Heather B. Armstrong

What long nights would end

One of you needs me.

Writing that makes me sound like an egomaniacal douche, but when have I not sounded like an egomaniacal douche? I don’t care. This post must begin with those words because I want that person to know that I have come back to this website to rebuild it for them.

Many of you probably need me for the same reason as the one, but I am purposefully downplaying that number so that you will take this seriously. I do not want you to wave this off as proof that my ego can consume entire cities without even belching or dismiss it as one of my wild exaggerations1 or tangents2. This is too important.

Let me reassure you, though, that you are, indeed, reading the website of that deranged, gormless nutter whose dog once ate an entire corn dog and passed the stick in its entirety out of his dime-sized rectum a month later. Yes, I am the mother who exploited her children for millions and millions of dollars3 only to blow all that filthy lucre on a 12,000 square-foot house plagued with random animals including a cat the previous owner tried to kill by locking it in the attic—that was 11 years ago and at least once a month I google “DIY cat murderer” to see if that person attempted this sort of thing on the regular. I discovered that still-very-much-alive cat by pure accident not even an hour after Chipped-Tooth Baby Bobo got their nickname. The date was July 19th, 2010. It was the day I turned 35 years old.

There are too many stories to recount, but I wonder if you remember when I accosted Peter Frampton on an airplane and asked him if I could take his picture while holding a sign4 that said hello to my friend5. He could have been a total jerk and told me to sod off, but instead he graciously declined6. Two years later he visited Salt Lake City while on tour and invited me and the father of my children to visit him backstage. Five weeks after that I asked for a career-ending divorce and read about it in The NY Times and Huffington Post. We’ve all had the dream where we show up to work or to school and realize we are totally nude, right? What would you do if that dream came true? What if it were to come true in front of hundreds of thousands of people?

I am still very much the same Heather who made Banana Republic a little bit angry7 when I wrote a sponsored post containing the words “hairy vagina.” I was describing the pain management techniques I used after an afternoon spent horseback riding, a purposeful reference to the three-part miniseries I wrote about Marlo’s birth in which I magically turned myself into a yard ornament in the shape of a giant ball. I had to go back and read that part of the labor story to remember if I’d used the word yard or garden. Being picky about stupid things like this makes life fun for those around me, no doubt, but it’s this picky thing that led to what happened next. And what happened next is the reason I had to come back to this website. For you.

I posted a picture of myself to accompany that episode of the story, and when I saw the outline of my pregnant belly I had to shut my laptop, run down two flights of stairs to the garage, and climb into the passenger side of my car to hide my body underneath the dashboard. Once I maneuvered the door shut I folded my arms over my head to claw at my back and muffle the sound of unbridled agony. I run to that remote corner of the home because I don’t want anyone to hear me or to find my body in that ridiculous contorted shape. If the kids wonder where Mom is, neither of them is going to say, “I bet she’s underneath the dashboard on the passenger side of her car.”

Not until now. You see, I have asked them to read this. I have purposefully blown my cover.

The sound I make when this happens is involuntary—“when this happens” makes it seem as if this has happened more than once, so for the sake of letting you know how serious I am about the details of this post I’ll admit it has happened nine times in the last six weeks—and it starts as a gulping sob as it makes its way through my chest, as it scrapes several ribs and scars my sternum, jostling loose all the painful memories I have hidden in the tissue surrounding those bones. That sob very quickly explodes into something I have never heard, something I am too embarrassed to let anyone witness. The only thing I can say to help you visualize what it sounds like or feels like for me to confront those memories is to imagine yourself as a ten-year-old standing in the middle of a circle made up of every member of your family and all of your friends. They have gathered to take turns reading off every mistake and bad choice you will make over the next thirty years of your life.

I am forty-five years old, but I have the coping skills of a wounded ten-year-old girl.

When I saw myself 36 weeks pregnant with Marlo a flood of memories and emotions I have associated with those memories rushed straight at the frontal lobe of my brain. If I had spent the last twenty-two years of my life using that part of my brain to develop and practice healthy coping skills, I would have more than likely reacted with a wistful chuckle. How could I ever forget the room of people assembled for that birth and their collective gasp when Marlo came into this world toting a giant dimple in their left cheek as if it were luggage they’d packed for the trip.

Instead, I have spent the last twenty-two years of my life feeding that part of my brain a steady diet of alcohol.

Before you head down a rabbit hole I like to call “The But What About,” let me save you some time. You can throw any “but what about this” or “but what about that” at an alcoholic and we can find the loophole you can’t see.

But what about the months I was pregnant with my children? But, what about the months I spent nursing those children? This is the easiest one because the loophole is the size of the relationship France has with wine.

But what about all of the medicine I took for depression? How could I mix those drugs with alcohol without getting hurt? Wouldn’t combining those substances kill me? This one is almost as easy. First, I didn’t care if I got hurt as long as I didn’t die, so I did the second thing. Second, I figured out the magic ratio. Alcoholics can transform themselves into world-class mathematicians when numbers threaten their access to alcohol. We are also good at bookmarking conversion calculators—e.g., grams to ounces. You’d think this skill would come in handy when assisting my child with their sixth-grade math homework, but you’d be wrong. My expertise is highly specified and narrow in scope—i.e., determining how much of a benzodiazepine I can mix with alcohol.

But what about my professional life? How could I work if I was drinking all day every day? Normally I’d laugh at this and respond with, “Did you know that entire books are written by authors?” That’s funny until you find yourself with brand new insight into the corollary to that question.

How many famous and not-so-famous authors have committed suicide?

This is the most important “but what about” you could ask me because it holds my hand when I have contorted my body underneath the dashboard of my car. In fact, it leads me to that spot exactly like a psychopath lures a child away from the swing set at a park. Both are cunning and calculated. The answer to this is why you need me. It’s why I came back to rebuild this website as quickly as I could. Please understand that I cannot be flippant with my answer and that what follows may be difficult for some of you to read. I have never revealed this part of my addiction to anyone, not even my mother. She knew I was headed straight toward an early grave, but this will be the first time she knows exactly why.

I became very good at hiding both the amount of alcohol I was drinking every day and the actual alcohol itself. I’d wager most functioning alcoholics are just as good if not better at it than I was. I’ve hidden it in water bottles, shampoo bottles, spray bottles, Tupperware containers, and empty peanut butter jars. I hid those containers on every shelf of every closet in every house I have lived in. I hid them behind books and picture frames I’d displayed in rooms that didn’t see much foot traffic. I hid them underneath my bed in shoeboxes stuffed with fabric because fabric doesn’t make noise when you’re frantically trying to reach for that bottle before someone walks in. Fabric also cushions glass bottles, I noted. Remember this detail.

Seven years ago when bourbon started giving me headaches, I switched to clear liquor only to discover that it was far easier to hide. Vodka, you see, looks a hell of a lot like water. A month later I found a reddit thread filled with recipes from people who distill their own vodka at home. Most of them used potatoes, and one of the comments discussed specific brands they were trying to imitate and why. That was the day I bought my first bottle of Monopolowa vodka. Why that brand? It doesn’t smell like alcohol.

Within a week I began hiding it in my bathroom vanity. I took an empty bottle of Kerastase Elixir Ultime Oil, a product I have used to style my hair for over a decade, and washed it out with a long wire brush I’d once used to scrape the film off of the bottom of a baby bottle. I then filled it with as much Monopolowa it could hold. No one could tell the difference if they were looking for nail clippers or bandaids. This is when and how I started drinking first thing in the morning.

I was 39 years old having no idea that the bottle I held in my hand would try to kill me before the age of 46.

Are you still with me? I hope so. Because I need you to stick around. I need you understand that bestselling books and wikipedia pages and three-page spreads in People magazine tell you nothing about who I really am. The photos I’ve taken while exploring the world with organizations and celebrities and various lovers, they don’t tell you that when I traveled by plane I always checked two suitcases filled with liquid and I knew exactly how much I could pack so that those bags didn’t exceed the weight limit.

The significance of the two decades I spent being heralded and acclaimed as Queen of the Mommy Bloggers hangs in the balance as I admit all of this to you. I have everything to lose. Except, it’s already lost. Those decades are now just words on a screen. There is nothing left but a whimper inside the husk of what it was all supposed to mean.

Alcohol enslaved me and made me believe a lie intended to kill me. It made me believe that I would never again enjoy my life if I attempted sobriety. It made me believe that I would crumble underneath the weight of my anxiety without using it as a crutch to hold me upright. It whispered, “You think you are worthless now? Wait until you try life without me. You have no idea the bounds of how worthless you are.”

That whisper is the hand holding mine as it leads me to hide underneath the dashboard of my car. It forces my stunted frontal lobe to examine a slideshow of all the pain I caused while scrambling to reach for the bottle. The pain I caused my children. The pain I caused my parents. The pain I caused my partner for life. The damage I did to the innocent body that carries my soul through this physical world.

Please still be with me because I’m finally going to tell you what you need to hear, okay? Please listen to this and believe every word of what I am about to say:

The scream I emit while my body is contorted in agony is the sound of that demon leaving my body. Literally. That lie is so powerful that it makes a sound unlike anything in the world when confronted with the one thing more powerful than it.

Sobriety.

I am 43 days free of that bottle. I am 43 days free of believing that I was nothing more than a useless drunk. I will never be free of the lie because I am an addict. But now that I know it was a lie, now that I know how joyously and buoyantly powerful sobriety is, I am no longer chained to a demon that delighted in the look on my mother’s face as she tried to grapple with what it would be like to outlive her last-born child.

I am not my disease and neither are you.

Please be here. Please be with me. I need you, too. I need you to help me build something for women8 like you and me. That whimper in the husk of what I thought was success is my voice and yours. All these years I was wrong about what that success was supposed to mean.

I had no idea it all happened so that I would end up here in this specific post with you, writing these words and admitting it all to you. Forgive me if I sound like an egomaniacal douche, but you and I are going to change the world.

 

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1. Going forward, I am using footnotes as a way to bridle my perverted tendencies (let’s be honest, this is not possible). I don’t want anyone offended by four-letter words or ALL CAPS TANGENTIAL RANTING to leave if they are someone who needs to hear what I have to say. I want to make this space as safe and comfortable as possible for them while also trotting out the obscene dimwit responsible for this website in the first place. In other words, footnotes will serve as the John Bender in all-day detention.

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2. “Oh god, dooce is using footnotes and she thinks it’s funny, as if walking around with the top of her lace panties showing isn’t delusional enough. Can someone please tell that poor woman that her butt-lifting jeans aren’t doing their job.”

I won’t have to write the footnotes. They will write themselves.

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3. Can we finally set the record straight? I never made millions and millions of dollars. Some journalists are terrible at their jobs and will fact check a number without using actual facts on purpose. And then that number goes out into the ether and becomes its own entity. I mean, A PRODUCER FOR OPRAH FOR CHRISSAKES found that number published somewhere else and didn’t fact check it with facts. FOR OPRAH!

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4. “Sign” in this instance means “crumpled cocktail napkin handed to me by a flight attendant.”

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5. “Hi” in this instance means “I HATE MIKE MONTEIRO.”

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6. Not only was he super nice when told me he wasn’t interested in holding up a crumpled cocktail napkin declaring that he hated someone he didn’t know, he indulged the father of my children at the baggage carousel when said father of my children turned into a fangirl. An excerpt:

I immediately sprint with the stroller and the baby to a remote hiding place behind a column next to the door, thinking, okay, he’ll never see me here, and Jon! OH MY GOD! JON! MY HUSBAND. FATHER OF MY CHILDREN. HE WALKS UP TO FRAMPTON. And I’m screaming whispers from my hiding place, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! STOP! STOP! And I can’t hear anything from where I’m standing, but dear lord god in heaven, my husband is over there right in front of Frampton playing air guitar, swaying his hips, and pumping his hand in the shape of devil horns above his head.

Please just picture that in your head.

Remember, Jon is six feet three inches tall, weighs sixty pounds when he’s soaking wet, and his hair looks like Kramer’s.

I think I fell over dead, or maybe I just blacked out, but I don’t remember at least five minutes of my life. The sweat on my upper lip was so thick that I could have poured it into a 64-oz Big Gulp and had enough left over to water my yard.

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7. “A little bit angry” here means “I accidentally changed the entire landscape of sponsored content.” I have never written about this before, so here goes.

Banana Republic demanded that I remove the post from my website and further stipulated that I was not allowed to tell my audience why. HAIRY VAGINA IS WHY. And you want to know why they made that stipulation? Turns out HAIRY VAGINA was the least of their worries. They were far more concerned that their demographic would think they were in the business of censoring authentic content WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY WERE FUCKING DOING.

Guess what. I didn’t fucking erase the fucking post.

Sorry you had to get your sponsored content approved before publishing it! That was my fault!

Want to know another little fact about this incident? I got a phone call from the president of my ad network at the time, and dude. He was super-dee-duperly pissed. After I said hello he launched into a tirade that began with, “I am in London having dinner with the Black Eyed Peas and you go and do this and force me to get up and leave the table?!” I not only refrained from laughing, but I also stopped myself from interrupting him to say, “You’re going to name drop with me? You don’t want to name drop with me.

Here in the 7th footnote on a post you probably won’t bother to finish reading is where I tell you that I have incriminating photos of a certain celebrity on my phone that I could sell to tabloids for an amount equal to a robust retirement. Photos I took while “having a conversation” on FaceTime Video with said celebrity. “Having a conversation” will not be clarified in a footnote, but I bring this up because DUDE. DON’T NAME DROP WITH ME. Also? These photos? They are facts. You can fact check them PRODUCER ON OPRAH.

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8. I assure you that what we build will help men, too, DARYL. Don’t get yer britches in a wad.