No. No it’s not. If it was just your opinion then you would not have prefaced it with a compliment. You would not be buttering me up before burning me in the fire. I have learned that quite often, when someone says “it’s just my opinion,” it is more likely a disguise for a judgement of me.
Since the start of my journey with a Loved One with Substance Use Disorder (SUD), I have heard these words uttered to me often. For a long time, they tumbled about in my head creating confusion. I could not understand why it felt like I had been stung by a gigantic bee. Recently, I had an interaction with a couple which opened my eyes to how these words were being used, as well as their deeper meaning. I have also armed myself with a strategy to empower me with a response rather than continue to shrink away in pain.
While in a conversation with a family I have been friends with for a longtime, the husband started with the buttering, “We are just amazed and think it is incredible what you are doing with your son.” Immediately, I became uneasy. The look on the wife’s face was very telling. She started urging her husband to stop. I wondered why? Why would she be unhappy with his complimenting me?
Then she tried to redirect with a compliment, “It’s just that we are amazed at how STRONG you are! We could never be that STRONG.” Strong, another word I am not so fond of.
I responded to them by saying: “I am not any stronger than anyone else in this situation. I am just doing what I have to do, what I am compelled to do. In fact, I am not doing anything you might not do if you found yourself in the same situation.”
Here comes the real reason for the compliments and buttering up. The husband responded with, “Well I am a ‘self-help’ kind of guy.” So truthfully, his goal was to let me know where he thought I was going wrong, not how wonderful I was as a mother!
His wife quickly started telling him to be quiet, another indicator that I was correct in my suspicions. I asked him, “So what if your adult child had cancer or another life-threatening disease? Maybe diabetes from eating unhealthy? Would you help them research and navigate treatment options? Would you abandon them and not support them through their struggle? That’s all I am doing. Addiction is my Cancer.”
Wait for it, wait for it…the final blow from the red-faced husband, “It’s just my opinion.”
No. No it’s not. Those words are a way to keep me quiet. You use them so I cannot respond to your craftily placed judgement. As we have all learned, everyone has the right to an opinion.
I did not respond at the end of this interaction but I did think about how I could respond if I found myself in the same situation again. If it is okay to express your opinion, especially when it is an opinion about me, then I have the right to respond in a way to let you know your words hurt. Some of the responses I plan to use are:
"What you’re saying doesn’t feel empathetic to me." Borrowed from the Allies in Recovery program…tell him how I feel using an “I” statement.
“Is it really just your opinion? Or is there something else going on here?” The goal being to get the person to think about their statement.
I won’t reply with sarcasm in my voice. I will say it in the context of “say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.” I hope people might think twice about how powerful their words can be, and become more aware, especially when someone is going through a difficult time. Lastly, I want to keep the door open to people making amends. Many do not know the pain and despair that families go through when dealing with SUD.
Remember, you are not alone, we are going through all of this together!
Laurie is a former math teacher, residing in Dartmouth, MA, and extremely active in the recovery community. She currently devotes most of her energy to REST, a non-traditional support group that offers land and online video meetings, access to training in the CRAFT method, and a crisis toolkit helping families create their own individualized crisis plan. Her work is guided by a desire to improve the community’s response and end the stigma associated with Substance Use Disorder. Laurie loves skiing and ice hockey, and is at her happiest when spending time with her husband and three children. Read her articles on our blog or tune in to the podcast she co-hosts for Allies in Recovery: Coming Up for Air.