
Have you ever thought about what they mean? Start thinking about these excuses from the perspective of what others hear when you use them.
1. “I thought…”
This one is about your assumptions – how it “ought to be”. You may have a seemingly better way of doing things. But you should probably realize that many suggestions and directions were tried and ultimately found lacking over the years and that the current suggestions and directions are in place because they tend to work for the whole.
2. “I assumed…”
Again, deciding that you know something without verifying information is simply your assumption or opinion of what someone meant; how to do something, and possibly your projections of your way being the right way.
Solution: Ask questions
Phrasing it from your perspective of “I thought or I assumed” and then stating your position will let someone else know where you are coming from, and in some cases, your thoughts and assumptions may work.
However, if someone can give you valid reasons or a historical perspective on why your assumptions will not work, be respectful and try their directions, suggestions or solutions.
Sometimes your ideas have merit; other times, they won’t work. Assuming and thinking you know how something should work may prevent you from learning how and why to do things more effectively.
When you do not know how to do something or use something in a more effective way, ask questions, before, not after.
3. “I didn’t know any better.”
This one puts the responsibility for your knowledge on someone else – family, teachers, friends, sponsors, accountability partners, or treatment providers.
You obviously have the capacity to learn – you learned the language of using; you have the capacity to ask questions – “Where can I get drugs?”
You obviously wanted to know these things when you asked, and got answers. If you are uncertain about something, ask, so you do not have to use this excuse again.
Solution: If you genuinely want to know how to do something better, you will ask knowledgeable people how they do something.
Simply because you have not had people in your life that could help you learn a better way of doing things, or you have chosen to ignore their directions in the past, does not mean you cannot get the help that you need now.
• “I don’t know.”
If you legitimately do not know how to do something, did not understand the instructions, do not comprehend the written directions, or vocabularies, that is understandable, this is a new subject – recovery, but you need to ask questions for clarification. Most people do not know something until they ask about it.
Simply continuing to state, “I don’t know” may be an indication of your lack of interest in getting better. When you find yourself thinking this one, ask yourself, “Who might know?” There will be times that the answer is someone else.
Other times, such as group, when someone asks you a question about you, the legitimate answer will be that you know. For instance, when someone asks you how you feel, it is only proper for you to know.
Solution: Before you use this excuse, think to yourself – “who should know” – them or me.
Finishing out your sentence with “I don’t know because – I wasn’t taught that, I wasn’t aware of that, I didn’t realize that, but I want to do things differently” will create opportunities for people to help you learn.
• “I need to……”
Typically, people use this one when they want the conversation to move away from them, or use it to placate or calm someone. You usually use this one when you get uncomfortable; either because what is being pointed out for you to look at causes this discomfort; or because the same issue keeps coming up because you are not changing or following the directions.
Alternatively, you may use this one in the hopes that you can appease the authority into believing that you are finally going to do what you committed to doing before.
Solution: Instead of stating or talking about what you need to do, put the effort into accomplishing something from your To Do list or following someone’s directions.
The To Do List is just the start; learn to follow through with what you need to do, and for heaven’s sake, be realistic in your to do’s.
You will feel productive and proud and no longer have to talk about what you need to do, but can talk about what you have done.
• “I didn’t know to do it differently.”
This one also puts the responsibility for learning something on others – family, spouses, teachers, friends, or whomever. You obviously have the capacity to learn – the language of the streets, lifestyle, or your occupation.
While you may not know any better than to use if you are upset, there are knowledgeable people in recovery who do know how to recover, or give you alternative solutions when you are upset.
Solution: It is your responsibility to ask peers, sponsors, accountability partners or your facilitator for solutions. These people are resources for change. Even if you did not have people who supported your efforts to change in your use, you have them in your recovery.
• “I’ve always been this way.”
The simple fact is that you are in recovery to change a lot of “how you’ve always been”.
Continuing to use this excuse is a demonstration of your unwillingness to ask how to and then follow through with directions to change, or can be an indication of how much fear you attach to changing.
Solution: Reflect on what you have typically gotten by doing things your way. If you like the outcomes, you probably will not change, but if you do not like the outcomes, you will change “the ways you’ve always been.”
• “I’m trying.”
Trying is the excuse that people give when they have expended or put forth energy and effort in a unproductive way or in such a way as to not carry out a goal. Think of it in terms of did you try to drink or use drugs or did you put effort into doing those things?
“I am trying” is sometimes about making changes or doing something in a less than productive way. Again, ask people who have been successful in their efforts exactly how they did something and then follow the directions.
Solution: When you find yourself using this excuse, see if you have asked experienced people exactly how to do something and are not just assuming that you know what to do. Also, you will need to verify that you did it precisely as they said, not altered the directions so you could intentionally fail and then blame others.
But I’ve Used These Excuses for Years
A square peg will not fit into a round hole, but a round one will. Or you look for a board with square openings, but you have to stop looking to make your excuses work and work to find solutions that will make recovery work for you.
If you find that people in recovery do not buy into your excuses:
• It is sometimes because they used them, too
• They no longer accept the excuses as reasons for lack of change
• They would like to see you change for the better
Be appreciative that there are some people in your life, who are willing to expect your best from you; not the best excuse.
It will take an effort to stop using excuses. If you are legitimately making the effort to stop using them, you may find yourself saying them and then immediately retracting or withdrawing them for a while.
That is okay, it demonstrates that you are making the effort to change. Recovery is an opportunity to change, to stop the self-defeating behavior of making excuses and make changes.
After all, we know you did not miss that meeting because your cat had the hiccups.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart.
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