(This entry contains talk of suicide and addiction.)

Back in 2005, I wrote a short but earth-shattering (to me) post that revealed I was 9 weeks pregnant. I wrote, in part:

Over the last few years, I’ve had a lot of confusing feelings about becoming a parent. I’ve spent so much time thinking about it, wishing it were easier, wishing I knew what I wanted, what the right thing to do was. Trying to pull apart the water-clouding issues of my age, JB’s own feelings, and, well, the unbearable cuteness of Leta.

God, everything about parenthood and pregnancy felt so confusing and terrifying to me back then. I was not the kind of woman who always knew she was going to be a mother. I was the kind of woman who secretly believed she had no fucking business being a mother: that was the dark swirl underneath my parenting ambivalence.

I linked to Heather Armstrong’s blog in that announcement because Heather’s writing helped me feel like I could do it anyway.

The comment itself just references cuteness, and that was relevant: Heather was a talented photographer who shared some of the most adorable baby photos I’ve seen. My ovaries! — you know.

But it wasn’t just the aww factor: the way Heather wrote about parenthood made it relatable to me, even though I was not yet a mother. She was funny and she was real and even though I had devoured Erma Bombeck and Shirley Jackson it was Dooce.com that helped me feel like parenting was accessible. That it was not somehow reserved solely for a certain type of person. That it was of course life-changing but also that you would still have your life, you would still be you, potty mouth and all.

I’m writing about this because I have been thinking of Heather since the news of her death.

Let me say that we were not friends. In fact, we had a couple of unfriendly interactions over the years. I didn’t continue to love her writing as time went on, but I’ll tell you this: I never stopped reading. When she wrote about her battle with alcoholism, I felt a very conflicted desire to reach out — but I never did, and now I never can.

I wish I were a better example of sobriety and not someone who literally had to go to rehab for something else entirely after quitting drinking, but it’s also true I have not had a drink for almost exactly ten years. I wish I could have shared my experience with her, the story of how and why I drank and the still-ongoing process of letting go of the shame. I wish I could have told her how much alcohol took the self-hatred I already had and made it unfathomably worse. I wish I could have told her that addiction is a real motherfucker that will never go away, it’s just like that movie It Follows, but time brings distance and empowerment and relief.

Every recovering addict has a heart full of anvils. Other addicts know; we share our stories as a way of saying we understand this weight, we carry it too. I don’t know that it lessens the load so much as it can help a person take a much-needed deeper breath.

Years ago, Heather Armstrong was a little ahead of me in parenting, and she helped light the path. I was a little ahead of her in sobriety from alcohol, and I wish I could have done the same.

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Katherine
Katherine
10 months ago

The end of Heather’s story is tragically sad. My heart breaks for Leta and Marlo and all the rest who loved her. Let me say I’m so glad your story is still ongoing, one day at a time. I think one time you said addiction is a patient bitch (?). Truer words were never spoken.

mcw
mcw
10 months ago

I’m grateful for what Heather contributed to those of us going through the extremes of parenting. When my kids were little and I was desperate for commisseration, it was a balm to read her words. In more recent years, her writing was also honest and cutting and hard to read. I hoped she’d find peace and resolution. Her way wasn’t the one I’d wish for her.

Nine
Nine
10 months ago

Thank you for writing about this. I started reading both you and Dooce long before either of you became moms and the word Mommyblogger became a thing.

Not having any kids meant moms who blog weren’t high on my list of relatableness, however I have always read your blog over the years because of your writing and the person you are that shines through your words. Your struggles with addiction and anxiety and introversion and LIFE have always been relatable to me whether they included the challenges of parenting or not. You have an authentic, honest, hilarious, thoughtful writing voice.

I stopped actively reading Dooce when she stopped being relateable (to me). Since I’m an archive reader, I’m not really sure when this was; it wasn’t a dramatic thing, like: OMG UNSUBSCRIBE. She just fell out of my online journal daily reads. Every once in a while I’d check up on her but only enough to catch up on whatever was happening which was, most often, not relateable (to me). I checked up on her again during COVID and, wow. Her writing became unrecognizable, and in retrospect it was clear she was struggling hard, but without the benefit of hindsight her posts just seemed disjointed and full of blame directed outwards like a firehose of rage. Mental health is so fragile, and I wish someone, somewhere, could have helped her too.

I didn’t know Dooce; I never interacted with her at all, despite reading about her life for literal years. I’m very sad for her kids, not only for losing their mom but for the parasocial relationship weirdness of their mom being Internet Famous. I hope they find some privacy so they can grieve however they need to. <3

Lee
Lee
10 months ago

The news was a gut-punch. It made me miss 2004-2009 bloggers so much, and want to reach out to someone, but who? I didn’t ever attend BlogHer, didn’t know anyone in person. Still, there was community there. I’m so glad you’re still here sharing. Don’t add any weight to your heart over this, though. Some demons are just too large/complicated to contend with. I do think Heather tried to get help, best she could.

Kate
Kate
10 months ago

This has hit me hard. I wasn’t aware of her death until now, which also hits me hard, considering how much a part of my life her writing, and that of all the other ‘mommybloggers’ (you, Jonniker, Amalah, Zoot, so many others) was for so long, despite not having children myself.

Kate
Kate
10 months ago

Feels weird to find out days later about a person you never met but “knew of”, and to come immediately to the website of another person you never met but started to “know of” at the same time to…somehow like be in that space with the same people with the same weird loaded celebrity grief?

I started reading you, Dooce, and Amalah in 2007 and I never stopped *shrug*. Commented here and on Amy’s site a couple times, never Dooce’s.

I don’t have anything meaningful to say. Just super fucking tragic and I wonder what we created in that era and how widespread it might actually be.

Pat Birnie
Pat Birnie
10 months ago

The way Dooce’s life unraveled is such a tragedy. Yet another life lost to addiction. Heartbreaking. I also read her from when Leta was a baby (and yours as well, since your kids were very little). I didn’t enjoy her writing in recent years, but still checked in occasionally. I’m sorry you are beating yourself up for not reaching out. It’s a difficult situation. And by the way – you are a PERFECT example of sobriety; It’s a different journey for every single person.

Meghan
Meghan
10 months ago

Thank you for writing this. Heather was a complicated, unwell person and I believe she was meanest to those who reminded her of the parts of herself she most hated. The fact that you are even having these thoughts of compassion for her after how she treated you shows the generosity of your heart and an embodied understanding of living with addiction. Recovery doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does require compassion and forgiveness of yourself and others, and I’m with you. I wish Heather could have had more of it.

Vic
Vic
10 months ago

I too read Dooce from the beginning and loved Heather’s personal and funny writing. She created real connection with her writing (as do you!). Then over the years we all read in real time how hard she struggled. It was all there in her writing – raw and difficult to read. Mental illness is so insidious – she tried in every way she could to overcome, but in the end her brain was telling her that this was the right path. I think everyone who knows someone who has taken their own life wishes they could have somehow made the difference. Yes – it is so, so heartbreaking. If only.

Shawna
10 months ago

I hadn’t read Heather in many years – I knew she had Marlo but I think even by then she wasn’t one of my regular reads. And I heard just snippets every now and then in the blogosphere that made me not regret the fact I’d stopped reading. But she was a big deal and her blog encouraged a lot of other women to see value in their stories and put them out there, and no one deserves the ending she got. I’m sorry for her pain and especially sorry for her kids.

Rachel
Rachel
10 months ago

I read her from early days, and can’t help wondering how much her life went the way it did because the internet is such a horribly unkind place. People like you and she who have had the courage to be flawed in public get the worse people in the world clawing into your heads, along with the terrible things we all already fear about ourselves.
I’ve been reading you forever, and I care about you, even though I don’t know you. I hope you and yours stay well.

Clare
Clare
10 months ago

One long nightshift many years ago (2008 I think), I came across yourself, Amalah, Dooce, The Sphors and Gorillabuns. For 12 hrs I was immersed, and I have followed along since that day. I’ve never met any of you in person, nor interacted any more than a comment here of there over the years, but each of your stories have impacted me in immeasurable ways, and for that I am so very thankful to those who have been willing to share.

Last edited 10 months ago by Clare
Misha
10 months ago

I have thought abut this post since the day you posted it. I am genuinely in awe of your graciousness. I am also so thankful for your voice.

Scarlett
Scarlett
10 months ago

Your writing is breathtaking. The way you weave round a subject, be it lighthearted or dark, and always conclude with a definite marker at the end. I’ve read your writing here for years, before you became a parent.
Over the years I’ve flitted in and out of reading Heather’s writing, sometimes it seemed as though she’d scratched it out with a sharp instrument, like graffiti on a desk and I’d look away, sometimes for months, years even.
I’d looked her up not that long ago and, by chance, read of her death on British media and felt way more shocked than I felt I needed to be. Heather is gone? Really, truly gone?
I knew you’d write about this and I’ve read what you’ve written countless times over the last few weeks and each time I do so my thoughts are that you’ve composed your thoughts to this tragic end with a sharpness and grace that I’m sure Heather would appreciate.