This here bringer of the pooper to the fun party

Bad days

Two minutes before leaving for school Leta announces that she needs to pack both of her jump ropes but she can’t find the red one. I am unaware that she owns more than one jump rope and have no idea where this phantom red one is or where to start looking. As she starts to freak out about it I have to step into another room and lean against the wall. A long breath in, my hand gripping the back of my neck.

When I emerge I tell her I’m sorry we can’t find it now, but we can definitely look for it this afternoon. She frowns as I take her by the hand and head toward the door.

My hands used to be that small and jump ropes just as important.

My therapist makes me talk about my childhood and how afraid I was of my father. Very afraid, I tell her. My childhood was one long army crawl around his temper. I wasn’t necessarily taught to avoid conflict, but I see a potential confrontation and hide as if it might give me a disease. Because someone might get shoved up against a wall and have a finger wagged a little too close to their face.

I don’t remember him hurting my brother. I only remember the look on my mother’s face.

She calls this trauma. I shrug because I don’t have a horror story to tell. No sexual or physical abuse, no nights spent sleeping in the backseat of the car because my parents couldn’t afford the rent. Maybe it was trauma, I guess, and then the lights on the cop car start flashing red and blue behind me. By the time I roll down the window to hand over my license I’ve covered my shirt in tears. He asks me if I’m okay, and I nod so that he will go back to his car and write the ticket, so that I can be alone and shake my head endlessly.

Before I get home I pull over on a quiet street and turn off the playlist that had yesterday made me happy. The silence fills every inch of the car. I want it to swallow me whole.

My ten-year-old self is a specter who hovers just above my shoulder. I don’t know what the hell she wants or is waiting for.

  • OldMuthaHen

    One of the ways Merriam-Webster defines the word “trauma”:

    – an agent, force, or mechanism that causes trauma

    Force, indeed.

    There is physical trauma, and psychological trauma, and fleeting trauma, and lingering trauma, and, and, and…

    Nowhere in Merriam-Webster’s definition is the word “horror” used. That doesn’t mean someone who experiences a horror won’t be traumatized, but people who aren’t typical physical/sexual abuse are allowed to feel traumatized.

    Maybe you’ve never given yourself the OK to label yourself traumatized. You feel stupid and silly because people have had it far worse.

    Stop.

    Your bad is your bad. It doesn’t matter what anyone else labels “bad” – yours is just as valid.

    Validate yourself. Validate your feelings. You had experiences growing up that really affected you and maybe you’re afraid to put a name to them or hurt someone’s feelings, but if it affected you so deeply then you have to name it and feelings may be hurt. If someone really loves you, and they hurt you, they should want to validate the hurt.

    Whatever the agent, force, or mechanism that traumatized you needs to be dealt with. You deserve to move past this.

  • JuliaDil

    Long-time reader, infrequent commenter here. This post particularly struck me because I, too, deal with issues of being the “spectator” of conflict, and living in fear of it happening. When you mentioned the police lights, I thought we were still with your ten-year-old self, because me at 9, I remember those lights through our living room windows. I’ve found a forgiveness for all parties since then, but only because their love weighs heavier now than he lights and the fear. Those wounds are never far away, but they, too, can sit back as spectators themselves… at least I hope so. I just wanted to send you my sincerest gratitude for sharing your words. Thank you.

  • manyfires

    I came across this blog entry today, and the words and song were particularly poignant, and made me think of you: http://www.icarusandoccident.com/mansions-on-the-moon-rest-of-your-days

  • meowsie

    Sending you hugs, hugs and more love, Heather. It takes courage to face your demons, let alone face them so publicly.

    Maybe that specter is simply waiting for you to take her in your arms just like you do your own children and tell her with every ounce of love that you have that everything is going to be alright. Cuz it is. As kristanhoffman said above… bad days end and every morning is new. Until bedtime, one foot in front of the other. You ARE strong enough to do this.

    More hugs.
    -Ericka

  • kdw

    I think childhood = trauma.

  • nordcq

    Just in case it didn’t sink in yet: Your worst stuff is your *worst* stuff…. doesn’t matter how it compares to anyone else’s stuff. Give that 10 year old a hug & see where it leads you.

  • salvationamy

    Oh, Heather. Never have I been so proud of someone I have never met. This work you are doing is so hard, and scary. But the only way out is through. It’s not a cave, it’s a tunnel. Keep plugging away, there IS another side, and you WILL get there.

    10 year old Heather is just frightened, because she doesn’t know how to fix anything, and everything is kind of falling apart around her, and she feels powerless. Just sit with her. Tell her it will all be okay. Even when you don’t believe it.

  • ElizabethKenn

    Maybe your 10 yr old spector wants you to find your dad’s 10 yr old spector so all 4 of you can find peace.

    Hang in there.

  • knittygrrrl

    (((big hug)))

  • JenS

    I was afraid of my Mom. I still am. I haven’t talked to her in over a decade because I’m so tired to making me feel small and then telling me how terrible I am because I don’t want to be with someone who makes me feel small. She did hit me, too. A lot.

    I work through it in therapy, but I feel like I’m at a plateau. I can’t let go, I never have been able to – I carry all the baggage on my back and my shoulders and they hurt and they’re tired, but I can’t let go. I have to hang on because if I let go, it will kill me, but if I don’t let go, it will kill me. It’s with me, every day, all day long – and I think it always will be.

    I don’t see the light. I think I will always be in the dark.

  • LaurieML

    JenS, I am so sorry.

    Through my ups and downs with mental illness the one thing that I always come back to is ‘I will wake up tomorrow and it will be better.’ Even if it isn’t sometimes, eventually it turns out to be true.

    I heard a phrase in a speech once – “we are tougher than the times we are in.” And I came across a phrase today that said “mental illness doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you tried to be strong for too long.”

    We’re all tougher than anyone knows, aren’t we?

  • Colgate

    For me, the army crawl was around my mother’s blame and away from the forced responsibility for my 3 younger siblings. It took me a few years of therapy to acknowledge my 5-year-old self (whose name is Esmerelda) and my 16-year-old self (Sheila – at the time I didn’t like either name, but who was I to argue with what they were named?). Esmerelda shows herself at odd times, but I’ve learned to ask her what she wants. Most often she wants to be hugged, so I’ll do that. I’ll picture me holding my 5-year-old self and rubbing her arm (while hugging my actual self), telling her I love her and that she’s perfect just the way she is. Other times she simply wants to play. But it’s through actively loving my 5-year-old self that I find the most comfort, ridiculous as it seems.

  • jenwilson

    *GREAT BIG HUG*
    I’m so sorry you’re hurting.

    ps. Congrats on 11 years of Dooce.

  • KKW

    Everything is going to be alright. I tell myself that every single night as I look at the pictures of my two children just before going to bed and turning out the light. And it will.

    A big hug and a kiss on the forehead. {{*}}

  • bambooska

    Heather, I am so very sorry for what you are going through.

    I have “known” you since mid-2004, and can honestly say that most of the things you write are very powerful and have a large amount of impact on me. Even though I’m not married and I don’t have any children. Perhaps because you are so sincere to yourself, perhaps because you allow yourself to be a little open about issues, perhaps because of the way you see the world, your opinions. I find wisdom, I find reality, I find a conscience, I find sincerity in every thing you write. This is one of those moments.

    I have never wished for someone I don’t really “know” to get better as much as I have for you. Because it doesn’t really matter that we don’t know you physically, we know you for who you are (years of reading!), how well we relate to you, and for how good you are. Because you, Heather, are a good person. A very friendly familiar face. And we should wish all the best in the world to good hearted people. They deserve it. They’re the ones who feel this world as a whole with all its good and bad effects. We’re invisible but yet together and holding your hand, the hand of a friend. I know I am since 2004.

    Someone once said to me “Give it some time. It WILL get better, I promise.” and even though I was in disbelief at that time, I held those words close to my heart. What a wonderful thing to find out there is all the truth in the world in those words. So I say it to you.

    Hang in there, Heather. Give it some time because someday in the near future, it is going to get better. It is going to ache less. It is going to be all right.

    I promise.

  • Jen

    Maybe she is waiting for you to tell her she is safe now.

    Sending you hugs and love and peace…

  • AliciaMaria

    Goddamn, do you have some awesome readers! Never have I been so proud to be a part of an online community. <3 We're all rooting for you, chica. (I almost typed rotting instead of rooting, that would've been weird..)

  • Rapieress

    My dearest Heather Armstrong…

    I’ve been reading you for years as you have lead the way through the blog-sphere, only occasionally have I stopped to comment because I simply love your writing style and often don’t think that you need anything added to it from me.

    But you are the mother to your tribe (hello mom), an honor bestowed upon you whether you felt ready for it or not, and any woman that can create such a blog empire can handle this divorce… and the needs of her children.

    You have the power to make everyone well.

    Because they will recover, and need you to recover faster.

    I have Hashimotos disease. I lost my father at age 18. My ex chose to move with our son when I was working for a company that sent me traveling for work. Depression is a common issue for those of us with thyroid disease. We have to fight everyday to be in our lives. Let me tell you it is well worth the battle.

    My son had a learning disability. The type of career I chose was wiped out by the real estate melt-down. And how did we survive?

    Because being a mom was the only thing that mattered and you know that it is an amazing thing. I know you know this. You are the lioness, the head of your pride and you have the ability to get your entire family through this.

    I know with all my heart that it is in you.

    Regardless of what you feel happened to many years ago.

    Take your kids and go volunteer. Go plant some trees. Go feed some single mothers.

    Grow some flowers.

    Because you are bigger than all this.

    xo
    Catherine
    “red”

  • AusKate

    Heather I am so sorry you are in pain.
    You give so much to so many with your honesty and I hope you can somehow feel the support of all us out here in the world who are thinking of you and that it can help ease your pain.

  • TxSuzyQ

    I have one of those specters too. Mine doesn’t seem to want anything except to remind me, I’m guessing, so that I can avoid the mistakes that made her so unhappy all those years ago.

    Thats my take on it.

    Keep trudging forward. The mud and the muck isn’t this deep forever.

  • ClaireinAustin

    that is a hard day indeed. From what you describe it sounds like you are grieving. If so, maybe the course you travel will be like this, some days calm and sunny, some stormy, until you move past it and come out on the other side. I have lots of tricks to help me when I get low that I’m tempted to share, but I don’t want to give you an avalanche of unsolicited advice, and of course I don’t know you so I don’t know what would be really helpful to you, even though I would really like to help. And every person’s grief is different. But know there is so much good will coming your way, from me and many other people. I look forward to reading sometime in the near future that there has been a shift, that you feel healed, and that there are way more good days than bad ones. And what a hero you are for being so patient with Leta when you were struggling. pat yourself on the back for that one. wishing you peace in your heart.

  • benderhill

    Heather,

    My 10-year old specter wants to give your 10-year old specter a hug, and to tell her that it will be okay.

    And my 36-year old self wants to give your 30-something year old self a hug too.

    There will be a light at the end of this. You and that little 10 year old inside of you will be okay. As will your daughters.

    C

  • TurdFerguson

    I don’t have anything to say that’s insightful or eloquent. I’ve been checking in more frequently because I worry about you. I just wanted to let you know that you’re brave and so honest with your feelings. You have so many people that care for you and are rooting for you. I pray that you will get through this and find peace. Stay strong, Heather.

  • susanruffin

    Oh Dooce, I just downloaded BE HERE NOW dammit. Please don’t drop your basket. You’re needed more than you’ll ever know.

  • floridagal73

    More hugs Heather. I can’t know your pain, but I feel for you and I hope that every day you walk closer to peace. Let your children be your every day reminder that, in the end, it will all be ok. No matter the outcome – you will all be ok.

    When you feel that you can’t cope with the minutae of daily life – don’t. Do something else. Take them for ice cream instead of making dinner. Stop what you’re doing that is causing you stress and pain and play a board game. It’s okay to sometimes tell your pain you just aren’t going to do it. Make it your bitch and tell it to just wait. And then, in your time, cry. Because that’s ok too.

    Everyone that has said that 10 y.o. girl wants you to know she’s ok is right. She’s letting you know that no matter, she is strong, she will go far and she will have a whole internet family who loves her and stands beside her, come what may.

    Stay strong Heather. XO

  • Jen Cottrell

    Heather,

    Oh, how I feel for you. I’ve been there: the unknown, the pain, the grief. I understand the breakdowns, the tears, the traumatic childhood, and the deafening silence and blinding darkness that seemingly fill your world right now.

    You have been a pillar of inspiration and hope for me since I “discovered” you in 2009. Just as others have admitted, I don’t “know” you personally, but you have become somewhat of a friend to me. Checking your website is an element in my life as routine as starting my coffee or brushing my teeth in the morning. Reading about your struggle is as painful as an old friend crying to me on the telephone.

    You are brave. You are strong. And you will pull through. I wish you strenghth and courage while you navigate yourself through this difficult time.

    Hugs from Chicago…

  • collegemama67

    Heather, she is waiting for you to set her free…

    The 10 year old in you has been ruling your life for over 20+ years and until you tell her that you love her but she will no longer control of your life and then let her go you will always be at the mercy of that 10 year old.

    I know this because my 6-year-old self was who ruled me and almost cost me my marriage. (See my response to Jon on blurbomat) and after 6 months of counseling together we got our crap together after we said goodbye to our 6 and 8 year olds that had controlled us for the first 8 years of our relationship.

    On Monday, February 13th (which we actually were married on Friday the 13th – go figure) Wayne and I will be married 25 years! We love each other more now than we ever did the first 8 years of marriage and we have seen great ups and downs and both Wayne and I have some mental health issues and so does our daughter who is marrying the love of her life in June.

    Breathe and know that tomorrow is another day and sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you and even sometimes the bear eats you and then pulls up the asphalt to check for blood and bones. You WILL get better and your family WILL be better! Hugs and kiss to the forehead.

  • firefly1818

    I had a similar encounter with a 10 y.o. me, just a couple of weeks ago…I needed to calm her down that Dad was not that scary in reality, that she needed to take all his stupid accusations with a grain of salt, that I feel very bad that she had to leave her home because of him and to live with her grandparents for 13 years. But then again, I told her, you were so lucky to have great grandparents and the best little brother in the world, you can’t have it all, it’s not how it works. And, most importantly, I had to explain her that she was a strong person, that she could deal with it and that she would not need to extrapolate her father’s idiotic behavior on the males’ part of the humankind.
    Anyway, it was not a bad day, I think. It was a milestone, which I needed to work on, I reached it and left it in my past. I hope you reach yours soon.

  • stan7826

    This breaks my heart. And I think I know exactly how you feel, since I’m just on the other side of the tunnel that you’re entering. It’s not fun. It’s not a good time. But you will make it through. And it will get better.

  • tinacolada97

    I’m sure your therapist already told you this but: just because it wasn’t *as bad as someone else’s story* doesn’t mean it wasn’t bad. I didn’t realize this until I took a class for my teaching degree on recognizing abuse in children. Emotional abuse? I had every single symptom. But, like you, until it was brought to my attention, I never considered myself abused because compared to a lot of my friends, I had a very healthy normal upbringing.

    Here’s hoping you can have the confrontation with that 10 year old version of yourself and get better.

  • kirstanator

    Thinking of you and hoping tomorrow is a better day. I wish I had more to offer.

  • habedsole

    I’m crying for you. And praying for you, Jon, Leta, and Marlo. I don’t mean that in any way judgmental because I know my beliefs are different from yours. But you are special to me and I care about you, even though we’ve never met. Things will get better.

  • mybottlesup

    my friend, trauma is relative, and the world is filled with triggers and minefields. i wish you deep breaths, hope, and a new day.

  • Shea

    I had to come back to say, I don’t know.

    I don’t know how you’ll make it. I don’t know how you’ll survive but I just know you will and on bad days that one fact has to be good enough.

    It is good enough.

  • BrigidS

    My heart aches for you. I wished that there was something a stranger like me could do from so many miles away so I went and clicked on all the ads on your page. Helps me think I’m helping, anyway.

    p.s. You are the bravest writer I know.

  • charm city

    I’ve read dooce off and on since 2004. I divorced during that time. I joined today to tell you this:

    It does get better.
    It will get better.
    You will survive this.
    You can handle this.
    You are resilient and strong.
    You don’t have to be stoic.
    It does get better.
    There is hope.
    And I’m hopeful for you.

  • Lana in Canada

    I have been reading your blog for a few years now and when I read what was going on with you and Jon, I felt so sad. Strange since we have never even met, but not so strange since I know so much about your life. A one-sided friendship!
    You are in my thoughts every day and I wish I could have you over to sit in my sunroom, and watch the birds at the feeders, and just BE.
    Instead, I will send you my love and strength. It WILL get better. Keep on keeping on, Heather.

  • Cool_Mable

    I came across this letter written by Paul Banks, the lead singer of Interpol to a fan. I hope sharing this doesn’t seem trite – or irrelevant to the struggles you are having. I read it almost weekly when I have personal difficulties and it reminds me to be hopeful.

    Dear Hailey,

    No matter how sad you may get, it’s always passing. You may wake up blue, and by the afternoon, everything will be rosey. Sadness is a strange companion. And a nuisance. So try not to pay it too much mind. And be present in your happy moments — and weigh them against the sad. It’s all worth it. And you will arrive somewhere wonderful with peace in your heart.

    All my love and hope to you, young lady.

    PB

    I send those same sentiments to you, Heather. love and hope.

  • PrettyGirlMyers

    It’s amazing how what happens in our childhoods shapes us as adults. Growing up my dad was always working, and when he was home we tiptoed around him like he was a livewire-anything could set him off, and then the yelling and slamming would begin. People often quantify abuse as physical, but you don’t have to be hit to be hurt. My mom had four kids that she didn’t really want, and for all of my childhood and early adult years all I wanted was for her to tell me she loved me and she was proud, but those words never left her mouth. And now, as a semi-successful single mom raising two kids, I’ll never escape the feeling that I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not pretty enough. Sometime it isn’t what’s said, but what isn’t said that does the most damage.

  • Winsome

    So sweet – my heart just blew open….

    IMO your 10 year old self just wants to be heard. She seems like a spectre because she is just waiting to be seen and heard… She’ll feel less so the more you give her voice and take her hand the way you took Leta’s.

    Similar stuff – I have no clear experience I can point to to explain my issues. Just something twisted in my history that taught me to be feel victimized and hopeless in certain ways. I identify with the experience you describe and went through some similar therapy.

    Been a long-time follower and am wishing you, Jon, and your children a soft and beautiful place to land at you face all this. Thank you for your candor.

  • hkrieger

    Heather: I think of you contantly and wish that somehow this could all jyst go away. I don’t have any sage advice or a magic pill, but I just want to say that I think of you often and just hope that this will resolve in the best way for you as soon as possible. Sending love… Heather

  • beanyg

    I know that you are only giving us a snapshot on this blog. And I know that you detest advice. But here’s something I learned in therapy: When you relive trauma your brain might understand that you are no longer experiencing it, but your body does not. You can have an actual biological response to a memory that is remarkably similar to the moment the trauma actually happened.

    Based only on your posts (which, again, I realize only scratch the surface of your experience), I think your therapist is wrong. The answer almost never lies in our past, it’s in the action we take today.

    Cognitive behavioral therapy (i.e., not “talk” therapy) can give you real, concrete ways to change your thinking today, rather than wallowing around in unchangeable past.

  • cecilia

    I have this guy trait in that I want to fix everything. I wish I could. I wish I had the answers to help you. Partly because your writing is so strong and special that you have made a difference in my life. I’d like to reciprocate.

    Short of knocking on your door with wild nail polish and margarita mix, this comment is the best I can do. My thoughts are with you. I wish you the space, oxygen, time, strength and peace to be sad if you need to and then to be able to be happy.

  • HooliaAnn

    Oh, Heather. All of our hearts are breaking for you. Like my friend reminded me last night, “The bad days make you work for better ones.”

    I don’t know why music helps one minute and not the next. Maybe because sometimes silence can say things that words could never speak. But I heard this today and thought of you. Keep working for the better days, we’re all behind you.

    http://youtu.be/8Dw8qdmT_aY

  • Cheeky Muffy

    I know what she’s waiting for.

  • Norabloom

    @ beanyg, I agree about the benefits of CBT, but disagree that there isn’t value in examining the past as well. Even when we do our best to ignore it, “the past” has an ugly way of intruding upon our lives, whether we want it to or not.

    Even though we can have a physical reaction when reliving past trauma, I still don’t think that the solution is to avoid it. There is some interesting research being done on the use of beta blockers (which inhibit the physical symptoms of anxiety)in the treatment of PTSD. The idea isn’t to avoid thinking about the trauma, but rather to stop the panic that often arises when we think about the trauma. I do agree that CBT is a very effective way to change our behavior.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/02/ending-the-nightmares-how-drug-treatment-could-finally-stop-ptsd/252079/

    Heather, I am sorry for your grief and I wish you all strength and peace.

  • Norabloom

    Also, I am in no way suggesting that Heather has PTSD, should try beta blockers, or anything of the sort. My comments about dealing with trauma are strictly general in nature.

  • femmeknitzi

    I recently learned in therapy that I have PTSD just from having a mildly screwed up childhood. I’ve worked with rape and domestic abuse survivors so I know what PTSD looks like but I had never identified in myself. I didn’t have any sexual or physical abuse here either. But, my therapist said, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that trigger me; things that I react to stronger than makes sense for people who haven’t been through what I’ve been through. I can’t change it, I can’t prevent being triggered, but I can know when it happens WHY it happens. And the why means that it’s not my fault. It’s not my failure. And it’s not yours either. *hugs*

  • carepackagegirl

    Here’s what I see:
    Your kids look ok. They are not scared, they are not sad.
    They look happy and AS USUAL.

    That means you’re doing a terrific job, you just don’t know it.

    You’ll be ok. You’re stronger than you think. Chuck told me so.

  • RaynaErin

    Anger scares the shit out of me. As a child I would literally tremble in fear when anyone yelled. My mother’s anger was a living, breathing monster that could errupt at any minute. As a 32 year old woman I know how to deal with anger, but that little girl is always in my head, wanting to run and cry in private. Because anger is dissapointment and dissapointing someone has always been my biggest fear.
    This too shall pass. One day you’ll be on the other side of this. But until then, take it day by day. Minute by minute if you have to. And allow yourself your emotions. They are valid and they are important.