(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!”

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?

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.

 

Tattoos or Jesus, which one will it be?

JCP-4475I vividly remember a close family friend telling me that I was disobeying God by getting a tattoo and because of its permanence, I was in a state of constant defiance. He quoted scripture (from memory, of course) to back up his point from which the core of his unsolicited advice originated. (This was after the tattoo was already there. What was I to do about it, except put on the heavy cloak of guilt placed before me?)

I was 17 years old.

I have since added several more tattoos…and piercings to my body. This one is especially meaningful to me.Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 3.40.06 PM

For years I’ve been reading different views on this subject. It is interesting and at times crazy how defensive people can be with their written words. The ALL CAPS and number of exclamation points following the scripture references that, in their mind, confirm and validate their rightness. It leaves me wondering, “Why would I ever want what they have? How could I ever follow the God that they profess to emulate?”

As I’ve said before, “I can justify absolutely anything.” I am a Master Justifier. Maybe that is the case here. I am justifying the fact that I, a follower of Jesus, willingly marked my body.

This will cause debate. There are some of you reading now that are already irritated. That’s good. Whether you’re irritated over the thought of someone being able to love Jesus while tattooing their body, or you’re irritated over the people who are irritated…take this moment to ask yourself, “Why does this bother me so much?”

Here is what I have to remember, I am accountable to God. When I approach the throne of grace, it is not while locking arms in a group of others. It is alone. It is personal. It is intimate.

Let’s think outside of our comfort zones for a moment.

What if, every sin that you have ever committed or thought about committing was written on your body? Adultery, stealing, murder, gossip, abuse, pornography, envy, gluttony, betrayal, denial, blaspheme… Which one would you want across your face?

Things don’t have to be written in ink to leave a permanent mark. Try these labels on for size…shamed, guilty, jealous, abandoned, greedy, whore, liar, addict, alcoholic, convict, loser, hypocrite, enabler… Though not written in ink, individuals clearly wear these labels.

If God really does see past our flesh, into our hearts, what does he see? I envision Him seeing a heart covered in permanent markings.

And then Jesus came…and all of that changed. He is our Intercessor, Savior, Redeemer. He stands in the gap of all of our different perceptions and definitions of “right” and “wrong.”

God sees us through His son. His perfect son. So we no longer have to argue who is more right than wrong, or justify anything. Once we see Christ for who He is, we are given the invitation to lay down all of our judgements, isms, character defects, labels and prejudices at the foot of the cross.

No matter whether you think tattoos are “right” or “wrong,” the cross is enough. Whether you have thought about stealing from someone or have actually stolen, the cross is enough. Whether you have always seen yourself as damaged because of an image that was self inflicted or projected onto you by someone else, the cross is enough. It’s enough.

It’s about a personal relationship with the One who paid it all.

Let’s visualize ourselves removing the lenses through which we currently see everything while asking, “Father, please help me see everything, including myself, through your eyes and from your perspective. Transform my perception of others, crushing all misconceptions.”
JCP2016-7809

As you think of the person whom you consider marked up, damaged and pierced, remember, they…I, have a place to bring all imperfections and lay them down. The foot of the cross. Right there beside all the prejudices and judgements. Once there, they are all the same.

In Christ, there is no condemnation.

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 

To The One Looking For A Second Chance…

JCP-A piece of earth drenched in the splendor of HeavenMaybe you don’t even realize that’s what you’re looking for?
Maybe you’re searching for a way out of your current circumstances?
Maybe you’re longing for someone to look at you, truly seeing you for the first time, and say, “I know. I’ve been there. I’ve walked in those same shoes and I made the single choice to step off the crazy train.”?

Maybe you think you’re beyond a second chance?  Sweet friend, no one, created in the image of God, (and that’s all of us), is ever beyond a second chance. No one. You are worth saving.

There is life to be lived.
There is beauty to be had.
There is light to be shared.

However, it will not work in isolation.

~ To read the rest of this post, please join me with the community of “People of The Second Chance” by CLICKING HERE

To the One Who Loves an Alcoholic

There is someone in my life who I adore. I love her so much that my insides ache when she’s hurting. Unfortunately she is in love with an alcoholic. And as some of you reading this have experienced…we are capable of causing the worst kind of pain. 

Looking back over more than a decade in recovery, free from alcohol and all it brings with it, there are things that I know to be true. Things I can see now that I couldn’t see before. Things that just, are, no matter how much I wish they weren’t.

So, I wrote her this letter and now I’m sharing it with you.
Not to provide all the answers for what you’re going through, but to hopefully shed some light on the person whom you have continually given the ability to hurt your heart.

I will be removing any personal information with generic wording and adding quotes so that you can insert the name of your person.

Friend,” this is truth…

He” is married to alcohol. Drugs are his mistress. Anything else…anyone else, is just a side thing. He always returns to what he knows. Alcohol.

It’s one of the most difficult relationships to sever. It can be done, but it takes more work than most people are willing to put in.

It’s not you.

Truly. It isn’t.

It’s that cunning, baffling bitch known as alcoholism. And without a Higher Power, complete Surrender, and the Willingness to change by dying to self, there is no hope.

You’ve laid awake countless nights, bartering with God.
Your bartering has turned to begging.
Your begging has turned to weeping.
Your weeping has turned to exhaustion.
And just when you’re about to give up…there he comes…back in the picture…full of empty promises that you want so badly to be true.
And the vicious cycle starts all over again.

This has gone on for years.
You say things like, “…but I love him! When you really love someone, you don’t just give up on them.
That may be true, but…
as a human being, a beautiful child of God, born with great purpose, you must see the wasted moments on this person who is blissfully unaware of your worth.

You don’t, do you?
You can’t.
Something in you, like in all of us, grasps on to the smallest ounce of hope and we refer back to that speck even when we are surrounded by the mountains of proof that say otherwise.

This is where I have done my share of begging God.
For reasons unknown to me, He hasn’t lifted the blinder that covers your eyes.
I know He can.
I know He wants you to be whole and live in the light of His glory and grace.
And yet knowing this, doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

There is a reason why so many alcoholics lose their battle with alcohol, at times taking entire families down with them.
Like the blinder you wear, he too wears a self-inflicted blinder.
The difference in yours and his is that he can remove his at any time.
All if takes to begin is a choice to change.
One choice can change everything.
After that one choice is when the real work begins.
I can’t even call it rebuilding. That can’t start until all of the wreckage is sorted through and hauled away.
This is a grueling process.
It’s the part where most people give up.
After all, it’s much easier to have a drink than to feel the weight of our current reality.

Here’s that most difficult part for you and for most people…
Are you ready for this?

There is nothing you can do to change him.

You can’t wish him sober.
You can’t force him to get sober.
You can’t make him see the disaster he leaves in his wake every time he comes around.

Here’s what you can do.

You can accept that nothing is going to change until he actively participates in recovery. (By this, I mean, pursues it like he would his next “fix.” It’s the only way to freedom.)
You can acknowledge and release the time you have given him and that he has squandered.
You can look at yourself in the mirror and say 2 words, “Not Anymore.” followed by 4 words, “From this moment forward.”
You can sincerely speak into your child’s heart and mind that you are her protector, provider, greatest advocate, teacher, mother, and that you will do whatever it takes to provide a life that’s healthy physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. One where she can grow and thrive, because you know the time that you have with her is short and you will lay a solid foundation that she can always stand on without worry of losing her footing.
(The way you can be 100% confident of this is because it’s what Christ does for you…and for her…everyday.)
You can recognize that even though you didn’t plan for your life to play out this way, there are so many people who love you and want to come alongside you, if you will let them.
You can cry when you need to cry, scream even, when staring at the difficult truth that your child’s father isn’t present. (This is no place to linger. You feel the feelings and move on.)
You can look in the mirror, straight into your own soul and breathe in the grace that you will need on a daily basis to do life.
You can repeat in your head and out loud as much as needed, I am not alone. I am capable. I am strong and I am worthy of love.”
You can say these same affirmations to your daughter. She will need to know them. There may come a time in her life when they seem the only thing to cling to in the midst of the storm.
You can put one foot in front of the other and know that there will be days when you are in a groove and moving like a champion as well as the ones where every step towards tomorrow seems to sucker punch you back into yesterday. That’s okay. We appreciate beauty all the more when we see the purpose of the rain. (Didn’t you tell me that?)

“Friend,” You are so very loved.
We see you.
We hear you.
You matter.

And…it’s time to walk away.
We’ll be right beside you every step of the way.

Love and Grace,
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