from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davis

Recovery: What Do I Do? I Don’t Understand!

By: Marilyn L. Davis


“Sometimes it’s not enough to know what things mean; sometimes you have to know what things don’t mean.” ― Bob Dylan 

I Don’t Understand the Directions! 

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davisPeople are sometimes embarrassed when they don’t understand. Intelligent people shake their heads or get that perplexed look on their face, and we all know that they don’t have a clue.

  • Still, they are hesitant to say they do not understand something for several reasons:
  • They decide that since they’re smart, they should understand everything.
  • Sometimes, they form expectations and think they ought to figure this one out.
  • Many people are afraid of appearing dumb or stupid with questions. 

Why Don’t I Tell You that I Don’t Understand?

It's embarrassing when we don't understand the solutions given by others to help our recovery. However, all of those reactions to the confusion are just counter-productive. In those cases, it's pointless to be embarrassed. Click To Tweet

  • Why do you think you ought to know how to resolve it?
  • If the directions don’t make sense, why don’t you ask for clarification?
  • Why do you think you ought to understand something if it’s the first time you’ve encountered it?  

My Lessons is Not Understanding

It’s rather like the first time you took a Geometry class. Except there’s Plane and Solid Geometry. Sure, we know what a triangle was, but then again, there are several types of them:

  1. Right
  2. Isosceles
  3. Isosceles
  4. Scalene

See this is how confusing some things can get; we have a general idea of something, but if the subject is not general but particular, we may get baffled.

Compounding our knowledge of the triangle, we also have to know that it is a musical instrument.   So, there’s the shape called triangle, and then there’s the instrument called a triangle. No wonder I failed geometry. 

Questioning for Clarification

Therefore, learning about any new subject means that we have to be clear about definitions, intent, and purpose. Usually, learning about anything new requires repetition, asking questions for calcification, and doing something more than once. 

It gets frustrating to keep asking for clarification sometimes; again because we think we are smart enough to understand it the first time. However, asking questions is better than making mistakes. Click To Tweet

The adage of measure twice, cut once comes to mind, or knowing which tool is the right one to use. When it comes to our recovery, no question is foolish. 

from addict 2 advocate marilyn l davis i don't understandRecovery Isn’t Geometry, an Instrument or a Tool!

Unlike geometry, a musical instrument, or a tool, our recovery influences all aspects of our lives. If we’re confused, perplexed and don’t understand the directions on how to recover, we may just go back to our use and remember why we’re trying to get and remain in recovery.

Now there’s a compelling reason to ask questions – so we don’t relapse. 

Having questions answered, restated or rephrased can help you to understand more clearly, removing some of the likelihood of making a mistake and taking you back to use.

My Recent Personal Lesson In Not Understanding

Before you think I’m just lecturing, I wrote this article because I recently got an item made in China.  Quality was excellent, a friend had one, and I liked it. However, the directions were in Chinese, which I don’t read.

I finally decided that an English-speaking engineer sent the instructions to a Chinese engineer to build, who then had a third person translate them; probably another engineer, and I don’t speak engineer, either.

from addict 2 advocate

Even when I couldn’t read the directions, there were pictures.  Surely, I could decipher them. Well, there are images, and then there are bad images. These directions had terrible photos. There was a little plastic bag full of several kinds of screws, nuts, bolts, and thingamabobs. I knew what a deadbolt was, but there wasn’t one in this assortment.

So, I did what we all do today; I checked the internet. There are carriage, j-bolts, expansion and king bolts. However, I couldn’t find an image of the thingamabobs in my mixed bag. 

I finally had to ask my 10-year old grandson to finish the project.  I watched and asked questions and learned quite a bit.

What Can You Do When You Do Not Understand?

When you realize that you do not thoroughly understand something, try the following: 

•  Acknowledge that you do not understand.
•  Ask the person to restate or rephrase the solution, answer, or directions. •  If you still do not understand, do not be embarrassed. 

Now, if you don’t understand the directions, ask if there’s someone else who can explain it. In the recovery home that I ran, I would realize at a point that my suggestions for recovery weren’t making sense to someone.  

When that happened, I’d ask someone else in the group to “translate” for me. 

Rephrasing or Having Someone Else Translate Helps

I also explained that sometimes when we are giving directions or solutions, we are limited in how we can explain it, not that the person who didn’t understand our directions is too dense to get it. That removed a lot of embarrassment for the person who didn’t understand.

The reality is that sometimes the instructions are as clear as mud. It’s essential that we’re respectful of a person who has tried to explain and cannot explain any better than they have. Everyone says things slightly differently, just as people learn differently. Also, be polite to someone who tries to explain something but tells you that they’re unsure of their directions.  

Or the person that said to you that they don’t know enough about something to attempt to teach someone else how to do something. 

When “I Don’t Understand” Is Manipulative

People sometimes use,

  • “I don’t know,”
  • “I don’t understand how to. . .”

“That’s too hard for me” when they want to:

  • Get out of doing something.
  • Pretend they’re interested but won’t put effort into the solutions.
  • Make others do something for them.
  • Stay comfortable and not try to overcome their fears of change.
  • Avoid their responsibilities. 

If you find that you use these excuses, or people explain things to you multiple times, and you don’t pay attention, it might mean that you’re disinterested, not listening, or you’re just not putting in the effort to understand. It’s hard to use, “I don’t understand” if you show that you do.  

If you followed the directions one time, and the situations are the same, it’s hard to make a case for your lack of awareness.  Therefore, I can pretend I do not know a J-bolt from a carriage bolt, but my grandson knows better.


Writing, and recovery heals the heart.

Got a recovery lesson to share with those who are still struggling?  Then consider a guest post.


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