(Guest Post) 3 Lessons I Learned from a Catheter

This post is my father, John Riley‘s, words. If you’ve heard him speak you will be able to hear him within these writings. I hope he will continue talking about the lessons he’s learning through his personal journey into grief that began in the Fall of 2015 after the sudden death of his brother, Buddy. As long as he keeps telling stories, I’ll keep typing. 

Our hope is that these raw renderings will provide some much-needed relief and hope to those who are new to pain and loss. The ones among us who suffer silently while wishing for the person who understands to share their experience so they can say, “Really? Me too!”

I would encourage you to listen to the newly added audio with dad reading the post. Hearing a story read by its author gives it the ability to come alive. It will also give you a glimpse into why he is such a gifted communicator.

CatheterWhen someone in a white lab coat with the letters M.D. on the end of their name that’s stitched on the pocket, starts talking about you and a catheter in the same sentence, it’s sobering.

Once you get to thinkin’ about the reality of the proposed solution for what you hope is a temporary problem, it can really getcha down.

So… you have conversations… with said catheter and you get real honest.
It may sound something like this, “You and I are not going to be friends but, we’ll put up with each other as long as we have to and then we’re through!”

For me, it was only a month.
For many, it can be the rest of their lives.

Now y’all, that’s serious.

I don’t mean this to be too light hearted. It’s just that, trying to learn from it was better than cryin’ and cussin’ and carryin’ on… I suppose.

So, here are three things I learned from my catheter.
Excuse me, THE catheter.
I never wanted to own the thing.

1.- Pain can have benefits… if you let it.

Well, shoot! It’s hard to say what the benefits are because I can’t really think of many, but mainly you appreciate times of no pain.

After two weeks when I was told by my doctor (who is absolutely fantastic), “Sorry, we have to wait another week and another test.” I was upset. I had to process it.
It was only then that I could be thankful for this thing, discomfort and all, making it possible for me to heal inside.

So, I was extremely grateful that I was improving and that the greater percentage of my body was pretty healthy.

I also found gratitude for whoever invented the catheter. (That sounds weirder than I thought it would.) But seriously, I got really thankful for all the lives this person saved, including mine. Without this dang catheter, I would have already exploded five times over! Now, that’s enough to make even me grateful.

2.- Compassion has been defined as entering into the sorrows of another person and thereby showing mercy. I think that’s the way it goes?

How could I possibly enter into someone’s sorrow when I had never had the same sorrow?

I have been through the deaths of… well… everybody in my family older than I am, but this was my first time with a catheter. Now I can really feel for someone who has to have this great invention for a day, or for life.

Also, it teaches me that even though I don’t know personally what someone else is going through, I can know that it’s hard… even though I’ve not experienced the same thing. I thought I understood what it meant to be empathetic, but I’m not sure I ever truly have… before this. I hope that I will never again be unconcerned about another person’s problem.

3.- Make adjustments

By this, I don’t just mean which leg to put the bag on… but everything… well almost everything, you’ve done for many years.

Here are just a few that I have learned… fast… ’cause I didn’t have a choice.

Sleeping – don’t move around much. Get accustomed to sleeping on your back and your side. It’s not bad… except for sometimes… when it is.

Shower – unplug, clean, replug, dry… always makes ya feel better.

Dress – got me a whole new set of underwear, relaxed and unrestricted.
I didn’t realize boxers could be so comfortable! Wear ’em all the time now.

I have some that look like shorts, but the other day at my little community bank I go to, my friend the loan officer told me he could tell they were underwear. Oh well…

Loose pants are my friend. Especially sweat pants. But on days when the temperature in Alabama is 85 degrees, it looks kinda weird. So… I just stayed at home a lot.

Walking – was sometimes pretty easy, annnnd sometimes not.
Most of the time it felt like I was walkin’ with my legs spread like I just got off a horse. Nobody seemed to really notice except for one friend who did say to me, “Why are you walkin’ so funny?!”
“It’s a long story!” I thought to myself. I have lots of conversations in my own head these days. Know what I mean?

Exercise – wasn’t on the agenda. Every day made me look forward to the time I could really start back exercising and made me feel a deep concern for those who never can.

So, the catheter has taught me to be open to learning new ways of doing things. As I get real close to being 70 years of age, it makes me realize I want to keep growing.

Considering these three things, I hadn’t really thought of it, but maybe the catheter was my friend? However, I’m not gonna have it framed and hang it on the wall. (Can you imagine?! Yuck!)

What are you going through that people can’t necessarily see, but is making a huge impact in your everyday? Has it taught you a kind of gratitude that you never knew you wanted to learn?

40 Years In…My Purpose & Pain

There is so much I could say, in the blank space, with cursor blinking, waiting to be filled. I’ve sat here many times before today, staring, with thoughts racing, too much to begin.img_5872I was honestly surprised…and not…to see the tab at the top of this page stating in all caps that I have 87 Drafts. Eighty-Seven works in progress. How silly. Knowing that each time I release my truth from the inside out, it unlocks a new aspect of freedom that I didn’t know was there. And yet, if I think about it too long, I won’t hit “Publish” on this one either.

jcp-2016-croppedSo…For today, let’s dive in before I convince myself to “Draft” it.

In the weeks leading up to my 40th birthday, I’ve thought a lot, maybe too much, about the purpose and pain through my first 40 years on this earth. While I genuinely hope this helps someone reading, it is as much for my own benefit as for anyone else’s.

My journey has not been one of ease, though it has been better than many, and more privileged than most.

The List…jcp-2016-5869

  1. Trust can take years to build and moments to destroy.
  2. Happiness can be bought (temporarily) and then lost, while true joy is internal and untouchable by outside forces.
  3. Grace is one of the most priceless and underserved gifts. Though freely given, we must receive and embrace it before it can manifest in our lives.
  4. Intuition is absolutely real and divinely instilled.
  5. The ability to forgive is key to authentic beautyNothing will age you faster than resentment.
  6. A steller hairstylist is a must. Once you find said stylist, tip well.
  7. Anger rots your inner being before ever showing up at surface level.
  8. Fear only leads to greater fear.
  9. Prayer works.
  10. When searching for an answer, love almost always fills the gap.
  11. It’s about “who” not “what” you know. (This applies to everything.)
  12. Baby wipes are essential for life. They remove crayon from a painted surface, that unidentified sticky residue just beneath a child’s car seat that’s been there for God only knows how long, mascara, lip stain, mud on wedges…etc., etc.
  13. Smiling more will inevitably lift one’s own spirit while providing warmth to the stranger passing by.
  14. It’s true, you cannot out-exercise your fork.
  15. We never see our true-self clearer, nor exert our need for a Savior more, than during times of trial.
  16. Failure is not optional, it’s necessary.
  17. Lessons will either shape you or break you.
  18. People do not control your destiny.
  19. God is not mad at you.
  20. Sunscreen actually is important.
  21. If you have one true friend you can trust with your weirdness, you are richly blessed.
  22. There is a deep human longing in us all to be fully known and accepted anyway.
  23. Death is not the end. It’s the transition.
  24. Grief is unpredictable.
  25. No matter the color of our skin, just below that thin layer, we all look the same.
  26. Generosity is key to contentment.
  27. Everything (really is) going to be okay (eventually).
  28. We don’t have to share the same DNA to be family.
  29. Miracles still happen.
  30. Everything we say and do begin with a thought.
  31. Being an adult can be really hard.
  32. We can decide, at any given moment, to change direction.
  33. There is no excuse to be unkind (to anyone) (ever).
  34. Gratitude changes things.
  35. We remember moments.
  36. God created each one of us with great intention and purpose.
  37. The most sacred space of witness is during birth and death.
  38. If we could truly grasp our worth, nothing would have the ability to intimidate or have a stronghold in our lives.
  39. Don’t put earthly limits on a heavenly God.
  40. Time goes by so quickly.

BONUS ROUND
1. We don’t have to be afraid.
2. Everyone is important to someone.
3. Labels were never meant for people.
4. Sex doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
5. Right and wrong is relative.

So there ya go. With hundreds more to be added at another time. As I live out this first year in my 4th decade of life, what would you add?

 

 

The Heart of the Prodigal

Tomorrow is a big, milestone birthday for me. 40 years. I have spent the last several weeks reflecting on the journey. Where I’ve been, where I am, where I’m going.

A huge part of my story is the journey through alcoholism and a decade long battle with an eating disorder. In this conversation with my dad, I ask him what it was like being on the other side of me when I was living my life as his prodigal daughter. Was he afraid? What made him keep pursuing me? How did he release control of me? What would he tell others going through this now.

 

He Stirs

In the stillness of the early morning
He stirs my heart
Before the alarm, the sun, the controlled chaos
He awakens my senses

I will wait for Him to speak
I will wait for Him to move
I will wait for His guidance
It is in the waiting that I am acutely aware of His presence

I invite Him in to this day
Into my plans
Into the goings on that will not come as a surprise to Him
I ask that He make Himself known in a tangible way

Be still my soul
and listen
Bathe in His goodness
Has He not been faithful up to now
Remember all the times that He has shown up
Trust, Relinquish control, Abide

Breathe Him in like the air that He provides
Exhaling His truth to others like a gentle breeze
Allow His promises to be a soothing balm
Covering and healing that which is exposed

More of Him
Less of me
My Jesus

I will act now

I will act now.
I will act now.
I will act now
.

Henceforth, I will repeat these words
each hour, each day, everyday,
until the words become as much a habit as my breathing and
the action which follows becomes as instinctive as the blinking of my eyelids.

With these words,
I can condition my mind to perform every action
necessary for my success.
I will act now.
I will repeat these words again and again and again.

I will walk where failures fear to walk.
I will work when failures seek rest.
I will act now,

for now is all I have.

Tomorrow is the day reserved for the labor of the lazy.
I am not lazy.
Tomorrow is the day when the failure will succeed.
I am not a failure.
I will act now.

Success will not wait.
If I delay, success will become wed to another and lost to me forever.
This is the time.
This is the place.
I am the person.

~ Og Mandino
Augustine “Og” Mandino II
(December 12, 1923 – September 3, 1996)
American author.
Bestselling book The Greatest Salesman in the World.
His books have sold over 50 million copies and have been translated into
over twenty-five different languages.
He is an inductee of the National Speakers Association’s Hall of Fame.

13 Reasons Why I Don’t Look Like An Alcoholic

JoyOn October 19th, 2015, by the grace of God, I welcomed in 13 years of freedom from the dependence on that which once enslaved me, alcohol.

When given the opportunity to share my story I always hear the same statement from at least one listener with a confused look on their face, “…But…you don’t look like an alcoholic.”
My response remains the same, “What does an alcoholic look like?”

Knowing full well that I have my own mental image of what an alcoholic looks like and it’s motivation for me to never go back to the life I once knew.

Her hair is matted and her clothes unkempt.
There are deep creases in her face from years of neglect.
She wears her wounds, making no attempt to hide them.
All forms of dignity have been stripped away.
She appears to be around 60 years old when in reality she’s 42.
She looks…well…tired. And she is.

Her children, if any, have long since given up on her and moved on with their lives.
The family she once knew has disowned her.
The church has overlooked her.
Society has pitied her.
Friends have deserted her. (They had no choice really. She stopped trying years ago.)
She’s an inconvenience, with bad teeth, no concern for personal hygiene, flammable breath, and a reputation that precedes her.

People say things without regard for her humanity, like, “Why haven’t her foolish ways killed her yet? She’d be better off dead and so would everyone else.”
Or, “She probably drinks mouthwash or rubbing alcohol. What a waste of space.”

Is my description harsh?
Have you ever seen an alcoholic in the grips of their disease?
To say it’s ugly is an understatement.

Throughout these years of recovery, I have visited treatment centers, held the shaking hands of the one in detox, claimed my seat in the rooms of A.A., accompanied a scared mother to a court hearing, listened to teary family members nightmares of living with an active alcoholic, and attended too many funerals for the seemingly hopeless one who never saw their 30th birthday.
I have seen what my future could look like if I allow my disease to dictate the direction of my life. Quite frankly, it scares the hell out of me. I hope it continues to scare me enough that I never pick up that first drink. That’s where the stronghold begins. The very first drink.

It’s a bummer. I don’t want to be an alcoholic. I didn’t grow from a little girl to a young adult dreaming of one day being a blackout drinker. I never aspired to be dependent on alcohol.

Not once did my parents say to me, “Now Joy, strive to be the best alcoholic you can be.” But I definitely gave it my all for several years. 

The reason I don’t look like your stereotypical alcoholic is because;
1.) I’m not homeless
2.) I’m a wife, mother, and productive member of society, and most days I’m pretty dang good at it.
3.) I have all my teeth (some natural ones and some designed by a dental artist).
4.) I’m obsessive about hygiene.
5.) My family is still speaking to me. Some of them actually like me.
6.) I have incredible friends who know me and aren’t embarrassed to be seen with me in public.
7.) I love and care for my children.
8.) My children love me, except when I’m driving them crazy.
9.) I don’t willingly participate in self-destructive behavior.
10.) I pay my bills…on time.
11.) I am of service to others and I love it! It’s one of my favorite things to do.
12.) I’m not a liar.
13.) I have a relationship with my Creator that everything else in my life centers around.

Most of the things listed above were not true of me 13 years ago. It has been a journey of faith with unpredictable twists and turns. Trust, especially in close personal relationships, has been earned and restored over time. I know and embrace the meaning of “Amazing Grace.”

We all have something in our lives that wants to destroy us. Mine happens to be alcohol. Maybe yours is food or sex, compulsive shopping or depression? No matter what it is, you know that the moment you become complacent in this particular area, you’re in trouble. There is a solution.

Do you know what the best defense against complacency is?
Gratitude.
I call it my complacency repellant?

I am more aware (than ever), going into this 13th year that I better be thanking God in the first few moments my eyes open and my lungs draw a sober breath. Before my feet hit the floor, praise must already be on my lips. It will be the first thing on my tongue in the morning and the last thing I taste at night.

Here’s the big takeaway… Beginning the first few moments of your day with a grateful heart has the potential to change everything. Guaranteed. If it works for me, it can work for anyone, anywhere, no matter what.

Do you believe that?

Need a place of refuge? Visit my friends over at People of the Second Chance. Get connected. Whether you struggle with addiction or you love someone who does, you don’t ever have to be alone again.

Think you have a problem with alcohol? AA is a group of individuals from all walks of life, who share the same ism. It’s a program to which I owe my life. Learn more in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous 

5 Things Not to Say When Talking With a Child About Death

How does one go about choosing an outfit to wear to the funeral of someone they love knowing that going forward it will be thought of as, “The outfit I wore to the funeral.”?

While staring blankly into my closet full of more than enough clothes to wear, a little voice from behind me said, ”Mommy, what are you doing?”
“I’m trying to decide what to wear to the service for Uncle Buddy tomorrow.”
“Oh...” [long pause] “Are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes…right now, in this moment…I’m okay.” I replied.
“Alright. I’m going to play in the fort. Call me if you need me.” he said, skipping out of the room.

“Call him if I need him…” I said to myself smiling.
He’s 9 and I’m convinced he has a better grasp on everything than I do.

As I turn back to the plethora of clothing, the silence falls heavily.

I take some options from the hangers and fold them into my suitcase, careful to lay a few things out so that I can slip into them as quietly as possible after my 4:00 a.m. alarm alerts me to the beginning of this journey into grief.

Two days ago, after receiving the call that my uncle had laid his head back to rest, falling asleep one last time, it began a slew of conversations. The kind that take time and intentional thought. The ones that include long pauses and deep sighs. Are you familiar with these kinds of conversations?

I’m going to skip a ton of detail and get to the point as quickly as possible.

Sometimes we don’t understand why we are in certain seasons of life and why we are walking through things that seem far from what we had planned. And then one day, if we pay attention, we get a glimpse of the answer.

I have learned so much from the families who have welcomed me alongside them while they are experiencing loss. Being a witness to someone else’s pain is difficult to describe. To say that it puts things into perspective is much too basic. It has reshaped the way I see the world and now feel the reality that everyone lives and will one day die.

I am being taught how to navigate difficult conversations with my own children about death without being afraid. Out of all the many words and spoken thoughts we have shared, here are words and phrases I’ve learned not to use.

“He passed away.” Children are literal. We adults have a hard time saying the words, “He died.” We want to cushion the news. Don’t. This only confuses a child. When Jesus said that we need to become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven, I’m beginning to understand what he meant. Their eyes have not been clouded. They are still able to see things as they truly are.

“We lost him.” Again, children are literal and will question, “If we lost him, we will be able to find him.”

“He’s in a better place.” They will want to know why they can’t be there too if it’s a better place. And why would we be left behind instead of going with him?

“It’s okay.” It’s not okay. It’s sad and the grieving process may not have even begun due to the shock of losing someone suddenly. It will be okay, but for now, it’s sad and we should experience the sadness and grieve the loss. Remember that grief is unpredictable. It comes at the most inopportune times. Be prepared to react to things much differently for a time.

“We aren’t going to talk about it.” They want to talk about it. They want to share memories and tell stories. It is counterproductive not to let them express their emotions and thoughts. Of the many people I have talked with after the loss of someone close to them, the thing I hear repeatedly is, “I wish people weren’t afraid to talk about him. I want to keep his memory alive and the best way to do that is by sharing stories about him.” 

I don’t know this for sure, but maybe children intuitively know how to process grief much better than we adults do? I want to be open to change and continually learning. Who knew that some of my best teachers would be the smallest people in my home?Boys in sunlight

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
16 
So we have no reason to despair. Despite the fact that our outer humanity is falling apart and decaying, our inner humanity is breathing in new life every day.
17 You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. 18 So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.

I’m sure you have many things to add to my five. What are they? Let’s ease each other’s burdens, even if only through the comments on this page. You never know how far your hope is reaching.