By: Marilyn L. Davis


I Don’t Understand the Directions! 


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


People 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?


  • 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?

It's embarrassing when we don't understand the solutions. However, all of those reactions to the confusion are just counter-productive. If recovery is new, it's pointless to be embarrassed. Click To Tweet



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 is, but then again, there are several types of them: 

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

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See, this is how confusing some things can get; we have a relatively good idea about 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. 



Questions Help Us Understand


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 clarification, 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 or relapsing. 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. 



Recovery Isn’t Geometry or an Instrument!


Unlike geometry or a musical instrument, 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 go back to our use and forget 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 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.

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 Genuinely 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 give directions or solutions, we are limited in how we describe 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. We must be 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. 


You Can’t Understand If You’re Not Paying Attention


Do you use some of the following excuses when people keep explaining something to you.

  • “I don’t know what happened; I thought I followed the directions.” 
  • “I don’t understand why it didn’t work.”

In that case, it may mean that you’re disinterested, not listening, or just not putting effort into following the exact directions. 




When I Don’t Understand is Manipulative



Most of the addicts I knew used every brain cell to get and use dope. We studied the best delivery systems, sought out the best dope dealer, noted when we could pick up our drugs, and were always on time. 

Yet, we get into recovery and refuse to use those same brain cells. We use excuses like:

  • “That’s too hard for me.” 
  • “Can you do it for me”?
  • “I don’t like changes; they scare me.” 
  • “I’ve never been very responsible.” 
  • “Guess I’m just too dumb to get it.” 

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.

Are you seriously not understanding or just pretending? 


Writing and recovery heal the heart.

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