I grew up the son of two college professors. We were a family that valued science and reason and learning. For my parents, the key to solving a problem was understanding it. If you knew “why” you were feeling a certain way, you could figure out how to change it.

This philosophy worked for my parents, for my brother, for my sisters. Though they have all had rich and colorful lives in their own right, none of them are addicts. Reason is a fine master for them, and they are its loyal servants.

From the time I first started getting in trouble at age 13—getting high, getting kicked out of school, petty theft—my parents tried the rational approach. Did I need more attention? Was I upset by something? Was it a hormonal imbalance?

I wondered the same things. I wanted to be able to explain myself to them using a language they could understand.

“I don’t know,” I’d tell them; “I don’t know why I am this way.” They were puzzled, and sent me to therapy.

It was only when I came to recovery that everything made sense. As I heard in one of my first meetings, “There is no chapter in the Big Book called WHY it works. It’s all about HOW it works.” It didn’t matter whether I was an alcoholic because of genetics, or because my parents got a divorce. I didn’t need a why. I just needed to know WHAT to do next.

I was lucky. By the time I got clean, my parents were so frantic and worried that I could have told them I was being kept sober by tiny green Martians and they would have accepted it gladly. I know not everyone is so fortunate.

You may come from a family that struggles to understand addiction and recovery. They may blame themselves, or blame a moral failing within you. They may insist that all you need is more willpower, or more religion, or more therapy, and you’ll be fine.

If it’s worth expending the effort to explain things to them, then do. But if you find it tedious and frustrating, ask them to focus not on why your recovery program works, but on what they see. “You may not ever understand,” I told my parents after a few months clean, “but can’t you see how different I am?” They agreed they could.

Explaining addiction is important. Living out your recovery is more so.