Best way to roast the broomstick. Must try. Five Stars.

Can balance large objects on head if offered a piece of cheese

Our friends Maggie and Bryan were driving through Utah for the holiday and stopped to spend a couple nights with us. Maggie and I spent a sunny Sunday afternoon shopping for gifts and dresses and then sat in a small cafe to dissect why I am such a chronic worrier. I don’t think Maggie realizes this, and when she reads this she will most likely retch, elegantly, but she has become my life coach over the last year. You cannot come away from having spent five minutes with the woman without thinking that your life is suddenly going to make a dramatic upswing. Or hoping that someone with such amazing hair has some awful personality blemish just to balance out the universe. Like maybe she’s a huge fan of Fabio or goes to bed wearing pajamas decorated with purple chickens.

I have always been a worrier, and in second grade I used to get so sick with anxiety about the timed math tests I took on Tuesday mornings that the worrying would start the Friday night before. I was hardly able to sleep or eat or think about anything other than the addition or subtraction problems that I would encounter on that single sheet of paper, and by the time my teacher started the clock on the test I was so violently ill that I could barely hold my pencil upright. I remember thinking that my future was dependent on whether or not I performed perfectly, and that if I missed one problem a series of events would unfold: one, my mother wouldn’t love me. Two, she would kick me out of the house. Three, I would die homeless.

This is what I like to call The Spiral, and I have spent my life fine-tuning this skill. I start by making sure everything around me is normal and in working order, and then I start to worry about the littlest thing that could go wrong. It’s always something very tiny and insignificant, but by the time I have finished analyzing it in my head it has turned into the Worst Case Scenario: small A leads to small B leads to very awful C jumps straight to homeless and dead. See Fig. A.

Maggie got me thinking about why I do this, and at first I thought it might be hereditary. My father is notoriously frugal, always has been, has saved every penny from every paycheck since the day he started working because he was afraid he might lose it all. A couple weeks ago while he was sitting on our living room floor playing with Leta, Jon absentmindedly called him “miserly” to his face, and I immediately fell over and broke my head. This did not faze my father a bit, not surprisingly as he is very proud of his ability to save money. Although I’m sure he would have preferred a more accurate word, like “rich.”

And maybe a little bit of the reason I worry so much is because I am my father’s daughter, but when talking it out with Maggie I realized that the root of it is a singular thought that has followed me through my life, the thought that because there are other people in the world who do not have it good as I do, other people who do not have a warm place to sleep or food to eat or a TiVo with which to record every episode of The Bachelor, I need to worry about something, anything. That I owe it to those who have a harder life. That because I am very lucky I need to suffer crippling anxiety to even things out a little bit.

And of course, the exact opposite is true. I owe it to those who are not as lucky as I am to appreciate the hell out of my life, I know this fundamentally, I just can’t get around the guilt I experience almost every hour over the fact that my life is really good when so many in this world have lives full of ongoing tragedy, an overwhelming feeling that if I am not a stressed out mess everything will be taken away from me. Maggie got me to see that the way in which I worry about things is so hypnotic that it causes me to walk directly into what it is I fear, that my worry is causing what I’m worrying about to happen. And then she suggested that maybe I should start worrying about developing really big breasts or about a large trunk of money falling out of the sky onto my head.

I left that cafe feeling totally renewed, and for the rest of the day I kept smiling when I thought about how much better my life will be without The Spiral, about how I can channel all the energy that I used to spend worrying about everything into more productive things, like charity work or reading books to Leta or skipping through the house naked and drunk. And I was still feeling this jolt of exhilaration that evening when I walked outside with the dog to let him perform his nightly duties, still reeling from the possibilities when for a second I thought about something inside and stepped back in to run and put something away or fix something, I don’t remember. It seemed important, seemed critical at the time, but now I cannot even remember what was so crucial that it made me leave my dog outside unattended. Without his collar on.

Do you see where this is going?

I got so distracted once I walked in the door that I forgot that I had let the dog outside. I’m going to go ahead and admit to this, although it is one of the most embarrassing and horrible and devastating things I have ever done. I could try to be vague and say that we lost our dog because he got out somehow or because of negligence, but that would not be telling the whole truth. It was my fault. I was the one who let him out, so I should have been the one to make sure he got back in. I didn’t. That is what happened.

I was unsure about whether or not I was going to write about this for a few reasons. First, it didn’t seem fair to roll out this drama in front of my readers for a second time. Who loses their dog two times in one year and expects any response other than ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Second, I can guarantee that someone is going to accuse me of making this up in an attempt to drum up sales for the 2007 Chuck Calendar. Just like I made up Leta to have something to talk about on this website.

Maggie asked if I was going to write about it, and pointed out that no one would have to know about it except for the people in our neighborhood who saw these fliers:

I don’t know, it would have felt wrong to have not talked about this because Chuck is such a huge part of the narrative on this website. And because Sunday night was the worst night of my life. It would be weird to try to write something else here as if this didn’t happen.

Jon and I drove around in our car for two hours Sunday night shaking bottles of anti-depressants out the window hoping that Chuck would come running to the sound. Bryan drove his car for the same amount of time looking up alleys and driveways. By 1 AM we had given up, and once we were back home I lay in bed with the pillow over my head to muffle my hysterical screaming. It was one of my worst nightmares, my dog missing in the freezing cold, his toys and rawhide bones scattered underneath my feet like little Polaroids of his life.

By morning my eyes were almost swollen shut, and both Jon and I had barely slept an hour having both obsessed over every terrible possibility in our heads. Leta woke up early, and so we waited in panicked silence for a few hours until the animal shelters and vet’s offices opened. Jon started leaving messages as Maggie and Bryan posted fliers across several streets. And every time the phone rang we all looked at each other, hopeful, apprehensive, wishing we would soon wake up from a bad dream. I have a recurring nightmare in which all my teeth fall out, and after I have spit them into my hand I tell myself that it is a dream, and I can wake myself up. I kept trying to do that yesterday morning, kept telling myself that this wasn’t real, and that if I concentrated hard enough I could open my eyes and Chuck would be sitting right there in front of me with a coffee pot balancing on his head.

And I guess this is where I try to tie the whole thing together, and if you bear with me this just might make sense. Or not, I can’t promise anything. At some point yesterday morning I realized I had to let go, had to stop gritting my teeth because that was not helping us find the dog any faster. I had to stop imagining him frozen in a ditch, or at least hold off on that spiral until we had at least talked to one animal shelter. And I swear to god, it wasn’t ten minutes after I had taken that huge, calming breath that we got a phone call. I know it was just a coincidence, but it was a loud coincidence.

I was sitting with Leta on our bed when I heard Jon in the living room say, “SOMEONE HAS HIM!” and I ran out to hear him promising reward money and possible sexual favors to someone over his cell phone. A kind family one street over had found Chuck sitting on their porch the night before, invited him in to play with their own dogs, fed him, and let him stay the night. They said the dogs played mischievously for hours. The next morning the father called Animal Control, and when the truck came to pick him up they scanned for a microchip and couldn’t find the one we had implanted into the back of his neck earlier this year. The only reason the man knew to call our number was because he had seen the flier Maggie and Byran had posted on one of his trees when he left for work.

It would be several hours before we would actually see Chuck again because we got to the animal shelter long before the Animal Control truck had finished its rounds. When the officer walked through the door with my dog I felt a violent cocktail of emotions, relief and joy and regret and exhaustion, but mostly I felt like I did in 1997 when I woke up with a hangover from a Long Island Iced Tea, a hangover that lasted three days and caused me to puke in three different trashcans.

Chuck saw me and was all DUDE, HAVE I GOT A STORY FOR YOU. Bryan had joked that Chuck would probably show up somewhere with rum on his breath, a headache, and a tattoo of a scrotum on his forehead. And that wasn’t far from the truth. He was happy and ready for his next adventure.

Welcome home, Puppy.

  • Mia

    Oh Thank Goodness! I’m so glad he’s safe. And glad you are trying not to spiral, although seems like the world has a nasty sense of humor when it comes to you!!

  • Having lost a dog for a week once, I feel for you. I am glad he is home safe.

  • Autumn

    and you can read and see more here…although you might not really want to see…
    What is going on with her??

  • furious

    I’m very familiar with morbid thoughts and worst-case scenarios. It’s a side effect of having at least half a brain and a creative heart. It’s a giant beast and you learn to tame it.

    I found your blog by luck and have spent the last few days reading it. ALL of it. And I want you to know that I get you. ALL of you. Consider yourself gotten.

  • OMG. Why was I starting to cry? I am so glad he has been returned home!

  • Phew.

    While I was reading this, I showed my husband the missing poster and said, “Oh nooo, he’s missing again.”

    He responded “Who’s missing?” While looking at the right at the poster. Then I angrily said, “What do you mean WHO? DONT YOU KNOW WHO CHUCK IS BY NOW?”

    He really is a big part of this site. I’m glad you found him.

  • Autumn

    I’m so happy that Chuck is home safe and sound!

    On another topic…when are you going to make comment about all this stuff with Britney Spears? If you haven’t heard about it…you can read all the juicy gossip here:

  • How can a blog entry about a lost dog make me hold by breath and chew my nails when I’m a well-known dog-hater? Oh yeah – when the writing is so damned good. Thank you for sharing that – it was really brave, considering the number of wack-jobs that email you.

  • I’ve been doing “The Spiral” since I was a child – it’s only gotten worse since I’ve had children. I prefer to call it “Worst Case Scenario Thinking” – someone once told me there is actually a JOB where people get PAID to think of the worst thing that could possibly happen in a given situation – sign me up!! Glad you found your dog – whew!


  • So so so very glad it ended well!

  • Awwwwwwwww. I’m so glad it turned out ok.

    But what the hell is wrong with purple cows on your pajamas!? The only thing wrong with them is when you get locked out of your hotel room because instead of too much with with dinner, you had too much wine WITHOUT dinner, and you have to walk down to the hotel lobby in front of all your colleagues and students and get a key back to your room.

    *THAT* is the only think wrong with green, ahem, purple cows on your pink pajamas.

  • Oh! I was so happy to see that Chuck was home safe and sound.

    I am a worrier as well. I worry about everything, so I could really relate to this post. My newest worry is for my dog as well. We have had her for less than a month. Yesterday Honey fell off an outside window ledge that she climbed on (I guess she thinks she is a cat) and broke her leg. She had surgery today to set the bone and insert a pin to hold it. I have 4 kids, and didn’t think I had any room in my heart for a dog, but this one has stolen it for sure. She has to spend the night at the vet tonight, and I miss the hell out of her. Tomorrow will not come soon enough.

    It is funny, and so wonderful, that an animal can literally bring us to our knees with worry and love.

  • Crap, I totally had to scan ahead to see the happy ending. Whew.

  • I am not the only person who has mentioned forgetting to breathe and gripping the computer during this read.

    So very happy this had a happy ending.

  • Scottysmum

    I have been in your shoes often before, it is so devastating wondering where our furry family members are. I was so relieved to hear that Chuck was found – it renews my faith that there are good people in the world!

  • Heather, all you had to do was write a post that Chuck was missing and I think a resounding thud would have been heard across the country. I’m partial to him because he reminds me so much of our old buddy, Sargent.

    And I’m so glad the little guy is home safe. 😉

  • Like others, I had to skip ahead to the end to know that Chuck was okay. I love that mutt from three time zones away. I can’t imagine how awful it was for all of you when Chuck was missing. I’m glad he’s okay, and I’m glad you’re okay. Please rub his belly for me!

  • I could weep. What stress! On the bright side, this little walk on the wild side might help him if he wants to run for office again. Now he knows how the other side lives.

  • Gretchie

    Maggie is brilliant. Your post about worrying really got me thinking that I suffer to some degree from that same paralyzing thing. Especially when it comes to money. I’m pretty sure we’re all going to be tossed in debtors prison to die… raped repeatedly by a felonious accountant named “Alan”. I love how you described it as a “loud coincidence”. I’ve also heard “God Breezes”, but found that a bit cheesy. Welcome back, Chucky. Wear that scrot tat like a badge of honor!!

  • Gelfmom

    OMG! You had me there for a minute — I thought a really crappy day was going to get even crappier and then……whoooo hoooooo!

    It became a WONDERFUL DAY!!! Thank God (and the really nice neighbors) the Chuckster is back!

  • Candice

    I want to give you a hug.

    So much of what you’ve written sounds familiar to me, especially The Spiral. (Though it’s more like a big, black, murky pit for me) I visit it on an almost-daily basis. It’s like…well, this is a good example: Last night, I saw a picture downtown Atlanta. The first thing I think of is my brother. He and his family moved down there this past summer. So it’s all good. I’m looking at the picture, thinking about my brother, things are fine. But then three things come to mind.

    Number one: I notice the traffic. It’s an awful lot of traffic. And my brother…well, we’re from Kansas. There’s not enough people in the state for any road in Kansas to have real traffic. So, what if he doesn’t know how to get through that? What if some guy gets impatient and starts riding his bumper? What if the only way my brother can get out of the way is by going into the other lane? And what if some car in the other lane comes towards him and he doesn’t have time to get back into the lane he’s supposed to be in? And what if his wife is in the car? Then all us siblings have lost our leader, and my parents have lost their firstborn. And we’ve lost the only person who could make decent potato salad. And we’ve got their kids. The little one won’t remember them, but the boys will surely have some issues to resolve. And just who’s going to take them? I can’t. I can’t afford babies. And my parents have worked so hard to NOT have babies anymore. But…oh, crap. What if my sister-in-law’s mother fights for custody? We’ll never see them again! She hates us! Damnit.

    Number two: I notice all the important-looking building in ATL. If a nuclear bomb hit the Coca Cola factory, would it reach their home in Acworth? Probably so. And if not, they would at least be badly burned, and would probably eventually die from radiation. But…what if everyone but Lindsay died? She’s so small. What if she survives for DAYS after the rest of them and has to live through the agonizing pain of having 87% of your body burned? Damnit.

    Number three: Hurricanes. Again, I say damnit.

    Thinking of those scenarios led me throw up and then cry myself to sleep last night.

    And I do that all the time. Honestly, give me anything and I can warp it into something pertaining to me, and I’ll make myself literally sick over it.

    So…sorry for typing this big long scary comment up. Just wanted to let you know that I understand completely what you’re talking about.

    Give Chuckles a kiss for me.

  • I’m so happy that your family is whole again. I know the feeling and it sucks.

    And “retch, elegantly” made me snort hot tea out my nose.

  • HDC

    This is how Chuck gets back at you for the Halloween costumes, the noodles, and the turkey jerky on the snout torture.

  • Lindsey Swan

    I don’t know how it possible to love a dog when you don’t even know the dog . . . but I was just so happy at the end of your story. So happy he was safe! I don’t know whether that speaks to the possibility of love and humanity via the internet or my need for a hobby, but I am so glad that he is home.

  • Natalie

    It happens to the best of us… and yes, it’s the most horrible, terrifying feeling. I’m so glad he was found safe and sound and you are able to stop hyperventillating now. 🙂 WHEW!!

  • milkmaid

    I held back the tears, all the way to ‘scrotum tattooed on his forehead’, then they came streaming.

    Welcome home Chuckster.

  • Dude, so glad Chuck is okay. Started crying hysterically half way through, I barely could read the rest that told me he was okay.

  • And now I can tell you that, having lost many dogs over the years, some that never came back, I was sitting here with every muscle in my body totally tensed, hoping like hell you were going to end this post by saying you found him.
    And thank goodness, you did.
    What’s more, I’m now uncomfortable with how much I care about the fate of a dog I only ever see on teh Intarnets.

  • Oh Heather, I’m so happy that Chuckles is okay and back home safe and sound.

    And I’m glad to hear you’re doing better too.

    And if you think you’re terrible. I left my poor dog outside and went back to bed and slept for 4 hours. Did I mention that I live in Alaska and this was winter? I found him huddled in our arctic entryway against the door, shivering, nearly frozen to death. I never forgave myself. Then what did I do not a month later? The same thing, except thank God, I didn’t go back to bed.

    Anyway. Love your site. You’re an inspiration.

  • I am so glad this story had a happy ending. Chuck is the only reason I read Dooce and without him, I’m afraid I’d just have quit visiting.

  • andrew1971

    as a fellow resident of Salt Lake, I can attest that the last couple of days would be EXTREMELY bad ones to be stuck outside.. (especially yesterday’s sleet-snow-horizontal-wind-crapstorm, omigosh!)

    isn’t it odd, in a vicarious car crash kind of way, how one person’s fright and agony, related in the creative-non fiction style that has taken over everything from the new yorker to blogs, also creates extremely riviting writing??

    this piece HAD me… (like the first time I watched the movie JAWS)…

    of course, ya gotta have skills like heather’s to write narritive this well…. it’s easy to forget, as we read this blog, what a damm fine writer she is… even if she experiences fear and worry spirals over other things, as a writer, she is as fearless and daring (and skilled) as any extreme sports athlete…

    hmmm, maybe blogs, especially personal ones like this, are a kind of extreme sport for a writer…. A Novel might be like an ironman triathlon, this is skydiving…. over and and over…

    (ivory tower flavored analysis aside, I am also VERY glad chuck made it home….)

  • You haven’t given up The Spiral; you’re just Spiraling in a different direction. Churck didn’t show up because you stopped worrying, and the worrying you did before has nothing to do with the presence/absence of people worse off than you. Worry is about control, but it’s the illusion of control. It’s like the old joke, where the pastor advises his congregation, “Most of the things we worry about never come true,” and a guy in the back says, “See? It works!” Now, having experimented with giving up the illusion of control–presto!–the phone rings, and Chuck is back. You didn’t make that happen, either, dudette. Trust me. There is nothing you can tell me about worry I don’t know already.

  • Mine

    I know its all about narrative and all but I could have really done with the knowledge that you had Chuck back at the beginning of that tale…

    How’d he do that with his ears?

  • The list of dirty, dirty things my husband and I would be willing to do to get our animals back if they went missing would be long and not for the faint of heart. Glad neither of you had to perform any.

  • Well done.

  • Yay for finding Chuck. I couldn’t believe what I was reading when you said he was lost. I had real tears. I never thought I cared so much for a dog who I have never met nor do I personally know his owners.


  • Erin

    After seeing Chuck’s flier, I just had to read ahead to see that you found him. Whew! Welcome home, Congressman!

  • Chuck hasn’t learned the art of not getting picked up by Animal Control? Ruffy bit the handler and barked for her only other enemy: the mailman. Our asshole mailman has one redeeming quality: he is incredibly nosy and knows everything about everyone in our neighbourhood. Glad it worked out in the end.
    Also, The Spiral only has as much power as you give it. Listen to Maggie.

  • di

    Chuck is the only dog I have ever known (via text) that makes me want to have a dog, as I am a cat person since birth. I’m so glad he’s home safe and sound! Don’t worry, be happy!

  • Okay true confessions time:

    When I was a wee tot I would periodically tell my teachers/parents/coaches/etc that I “couldn’t take a deep breath”. They sent me to pulmonary specialists who couldn’t find anything wrong with me. Then in high school I would go to the emergency room on a regular basis with horrific stomach pains that no gasteroenterologist could diagnose. What was the source of years of mystery maladies? WORRY. Yep, anxiety crippled me for about 20 years until I found my oh-so-wonderful shrink. I worried about EVERYTHING. I made myself completely ILL! Don’t get me wrong, I still suffer from anxiety, but medication/therapy helps a lot. It’s hard when people say “what do you have to worry about” when you know that your body chemistry is working against you. I’ve decided to start telling those people to suck it. Yeah!

    Also, I cried like a big ole baby while I was reading about the Chucklette. My family had a similar scare a couple of months ago, and the signs that we posted brought our baby home! Hooray!

  • I am the same way with anxiety. It’s not that I like worrying, per se, but I feel like worrying is what I have to do to keep the universe turning. Because if I’m not worrying about something, or working myself up into some sort of wild spiraling anxious mess, therefore CREATING something wrong for myself – something controllable, easy to manage, self-inflicted – then the universe will choose something ELSE to go awry for me. Something I can’t control.

    This is all such a ridiculous mode of thinking and yet, there it is. It’s clear we’re not alone in it. It’s debilitating, and not worth it, and as many say, sometimes the greatest risk is for us to be happy. Because if we’re happy, there’s nothing for us to work on/worry about/control.

    I’m so happy Chuck is home safely. Thank God.

  • I know that it is not at all the same thing, but I had massive anxiety over turning 30 for reasons I could never put my finger on. Once I turned 30, and realized that my life was still the same only, wait, all of a sudden, all of the pressure was off (finding a man, career success, etc.) I could finally let it go. That is hardly anyone’s worst fear, but I do feel like once I had just stopped and looked it in the face, I was okay.

  • yakoff

    I did that. It happens. I also live my life in terror about missing some little thing that can lead to major problems. I have learned that even if I figure everything out ahead of time, someone else will screw it up. So, be at peace.

  • sorry about your trauma with chuck. but glad he’s back.

    about those spirals: i have had them too. usually when i’m trying to fall asleep at night. i had to make the very deliberate effort to stop imagining the worst. it took a while, but i’m much better at stopping myself now. maybe it would help you too. anxiety sucks.

  • token

    Oh, sweetie! I’m so glad he was returned to you. I’ve been there, too. My pup was gone so long I thought she’d been adopted by a family who couldn’t stand to part with such a great dog! I did my very best not to think the very worst, you know…

    Forgive, but remember, and move on.

  • veg4me

    I actually sat on the couch watching Deal or No Deal last night and convinced myself to not “play at home for a chance to win $10,000” because if I did win the money, I would want to fly myself and the kids to visit my husband who is deployed. Of course, the plane would crash before we ever made it to him and it would all be Howie Mandel’s fault and my husband would spend the rest of his life a mere shell of his former self, muttering to inanimate objects “I always told her how much I hated that stupid show”.

  • GAH! I was ON. EDGE. the whole second half of that story. I kept thinking, “NO MORE CHUCK?! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ON FRIDAYS?!” Thank goodness for neighbors taking him in so he wouldn’t turn into a pupsicle. (HAR!) Okay. Bye.

  • Argie

    The worrying constantly about worst case scenarios…it’s called “Catastrophizing” according to my neurologist. My husband and I will frequently ask each other if we’re catastrophizing about something when our reactions seem a bit intense…but I truly think it’s part of being a parent. Parents used to have to worry about huge animals eating their babies…now we have different, less in-your-face worries. But, still as intense worries. Being a mom changes you forever, and if catastrophizing helps me keep my babes safe, then so be it! Catastrophize on Dooce!

  • zero2gourmet

    I laughed, I cried. Great post and I’m glad you found Chuck.

  • First time commenter de-lurking to say that I am so glad Chuck is ok!! My heart was in my mouth as I was reading your post.

    And, for what it’s worth, I, too, am a victim of The Spiral. It drives my (very type-B) husband (not to mention myself!) crazy. I’d like to think I’m getting better at letting go…but I know deep down that it’s likely one of things I will have to work on overcoming for the rest of my life.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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