PTSD Spirituality: Where to Start, How to Go On

If you feel your life has no value and there is no hope. Please do not kill yourself.

***

It’s been an age since I have posted anything here at the PTSD Spirituality website. Mostly, it has been due to illness; the “Usual Suspects” of chronic pain, PTSD issues, mobility problems, and the mocking exhaustion from having nothing left to offer after teaching a class or going grocery shopping (hard to believe I once ran cross country). Added to those guys is a persistent, nagging, feeling of hubris, of unworthiness, of not really having much to say that counts in the big picture.

And then I got severely shook up. More death.

A very close friend of mine recently committed suicide. Another American, another United States Army veteran, with service in Iraq, a country without compassion, who was deprived of hope and now he’s dead. You know the story, you know its type.

I feel as if I have lost one of my children. There are times in the day when I think, “I should tell Dustin about that. He’d like that!” And then I remember and I feel so bleak, so vacant. I feel some more of my own hope chiseled away from me.

I hurt; the world is a lesser place without this young man. There’s so much in our culture that seeks to discourage us. It’s not easy.

His family is devastated. We all still love him, but we grieve and mourn. Hard.

I am fortunate in that I am able to talk about it with my wife. We both remain alert to watch out I don’t go into a sudden down spin. No Surprise: I don’t sleep so well, nor is my appetite all that great. I am not purposefully  neglecting myself.

Yet, my PTSD trigger sensitivities are quite heightened. No surprise there, but I have to remain alert to it and watch out for bad coping mechanisms trying to re-enter my life. I usually am able to keep my anger and frustration on a short leash. It’s best if they are not allowed free range. I wanted to club a guy this morning at the grocery store. He kept walking just two feet behind me, even when I would step aside and move out of the way. I doubt he was dangerous, nothing bad happened. I needed to stop, step sideways and then walk back a bit and he finally quit getting up right behind me.  No big deal, really, unless you have PTSD and have had your threat awareness elevated because of a friend’s death. I wanted to club and kick this guy at the store for putting me even more on edge than usual.

Right now I have some music playing. I keep interrupting my typing to pet my cat who seems to sense that I could use a bit more of his attentions just now.  I write about how I feel elsewhere and I try to be very open with my wife on what I am experiencing. I try to play some guitar as both memorial and prayer. Other times I choke up and stare out the window.

I’ll get through it. And then I feel selfish for thinking about myself like that and having the hubris for typing that here: “I’ll get through it.” I am not the one who died after all. But I am trying to deal with loss, a sense of failure, inadequacy, and a sense of meaninglessness.

So, what is there to do? Keep praying. Keep pursuing ways to be creative, because in the creative arts is found grace and life and hope. Not sure what or how, but it is time to come back to this website and start writing about PTSD and spirituality more often, beat back the seductive temptation that says I have nothing of value to say.

I knew I needed to write and post something or my writing and sense of self-worth would be further strangled.  I’d been putting this post off. It was now or never.

Your life has value.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z

Comments

  1. I am so sorry you lost a friend, I know the pain. I love your blog, please keep writing. I check back often, whenever an episode hits. some of your posts I have read and re read, your perspective is extremely helpful. Still looking for phase two shamanism – dismemberment blog post. How did you learn to see PTSD in a shamanic perspective, it’s good.

    • Hi Lisa,
      Thank you for your condolences. It has been nearly a year and it feels like yesterday. Losing someone you love and respect is like that.

      You asked about my connection with bringing in a shamanistic perspective. By training (after my military years), I am an academic biblical theologian with a specialization in trauma and spirituality. I have an interest in cultural anthropology and linguistics that is nowhere near the doctoral level, but it still informs my research. Much of what I see in terms of some of the Old Testament figures, John the Baptist, Paul the Apostle, and Jesus, connects with what I have learned about shamanism. On a trauma recovery level, they seem to go hand in hand. While I have great respect for medical science, it does not perform well in the non-physical areas of trauma (and nor should I expect it to do so). Theology and anthropology have more to offer us in terms of understanding and healing from the soul wounds of PTSD, thinks me.

      Thank you for the gentle reminder on picking up the pen and returning to the subject of shamanism and PTSD, especially the topic of spiritual dismemberment. I recently addressed a conference on trauma and PTSD about shamanism and PTSD. The veterans in the room, and also those who had suffered civilian trauma like sexual assault, tended to get it and understand what I was saying. The “normal” people, mostly professional helpers and administrators, while polite, did not understand what I was talking about… go figure. There is still work to do on the intersection between surviving PTSD and shamanism. In a perfect world I would even finally finish a book about it.

      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • Thank for the reply Dr Z. I would buy the book if you wrote it. 🙂 When my trauma and memories surfaced so did a ton of spiritual stuff, it’s hard to find any explanations, you come closest with your blog here, I am grateful for what you explain and share. Can you recommend a book that relates the two by chance?

        Take good care of yourself.

  2. fatgirloreo says:

    Thank you – I discovered writing first to help me cope with PTSD and then I discovered my spirituality — your blog and writing is exactly what I needed to day — I want to cry as I write this but I’m afraid they tears won’t stop. I have been severely triggered recently in the past six months after being symptom free for more than 4 years. I googled “ptsd understanding my triggers” and your post on Heal My PTSD was about 6th on the results is stuck out because of the word spirituality and found this link http://healmyptsd.com/2012/05/ptsd-spirituality-triggers.html. This is what I needed today — you see I have been doing all the things I know I need to do to cope (I have been engaged in healing with a professional and survivor’s groups since 2009) but the symptoms have hit me hard and I am not clear on the triggers — they are work related and the way my board chair interacts with me is absolutely triggering — I just don’t know what he is triggering — it may be a memory repressed but my body is remembering. I feel no hope or joy, but I press on to do the things I know are needed to take care of myself. It because difficult when you don’t feel any joy or don’t feel like there is anything to hope for.

    But your post gave me so much strength and said so many things I know but need to be reinforced by someone who gets it. I hear the genuineness of your experiences and the power and knowledge they have given you even in you time of coping with your own feelings. I kept a daily journal for about 5 years and posted each entry on a wordpress blog “fatgirloreo” I think I have closed it, but reading you post compelled me to continue publicly journal — I recently stared writing again daily — but I realize I haven’t been focusing on the PTSD as the problem…being symptom free for years, allowed me to forget that I am and will always be a survivor.

    Thanks you!

    • Hello, I am glad that you found the essay and it was useful for you. You have certainly been through a lot and I am pleased for you that you are back to writing on your website. I visited a little bit ago and think that as people find your writings they will gain strength and hope from reading about your experiences. My writing tends to have two audiences, one is for just myself and does not get posted. That writing is a form of private prayer between myself and the Almighty. Then there is the public writing for this website. It is also a form of prayer, thinks me, but is a bit more communal since I risk placing it out in the public forum. One of the gifts in our spirituality is that at times our writing my be both personal and communal, as any good liturgy. As we explore our experiences through writing we become more human.
      You mentioned “…but my body is remembering.” That certainly happens. Our bodies pick up on triggers like radar, often seeing them come towards us, well before we can visually get a sighting. It’s good you are listening to your body.
      Please accept my thanks and encouragement to continue on with your writing, and especially your website https://fatgirloreo.wordpress.com/ One of the things I have learned through PTSD Spirituality is that we never know when something we wrote, even if it made us vulnerable and anxious, will touch someone else and help them find hope. Your writing helps others find hope and healing.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • I’m so happy “Oreo” wrote because she speaks for many of us. In that, I mean how happy — and relieved — some of us have felt when we first came across your writings, Dr. Z. I know, personally, everytime I read something from you it’s as if an PTSD-understanding friend stopped by. I just wanted you to know that Oreo speaks for a lot of us. 🙂

  3. Dr. Z, I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. What a horrible shock it must have been. I hope you’re taking time for some extra self-care in this time. What surprised me most was you feel sometimes you don’t have anything to contribute to the blog. I know I speak for others, but we look forward to hearing what you say! It’s so tiring out there that it helps us just to hear some guy followed you too closely. We can all say internally, “Oh yeah, that pisses me off so much, too.” We all are always explaining ourselves to people who don’t understand PTSD. Dr. Z, your blog helps in so many ways and so many levels. I hope some healing will be coming your way. All my best, Harry.

    • Hello Harry, it’s always a gift to hear from you. I am trying to purposefully be more self-aware of how this is processing through me. There is a lot I know intellectually and then of course there is the gut-wrenching sorrow that doesn’t give a damn for grief theory. A piece at a time, an hour at a time.
      Thank you for your assurances on the worth of my writing, what you say is meaningful to me. Part of my PTSD, and perhaps just part of my psychological make-up include persistent feelings of low self-worth. I do know the PTSD tries to make us feel more and more worthless, partly to help us alienate others with our behaviors, but also as part of alienating ourselves from our self. So, my own PTSD degrades the value of what I do and then tries to make me feel even more worthless for that, too….ah, the joys of PTSD, eh?!
      Thank you, Harry, very much.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z
      P.S., I find what puts a smile on my face is watching the cat chase a fly around the room.

  4. Dr. Z. Reading your post, I empathized greatly with your heart pain. My PTSD is always highly charged when there is loss. My Christian outreach ministry, Search & Restore, has as its primary focus the prevention of suicide. For it was an Iraq Vet suicide that motivated me to pursue this direction of ministry. I’m now an old veteran (Vietnam) and only recently credentialed as a minister but for whatever time I may have left on this earth I will give my efforts to encouraging and blessing our military veterans with the message of hope. I know that you feel the same, so stay in the fight my brother!

    • Hi Richard, Thank yo for sharing that with me. I am appreciative of your ministry and its focus to redeem hope and life. The late Henri Nouwen wrote about “Wounded Healers” and how the older survivors can help the younger survivors grow old (my paraphrase). Having survived Vietnam and the ever-continuing Post-Vietnam, you are a form of Wounded Healer, helping others to re-discover life and love. We fight the good fight together. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  5. Thanks for sharing Dr. Z. Hearing some sincere, heart felt compassion in this bleak world of the “well intentioned,” is a refreshing breeze of hope and encouragement. Please keep blogging, as you are able. It is a needed ministry, for which I’ll continue to pray.
    jeff.
    ✝ Peace

  6. You have shared wonderful gifts with the world, including this post. Sending peaceful prayers your way, gratitude for the compassion and love that you hold for people, for life. Thanks for sharing this with all of us, letting us share your grief and your love and caring for Dustin.

    • Thank you for your prayers and compassion. The prayers of good people like you keep me in the game. Thank you also for the devout work you engage in to help all who suffer from PTSD. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  7. Dr. Z…I needed your post today..thank YOU! im a former military spouse helping out an Army family..so much hurt and so much PTSD on all sides. Including my own. Peace to you on the pilgrimage!

    • Thank you, C. I am reminded how we used to joke about how the “U.S. Army” tag on our BDU meant “You Still Are Mine.” It seems there is some truth to the old saying about once you are in the army, you are never out. I am grateful for your ministry to families hurting from PTSD. PTSD throws out its own special shrapnel, spreading the hurt up and down generations. Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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