PTSD Spirituality: Ship of Light, Ship of Fog

Ship of Fog

Ship of Fog

This essay is lengthy and speaks to my ability to continue with this website. It’s rather personal. Pack a lunch and dry socks.

Since posting last, nearly five weeks ago, much has occurred: it feels as if I’m alternating between the decks of two different ships, circling one another on a rather choppy sea. One is a Ship of Light and the other is a Ship of Fog. Sometimes, they collide with one another.

The Ship of Light is primarily a result of my solo decision to go through narcotic withdrawal. It’s a painful experience.

The Ship of Fog is primarily a result that my mother passed away a few days ago. It’s a painful experience.

In many ways, I’m so very fortunate and blessed. In terms of narcotic withdrawal, it is my own personal choice and I have been able to do it at home without the necessity of inpatient care. I did wonder a few times if I had to go to the ER due to a rather nasty pounding in my chest (It passed. I’m still in the game.).

I am also fortunate and blessed because I love my mother and my mother loves me. I am very grateful that she passed in her sleep and without pain. Her husband of 60+ years and one of her sons were with her. It could’ve all been so much worse. Blessed.

When I’m aboard the Ship of Light I am enjoying some of the best mental clarity I have had in 10 years. Twice daily doses of OxyContin are no longer suppressing my intellect or my personality. Nor, of course, are they suppressing the ongoing chronic pain for which it was prescribed. Learning to deal with much higher levels of chronic pain is a whole other journey … another chance to excel … Lucky Me!

When I’m aboard the Ship of Fog I am dazed with grief and loss. As I stand on the deck of the ship the fog is so thick that I cannot even see the railing or many of the sails. Time either drags or it simply blinks by, neither occurrence is at my discretion. There is presently a new hole in my soul that will be filled for a while by mourning, by sorrow.

On the Ship of Light I know that grief and mourning are normal, expected. Intellectually, this is all very clear to me.

Yet, on the Ship of Fog I walk into doors without thinking to open them and add another bruise to my repertoire. Sometimes, I cannot really remember what day it is or if it is morning or afternoon. Lord, how I love her.

[I am trying to write most of this using my voice processing software. Without the OxyContin the pain coursing in my hands and arms is a bit more intense when it comes to trying to write an essay. I appreciate your patience.]

Why Quit OxyContin?

None of this is medical advice. I am not a medical doctor. It’s just part of my journey.

I’ve been on increasing doses of OxyContin for about 10 years under medical supervision. This chronic narcotic therapy allowed me to continue to teach my university classes. It allowed me to meet with people and talk about their PTSD and explore ways to manage and heal from their trauma.

Over the years I had to be prescribed higher doses in an attempt to get the same level of pain relief and keep the physical ability to teach. Eventually, I could only teach one class at a time and sometimes not even that. In the summer of 2016, I taught one class. It was successful. Yet, the pain was awful and decreased the amount of material I was able to focus on and teach.

I was struck with the opportunity to make a decision:

  • To get close to the same pain relief I would have to increase my dosage of OxyContin, again. To do that, I would have to ask my doctor to increase the dosage.  Or …
  • I could try to quit the narcotics. I decided I should first do a personal inventory of the pluses and minuses of my narcotic dependency before making a decision.

In the end, I decided to not ask for a stronger prescription. I did not want to do that because I would just be further stuck on a merry-go-round of increasing the dosage and still receiving decreasing pain relief. At the same time, the negative side effects of OxyContin, of which there are many, would become even more intense.

So I quit … and it’s much easier said than done.

OxyContin clouded my mental faculties. I have missed my mind, my intellect, my full identity, my sense of hope. OxyContin even inhibited my ability to pray and contemplate the beauty of God. I missed that a lot.

There is also a mercenary reason for stopping my intake of OxyContin: even with pretty good health insurance it was costing me $200 a month. For me, that’s a lot of money.

This summer I had to make a choice whether to continue funding this website or to pay for my medications. When I did not renew the OxyContin I was able to pay for this website. By reducing my medication bill I am just able to meet my monthly obligations based on a partial disability stipend. Now, I don’t have to keep borrowing money in order to lose my identity … such a bargain!

I spent one week going from my full dosage to zero OxyContin. It was a crash course, not recommended, but who can afford rehab? Who can afford to refill the prescription?

I am happy to say I have been OxyContin free since Friday, 5 August. I’ve canceled the prescriptions. No More. Out of the House. All Gone.

Couldn’t take it if I wanted to. Thank Goodness!

The last 4 ½ weeks have been quite the thrill ride! Narcotic withdrawal is not pretty and it’s still ongoing. It hurts. One gets to enjoy jerking limbs, spasms, enhanced pain, diarrhea, enhanced anxiety, an inability to stay still, a racing heart, and only sleeping a couple hours a day, and those couple of hours only when combined and not as a continuous period. These are mostly the “junior varsity” withdrawal symptoms that I had. Many people have it much worse.

Narcotic withdrawal is truly awful and, to a lesser extent than before, mine is still ongoing. If I lived in a country where healthcare was delivered to those who needed it and not rationed to only those who can afford it, then there were several times I would’ve gone to the hospital in the first two weeks (especially that blitzed out first week). Given what I have learned I figure I will be experiencing some degree of narcotic withdrawal at least until January 2017, and possibly beyond.

When the brain deals with opiates, such as OxyContin, it compensates by boosting the brain chemistry necessary to offset the suppressive effects of the narcotics on your body. The narcotics quickly slow you down, suppresses sensations on your skin, and decreases your breathing (which is why people who mix booze and painkillers often stop breathing and die.). In the face of those suppressive effects, your brain rewires to try and rev you back up, to help you feel more, to get your breathing up to where it’s supposed to be.

When the narcotics are not replenished because you stopped taking them, your brain continues to compensate as if you were still being suppressed by narcotics. So, all the speeding up and the extra feeling that your brain has learned to produce as compensation is now fully experienced without the narcotic suppression.

In the absence of narcotics to compensate against, your brain puts your body into overdrive. Your brain acts as if it is still compensating for the narcotics and all hell breaks loose.

With your brain chemistry over-compensating,  your body now feels way too much, even the wind or an air conditioner’s breeze on your skin can cause you pain (I kid you not!). It’s as if ants were biting and crawling all over you. It feels like someone is scraping the bones in your limbs. Plus, just for bonus points, you get to feel the original pain that was suppressed by the chronic narcotic therapy.  What Fun … Not!

I fully understand why so many people with narcotic dependency or narcotic addiction lapse in the first week of withdrawal. I’ve had several painful experiences in my life, and the journey of narcotic withdrawal is one of the worst.

Narcotic therapy, under proper medical supervision, can still help a lot of people. It just quit helping me.

So What’s the Upside?

Besides not going an extra $200 a month into debt, every single month, for an ever diminishing level of pain reduction, there have been some wonderful benefits.

I feel more hope. I feel more alive. I am regaining my intellect. I am not in a narcotic fog. My attention span has improved and I feel I can not only make some plans but also execute on them. I have a renewed sense of initiative. Not to mention that I feel I have a renewed sense of purpose.

I am relearning how to deal with more intense physical pain. After all, I was prescribed this medication to control chronic pain. The chronic pain is still there.

I understand that my personal solution is not optimal for everyone (perhaps not for anyone else, at all). Your mileage may vary.  I am not advocating any medical decisions for you based on this essay.

I’m not a medical doctor and make no pretense of giving medical advice. This is simply a snapshot of part of my journey. This part of my journey, while painful and still very unpleasant, has allowed me to once again re-board and spend at least some portions of my day on the Ship of Light. It’s as if I can see again. And, as I heal from narcotic dependency, I will be able to see and do even more. I live in hope.

Light and Fog in Choppy Waters

It is hard to describe living simultaneously on the Ship of Light and the Ship of Fog. There are moments when I’m engaged within my intellect and then suddenly can’t think at all due to grief. The light gets fogged out from time to time. No warnings, no notice, no advanced clues, just suddenly off one ship and on the other, stumbling in the fog, walking into doors, choked with tears. Lord, how I miss her.

My mom would be glad that I am reclaiming my mind and personality from the narcotic labyrinth. She would be concerned about the way I am doing it.

A good friend suggested I think about some of my happy memories with mom: My mother always supported my thirst for education … even my potentially irrational, risky, decision to pursue doctoral work in a field that no one cares about (theology) and a field which even fewer university administrators support. She may have preferred my becoming a Law-Bender, oops, I mean a lawyer. Yet, I have met so very few happy lawyers. And, while I might be financially stressed and physically unable to work, I do remain a happy theologian. In the big picture mom would prefer that.

Back when I could still travel I had had conversations with Gold Star mothers. My suffering is nothing compared to their suffering. One Gold Star mother in particular taught me a valuable lesson.

She said, one moment everything will feel fine and then a tidal wave of grief will sweep you away. Get used to it. Expect it. Get a surfboard.

I am learning how to surf.

I’m not the first person who has had to learn how to surf. Billions have done so already. Yet, for each of us, learning to walk, learning to ride a bike, learning to read, these are each individual and unique experiences for every single one of us. Others could not do it for us. It’s always new for each of us.

And so, I am learning how to surf.

It’s an interesting experience rediscovering the possibility of my intellect, of my own intelligence and initiative, while simultaneously being thrown on a surfboard and walking into doors. Life is such an adventure.

So, What Now?

First and foremost, I am grieving for my mother. I miss her.

Ironically, being freed from the mind-numbing narcotic haze, not to mention the ass-numbing constipating side effects, of OxyContin, allows me to experience my grief more fully. Away from the narcotic haze I not only feel my physical pain more fully, but also the spiritual and emotional loss of such a wonderful woman. I miss her so.

Yes, it hurts and it hurts even more without my being numbed by OxyContin, but the pain of grief is real, authentic, and humanizing. I would not choose to avoid it. How could I honor her if I avoided how much I love her?

This grief, this searching for the surfboard, is part of the normal journey, part of the authentic human experience.

Second and second most, I hope to write more.

For me, writing is an expression of life. It is an act of creation which honors the Creator. It gives me meaning, it gives me purpose. In art is life. In art is God’s love for each of us. If we do not seek to create, then we do not explore one of the most joyous portions of our creation as unique individuals made in the image and likeness of God.

I see a path whereby I can endeavor to write more essays for this website and to also work on some books, one of which would be on the intersection of Christianity and Shamanism as it pertains to the spiritual dimensions of PTSD. Another would be on how PTSD is a soul wound and how PTSD tries to create a PTSD-Identity that overwrites your personal identity. Writing more on PTSD and Relationships comes to mind.

There remains much to explore and write about.

When I am not floundering on the Ship of Fog, I hope to benefit from the hope, intellect, and initiative of being on the Ship of Light and start regularly writing again. Not just thinking about projects, but starting them. Not just starting projects, but finishing them. Not just finishing projects, but publishing them. This would make her happy, thinks me. I still want to make mom proud of me.

Just a reminder: this essay is not medical advice, it’s just one man’s journey.

In case you missed it, I really miss her.

Semper Pax, Dr. Z


  1. Dan Stalling says:

    Fog and light brothers.
    Aspects of ultimate Om –
    Two paths leading home.

  2. Oh Dr. Z, I am so sorry to hear of your Mother’s passing. I hope you continue to chart ways in which she is still there as your mother. My brother got a restraining order due to the PTSD and shock therapy so I cannot see my Mother anymore (who suffers from dementia), but I am thankful to hear her true voice in cards I saved over the years. I hope similar comforting is provided you via memories of your Mom’s love and support. You are a light to so many that any mother would be proud. 🙂

    Congratulations, too, on saying adios to OxyContin. What a feat that is! The only thing I can equate is when I quit smoking nearly 5 years ago after 30 years of being addicted. Your insight into the physical aspects of withdrawal was frightening (although I did chuckle in relating to the well-known side effect of constipation).

    I was wondering why I saved your essay till a time when I could read uninterrupted, and I’m happy I did. I’m so proud of you and so happy I can call you my friend. Sending you a hug of comfort and a pat on the back for an “atta boy.”

    With much heartfelt feeling …

    Your friend,


    • Hey, Harry, my friend,
      Thank you for your condolences, advice, and congratulations. Thank you mostly for taking the time to read and to share with me.
      I’ve gone through some of my photo albums and saw things from my days as a cub scout and boy scout. My parents were big scouting supporters. When no adults were willing to sponsor scouts, they stepped up. I think that is one of my most important experiences/memories of my parents when I was a boy and even when I grew up, they would always step up. As a teenager and as a young man they would also let me know if I was being selfish or foolish, but also let me know they still loved me regardless … I am very fortunate to be their son.
      Thank you, Harry.
      Semper Pax, John

  3. I too come alongside you Dr Z. And thank you for your full sharing (one definition of the Biblical “fellowship”). Pun on “ship”, heh heh… We are indeed fellows on these ships of life at times… As I continue in this PTSD memory healing, it is still disconcerting to, as you said about your deeply emotional processing, to loose focus in the present. I have had to be prompted to complete tasks, etc… BUT, I do Look Only to God and Jesus, the authors and finishers of faith, and know that Jesus is with us in it ALL. And the Comforter. And the dear dear Father.

    May all of the healing that is available be yours, Dr Z!

    • Hello Anne,
      Thank you for your kindness and generosity.
      “Fellow-Ship” makes perfect sense to me. Part of the beauty of our Christian life is that even though we suffer from individual experiences, we never truly suffer alone. Christ walks with us, and for many of us, unknowingly, Christ walks point and absorbs the stuff we could never handle.
      Thank you for your compassion.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • Thank you! I have not been able to believe in that broken child part of me that God had not abandoned me; has been a dark cave… I was searching this AM and had just read Jesus’ words that He is with us, even until the end of the age, and then I clicked on my ptsd.spirituality bookmark and read your reply 🙂 I treasure your words and can receive them with new emotional function (i.e. more tears!) and faith. I claim authority over the dark forces that entrapped me. They have NO POWER IN MY LIFE. I RECEIVE THE KNOWLEDGE THAT GOD AND JESUS HAVE PROTECTED ME, AND THAT I AM ON THE JOURNEY OF RECOVERING WHAT WAS STOLEN FROM ME. Amen.
        Thank you very much for your ministry Dr Z!!! God’s blessings for you this day.

  4. Hey Dr. Z, Thanks for the access to your beautiful and authentic and very personal journey. Narcotic withdrawal is its own special hell but you are embracing the life-giving aspect of the process and gaining a freedom you know the worth of; that’s surely a gift. You likely know the Greeks called drugs “the pharmakon” – at once a medicine and a poison – and it sounds like you’ve seen both sides of that coin. Congratulations on taking back the light and burning through your emotional truths. That burning feeling is life itself. Very inspired by your essay and it affirmed something I’ve been thinking about in my writing.

    Thanks also for circulating information about Harry Sanna’s upcoming, PTSD-sensitive film, Trauma. You’ll be pleased to know that we reached our funding target, thanks to help from people like you, and are currently approaching the later stages of the film’s editorial process. It’s gonna be a beautiful and informative film and I’ll be sure to let you know about its progress.

    Best, Steven Kelleher

    • Hi Steven,
      Thank you for taking the time to touch base.
      You are quite right about the drugs being both a medicine and a poison… both a blessing and a curse.
      I am delighted to hear that the film Trauma is fully funded and nearly ready for release. I think a lot of non-PTSD people will learn from it. And, perhaps more importantly, many PTSD-sufferers will know they are not alone, they are not nuts, and that they can heal.
      Please do keep me posted on how the film’s progress proceeds! I’m very interested.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

  5. Steve Schalock says:


    Dr. Z….

    What to say?

    You are not alone,
    yet, you walk this one alone…
    Well, you and Jesus
    (but sometimes, he’s pretty quiet).

    (Must be hard to walk, with balls the size of watermelons!)
    Holy shit!!!
    Prayers up for sustaining strength & some comfort!

    Losing loved ones…
    At least we have the comfort of knowing we will meet them again.

    Death always makes me angry.
    Can’t help it.
    I rage, I curse, I shake my fist at the heavens…

    We are not meant to die!!!
    Arrrgh!, the curse, the curse, the curse of Adam.

    I weep for you,
    for me,
    for us all.

    Death has been broken on The Cross!
    This is our hope.
    This is our future.
    This is where we go.
    This is our home.

    This is not now… ;-(

    The road must be walked.
    The cup must be drunk.
    Alone, and yet never alone.

    He is there, at the bottom.
    Waiting for us.

    Not a train.

    and, I don’t know diddly…

    Aw shit!
    “sucks to be you, dude”
    (attempt at producing a smile 😉 )

    The only real thing I can say or do is to pray
    for your strength, comfort and peace
    in Jesus.

    Hang in there, friend.

    In Jesus


    (Thanks for sharing with us.)

    • Hi Steve,
      Thank you, I really benefited from that.
      You mentioned: “The road must be walked.
      The cup must be drunk.
      Alone, and yet never alone.”
      This is very true. And you help keep me from being alone.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

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