I am a bit driven. Private practice, teaching at a university, teaching my own sex therapy and addictions programs, supervising students and trying to have a personal life. My husband takes care of everything at home and would get an outside job, but then I would have to do some of what he does and I don't want to, so it works out. Except that I have to make a certain amount of money to pay for everything. I'm generally okay with my life and enjoy what I do and so overall give the impression that I have it all together. My assistant was therefore taken very much aback when I had a complete meltdown after she said "Why can't you just......?" I don't even remember what she was suggesting, I just know that at that moment, to do anything more would have been the proverbial last straw. I couldn't do another thing, no matter how seemingly minor, and I was unfairly angry at her for even thinking I could. Why can't I? Because I can't.
I just spent a weekend in St. Augustine with my mother. She has wanted this trip for years and here we were. Only she wasn't able to walk around the shops or on the beach or do the things I thought she "should" do in order to have a good time. I found myself thinking "Why can't you just....?" Because she can't. Because she's 84 years old and has a dicey stomach and she doesn't necessarily enjoy the same things I do.
We all see the world and other people from an egocentric place. We start out life that way and easily default to that when we feel emotional or helpless about something. My assistant wanted to help me with my marketing. I wanted to help my mother have a good time. It's just not that easy.
What's the deeper issue here? Saying "Why can't you just....?" carries the implication that I'm not good enough and that there is inherently something wrong with me if "I can't just...."
Families and friends of addicts bring that kind of judgment and accusation into conversations out of their own frustration and powerlessness. "Why can't you just stop using?" "Why can't you just love me enough?" "Why can't you just choose to live differently?"
What the addict hears is "What's wrong with you?" "I think you're weak." "You're not good enough." What's more is that the addict has probably asked those same questions, made those same statements, which leads to shame and despair and more addictive behavior.
All of this is disconnecting for everyone. To turn it around and embrace recovery, we need to accept the other person's experience. We need to accept that when someone "just can't," it's not because they are being lazy or weak-willed or selfish or don't care about us, it's because they can't. We have a choice to step outside our own worlds and ask "What is this like for you? Help me understand your world."
We can choose to Connect