Heater, Mother of Lance

Embracing pain

Camp Mighty is pretty much the more crowded version of The Mighty Summit that I attended in Wine Country last year. The goal of these events is to get drunk fall over borrow weed from the guy upstairs explore the idea of what it is you really want your life to be. And what is standing in your way. And maybe you should think about using your degree instead of hating your job only to drive two hours home and get so stoned that you think it’s a good idea to start deconstructing Beyoncé songs.

Yes, you can make a checklist and fill it with things like: learn how to do five pull-ups, write love letters to my children, drive across the country on a hot pink Vespa. Or you can one day wake up and decide that you want to pursue your passion instead of working for someone who doesn’t believe in passion. Doesn’t matter how small or large, just opening yourself up to the possibility of change can throw you into a new orbit.

Because the number of attendees at Camp is so much larger than at the Summit, we broke out into four different groups to talk about some of the goals and ideas we had for the upcoming year. A lot of us really want to learn how to do those five pull-ups, some of us want to learn to love how to cook and grow our own herb gardens. Change a tire, shoot a gun, ride a horse. Take a letterpress class, lasso a cow, sing in public.

I want to lasso a cow while singing in public. Thank God I don’t have any dignity standing in my way.

As everyone stood up and talked about their lists I realized that the last year of my life is a representation of what can happen when you open yourself up to possibility. I like to think that I’ve lived the last fifteen years wide open to it, but I really think things changed when I gave voice to the idea of an unmedicated birth. The possibility of embracing that kind of pain.

That’s why I said yes to the marathon. Whatever kind of pain it would throw at me I would relish. But before that I had to get over my nerves to meet a supermodel and live the privilege of spending five days in a developing country. Just those three things alone (marathon, supermodel, Bangladesh) are enough to fill my quota for the year in terms of a life list, but all three take a backseat to what was the most transformative part of my year: the therapy I did in terms of my parent’s divorce.

This year my father celebrated his seventieth birthday. I offered to host a surprise party for him at our home because we have a space big enough for all of my siblings and their kids and all my step siblings and their kids. Even if we just take what happened between the two of us after he discovered my website ten years ago and juxtapose that with the celebration that night, you’d remark that an army would have a hard time filling that kind of gap.

Now throw in the months of pulling apart my insides, the subsequent weeks of setting every organ out on a table for inspection, and the lengthy process of reassembling all the systems. I had fought the idea for most of my life that my parent’s divorce had any measurable effect on the way I handle situations. I’m just a mess of DNA that is predisposed to turning curbs into mountains, right?

I won’t get into any of the logistics of what we talked about in those sessions. It’s not fair to my mother or my father because they really were doing the best that they could with a really shitty deck of cards. Let’s just say that while inspecting my organs we found an ugly, cancerous blight hidden conveniently behind a list of excuses I’ve mounted over the years: I’m reacting this way because you’re being too needy. I’m reacting this way because you’re not needy enough. I’m reacting this way because my meds aren’t working. I’m reacting this way because YOUR meds aren’t working.

What this therapy enabled me to do as well was hold that blight in my bare hands and cover it with tears. Because the Heather who had mounted all those excuses would have acknowledged it, tipped her hat, and moved right along. Too much to get done to dwell on such things.

This other ripped open Heather allowed herself the time to mourn what it had done. No, I can’t change the past, but I can recognize what it did to me and in turn change my future.

My father’s turning 70 was not just monumental in number, but also because it transpired the same year that I realized the way he and my mother divorced has profoundly affected every relationship I’ve ever had, more specifically that he has affected every relationship. When you add that to the anti-Mormon rant he found on my website ten years ago and the names he called me then, how on earth can we even make small talk? HE READS GLENN BECK, FOR CHRISSAKE.

How do I even explain that these two chasms give more urgency to the need to make small talk? That it was because of those revelations in therapy that I wanted to host his party? I could use some sort of platitude here about not wasting time and seizing the moment and it probably is some of that. It’s probably a lot of that. But it’s also a lot about knowledge. Learning. Opening myself up to the possibility of a new orbit.

What this most certainly isn’t about is forgiveness. There is nothing to forgive. Like I said, he did the best he could. And if a couple of months in my tenth year could have such a lasting effect on the rest of my life, who knows what my own children will discover in the next thirty to forty years about the chords that twist and bind us as parent and offspring. And I hope that they will in turn give me that same benefit of the doubt.


This post is sponsored by The American Cancer Society, a frequent partner of this website and one I could not be more proud to work with.

  • Caloden

    2011/11/15 at 9:58 am

    I rarely comment here but the above post is simply too stunning to ignore. Being open is such a scary concept because of the possibilities, because just what if you actually succeed? What’s on the other side of that?? Dwelling in fear is so easy and comfortable, even if it is three sizes too small and has a muffin top. It’s familiar and familiar is easy.

    Your work this year is inspiring. If you can wade through the family of origin waters and come out with your lungs intact, that’s admirable. Kudos to you and your family.

  • Caloden

    2011/11/15 at 9:59 am

    I rarely comment here but the above post is simply too stunning to ignore. Being open is such a scary concept because of the possibilities, because just what if you actually succeed? What’s on the other side of that?? Dwelling in fear is so easy and comfortable, even if it is three sizes too small and has a muffin top. It’s familiar and familiar is easy.

    Your work this year is inspiring. If you can wade through the family of origin waters and come out with your lungs intact, that’s admirable. Kudos to you and your family.

  • Caloden

    2011/11/15 at 10:01 am

    Crap, slow connection and two identical comments. Very smooth.

  • courtney.m

    2011/11/15 at 10:04 am

    I’ve been working through similar things this year– my parents aren’t divorced, but my mom was bedridden for 3 years with health problems and my dad had some anger management issues. Realizing that my parents did the best they did in a bad situation was earth-shattering. It helped the healing process, but it also scared the shit out of me. I feel like I am doing the best I can, but what kind of emotional damage am I doing to my daughter? Like you said, I guess I just hope she’ll have the courage to give me the benefit of the doubt I’m trying to give my parents. Good luck as you keep working through it all. It’s exhausting, but liberating.

  • Daddy Scratches

    2011/11/15 at 10:20 am

    My parents split up when I was 15. At the time, my only conscious reaction was “Thank GAWD. Now there’s one less parent here for me to fight with every day.”

    For a long time, I convinced myself that it hadn’t affected me. Lots of growing up and therapy later, I’ve realized otherwise. It’s an eye-opener.

    In other words: I hear ya. (Sadly, I also hear you about having Right Winger for a dad. I try to keep the conversation on baseball.)

  • AnitaBlanchard

    2011/11/15 at 10:46 am

    Awwwww, honey.


  • Yolanda

    2011/11/15 at 10:57 am

    I so get this. Viscerally. My unmedicated birth followed by an emergency surgery and two years of physical and emotional recovery completely transformed me. And taught me my best life lesson: all pain, is temporary.

    It comes for a time, but you can heal it and let it go.

    That message has been as critical for my heart–and the many things that I have carried around with me and beat myself up over for decades–as it was for forgiving may changed future, the fact that I will not have more children.

    We instinctively run from pain, we try and shut it down. But learning to accept that what hurts today will not hurt forever has made me braver than I ever imagined when it comes to confronting all kinds of aches, including the ones brought on by the people I love.

  • Janice

    2011/11/15 at 11:32 am

    I admire your willingness to be so open with your life. And I admire the willingness of your family to support you doing it..

  • shood

    2011/11/15 at 11:35 am

    Really great post.

  • jenwilson

    2011/11/15 at 11:36 am

    Apparently I’d missed that post from April that you linked to, but oh, how I can relate to being told, by a medical professional no less, that the way to get over my depression was to think of others in worse situations. She obviously had/has no knowledge of mental illness MY WORD.

    Tangent over. My point is/was that I have so much respect for you for staring something like depression and your parents’ divorce or your relationship with your father in the face and recognizing that you were/are struggling with it and seeing how it affected your life.

    I quit therapy a little over a year ago and I need to go back. Badly. Reading posts like this give me the shove in the right direction that I need. Thank you for embracing your pain and sharing your story with us. You are making change for the good that you cannot even fathom.

  • jon

    2011/11/15 at 11:59 am

    This is one of your best posts. Ever.

  • honeydunce

    2011/11/15 at 12:08 pm

    Heather, this is why I (and I’m sure many other readers) come back to your blog again and again and again. You are so honest and so forthcoming with that honesty, with your struggles and victories. This post really spoke to me, brought tears to the eyes. I’m in IOP treatment and the therapy is changing my life–I can attest to how pivotal facing things within oneself can be. It is in fact life changing. It’s hard, hard work but so worth it in the end.

    I commend your courage and your honesty, and all the hard work you’ve done for yourself and who you are. It is truly inspiring.

  • EffyTheWild

    2011/11/15 at 12:13 pm

    Openness is something I struggle with *a lot*, though I think the trick might be to know when it’s worth being open and when it isn’t. Parental units, spousal units, fruit of loins ~ always worth it. Even if they make the jaw ache from all the clamping mouth shut. 🙂

    I’ve been a reader for many, many years, but I’ve never commented. Whoo hoo!

    Thanks for being an inspiration.

  • heliotrollop

    2011/11/15 at 12:14 pm

    I just joined the community so that I could comment on this one. Thank you for this post (and the “4th Hour” one)(and lots of other ones). You’ve shared more than most of us are brave enough to, but if you’re willing, as yet another adult child of a rotten divorce, I would be so interested to know what you’ve read, what’s helped, etc. Because this strikes a powerful chord.

  • kdw

    2011/11/15 at 12:33 pm

    Thank you for saying things that others swallow and gulp– hearing someone’s ‘truth’ is powerful, and helps us when we reflect upon our own lives.
    From the pain comes so much joy…

  • caitlinc_7

    2011/11/15 at 12:47 pm

    I’ve never commented on your posts before but this is simply beautiful and I can’t resist. I love reading your blog for this: a rare heartfelt, open and honest glimpse into a life. Thank you for sharing with us.

    Before my own unmedicated birth earlier this year, I read your birth stories for Leta and Marlo. I was so impressed with the changes you made between those two. It inspires me that you continue to grow and change in such amazing ways. Your willingness to share glimpses into your life helps each of us reflect on our own life and how we can grow and change.

    Thank you!

  • OrangeLily

    2011/11/15 at 1:09 pm

    I love Jon’s comment to your post. How lucky you are to have such a supportive husband, and I say that in a positive, not snarky, way. I wish mine was more like this.

    Your post too, same with me…. but… sigh… 🙂
    It really is frightful to seek therapy when you’ve never gone before.

  • JenDary

    2011/11/15 at 1:29 pm

    Hi Heather. Lovely to meet you this weekend… just wanted to say that this post resonated with me and I hope to keep running, traveling and (someday) child birthing too. Great post.


  • anniavee

    2011/11/15 at 1:31 pm

    I may not have needed to read this right now, today, but I feel this affecting me everyday. Thank you for sharing.

  • luv and kiwi

    2011/11/15 at 1:31 pm

    Daps for figuring out the true meaning of forgiveness and honoring the past for what it is and what it’s not. It’s my new work in progress…

    Thanks for sharing!

  • kristanhoffman

    2011/11/15 at 1:34 pm

    Major props to Yolanda’s comment. And of course to this post. Your bravery is, as ever, inspiring. It breaks down walls and builds up spirits.

  • SueBHoney

    2011/11/15 at 1:42 pm

    Wow! I can definately relate. My parents split when I was 14. I was the kid who didn’t give a crap about it. As a young adult I definately did not give a crap about anyone else or myself. Very reckless behavior. I was very lucky in the fact that I was able to recognize the lasting effect it would have on my for the rest of my life. Of course I did not realize this until I was much older. I know my Mom did the best she could, my Dad too. There are still some issues though with my Dad I have to learn to forgive him for. Unfortunately, it is not that easy. Thanks for the post.

  • Funnygirl78

    2011/11/15 at 1:49 pm

    Stunning. Simply stunning. Thank you.

  • laurabalaura

    2011/11/15 at 1:56 pm

    This post is amazing. As a person wading through therapy right now, I am comforted (again) that it will be worth it. Thank you.

  • PeggyMomma

    2011/11/15 at 2:07 pm

    Jon said it all – up above there…It takes alot of girl balls to say stuff like what’s in your post. One of the many reasons I check in every stinkin’ day 🙂

  • VegasNative

    2011/11/15 at 2:08 pm

    I know it’s a little bit different, but this paragraph really spoke to me:

    What this therapy enabled me to do as well was hold that blight in my bare hands and cover it with tears. Because the Heather who had mounted all those excuses would have acknowledged it, tipped her hat, and moved right along. Too much to get done to dwell on such things.

    I’ve been working with a coach during my dissertation experience and she’s forcing me to dig much deeper than I ever wanted to dig. I’m so SO much the “too much to do to deal with this shit!” kinda girl and man- it’s been amazing to go there.

    Thanks for this!

  • monkeysmom1

    2011/11/15 at 3:39 pm

    I applaud you for your work and sharing it with others. You inspire me every day. I have been dealing with similar issues this year, as well as with the effects of having a severely mentally ill mother growing up and at present. As a mom to two girls as well, your comments remind me that parents do the best they can. I’ve been dealing with that anger/emotion filling up my throat, and taking over my day to day. For me, the only way I could lessen it was to say I was ‘forgiving.’ But forgiveness is a confusing thing to me still, so I’ve tried to just say to my mother, “I love you,” to make peace with it all. So I guess, by reading your post today, it makes me think that whatever a person might be dealing with, you have to find what works to bring peace to the issue within yourself. Thanks for writing and challenging us!

  • lisdom

    2011/11/15 at 3:47 pm

    It is such a hard line to walk between knowing our parents are humans, but also feeling free to admit and address the ways that their actions (or lack of action) shaped our lives.

    While my parents are still together, I, too, spent a year in therapy dealing with parents who probably didn’t know better but simply did not know how to encourage me. Now, I’m in my early 30’s, and am figuring out that I have to be my own encourager and motivator, that late is better than never.

    I admire you so much for being so honest with your thoughts. I’m not at that point with my parents yet, and honestly I don’t know if I ever will be. I don’t think they’re aware they did anything wrong with me since in their eyes, I’ll probably always be the one kid who turned out the most normal.

  • Satyr

    2011/11/15 at 4:02 pm

    An amazing, brave and inspiring post. Thank you for sharing.

    I have been reading for a while and thanks to your example I now have running shoes and a training plan! I think, hope, I have found a proactive and worthwhile way to deal with ‘stuff’ from the past that has caused pain for far too long.

    Inspirations and ripple effects – you are doing great things.

  • indy1016ja

    2011/11/15 at 5:02 pm

    You know, I think a lot of people do the hard physical stuff (climbing mountains, running marathons) to distract themselves from the personal, internal work they need to do. But look at you! You did the hard work both ways!

    You captured it perfectly when you talked about holding the blight in your bare hands and covering it with tears. It’s mind-boggling how raw it leaves you feeling and then how centered you become once all the pieces are put back together.

    You should be oh so proud of yourself because that is hard, scary work.

  • blonde momshell

    2011/11/15 at 7:04 pm

    If the dude upstairs makes ‘organic brownies,’ consider The Mighty Summit officially part of my bucket list. (Okay, I don’t have one because then I would feel obligated to get a passport and I don’t need a horrible picture mocking my lack of adventure)

    Anyways, I commend your courage. Therapy is what you have to do when the real world is no longer qualified to deal with your sh*t. I think therapy combined with the survivalists’ ultimate medication–humor (and you’ve got it in high-powered doses) will see you through for generations to come.

    Thanks for keepin’ it real.

  • stationaryrunner

    2011/11/15 at 7:26 pm

    This post resonated with me, too. I had a tough childhood; my parents made some very poor and hurtful choices. I’ve been working through it in therapy for two years now. It’s been hard, and oftentimes it still is. Now my mom has cancer and despite all that happened, despite the things they did and said, I find myself wanting to help. It surprises me. It’s amazing how much the things we experience in childhood define us. It is just as amazing how we can continue to learn new things from those experiences as we mature (and sometimes in ways we don’t expect).

  • Lauren3

    2011/11/15 at 7:44 pm

    I fuckin love and appreciate your crazy, thought-provoking ass.

  • Annabelle

    2011/11/15 at 8:08 pm

    Great meeting you (again) this weekend, and I wanted to thank you for this post. It’s amazing what underneath when we are brave enough to take a look.

  • Monkey

    2011/11/15 at 8:35 pm

    Last Christmas (and shit ALWAYS happens on Christmas), we almost lost my dad due to a heart condition that was certainly worsened if not caused by a relapse in drinking. From that moment and for the next two months, my brothers and I worked non-stop to get his life back in order. Every single piece of it was shattered. I gave myself a whole two minutes to cry several weeks into it, to allow myself to fully understand the scope of what we were dealing with, then I had to buck up and carry on. Too much shit needed to be done.
    My shrink tells me at some point I’m going to have to allow myself to feel angry, and I believe she’s right. I just don’t feel like I have the time for that still.

  • Anu

    2011/11/15 at 9:46 pm

    Some of your posts leave me speechless such as this one.

    To be able to work through the pain and make the effort to understand and accept a relationship just so you can pick up the phone or meet and say hello without it being painful and awkward…..that is what it boils down to in the end, I guess.

  • apostate

    2011/11/16 at 1:31 am

    How sad am I that I will never be able to read that rant?

  • tallnoe

    2011/11/16 at 3:14 am

    You are awesome. And I have ignored that my parents’ divorce had an effect (affect? I never remember) on me and my relationships for years.

    I need to get back to therapy.

    Thank you for being honest.

  • filmlady11

    2011/11/16 at 6:16 am

    Beautiful. Really. I heart your courage.

    And this:
    “decide that you want to pursue your passion instead of working for someone who doesn’t believe in passion.”

    3rd time this month that this has been right up in my face. I know what my passion is. I need to ditch the job security and go for it, but how to handle the FEAR??? Sole support for 4 people, 2 kids in college.

  • juliensharp

    2011/11/16 at 8:42 am

    Beautiful writing, as always. I guess what I have struggled with for a long time is hearing so many, many stories of how divorce shatters the lives of the children, just shatters them. And yet so many people who are divorced spend a lot of time and effort demonizing same-sex relationships. And even those who aren’t divorced spend so much time demonizing marriage equality as a “sanctity of marriage” issue, but aren’t ever saying anything about divorce and the damage it inflicts on children. I just. don’t. get. it.

  • sugarleg

    2011/11/16 at 10:38 am

    Heather, it’s writing like this that makes me feel like we are actually friends. I find myself thinking about you as if we have been pals since childhood, many shared adventures and laughs and tears, and then I remember that no, I am just one of the millions who reads your words and feels validated and inspired and loved… kinda how I do with my real friends. I am resisting the urge to share all of my pain here in this comment box like I would to a friend or therapist, but my intention is just to validate you in sharing yours. I too have had a momentous year; after years of immense struggle, things are finally looking up, and I so wanted it to include Camp Mighty, but the funds were not there and fiscal prudence although wise when the margins are thin still totally fucking sucks. I have to dig deep on my own to keep checking off my Life List and be open now finally to a new love, all of which is terrifying and exciting. So thank you for sharing yourself and your work, both internal and external with your millions of friends.

  • gkbennett

    2011/11/16 at 10:55 am

    “What this most certainly isn’t about is forgiveness. There is nothing to forgive.”

    Thank you for that comment. I participate in a self help group that mostly helps quite a bit. Except for this sticking point; forgiveness. I just don’t have it and part of me thinks it isn’t especially necessary.

    And my kids grew up and yes they do give me the benefit of the doubt for which I am grateful.

  • kristenhowerton

    2011/11/18 at 11:00 am

    I’m sorry we didn’t get to chat at Camp Mighty. This year I’m really discovering I’ve got my own blight that is coloring seemingly every interaction I have with others. Might be time for me to get back into therapy. (I actually had therapy crossed off my life list, but I suppose it’s a journey, not something that can be accomplished once and for all).

    And yeah, that was some seriously stinky weed permating the grounds of the ACE. I was sitting in the bar with the Heathers Sphor + Barmore and someone offered us a joint. He was very argumentative when we said no. I couldn’t figure out if he was an undercover cop or trying to slip us some roofie-laced weed or just really, really enthusiastic about sharing.

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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