Dancing with an arrow

She dances and dances a funny little two year old jig, trying trying trying to get her Daddy to laugh. He sits staring around her at the TV, his elbow on the armrest, finger under his chin, no smile turning up the corners of his mouth. He just can't. She wiggles and hops, brown curls bouncing to her heart's desperate attempt to fix him, to make him laugh, if only she could dance long enough.

He lifts his hand for his glass and the ice makes that familiar sound as it bounces like she does. He gulps and stares past her.

It's not cute. It's not fair. It's not her job, but her huge little heart makes her keep dancing. Because she wants to fix it, she wants to pull him out when all he can do is look in. She wants to be seen, really seen. Not with a glance away from the screen or with a nod and a flat remark. Just really seen so his eyes would light up. Because if he really saw her, it would surely make him happy.
She's still dancing. Still trying to be sure he's feeling okay, so no matter what she does or does not do, she's always thinking of him, how he would feel. Would his heart lift or fall because of this or that thing she chooses or does not choose? That's what she's always considering before herself. And it's not just her Daddy. She may have learned to dance in front of that chair, but she does the same for pretty much everyone.

She dances and she dances in her grown up careful and kind way, and she drinks. Because dancing for other people is exhausting, and at least the drinking is just for her.

(written in response to a conversation with a friend,
a beautiful person I'm crazy happy to know.)


I've been dancing too.

I've also been overwhelmed with gratitude and humility, a kind that's new territory for me.

Thank you for giving me the gift of your words and thoughts and prayers after my last post. There is no way to form sentences that line up in just the right way to say what that feels like. So, just thank you.

To answer a very important and valid question, yes I am getting help. I don't know exactly what that will look like at this point. The last few days have been a blur of processing with my family and friends, crying and questioning, phone calls and appointments...you get the idea. Help is definitely something I know I need and will be getting.

To keep rolling with this transparency thing, I want to say that there's one reason I wish I could take back this very public labeling of myself. That reason is not that I'm going to keep drinking (although I'd like to, I've been saying, "I do want to drink, but I'm not tempted to drink," which maybe make sense only to me). The actual reason for my regret is probably a dancing one...

Society has a way of honing in on labels and therefore not seeing the person as a whole with a label part. (Could that be a more confusing sentence?) I guess I'm talking about stigma. BIG BAD STUPID STIGMA.

Many of you mentioned either in comments or emails that you "had no idea." Of course you didn't. I didn't say it, I hid it.

This label thing is largely why.

It was hard for me to trust that my friends and family, online and off, would still simply see me as Heather. Not Heather The Alcoholic. Yes, I have a drinking problem and it needed admitting, but it is really hard to be known as a label. After all, we are all so much more than just one word.

Just one word is a label.

And it feels like your humanity is taken away if you have one. Obviously, there are millions of people with millions of labels, I'm not saying this one is worse. I'm simply saying that I was afraid of carrying it around.

That's why, when I've written posts in the past about how truly flawed I am, I didn't add, "because I drink too much every night." First of all, that's not the only way I'm flawed. Secondly, I couldn't do that yet because I couldn't stop, not without help and I was terrified of the label since I'm still me, even with my addiction.

It is very very hard for me to stop dancing and just say, screw what people think.

Very hard.

Obviously, it's part of my problem. I care far too much what people think, even if I like to believe I've come a long way.


Yes, I used alcohol to cope. Yes, there are things I need to work on, lots of things. A part of me really is the term "alcoholic." But here's the thing, once someone is known as an "alcoholic," it's as if there's a huge red arrow following them around, pointing out their dysfunction. And then everyone is looking at the arrow, not the person. (Except for people who are good at ignoring arrows, which are few of us if we're all honest.)

Like this...

How do I get over caring about that arrow? Caring that everyone might be staring at an arrow when they look at me? Maybe even for the rest of my life?

This is why so many people quit without telling, and I totally get that. They don't have to tell. Not the entire world. There are no rules. Quitting is the important thing. Getting help can be a private thing.

And now I feel like apologizing for being sorry that I told you. Because I'm not completely sorry. This promise is still here, and it's for my family. It's helping me to stay away from drinking.

So it's very sad that my only regret is based on what people think.

It's just not my job to care what other people think.

I'm on a journey to really accepting that.

With an arrow over my head.

70 clicked right here to comment:

Lisa Page Rosenberg said...

Finding my arrow saved my life.
God bless my arrow and yours, fair one.

Lindsey said...

The arrow may be part of who you are, but it isn't the sum total of you, not by a long stretch.

Amanda @ The Mom Job said...

YOU define you, not one thing you do. You are never *just* a mother, *just* a wife, *just* a daughter, *just* a neighbor. I will never scroll through my blog reader and think "up! haven't read the alcoholic's blog today *click*". Just keep doing what you are doing. I think you made a huge step, then addressed the stigma in this post (beautifully, I might add) and are on the way to taking control of this evil thing.
In other words - you go girl.

Heidi said...


This is only the second blog post of yours that I've read ... but I don't think of you as "Heather, the alcoholic." No, I think something more along the lines of "Heather, the extraordinarily honest" or "Heather, the beautiful writer" or "Heather, the one who knows how to cut through to the heart with her words."

We don't see you by your label, Heather. And as someone who has just "met" you I can already see that there is so much more to get to know about you - you can't possibly be reduced to "alcoholic".

Praying for you.

katdish said...

Honestly, Heather - I can completely identify with the dancing thing. I am the youngest of 4 and I used humor to get attention. Good thing I'm over that, huh? Anyway, you are not a label. You are Heather. I do care what other people think, but not nearly as much as I used to. And as harsh as this may sound, getting to a place where you just don't give a sh*t what people think is incredibly liberating, because you spend more time caring FOR people than about them. Does that make sense? It totally does in my head.

Heather of the EO said...

Thank you for understanding me. I do know that I'm more than this...I just have to GET OVER thinking about what other people are thinking when they look at me.

Hard for me...

Heather of the EO said...

Oh Katdish, it makes trillions of sense. YES. And I love it and I hope to get there.

Sheryl said...

oh boy did i dance! i danced for all the wrong reasons, for all the wrong people. never good enough. never really SEEN.

you are heather to me. always will be. your issues/problems/addictions, they are a part of who you are. they are NOT you.

it's all a part of the process. getting to the point where we don't care what others think. to the point where if God is the ONLY ONE who notices us then we are whole.

i love you....

Erin said...

When I picture you, there are about ten arrows pointing at your head. They say things like: Beautiful, brave, survivor, hilarious, mother, REALLY FABULOUSLY AWESOME.
There's no arrow that says alcoholic. Not a one. Is it a part of you? Sure. But does it DEFINE you? No.

Aimee said...

I said in my last comment that you are still you underneath all of this and I meant it. Having just come across your blog less than a week ago (maybe?) I KNOW from reading that you are extraordinary. I know that you can take this bull by the horns and come out standing on top. You are that person. So, it's that person on the inside--the one you really are, that you will draw your strength from. Because first and foremost, you are doing this for YOU. For the girl who is dancing in front of the mirror waiting to see her OWN smile b/c that smile is really the only one that should matter. You'll get there.

L.T. Elliot said...

I don't see an arrow. I see a beautiful, deep, thoughtful woman who loves her children, her husband, her family, and her friends. I see a woman full of honesty, truth, and light. I see someone who bestows grace, accepts grace with gratitude, and knows God in one of the most intimate ways I've ever seen. I see a person who lives--and therefore hurts, feels, struggles, cries, and in spite of it all, endeavors to be better than she was yesterday. I see a person I love. I see a person I want to know better. I see a woman I want to be more like.
I see you.
And you is so very, very beautiful.

Aunt LoLo said...

I don't know if this will make sense, but...I don't think of you as Heather, The Alcoholic. I think of you...the same way I think of one of my grandmothers. You're Heather, an alcoholic, who used to drink too much and now is Pulling Up Her Big Girl Panties and kicking that habit to the curb. I hope that came out right. I think I speak for all of us when I say we're just PROUD of you. Nothing else. Does that make sense to you? You can do this!!!!!!

And you know what? If there IS anybody around here to thinks ill of you...they can leave. Seriously - this is a blog, and nobody FORCES us to care about you and what you write. Assume that we're all thinking the best about you. *Grin*

mandiegirl said...

I think that the arrows that we see are often invisible to others- we create the things that are 'wrong' with us, tormenting ourselves. I'm learning(just beginning) to see who I really am- the real me- not how others see me, or even how I see myself, but how HE sees me, the one who made me. That's how we should really see ourselves.

Chief said...

It doesn't matter to me that you are an alcoholic.

Of course I care that you are in pain.

But the fact that it is alcoholism makes no difference to me. If you had told me you had MS, or some other disease I would feel the same way. Heather is hurting. I wish she wouldn't.

What about the other arrows? The ones that point to Heather saying "friend", "writer", "wife", "daughter", "mother"... I see those arrows too.

Take it easy on yourself please.

Oh, and I was a dancer too... I finally decided to stop dancing a few years back.

Peace to you my friend

Kelly said...

It's totally not your job to worry about what others think. Your job is to live your life in a healthy and honest way. You are doing that. When I see your face, the only labels that pop into my mind are "brave," "honest," and "talented." Keep those arrows in mind, too.

Also, have you read "The Four Agreements"? If not, please pick it up. Amazing for codependents (like us).

BaronessBlack said...

Yes, Heather, there will be people who will judge you (and others). That's the world and we've got to deal with it.
But, there are also many, many people with big hearts and good taste who love you as you are now, and as the person you are becoming!

Blessed said...

We all have our own form of dance, don't we? Even those of us who learned early on not to care what people think of us - we still dance, and we'll admit it if we're honest. I know, I'm one of those!

I think you are an awesome lady and I look forward to reading the part of your journey you share with us here along with the rest of the stuff you keep writing!

Bina said...

I am sure that I am not the only one you have heard this from, but I feel like I know you... Like I have known you all my life. But I don't...what I know is the place where you are, the place that you stand...the thoughts of the arrow.

It was years ago when I did what you did in that post... My public confession didn't happen on my blog, as I didn't have it then, but it did happen in letters to everyone in my life...in personal confessions to those who were affected by my choices... It took me a long time to not look in the mirror and see the addict looking back; for me to look and see a woman, a mom, a wife...a daughter of God. It took me a long time to believe that I was more than the pills that I had worshipped for so long...

...it will take you some time to see that you can dance withOUT the arrow on your face...

...but the time WILL come.

YOU are beautiful...worthy...and worth the effort. I am praying for you...each and every day.

Many, many hugs from a heart that loves yours...

Deb said...

well, quite honestly, i think a lot of people kind of made that leap on their own, which is fine. your friends here are awesome and supportive. but what i saw in that post is that you have been coping and self-medicating and you want to stop doing that. i don't necessarily think that makes you an alcoholic. but that is just me. now, maybe you ARE, but like you said, that certainly isn't the only thing you are. but, maybe you AREN'T. maybe what is going on is you need to face the issues that make you want to escape and once you don't want to escape anymore, you won't want to self-medicate. i don't know. i have not been in your shoes.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

It might feel like it right now, but you are NOT the arrow. It's just one aspect of you. (In addition to creative, honest, emotive, etc.)

Ultimately, you are defined by your Creator, who labels you blessed, chosen, adopted, favored, redeemed and forgiven.

Now THOSE are some arrows worth dancing with.

Anonymous said...

dear friend, when I look at your picture I see arrows. They say "courageous woman," "beautiful person," "talented writer," "loving mommy," "real person."

And if there's one there that says "alcoholic," it's all covered up by the other, bigger, truer arrows.

I don't even really know you but I am just so proud of you.

jen said...

wanted to comment on your last post ... but never got to saying the things that i wanted to say in the way that i wanted to say them.
labels. honestly ... from someone who has to give them too often ... labels don't have to DEFINE the WHO that you are. but they can be very helpful in defining the WHAT happens next.
look at your label as a stepping stone.
thinking of you. wishing you peace in the waves of the river.

Jami said...

We are all deeply flawed hence the need for a Savior. I promise to always see you as Heather, who writes beautifully and honestly about life as it is. Joys and sorrows. Our fault and others. You are you. And I love you.

Lee of MWOB said...

Dude - all I have to say is that I hope you know you never ever ever have to dance for me.

But I sure as hell hope you'll dance with me again sometime.

Kerri said...

While I totally understand your feelings on this one, I want you to know that the only arrows I think of are "Brave, Courageous, Honest." Oh and "Great Writer." And "Loving mother."

Judging--I just don't have any space for it in my very flawed head (which has lots of arrows pointing at it...and while I can generally only read the negative labels, I know Heavenly Father sees the whole me. I only hope one day I can see myself as He sees me.)

I've been praying for you. Keep up the courage! You're doing great!

Alison said...

Not everyone sees the arrow... and not everyone who does see the arrow sees the word alcoholic, some of us see "strong", "open", "honest", or some such incredibly inspiring label... just so you know...

The Boob Nazi said...

Good luck on your journey! People are so much more than things people label them as.

Eowyn said...

I feel like anything I say here would sound trite or repetitive. You are Heather and you are beautiful!

I think I'll just e-mail you.

Debbie said...

You are such a wonderful, beautiful woman and there are so many layers to you. This is just one. One of many, many, many. It does not define you.

deb said...

All of the above.
And I do agree with Deb,above ,that your evening ritual of self medicating is about coping. That is the thing you need to focus on. Learning a different dance. Learning about what the issues are.
And I would never see an arrow. I will always see how you came into my heart with yours. And how you love your family. And that apron too, I want that!!

And when I started to read that memory above, I was floored. Beyond words.

love to you,
hug yourself for me.

Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities said...

Outshine that arrow and people will stop pointing and asking and judging. Be who you are, write who you are, love your sweet ones like crazy, let life glow and that arrow will be but a shadow of a shadow that people will have to squint to see. (Idealistic? Perhaps.) You are so much more than that arrow.

sara said...

sometimes that arrow needs another arrow stamped over it...a "return to sender" arrow. Because Satan would love for you to live as if you had that arrow pointing at you. I can't remember who gave me that, but when ugly thoughts enter my mind or thoughts of failure or not measuring up...I stamp a big read pointing hand over it "return to sender"!

((hugs)) to you!

Adventures In Babywearing said...

I am being completely honest when I say you are still the same Heather to me, the before I knew Heather, because while I think what you're going thru is BIG, it really doesn't phase my love for you. Because it's not YOU. You are you. It was just an accessory you're not going to wear anymore. And if you must, just totally work that red arrow- I hear it's really big this spring. :)

Love you,

Adventures In Babywearing said...

PS, I wanted to also say that EVERYTHING you said her makes so much sense, too.


a Tonggu Momma said...

Everything you said makes perfect sense, but we are all so much more than our challenges, even so much larger than our worst mistakes. Maybe it's because I'm sick of being "the adoptive momma" or maybe because so many of my friends have been "(fill in the blank name), who has cancer," but I don't see an arorw. I don't see a label. Unless you count the label that reads "Heather, who is extraordinary amidst the ordinary."

Mommy Mo said...

The only arrow I see says "human".

May I have the next dance?

Love you.

Sarah said...

sigh... labels. exactly. there are so many things I don't say or admit because I'm afraid of being labeled. Even when I started homeschooling my kids last year I was scared to tell anyone - I didn't want to be labeled a "homeschooler". I know. dumb. but I understand what your saying. and I thank you for having the courage to say it. you have given me the courage to write what I NEED to write even though I may be labeled because of it.

You can do this, Heather... not by YOUR strength... but by HIS. :)

Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting said...

Arrow? What arrow? I don't see any stinkin' arrow. I see my friend Heather, who makes me laugh, cry, and so FREAKIN' glad to know her, and to be her friend.

Corinne said...

I feel like I don't have much of a leg to stand on, because I'm having issues w/ my own arrows...

But YOU are not an arrow. You are an incredible woman who is SO much more.

And you? You totally make sense to me. Sending you love.

Samantha said...

Hi Heather...
I totally get the labels fear. I teach special ed kids. I deal with labels all day. I deal with parents who refuse to have the schools label their students "austisic" or "Emotionally disabled" even though they are austistic or ED, because they fear the label. What I say to them is this... I can, with all my might, to refuse to call myself, or let myself be called, a Brunette, but that does not change the fact that my hair is brown.

I hear my mother in law say she has "issues with high blood sugar' because the term DIABETES terrifies her, but she tests her blood and takes insulin just like my son who IS diabetic, and refusing to use the 'label' does not change the potential outcome for either of them.

You know this - whether or not you call yourself an alcoholic does not change the fact that you are one. As are some of the finest peopel I know! (My mother and grandfather among them)

Labels help the rest of us understand and help if we can, and know what to expect - and those who chose to use labels as weapons rather than as a source for understanding and knowledge are foolish and should not be given a second thought.

Boy Crazy said...

I get what you're saying, Heather. You make total sense. I have way more to say than what I want to put in this comment box. So I'm just going to say I agree with Katdish, and Erin, and Lee and plenty of others. Know that I see you as Heather, and that many do/will. Think of your friends who battle depression or diabetes. Do you think of them as Elizabeth, the Depressed? Or Jane the Diabetic? No. Of course not. And so, your friends will see you as Heather, and your battle with alcoholism will come into play when relevant to the situation. But there's no way in hell it's going to define you to anyone.

And just to be clear, like Lee said above, I hope you know you don't ever have to dance for me. I get it, I do. But know that. Just be you. And take care of you, my friend.


AllisonO said...

Do you know what arrow I see when I look at you?

One that points Straight Up.

It's beautiful.

B said...

I didn't comment on your last post because I didn't know what to say. But what I would like to say now is, I think you were extremely brave putting it out there and putting it writing. Now that it is out there you have now expanded your support. It is hard shaking off what others thing and trying to overcome and ignore a label. However, the people who truely matter in your life, and the people who are going to be your biggest cheerleaders and your biggest support team will never see you as a label. They will still see you. Perhaps a slightly more vulnerable version of you but still you.

Take each day, each minute at a time. Baby steps. Best of luck in your journey.

LutherLiz said...

I find we all have arrows of various types but in my experience I am far more aware of my own arrows than those of others. Still praying for you!

happygeek said...

I get it.
I most likely had postpartum depression after my second was born but I was so darned scared of the labels that I lied to the nurses, hid the crying and worked very hard to make everything look like normal when it wasn't. At all.
So, I get it.
Thanks for sharing yourself. I cannot imagine the courage it took.

Gracey said...

Heather, I am a relatively new follower, so I haven't come to know you very well. But still, I never think of you as "Heather, the alcoholic". I think of you as "Heather, the beautiful writer", "Heather, the blogger I am intrigued to know better", "Heather, the one whose sincere and thought-provoking posts I always enjoy reading". And after today, there is one more label added to the list: "Heather, the brave one".

Thanks for sharing yourself.

Jen said...


I have struggled with worrying about what other people think for so long. And by the grace of getting to know God better, I finally learned that 1)no matter what we do or say we can never, ever have such an impact on other people's thoughts to make them see us as we want them to and 2) the only thing that matters is how God sees you. Our Lord knows who you are and trust me, there are no red arrows. No. red. arrows.

God Bless you on this journey, you very brave and very smart girl. You are Heather and you know it and God knows it. And that, my friend, is all that matters.

Lord, please stay close to Heather during this journey. Please help her find strength to get through the difficult times and please bring her peace. Amen.

- Jen P. in Palatine, IL

Janet said...

I too always worry about what other people think of me when they see me. What label they have placed upon me. But yes I think you/we need to stop worrying about what other people think. And for the record, when I look at your picture, this person whom I've never met yet with whom I've connected on such a deep level, I think: writer, human, brave, strong.

amanda said...

is it sad that i missed the arrow and went straight to the apron and thought "omg i have pot holders that match - we are sooo bff"?

thought so.

this is why i should keep my comments to myself huh?

but for real i heart you. arrows and all. xoxo

Anonymous said...

i just found you, just four minutes ago, and read this post. i will copy and save it for myself. i have a label, an arrow i can't seem to shake and appreciate this post so much.

i'm a new follower.

mama-face said...

So many thoughts come to mind. You are so loved for one. Count me in. Also the fact that I created an entirely different blog just to address a certain label...hmm. The fact that I second guess that decision as well as any other decision I make.

I savor your clarity of thought and openness.


charrette said...

I just cannot stop thinking about you. This story about a dancing daughter and her drinking dad is beyond poignant. And look at you, recognizing a pattern, making a change that will likely influence your children...for whole generations.

You're still at the top of my prayer list.

Love you --

S'dizzle said...

Oh, that picture/arrow made me laugh...well, can't say I wasn't a bit surprised by your last post. You're just awesome though, alcoholic or not!

Kimberly said...

I think that, arrow ridden or not, the people who end up mattering most in our lives are the ones who never see just the arrows. The ones who love the entirety of who we are.

In my mind, the only arrow pointing at your head is the one that says "Friend."

AmyLK said...

Lee is SO right. don't dance for me but with me. Take things one day at a time and you will find your way. HUGS

wendy said...

Oh Heather --labels labels schmables.
hate them
There isn't a bill board out there BIG enough for all my labels
"divorcee" for starters

hurtful, love ya

Angie said...

Oh, friend. We all have our labels, and sometimes we're labeled unfairly or we label others unfairly. Ever since you emailed, I haven't been able to stop thinking about Heather, just Heather... most of the time, it's not about Heather and alcohol, it's about Heather's heart. That's the arrow I see over you... well, lots of them, really... they read courage, grace, beauty, love and authenticity. I see you no other way.

Becca said...

I didn't read anyone else's comments, but I just want to say: to me (and lots more, I bet) you are Heather the Writer. Heather the Mama. Heather the Ponderer. Heather the friend.

MidnightCafe said...

I thought about you all weekend...thought about how terrified I'd be if I had posted your last post, of how I'd go through the stages of regret, sadness, anger & finally acceptance. Because I, personally, have a fair amount of fear of labels, too. We both need to learn to stop caring so much about what other people think, eh? Because, truly, I never judge another person as harshly as I do myself. All the things I always think everyone else must be thinking are things I would never actually think about anyone else. Comfort yourself with that. Nobody here would think the harsh things about you that you keep thinking of yourself.

I love you, whatever your struggle. And I've learned much from you. Thank you for being you!

Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus said...

I get you. I really do. And I see you as more than a one-arrow kind-of girl. You are so much more. So much more.

The message is 60-some strong in this comment box: We see you.

You know, I struggle horribly with this whole approval-of-others thing, and fight hard to live for an Audience of One. It's a ferocious inner battle.

So this verse has become a mantra for my dancin',

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Gal 1:10.

Press on.

Sara Joy said...

I think we all feel the arrows, and then once in a while someone figures out they are there, or we actually allow one to be seen and then they just get so heavy. I actually conciously work to ignore the arrows around me, but I hope for you that you don't need others to ignore them, but that you come to a peace where it simply no longer matters.
Love to you friend,

Sabrina said...

I just see you as Heather... and I love you.

Laurie said...

I am always amazed at the beautiful way you speak of your family-especially your awesome boys. Keep doing your best every day even when you feel like giving up.

Elaine A. said...

The only labels I have for you are "awesome writer" and "wonderful person." xoxo

Motherboard said...

You will always be the amazing Heather that I love.

It doesn't have to define you, just refine you.

You are amazing and you have decided to make that journey through the refiners fire-- and we are all here to catch you.


Becky said...

Just wanted to pop in to say I think about you every evening at 5 and say a quiet good thought to you.

I'm so proud of you and think you are amazing. and clearly, I'm not the only one.

Amy said...

You are so brave. The arrow really points to "Brave," and those who don't get that you can ignore completely.


Janet Oberholtzer said...

Labels ... ugh, hate them! After severe injuries almost caused me to die, I didn't want the label - "woman that almost died" so I hardly talked about my accident/injuries/struggles. That didn't work real well - led to depression.

Finally, I've learned to live in the tension of "woman that almost died" and "Janet - the whole person that I am" Almost dying is a part of my life, I can't deny that, but I don't want my life defined by it.

And for the people that see me only as that label ... as a wise woman said, "Who gives a sh*t about them?!"

alita said...

Your humanity defines you, not arrows! Your character will be resolute and you will have the endurance to accomplish what you wish. My thoughts and prayers are with you Heather!

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Arrow, shmarrow:
simply transient hallucinations we dream up in moments/stages of insecurity. The arrows are fiction. God knows the true story, the true dancer, accepts us, lifts us, and gives us permission to rest from all the dancing.
You'll see. :)

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