the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Hair, day thirty

“Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel?”

That’s the question almost everyone keeps asking me, and so far it’s the one thing that doesn’t make me cringe or want to cry or run outside and punch my fist in the ground. It’s an innocent, heartfelt question that doesn’t make any assumptions about what happened or is happening or who is to blame.

Sometimes people send me advice and it is so colored by their own pain, pain that I honor and regard with reverence, but it wants to believe so much that isn’t true about this. This thing that I’m living through. This thing that is full of details and dynamics and its own kind of pain, a kind whose shape I think I have figured out and then I turn it over and find another side.

I don’t mind the advice, not at all. This experience wants to tell its story, and our common ground is the struggle. We share the simple hope that no one at the store will notice that we are wearing sunglasses indoors, sunglasses we won’t take off until we’ve pulled into the garage and slouched over the steering wheel to resume sobbing.

And no matter who is to blame, no matter what happened or is happening we’ve each had those moments when the panic rises so fast in our throats that to hold it down is like swallowing the deep end of a pool. But then we make dinner, we help with homework, we somehow walk from one end of the room to the other. Like so many of you have assured me, that light at the end is around here somewhere. And sometimes just a glimpse of it is enough to get me to the end of the day.

  • StefanieLCR

    2012/02/07 at 3:41 pm

    It is there.

    And until you get there, we’ll be here, right beside you.

    Thinking of you.

  • librarianjess

    2012/02/07 at 3:49 pm

    there have been plenty of days where I found myself saying, “breathe in. breathe out. step. step. step. there is a blue car. there is a red car.” sometimes the only way to hold on is to take it tiny fragment by tiny fragment. tons and tons of love to you in this hard, hard time. xoxo.

  • Meauxzie

    2012/02/07 at 3:55 pm

    Well, hell – if my hair were that cute or my eyes so pretty, I could live through just about anything. And, just so you know; I am not trivializing your situation, rather, just reminding you that there is still good in the world, despite the pain 🙂

  • spedrson

    2012/02/07 at 4:02 pm

    I’m just recently (like in the last few weeks) coming out of a deep pit of darkness myself. I remember telling a friend back in August, while we were waiting in line for the ferris wheel at the county fair with our kids, that I saw a pinhole of light at the end of the tunnel. Somehow that teeny tiny pinhole gave me enough hope to get through each day. Eventually that pinhole started to get bigger and bigger and now I’m starting to see daylight again.

  • Janice

    2012/02/07 at 4:09 pm

    @StefanieLCR ditto what she so wisely said. And still holding out a hand in case you need one to hold…

  • kmpinkel

    2012/02/07 at 4:10 pm

    I just watched “Precious” for the first time not too long ago. In it, she said, sometimes you come through the tunnel and find that the light that brought you through it was inside you the whole time. This was before I knew the bottom dropped out from under you. It stuck with me. You can do it, you can make it, you are strong enough to run a marathon, strong enough to give birth without drugs, you are strong enough to get through it. You have two little lights, that came from within you to help shine the way. Peace and prayers to you!

    And by the way, the hair is lookin’ great!

  • Tracye

    2012/02/07 at 4:18 pm

    All you can do is just breathe.

    One day at a time and all that.

    I do hope you two can find your way back to each other. I remember reading about how you guys met years ago when I first started reading your site, dooce, the early years and you were so excited and happy that you met that man…you were full throttle about him and your love for him.

    Falling in an out of love is what humans do. You reconnect when you remember why you came together. You can overcome anything if you want to.

    No matter what is happening right now, remember why you came together and start from there.

    Just, breathe…

    kk, no more advice 🙂

  • MeandThem

    2012/02/07 at 4:23 pm

    We are here, women and men alike pulling for you and the girls, for you and Jon, for just you, for just Jon, for some sort of comfort. No need to choose sides, no need to find the truth or the details, just to be here. I’ve been walking in the dark for almost two years now, my girls are my light and dinner always seems to get on the table. You are doing all of the right things, steady as she goes and keep one foot in front of the other. It’ll be okay love, I promise.

  • sugarleg

    2012/02/07 at 4:52 pm

    oh sweet Heather… is it odd that I have been thinking about you (and Jon and your family) as if you were one of my closest friends? I think not; am a loooong time reader and across the miles cheerleader. (you have also inspired me in ways I cannot articulate in this comment box, but I digress.)

    a dear friend once said to me, “Change your hair, change your life.” and this could not be truer than the sky being blue. every single time I have cut or grown my hair, it was the signal for a massive change in my life. it is not trite that your grow-out is matched with your current circumstances.

    no advice. I only have the experience of a lot of hair and life changes to tell you that it only takes time to get used to the new look. and if you don’t like it, you can try, try again.

    much love to you. you will both get there.

  • monkeysmom1

    2012/02/07 at 5:00 pm

    First off, I think your hair and eyes, look very pretty! Secondly, you are so right – I’m drawn to your story, because it brings up my own painful feelings about parental separation. Our own story is what somehow makes us feel your pain, and why we keep coming back to how you are getting through this. I don’t have the answers. I lost a friend for being too judgmental when she went through her divorce, so I’ve learned. Still feel sad thinking about it. I keep remembering that post you put up when you went on a date, and titled it, “Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong.” When looking for it, I came across your U2 concert post. Again, a bit sad! BUT, that’s my own pain, so whatever happens to you in your situation, I do hope that the light finds its way to you. 🙂

  • ohjennymae

    2012/02/07 at 5:02 pm


  • salvationamy

    2012/02/07 at 5:13 pm

    Two things:

    One: Your hair looks fab!

    Two: It will all be okay. I’ve been in that tunnel, and I’ve guided countless people through it. It has another side. I promise.

  • WindyLou

    2012/02/07 at 5:22 pm

    I hope you can feel my big, huge, mom-titty & back-fat hug all the way from MI.

  • NoodleLiz

    2012/02/07 at 5:42 pm

    You are doing it right.

    You are making dinner, and doing homework, and celebrating birthdays when all you want is to curl up in the fetal position in the warm indention that just fits your body on your side of the mattress.

    My mantra when I was navigating a similar road with two small, perfect, beautiful, innocent daughters watching my every move? “Is this what is best for the girls?” If the answer was yes, then I did it. Even if it meant watching them drive away with their dad, knowing I wasn’t going to see them for 48 hours, smiling and waving until they rounded the bend in the road and then letting myself collapse in sobbing heap once I knew they were out of sight. It’s not just the big things…I would argue it’s especially not the big things. It’s being the grown up they need us to be, even when we are faking the hell out of it…because that’s what’s best for the girls.

    And your hair does look fabulous!

  • EliBailey

    2012/02/07 at 5:48 pm

    When I was in the middle of my separation and divorce and couldn’t see any light at all, a friend suggested I make a small scrapbook full of whatever made me happy to look at when I really needed to make my mind stop spinning into that horrible downward spiral of grief and sadness. So I did, and it worked very well. It was not fancy at all, just a small spiral notebook. I taped or glued photos of my kids and other people I loved into it, plus funny things cut out of magazines or wherever, and wrote down quotes, song lyrics, Bible verses – anything and everything that gave me hope and/or made me smile. I looked at it and added to it constantly for a long time, and then as I got busier and happier it tapered off. I haven’t looked at it in a few years now but it’s still in a box by my bed. Just an idea.

    There are plenty of us who have been through that dark tunnel and have come out of it, and you will too. I think of you and your family all the time and am hoping you get through it quickly.

  • kristanhoffman

    2012/02/07 at 5:59 pm

    I was out to dinner tonight with a friend who is also going through separation/divorce, and he said something (that his counselor had said to him) that I think is simple but wise: No matter how much you want to, you can’t fast forward through this.

    Really, we all have things we want to fast forward through. But we can’t. And I think knowing that makes it more bearable, in a way. There’s a sort of freedom and relief in acceptance. We can’t fast forward. But we’ll still get to wherever we’re going, one day at a time.

  • katee bee

    2012/02/07 at 6:36 pm

    When it was my turn and people asked how I was, the answer was always “I will be great”.

  • anitaped

    2012/02/07 at 6:48 pm

    Heather, I was just reading your post while listening to Pandora, and a song came on that for some reason seemed like it might fit where you’re at right now. I don’t know the lyrics, but the mood of it was both sad, nostalgic, hopeful, a little tortured…anyway, it’s called “Be Here, Now” (relevant, no?) by Ray LaMontagne, on his album Til the Sun Turns Black. Worth a listen.

  • NDW1982

    2012/02/07 at 6:49 pm

    Pain, regardless of its source, I believe almost always results in a stronger person at the end of it all. I think that’s the common ground that we all share. It’s a way to hold each other up (and hold you up) even though we don’t know the details of your situation, we don’t need to because we certainly all know pain. And you are surrounded by humans who care about you. I love it when humans aren’t assholes, don’t you? 😉

  • tracy

    2012/02/07 at 7:11 pm

    The comment I hear most often is, “things will be better after the divorce”. To which I say, BULLSHIT. And to be clear, I’m so NOT suggesting (and so hoping that you’re not) on the road to divorce because if so, I think it’s fair to say I’m not the only who’d be shedding some major tears over that news.

    But the thing about divorce – in my case – is that aside from the fact that you’re no longer co-habitating, or that you can choose if & when you want to speak to your ex, when you have a child together & still have to co-parent, all the same issues that led to the divorce are still there. I still have to deal with a bullying, irrational, incapable of communicating in a logical manner, jerk who refuses to accept any accountability for anything in his life (why look inside yourself when you can just blame me?!) or how we got to this point, and who will stop at nothing when it comes to punishing and blaming me for finally being strong enough to leave him.

    All I can do now is to concentrate on trying to understand myself, fix what has been damaged & broken, and to be fair, many of my issues existed long before he came along, but that’s the beauty of marrying another co-dependant dysufunctional person who’s dysfunction fits perfectly with your dysfunctions…you get to ignore your own problems in order to worry about theirs, and then 10 years later, you’re all, OH FUCK, who the hell am I???. I know the person I’m meant to be is in here somewhere, and I will find her & let her out to play. I will find peace so that I can be finally know what contentment feels like. What drives me is wanting to be a healthy example for our daughter, and to hopefully change the path her life would certainly have been on otherwise. More than anything in the world, I want my daughter to be proud of me…proud of the choices I’ve made, of the life I live, of the way I treat myself & other people.

    And while it’s still hard to believe & accept that anything will really change, my light is June 4-5… the date my divorce trial is scheduled for. So if you’re not doing anything that night, feel free to pop over & have an I’M FREE! cocktail with me 😉

    Also, your growing-out hair is still gorgeous, which of course means you can go ahead & suck it 🙂


  • MelissaJ

    2012/02/07 at 7:13 pm

    i don’t have any sage advice; it pains me when i read this. if it pains me, i can’t imagine what you are feeling. i am so in awe of you and jon for giving your children as much stability as you can; as silly as this sounds, thank you for that.

    it is none of our business what/who/how/when…you focus on you, Leta, Marlo, Jon, Chuck, and shithead. (okay that wasn’t fair, Coco). we will be here rooting for you, crying with you, praying for you, and waiting for the new normal.

    hugs to you and your babies.

  • Anu

    2012/02/07 at 7:15 pm
  • cactuswren

    2012/02/07 at 7:46 pm

    Longtime, daily reader here–came for the Chuck, stayed for the Marlo, got sucked into the awesome.

    The only thing I feel moved to add is that my hope for you is that this tunnel ends at “right”, whether that is back on the path you have recently diverged from, or on a new one.

    My family and my husband’s family are both multiple-divorce families. Sad, of course. Stressful, absolutely. I don’t even need to tell you about being the eight year old scraping her mother off the hotel room floor, where she had collapsed in a fit of no-light-at-the-end-of-this-tunnel. But there was light. So much light, as it turned out. And it has brought us both, as children of this, a strength of character and a definition of family that is so warm and open and inviting that I can’t imagine my life having been lived any other way.

    You are strong, and beautiful, and what you are doing for your children is absolutely the pinnacle of human achievement. It is not going to be a short road, or one you’ll even necessarily notice the end of…until you look back one day and think…wow. That happened. And look where I am now.


  • ktbkat

    2012/02/07 at 7:55 pm

    Sunglasses are so spot on. I’ve often wondered if the guys who run the deli in my building have wondered about me as I’ve worn them while rushing past them, repeating over and over, ‘just get to the elevator, just get upstairs, then when you close the door you can collapse, but you have to get upstairs first.’

    Battling the darkness is like a constant leap of faith. When people told me that it would get better, I smiled, nodded numbly, but didn’t believe them. I knew the light at the end of the tunnel was there, because it had to be, but I didn’t see it. So I trusted, blindly, that it was there.

    To remind myself of the leap of faith that is living, consciously, I got the word tattooed on my skin – Trust. Trust yourself. Trust your heart. Trust that someday, somehow, it will be ok. Trust that even when you are lost, you have built a place where there is love to guide you.

  • patrice108

    2012/02/07 at 8:11 pm

    hey, you know what gets me through some tough times? FENTON! FEENNNTTOONNN! OH JESUS CHRIST, FENTONNNN!

    and YOU gave me fenton. and I’m not exaggerating, that helps me get through tough times. thank you for that.

  • AJS721

    2012/02/07 at 8:42 pm

    LOVE how Cami can’t just be there for you as a friend – which she clearly is a very very close one.
    But more importantly she’s an absolute rock for you right now. So basically SNUGGLE UP and kiss her face. 😉

    Deep breaths. We love you.

  • soph

    2012/02/07 at 11:01 pm

    Dear Heather.
    Do yourself a favour:

  • Becky Cochrane

    2012/02/08 at 12:41 am

    One day your eyes will smile again.

  • lillpetunia

    2012/02/08 at 2:13 am

    i so much just want to hug you and hold you. and tell you it’s going to be alright. like i do with my little baby boy when he’s scared in the night. i so ache for you. you are so strong and so beautiful.

    it’s going to be alright.

  • Mrs.Stinson

    2012/02/08 at 2:36 am

    When I started reading this post I honestly thought you were talking about your hair..oops!

  • Ezza

    2012/02/08 at 2:56 am

    When I was seperated, people kept telling me everything is going to be okay and I felt like screaming in their faces NO IT ISN’T EVERYTHING IS SCREWED NOW. They asked how I was doing and I felt like screaming HOW DO YOU THINK I’M DOING? People asked me what happened and I felt like shouting IF YOU CAN WORK THAT OUT, WOULD YOU MIND LETTING ME KNOW?

    There’s nothing to say.
    Love ya, Heather. xx

  • erinwelch

    2012/02/08 at 6:22 am

    Heather, I rarely leave comments, but after several years of reading your blog, I feel like I know you and your family, and I love your girls. Surely we are long-lost family. Except that I live in southwest Missouri, where there may be about 10 Mormons, all of whom are looked upon with suspicion.

    I have no advice to give, just sending love to you and your family in your difficult times. I pray healing for you all.

  • erinwelch

    2012/02/08 at 6:30 am

    P.S. Third Day’s Tunnel is a perfect song for you right now:

  • ShinyMinx

    2012/02/08 at 6:34 am

    I remember hurting when my most significant relationship at the time crumbled. All the more painful for the symbolism it carried – it was supposed to be my do-over of the past! Proof that happy endings were possible and that one had my name on it, until it didn’t.

    I did a lot of sobbing, which was understandable and helpful in its own way. Although it might have been more useful in the long run to go out and get myself tattooed with the words:

    “Everything will be all right in the end. If it is not all right that’s because it is not the end.”

    It will happen for you.

  • gcostaki

    2012/02/08 at 7:16 am

    Once I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel but it ended up being another tunnel.

    Then the train had to stop because of some malfuntion. Then a bunch of people got really pissed off.

    This happened when I was riding the Tube in London.


  • LisaAR

    2012/02/08 at 7:59 am

    I “third” StefanieLCR’s comment…thinking about you…

  • megumphrey

    2012/02/08 at 8:23 am

    That you find the universal in your pain, your unique situation, that you write about it in a way that connects you fundamentally to other people, is inspiring.

  • Anxious Annie

    2012/02/08 at 8:33 am

    Katie & Russell
    Demi & Ashton
    Kim & Kris
    Heidi & Seal
    Jennifer & Marc
    Vanessa & Kobe
    Kelsey & Camille
    Crystal & Hef ……

    NOT HEATHER & JON !!!!

    I’ve been here reading since before Leta was born, loving you guys and your dogs, living vicariously through you (since I don’t have kids OR dogs). I was so happy when Jon was able to stay home BUT I do know that working together 24/7 can be the kiss of death. I was married 30 years and that still ended in divorce – and yes we owned 3 businesses of our own which totally consumed our lives. Sure hope you two can work things out … you’re just so darn cute together and both so creative on the web and with photography and music. Sending you lots of positive vibes.

  • Doghouse Mama

    2012/02/08 at 8:55 am

    I’m still holding your hand, Heather, because you are still holding mine.

    We can get through anything, you and I and everyone here. And we’ll do it together.

  • denice

    2012/02/08 at 8:58 am

    I’m sorry you’re sad. It fucking sucks.

  • Maria E B

    2012/02/08 at 9:06 am

    Heather, I know this isn’t your thing and I don’t mean to be trite or anything, but I just wanted to let you know that I am praying for you and Jon and the girls. I can’t imagine how hard this must be, but you have proven how strong you are and pretty soon this will be another mountain you’ve climbed. Gracefully.

  • millybrown17

    2012/02/08 at 9:17 am

    After years of reading, I finally managed to figure out the Dooce Community so I could post something. So much I could write, but let me just say my second was born a month after Marlo. I’ve followed you through joy and hopelessness and knee injuries and now, I’m following you through divorce. Found out in November and pretty much crumbled when you posted that Gotye video. So I’m there with you, Heather, in the grocery aisles, on the bathroom floor, and in those little moments of peacefulness that promise, one day, a new normal. Chronicling my own journey here:
    Thank you thank you thank you for being there and being you and offering up your relentless honesty, my friend. Oh, and I done wore that Rilo Kiley song in already. Hello, my new anthem!

  • reflecting_ball

    2012/02/08 at 11:36 am

    When my eye first fell on this photo, I thought, “Iggy Pop!” Which of course is a good thing.

    I think you’re exactly right about just putting one foot in front of the other as best one can, just doing the next thing. One thing that often helps me is to consciously tune in to things moment by moment, narrating silently to myself: putting water in the pot, opening the refrigerator door, closing the door.

    Any moment when we’re noticing something we can actually see, touch, hear, feel or taste is a moment when we’re not lost in the imaginary (often frightening) future.


  • Plano Mom

    2012/02/08 at 12:04 pm

    Dinner and homework are snorkel masks in disguise. Hang in there, keep on breathing.

  • debzemek

    2012/02/08 at 12:20 pm

    It’s hard to see someone in so much pain and not have the magic words to fix it. There are no magic words, no magic deeds that can be done. Time is all there is. Time to figure out where you’re going, where you’ve been and how the hell you got here. You need to sob, you need to really feel what you’re going through. One day, you won’t sob quite as much and you’ll feel calmer and more at peace with yourself. That day will come, but don’t rush it. Let it come slowly so that when it does, it will last. I’m a great believer in everything happens for a reason, even when that reason isn’t clear right away. My dad used to tell me, you’re tough, you can do this. Well, from me, you’re tough, you can do this. We’re all rooting for you regardless of where you end up because that’s what we do. We hold you up and keep you moving on toward that light. And there is a light.

  • J. Bo

    2012/02/08 at 1:22 pm

    I know it’s completely inappropriate and out-of-bounds, but I love you, Heather; please know that there are many of us out here who do. Some of us even know what an enormous thing it is to successfully make it across the room.

  • Mom Gone Mad

    2012/02/08 at 1:24 pm

    Such a great account of the struggle many of us have faced…..
    I remember when I was in the depths of my struggle. There was one thing (among many) that I did to get me started each day – because otherwise I may just have stayed hiding under the covers. I found a card with a quote on it by Winston Churchill. It read… “Never, never, never, never give up.”
    It stayed taped to my bedroom wall – the wall I looked at when I opened my eyes each morning. And, there it stayed until the light at the end of the tunnel was bright enough to sustain me. It now rests in my nightstand drawer – a testament to remind me once in a while of the strength I found during my darkest time.
    Hugs…. -Val

  • laura.ann.stratton

    2012/02/08 at 1:34 pm

    This quote has brought me an incredible amount of comfort… maybe for you too? I sure hope so. “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Hang in there, Heather. We are pulling for you, whatever adventure that leads you to.

  • MsBatman

    2012/02/08 at 1:51 pm

    Divorce, separation, break ups, I’ve done them all. Repeatedly. Relationships are not my thing apparently. Someone (therapist? lawyer? bartender? friend? When you’ve ended as many relationships as I have you get quite a collection of these kinds of people. Sad, really) once told me that the only way to the end is through and you only get through what you can get through. If that’s today, great. If it’s this afternoon, ok. If it’s only the next hour, or sitcom or commercial break, you’ll do it. Break it down to what you can handle. Even if it is only breathe in and breathe out, you will get through.

    And then because I’m all about quoting deep philosophical people, I think Winnie the Pooh once said “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together.. there is something you must always remember. you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

    I think he nailed it.

  • Aprilisin

    2012/02/08 at 2:40 pm

    ’cause you should laugh:

    This was sent to me by a friend who said this reminded her of my advice. Er, think she was trying to tell me something..good thing I’m oblivious to criticism. You rock…and I look forward to reading you each day…so stop it! again, you rock…(in my calm sweet voice.)

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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