I’m Fine (I Want To Die)


“I’m Fine.”

That ranks up there with “I know, but…” and “It wasn’t my fault,” in the alcoholics lexicon of most used expressions.

“I’m Fine.”

I don’t know how many times I uttered that phrase, knowing that approximately 99.9% of the time, I wasn’t fine.  I was far from fine.  If you could find a map of the Universe, plunk “fine” down on one spot, calculate (don’t forget pi)  and circle the polar opposite, that’s precisely where I would have found myself planted.  Head first, no doubt, in either a toilet or in regret and pain.  Or perhaps a lovely medley of both.

The ability to cover up is a skill that I learned early in my drinking days…well, even before that.  Of course, alcoholics haven’t cornered the market on “Fine” (ask any parent who has a teenager), but we certainly rely on it much more than we should.  Learning to cover myself and my true feelings through the fabrication of a false bill of goods was a necessary habit.  Letting people in on how I truly felt often turned into betrayal or a dismissing gesture.  I also felt that I was burdening others with my troubles, so even when I was shredded up inside and torn to bits, I was “Fine” when asked.  “Fine”…indeed.

This was my high school picture I think.
This kid is one year away from Goth makeup  and Marilyn Manson remasters.

Now, in polite society, I wouldn’t expect myself to go into a diatribe or blow-by-blow account of what is really happening inside of me.  When the crossing guard asks me how are things, I will do the polite social contract thing and say something positive yet non-committal like “good,” or “great, thank you…and you?”.  There is an expectation that the question is more of a kind consideration or hello than an inquisition into my emotional state.   Done.  Easy.  It’s the other stuff that’s hard.

When I was drinking, or thinking of drinking, or recovering from drinking, my emotional landscape was full of craggy rocks, sharp stalagmites and bogs of self-pity.  Add a healthy dose of anxiety, teen angst poetry-like depression and resentments upside and down the place and you had about an un-fine wonderland as you can construct.  Like Dollyworld, but built by Goths. What do you say to someone when deep down, you feel like a Bergman film scored by Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Connie Francis?  It’s easier to gloss over the pain than acknowledge it.  Easier to take a pass than meet the hurt head on.  Why open the vault, when tightening the locking mechanism is much more effective?

fineThere was a part of me that felt that by saying I was ok when really I was collapsing under the weight of my own darkness, I would perhaps be able to trick myself into feeling fine – that if I gave that tepid word enough energy, it would manifest itself into a meager smile or at least get me away from the fire of my own pain.  Telling you I was alright was a way to keep you away from me and to bolster the little one act passion play I had going on inside.  I would be crucifying myself over and over but I’d only let you see the setting sun behind the hill and not the nails and cross.  I played into my own fantasy that I wasn’t important enough to be concerned about by anyone, including myself.

So it wasn’t until I couldn’t hold back any more, when I was brimming with enough toxic “un-fineness” that I would have breakdowns…binges, anxiety attacks, lashings of self-pity all played out to a sense of doom and failure.  The dishonesty and shame of going against my own grain only fueled things.  I so wanted to talk to someone, to let go the release valve, to just be held and told that I would be ok.  But I wouldn’t allow myself to do so – I had the sense that I would lose control, or that I would look weak or foolish.  How damning that was to myself.  How cruel that was.  And selfish to those who would have been able to help…who were itching to see my pain go away.

“I’m Fine”

Just another mask.  Just another way of escaping.

One of the few times that putting on a mask is helpful...just ask Jacques Plante knew this.
One of the few times that putting on a mask is helpful…just ask Jacques Plante.

Part of my alcoholism was the denial of many things – my drinking problem, the emotions and conditions that preceded drinking and my mental state.  In dealing with the booze issue, I have had to make a big turn on the accessing of my emotions.  Where I would be blank, or overwhelmed, I have had to learn to not catastrophize everything, to not let things take over, to let go of a lot.  Honesty had to be implanted and cultivated.  Allowing others to help and to allow my pain to get into the open, the breathe, to be worked with and discarded in healthy ways was new to me.  Working the program of AA afforded me new tools and skills to meet the Fine Contraption head on and to take it apart.  I had to learn that is was ok to tell someone that I was feeling shitty.  That I felt like drinking.  That I hated myself.  That I didn’t like anyone in the room.  That life sucked.

And guess what?  The earth kept revolving.  No one died.  I was able to not vent per se, but to engage in a dialogue with my hidden self, the one I tried to Fine to death.  I was able to see that negative feelings are still feelings, and carry as much weight as I want them to.  And it’s also ok to feel good, ok, fine and mean it.

I was picking up my sons the other day from across the street where they were playing with the neighbourhood boys, and while I was getting my kids ready, the mother of the boys asked me how I was doing.  I blurted out “wonderful!”.  The wife and husband looked at each other and just looked back at me quizzically.  “Wonderful?”  Yes, I told them.  Wonderful.  I joked about perhaps having my Oprah voice on or something. But I was feeling wonderful, and didn’t want to devalue or dismiss that feeling.  Same as if I wasn’t feeling fantastic, I would acknowledge that too, without getting maudlin or morose.

There is a power and force that comes from true honesty and direct contact with the emotions that burble and bubble and squeak beneath and over the surface of my spirit.  I am not perfect in this.  I am still learning to trust where I am in the Fine – Unfine Barometer.  I can gauge my internal temperature and know that it is neither good nor bad, but just is.  It’s ok to not be ok.  And it’s ok to be super ok.  Lying about it only disarms me, and I can’t be there fully…and I spent enough of my life not being fully there.  And learning to balance the true sense of me, emotional identity and false self is a delicate thing.

It’s a fine line.


48 Comments Add yours

  1. soberinheels says:

    Wow what a fabulous post on a subject very close to my heart. I also tried to ‘fine’ myself to death because I thought I wasn’t worth others concern or didnt want to ‘upset’ them by being melancholy!!! I am so lucky I have the rooms of AA and my sponsor to be as bloody ‘unfine’ as I want to be on any given day. And on the days where all is good I have friends who I can tell that I am ‘wonderfully well’ and they know exactly what that feels like.

    Hope you have a wonderfully well day today 🙂

    1. What a gift to have others you can be around and be as unfine as you want! And to still be accepted and loved. Wow. I too understand trying to not being melancholic…who wants to be a Debby Downer? Better to choke it out with Jack Daniels instead. What a curse indeed.

      I hope you have had a wonderful day yourself…thank you so much for the comments…glad to have you in this corner of the world 🙂


  2. furtheron says:

    When in rehab in the first days I said “I’m fine”… they group all laughed. Of course still prickly I took umbrage to their joke, which of course I didn’t understand. The counsellor kindly lent forward and said… “We think the word “fine” is an acronym for “F***ed up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional”… frankly that did about sum up where I was at that point…

    1. I never heard of the FINE acronym – love it. And you’re right, it does show us where we are when we get there. You can tell the newbies by the fact that they can’t laugh at themselves yet. Pretty cool when we *can* laugh at ourselves, and not be worrying about putting on airs.

      Great comment – thank you, Graham.


  3. destamae says:

    I LOVE this! When I was in rehab, I was VERY quickly told, ‘Fine’ was a four letter word…in other words, DON’T USE IT! It’s NOT a valid feeling word! 🙂 I was the QUEEN of ‘fine’. Oh my was I. I’m pretty sure I invented the word ‘fine’. You hit the nail on the head with this post. So.well.said. as ALWAYS. The words RIGHT out of my mouth! Preach on! And today- I’m great! It’s Friday and it’s Mother’s Day weekend and I’m NOT in rehab and I get to spend it with my babies 🙂 I am blessed.

    1. What great gratitude and enthusiasm from your comments! I feel refreshed just reading them! You are a breath of fresh air, Desta. I love that from you! And you’re right – Fine is not a feeling. It’s just…bleh. Meh. Whatever. Doesn’t capture anything except indifference at best. I do say that I am fine sometimes – more of a polite thing than anything.

      Have a wonderful, wonderful Mother’s Day!


  4. Lisa Neumann says:

    I was thinking just Wednesday morning that my life was “sanely insane.” I wanted to tell everyone it was fine, even though it felt un-fine. And then I had that moment where I realized it IS FINE. It’s just that obnoxious Voice A trying to rob me of my peace of mind. Even at the writing of this that voice is saying “no, you really are f’d up” … I’m so glad I learned I don’t have to listen. Not that I always do that (I do not) but today I know how to use some other tools and listen to the love within. I can be fine and want to die and be fine all in the same breath. My goodness, I’m so glad I have other alcoholics to talk with. Who the bleep would even understand this reply? As always Paul, a homerun in your message, Lots of love … xox

    1. Ha ha…I totally understand what you said. Yeah, who *would* understand this other than us (I noticed “the bleep” – don’t feel you have to clean up your language here…ha ha…we’re amongst friends here!). I too overthink the whole “how am I really?” thing. It’s almost like I *shouldn’t* be fine or something. Like I need to have something going on. Or else what? I am the hole in the donut – formless without mass? So you are so right with this – I *can* be fine and that’s IT. No drama. No navel gazing. No need to deconstruct what is not needing deconstructing.

      Wonderful wise stuff, once again, from you Lisa.

      Love and light,

  5. byebyebeer says:

    Haha, love the title. An old friend once said someone asked her how she was doing and instead of “fine” she really gave it to them…let out all the bad stuff. And they just kind of looked at her and blinked. And I think that was all I needed to hear to keep the real stuff inside because people don’t *really* want to know, do they?

    But when I ask someone how they’re doing, I want to know. Maybe not if they’re chronic complainers, but otherwise I genuinely want to know how someone is and help them if I can. Not so easy to know when I’m not fine though. I genuinely think I am fine most of the time or that it will pass (which it does), so this post gives me something to think about.

    1. Your response gave me something to think about too. I am like you in regards of when i ask someone how they are, I am actually interested. Ok, like maybe 85% of the time. I am working on it. But I used to be 0%, unless it had something to do with ME, then I was 100% interested in what you had to say. I think that sense of empathy and compassion comes with the territory of recovery. We learn to love and forgive ourselves and see things differently, and we become interested in others for the sake of it…we want to connect more and be of service. you had me thinking because I wonder if I have been letting that slide lately. Probably. Will check my motives. 🙂

      Great stuff, as usual, BBB. Love what you said. Thank you for sharing 🙂


  6. Debbie says:

    You have put into words exactly how I’ve always felt. This is a great post. Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks Debbie – glad to be of service…and glad to know I am not the only crazy one out there 😉

      Love and light,

  7. sherryd32148 says:

    When my mother was alive and someone would ask her how she was, in that polite “I’m just saying hello” kind of way, she always told them. In excrutiating detail I might add. I always hated that, I always thought, “No one really wants to know how you are mom…stop telling them.”

    That may or may not be true but she wasn’t doing it for the other person, she was doing it for herself. She needed to be heard. But in polite society that is not appropriate.

    Trouble is, I spent so much time and energy trying to be polite, I never learned how to be honest with even myself. I’m fine became a mantra.

    That God for recovery.

    Great post Paul. Thank you.


    1. Thank you Sherry. What you said about your mom resonated with me. I think that there is a great middle between her approach and yours (which was mine too). We bury ourselves under the social contract of not rocking the boat so much that we lose ourselves. Even to ourselves, as you so wisely pointed out. Thank God for recovery, indeed, Sherry.

      Blessings, and thank YOU.


  8. Great points Paul- being able to say when things are bad takes lots of courage. Not an easy thing to do when it’s easier and safer to say nothing rather than confront reality. Thanks for your insights.

    1. Thank you so much for this – you’re bang on – it does take courage to speak the truth – our truth. We’re so used to taking the safe route on things like this. It’s a whole new way of approaching life, isn’t it? Even in these simple ways. But the impact is large.

      Have a wonderful day – thanks for stopping by 🙂


  9. SAM says:

    OMG. This is me! Right here. Right now. I’ve been saying, “Fine. Hangin’ in there.” forever. Lately though, I can’t deny it any longer. I’m not fine. Emotions are exhausting especially when I am not used to fully experiencing them.

    Great post Paul! Thank you. I needed this very thing.

    1. Sorry to hear, SAM. But I totally get what you say – I get burnt out. I am feeling that these days too. Unbalance in my life. Emotions are things we didn’t like having, remember? At least I didn’t. Or, at the other end of things, I had TOO many, especially when I drank. So to deal with them on a plane of sobriety when it’s foreign to us at times, it tuckers us out. And I too feel it. I am glad to here that I too am not alone in this. Ya made my day with this.

      Thank you,

  10. Excellent indeed. I say “I’m fine” daily at work. I really don’t want to, actually. I’m troubled some days, desperately tired others, and so on.

  11. I keep telling myself if I answer, “Just fine, and how are you?” that someday I will really be okay and the other person will simply nod and just keep walking.

  12. I want to be fine. Fine would be great compared to where I am this week. I am just looking for someone who is really interested to talk to about how unfine I can be at times. This sobriety walk is hard work, and no one here gets it.
    So right now, I am just “fine”.

    1. I am sorry to hear where you are at right now. It’s difficult in early recovery. Believe me, I know. One of the reasons that 12-step recovery works for me is that I get to go to meetings where I can talk all I want (and listen) about recovery and the ins and outs and the good times and the crappy times. I know from being on the blogs here for a bit now that those who have chosen another path to recovery often mention missing out on that connection with other sober alcoholics.

      I know therapy works for some. And if you are so inclined, you are more than welcome to email me – I am pretty good at getting back sooner than later. We can chat about whatever is affecting your sobriety. If you feel more comfortable with a woman, I can direct you to some other sober bloggers who would be willing to take on a sober pen pal!

      I hope things are better today…today is just one day. And not drinking today is something that can be done 🙂

      Thanks for being here.


  13. Thank you. I will take you up on that email correspondence. I just need an ear, or eyes. No one here gets me. Or maybe I am not communicating my needs. Or both.

    1. Ha ha…you could be right about it being a bit of both. We often have a hard time communicating our needs. It took me time too. You’ll get there…it just takes practice. I am still practicing 🙂

    1. And yeah, shoot me line. Sometimes even typing it out (or talking it out when face-to-face) takes the edge off and brings a new point of view.

  14. I’m feeling less than fine at the moment, since we’re on the subject. I’m in a pissy mood and I can’t even figure out why. I just need to stop, breathe, and re-read your post more slowly, I think. There is something calming about reading sober blogs, if I can calm myself enough going in to actually allow the calming effect to take effect.

    Breathe. I’m OK. I might not be fine at the moment, but I’m sober, and this thing will pass.

    1. Glad you’re here Eric, and glad you were able to be honest as you are. Being honest helps us all. It helps me, at least. Works for some of the other guys I know too. Hell, it’s a pretty decent thing, this honesty thing we are all new to. I still have to catch myself when I am about to be less than thoroughly honest. Sometimes I let it slip…and I feel terrible afterwards. Make amends, etc. But for the most part, I try to stay with it, even if it hurts in the short term…I am stretching muscles that have atrophied. but they work, nonetheless.

      The great thing about sober blogs is that we are dealing with sober people. How cool is that? Outside of face-to-face, where i get my fill of at meetings, I get to read and interact and “be” with the sober bloggers out there. Email them too when things are going sideways for me, or even just to say hi. I know many have connected in other ways – face-to-face, have run races together, skyped, chatted on the phone, etc. It’s grand, beautiful thing out there. This works because I have the program I am working doing a lot of the heavy lifting, ya know? That whole step thing has done wonders for me. Relieved me of that itch we’ve all been tormented with. You know the one.

      But i don’t stand still. I forge on. I continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, fear and self-seeking. Give it to my HP to watch and take care of. do the actions required to clean the slate. The good news is I get to go to bed with a clean conscious. The better news is I wake up sober. Again. What a gas…what a trip!

      Breath, Eric. Breath, my friend. It does pass. I have gone through shit in my sober days that would have had me beyond the bottle had they have happened when I was active. We learn to move through that thing called life without reaching. It’s not easy. No one said it was a blast and has no dark moments. You sound a lot better than I was at 75 days. I was damn suicidal at that time (or just past it). so if I can get past that, you can get past anything, Eric. Lean on your support. Lean hard. Lean here if you want. I am always around. email me too: carrythemessage164@gmail.com. Even to say hi. Shoot the breeze. Talk about the weather. or how it sucks being at that moment.

      Because we’re not always fine. and that’s ok. it part of the process. life happens, and I am sometimes not fine, but I know in the end, it WILL be fine. I let my HP deal with it. He has it. Always has.

      thanks for being here, Eric.


  15. fern says:

    You are extraordinarily sensitive and in tune with the underlining issues that many alcoholics feel.

    I always felt your compassion on my blog (to my-not-so-fine feelings!) but this post blows me away. I hear you being kind to yourself and it fills me with joy! You are worthy of the same love you freely give to others and I’m glad you are in tune with your inner self and now “going with the grain.”

    What a perfect post. You are a strong man to express feelings of vulnerability and that is what I love so much about you! (((hugs)))


  16. fern says:

    You are extraordinarily sensitive and in tune with the underlining issues that many alcoholics feel.

    I always felt your compassion on my blog (to my-not-so-fine feelings!) but this post blows me away. I hear you being kind to yourself and it fills me with joy! You are worthy of the same love you freely give to others and I’m glad you are in tune with your inner self and now “going with the grain.”

    What a perfect post. You are a strong man to express feelings of vulnerability and that is what I love so much about you! (((hugs)))

    P.s. I clicked on a link to you on my blog and I came to this post. I see it’s old ( but it still holds truth!)

    1. Funny how this post is always, and I mean always, the most read post week after week. I think it might be the title…lol. But thanks for reading it, Fern.
      As for the not-so-fine feelings you talk about – believe me, I get them too. I know old timers who get them too. We aren’t impervious to them in any way. In fact, we have to be on guard of them, because left to stew long enough, and we lose our connection with our HP, it can get ugly. So yeah, I get pissed off, self-pitying, judgemental, petty, etc. I just recognize them and do my best to counter them. I don’t always succeed! For example, just yesterday I was napping (or trying) and the dog kept barking and barking. My thoughts were to go and kick the damn thing. For real. My anger flushed up like mad. (I have never kicked the dog ever, and never would, but that is where my brain went). I had to calm myself and say “that’s what dogs do” and then let it be. So I get these things.

      Anyway, thanks again…and hey, you are probably the most honest blogger out there. You aren’t afraid to put it out there. I don’t know if I would be so forthcoming as you in my first year. I didn’t start blogging until a year + of sobriety, so I can’t imagine what I would have written in those days (kind of glad I didn’t!!)

      Love ya,

      1. fern says:

        I know you would never kick your dog but I have had those same angry feelings toward my dog. Its easy to blame a dog for when we can’t control everything in our lives.

        Thanks for saying I’m honest. Ironically I have an invisible shield around myself in most daily interactions. It’s only when I feel safe and my guard is down that my honesty comes out. That’s why blogging is good for me.

        Happy mother’s day to your beautiful wife. I hope she returns as much love as you give! (I’m looking out for you, Paul).


  17. Bravo on the ending, Paul. I have yet to stumble on a post I don’t applaud here. Fabulous descriptions aside:

    “When I was drinking, or thinking of drinking, or recovering from drinking, my emotional landscape was full of craggy rocks, sharp stalagmites and bogs of self-pity.”

    I love how you came to talk to yourself. And the letting go is a huge challenge for most of us in all areas. As a wordsmith I’ve always hated – and that’s the word – the vacuous “How are you?” that often means nothing to the one who asks. I understand words aren’t always literal but the nature of that particular string of words begs meaningfulness.

    It is glorious seeing where you’ve learned to conquer yourself. I know we have to relearn our lessons. But as I’ve said, onward and upward.


    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and keen insight. It’s not by accident that you found this oldie and brought attention to it at a time where I am certainly not feeling fine. In fact, as you were typing your comments here, I was praying and meditating, asking God what it is that I need right now. Some things did come, but I heard the bling from my phone telling me I had a notice. And here we are.

      Reading your words made me re-read this post, and I stopped at the part where I wrote that “it’s okay to not be okay”. Because lately I am feeling that it’s not alright to feel the way that I do, that something is “wrong” with me. Putting the screws to myself isn’t helping, so letting go is the only other option. And any time that I have let things go, is where I have found the greatest freedom from the bondage of self.

      So your timing here was ordained, and for that, I thank you and thank the Creator for you.


      1. All my love, Paul.
        And I mean that.

  18. That fine line is so very hard – and learning to acknowledge your feelings – especially if you live in a culture that expects you deny those feelings….being a guy, stiff upper lip, being from New England, to name a few…they are cultures that embrace the lack of acknowledgement of pain and misery. It makes me think of Pink Floyd’s line: “hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” – when so much is kept inside – it explodes eventually….mostly in ways that are even more dramatic and harmful than if we learned to cope with all our feelings a little at a time.

    Always enjoy reading your posts and comments, my friend!

  19. Beautifully written, and incredibly true. I’ve learned that when we do not let others in on how we are truly feeling, we rob them of the opportunity to be of service. I try to keep that in mind each day.

    1. Thank you Paige. I like what you say about us robbing them the opportunity to be of service. It’s so very true. Why take away from their spirit of generosity? Big jump in thinking for a guy like me. Thanks for the wonderful comments and for reading 🙂

  20. themethadonemaze says:

    I absolutely love this post and can relate too it quite a bit! Both myself and my hubby had problems with alcohol not only drugs, i tend to only write about methadone right now, but i can relate to the things you write as well as the other people on twitter. My parents were also alcoholics/addicts and many other members of my family! we grew up in severe poverty(living in a shack with no plumbing and bathing in metal tubs after boiling the water on wood stove! I just want you too know that I can relate, I keep way too much in and am always saying ya i’m fine, when i’m really not, I think we all tend to do that! I love your writting! Very open and honest! All the best to you!

  21. dbp49 says:

    My alcohol also had a little more of a chemical taste to it but my fine was the same, so in the end, we’re all coming from the same place. A great article, and one that I can really appreciate now that I’m in a state where I can appreciate anything. So thanks for sharing, and I’ll be back for more.

    1. Thank you, kind sir for reading and commenting. I think the whole “fine” thing works in any way. We are human, after all, and we all have our reasons to push away truth. I love what you said about being in a state where you can appreciate anything. I can’t wait until I am fully there.


  22. “Fine,” is the expected response, but once in awhile I throw in, “I feel like crap,” if I do, to see if they are really interested or just being polite!

  23. dbp49 says:

    An excellent post on a topic nobody really wants to talk about, but everybody should. If I had a dollar for every time I used that word, or $.50 for every time it meant less than nothing, I’d be sitting on a beach in the south of France, and probably still feeling like crap.

  24. LAC says:

    I feel like I want to say this ALL the time (and not just on my behalf but for others who are know are feeling the same). Thank you!

Whatcha Thinkin' ?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s