Sometimes I feel like the most definitive part of aging is the sense of zooming out. As though every year provides an outlook that is slightly wider and more comprehensive than the one before. As though I maybe started out with an extremely narrow hole of a perspective and the hole keeps getting bigger and bigger and more and more things come into focus.

I feel like I am increasingly able to look at my whole life in this way, too. I mean, the stories I created and internalized and never questioned for decades. The workplaces that sometimes felt like my whole world but were in fact just jobs and now I barely remember them. The entire experience and spectrum of being female over the last 50 years, including that one really special year we all realized America would rather elect a lumpy bag of angry misspelled Cheetos than a woman.

The trends and moments that come and go, come and go. The way memories fade more slowly when they have a little shittiness to make them stick. The great big world around my small life.

Many years ago my mom’s partner flew us around the Seattle area in his little 4-seat Mooney plane and I’ll never forget the perspective of seeing Mt. Rainier in comparison to the city. I’d seen the mountain from a commercial aircraft but this was somehow different: the mountain just towered over everything. It felt comical that humans thought they were more important than this ridiculously majestic thing.

It seems to me that in my own process of aging, there is a Mt. Rainier of sorts that is juuuuuuuuust starting to come into sight. Like I’m slowly starting to round a corner that leads away from endless despair over wrinkles and sagging flesh and the end of young everything including motherhood. Like every step broadens the view.

(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 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.

← Previous PageNext Page →