How many of us really want an honest response to the question, “how are you?”
How many of us, if given a truly honest response, could handle it?
How many times have you said, “I’m fine”, knowing goddamn well that you were far from it?
I do it all the time. I do it not for my benefit, but for yours and everyone else’s.
I say “I’m fine”, because I am pretty sure when you ask me how I’m doing, you don’t want to hear me respond with, “oh actually, I’m REALLY shitty. I am obsessing over the horrific emotional abuse my ex put me through as a way to not think about the pain of the current relationship that just fell apart totally unexpectedly on me. My anxiety makes me yell at my kid, which makes me feel like a shitty mom, which depresses me. Sometimes I resent my sobriety because it makes being single even harder than it already is. Oh, also, my childhood trauma keeps bubbling over into my present life and fucking with my ability to have a normal relationship. I have horrible imposter syndrome today, and I can’t stop comparing myself to people I perceive as better than me. Also, sometimes I can’t stop replaying the sexual abuse I experienced and trying to figure out if it was somehow my fault. Anyway, enough about me, how are you?”
Can you hear the crickets? The meme of the guy blinking? Yeah.
Those two words can be very dangerous. They become automatic. I said them when I was in active addiction all the time. I have said them when I was feeling hopeless and close to suicidal. I have said them when I was wasted. I have said them when I was at work trying to function through a hangover that was bordering on alcohol withdrawal. I have said them when I was paralyzed by fear and anxiety.
I have said those words so many times when I so desperately needed to say anything BUT those words, when I really needed someone to hold some space for me and let me say what was going on, but when I opened my mouth, out it came.
So why the fuck do I say it?
I say it because I don’t want to burden someone with the heaviness of the things that sometimes weigh on my mind.
I say it because I hate the look I have gotten so many times when I offered up only a fraction of the truth.
I say it because if you haven’t had a life that has familiarized you with the kind of things I have lived through, you may judge me or reject me.
I say it because I get tired of being told that I’ve been through worse, that I’m strong, I’ll get through it. As well intended as those words are, in a moment of honest vulnerability about being not okay, they only serve to trivialize how I am feeling and nudge me to stop complaining about it.
I say it now, because I am in recovery, and I am supposed to be ok, right?
Well, here’s the truth.
I AM in recovery. I am NOT fine all the time. Sometimes I am so far from fine I don’t know who the fuck I even am. I think some of us get into longer term recovery and are looked upon to have our shit together, to be pillars of strength, inspirational beings who have beaten down our demons and stand smiling and victorious on their corpses.
That, for me, is simply not the case. Like, at ALL.
I fell into a highly toxic relationship with a coldhearted, cruel, stone cold narcissist who shredded my fledgling self-esteem I had just begun working so hard at. IN RECOVERY.
I stayed in that nightmare for three years. IN RECOVERY.
I have days where my anxiety leaves me paranoid, obsessing, and unable to do my job or be a parent. IN RECOVERY.
I have been financially irresponsible and totally selfish with my impulses. IN RECOVERY.
I am STILL codependent and have major problems with my ACOA traits. IN RECOVERY.
I have made mistake after mistake after mistake and had bad day after worse. IN RECOVERY.
Getting sober, and even staying sober, does not automatically denote that you are in the clear from all the monsters that clamored inside of you while you were using.
I have to stop myself sometimes when “I’m fine” starts to come out of my mouth, because those too often were the words that hindered me ever getting better. My life did not change until I stopped saying “I’m fine,”, and I plopped down on my dad’s couch and said, “I’m fucked up. I’m addicted to pills and cocaine and I can’t stop drinking. I need help.”
Saying “I’m fine” almost got me killed. My extreme aversion to “bothering anyone” almost cost me my sanity, and my life.
It is still a work in progress. I still say it too much. But now I also do things like texting a trusted friend who is in recovery, as uncomfortable as it might make me, and saying “I’m having a REALLY bad day right now.” And then when she responds, can you talk for a few if I call, then saying yes. And then getting very honest about where I am at.
Because you know what happens after that? Well, I’m not fine, but I am sure as hell better than I was before the call.
We have to remember that even as we get farther along in our recovery, it is FINE not to be fucking FINE all the time. We are humans. We are humans who likely had some serious shit roiling beneath the active addiction, and the shit doesn’t go away overnight. Fact is, some of it is so far in us, or so painful, it may NEVER go away. You may need to talk about some of your shit for the rest of your life. We can find a balance between living in the pain of our past, constantly ripping our scars open to watch them bleed, and stuffing, repressing, and denying our truth.
The other side of this is being the kind of person that people don’t think they have to say “I’m fine” to. The more of us there are, the more chance there is that someone who needs so badly to feel safe enough to be honest about where they are at, will have the opportunity to do so. Be a safe place. Be a lighthouse. Be someone who can handle the squirmy details without flinching.
And for god’s sake, stop being fucking FINE all the time.