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