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What Doctors Don't Know About Benzodiazepine Recovery.
Dr. Jennifer Leigh has been invited by Addiction Blog to be a regular contributor. She is honored to be able to help educate individuals, doctors, nurses and therapists about the dangers of benzodiazepines and to educate about the healing benefits of Christian Listening Skills.™
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A great article on the dangers of psych meds. It’s about time someone presented the truth!
Barry, our benzo brother in the U.K. sent this to me. Thank you for sharing Barry. Wish we had a more vocal opposition to benzos (and other psych meds) here in the U.S. Maybe a few will take up arms once they are more healed. Hope so.
Click here to read. What are your thoughts? Do you agree?
As we know, viral or other types of illness can bring on a wave of benzo withdrawal symptoms, even many years out. Why? No one seems to know. Makes sense, since no one really knows what benzodiazepines do to the brain/body in the first place. Or what is really going on in withdrawal and recovery.
I was putting together a metal shelving unit yesterday on my lunch break. I ate a green salad with a broiled chicken breast for lunch, bought at my favorite little family owned Mediterranean restaurant. They have been feeding me for the past four years as I healed from the damage the benzo did to my brain. An hour later, it was as if someone flipped a switch. I had severe dizziness, like I was drunk, and I was unable to walk. My head pressure was intense, and my right ear was painful and plugged. My vision was pretty strange too. I groped my way to the couch and laid down. I prayed. I breathed slowly. I tried to figure out just what was going on. A neighbor knocked at my door out of the blue. Thank you, God!
My friend helped me back to my bed and that was when the fireworks started. Metaphorically speaking of course. Everything I’d eaten that day came rushing back up, for hours. It was pretty nasty. I’m not usually prone to vomiting. I had Food poisoning!
I’m over the worst of the worst. It triggered a return of some body benzo symptoms however. I know that this will pass. I’m grateful that my brain is healed enough that it didn’t bring back the mental symptoms! I’m on the couch today, resting. I canceled clients as I didn’t feel I was 100% available. Benzo withdrawal has taught me how to take very good care of myself and not to feel guilty for having to do so. I hope you are learning how to do that as well.
Always keep your wetsuit available for the times waves will roll back into your life. It is going to happen, maybe even years out. Our central nervous systems are still fragile and an attack on the body can be too much of a strain. Take it in stride. It will pass, in time. Be gentle with yourself and think positive thoughts. I talked to my mom this morning and I told her the biggest threat to my health would be me feeling sorry for myself! I know I have to keep my hands and my mind as busy as I can so I don’t focus on myself. My garden is one amazing tool for that.
Which reminds me, soon I am going to be hosting free weekly webinars about benzo withdrawal. I want to give you the top three coping skills that worked for me (I wish I had learned sooner!) and the complete gardening instructions so you can plant a flower garden that boosts your healing just like my garden did for me. I’ll cover other topics as well. I’m still working behind the scenes to put it all together. I’ll keep you posted.
I’m gonna go sip my chicken broth and watch a movie. I’m used to pulling on my wetsuit, putting a smile on my face and saying, “Bring it on!” I’m so grateful I’ve healed enough that benzo withdrawal doesn’t rattle my cage like it used to. I know that it won’t last and that life is so sweet. Food poisoning may have brought on a bit of a wave, but I’m still standing. Even if for today, that is only metaphorically!
Everyone take good care. Be kind and gentle with yourselves. Know that this too shall pass. Life WILL get sweet again. We do recover.
I’ll keep you posted about the free weekly webinars. Stay tuned.
A benzo brother, Barry Haslam sends me emails about the political undertakings in the U.K. with regards to benzos. Recently laws were passed (or being passed?) to allow types of doctors who previously were not allowed to prescribe a benzo to now prescribe them. Needless to say, this is frustrating to those of us who have been harmed by the drugs and know the dangers. It is frustrating that the people in charge continue to ignore the facts about benzos, year after year, decade after decade, while more lives are ruined and lost.
John Perrot wrote this letter in reply to an email that Barry wrote. I asked John for permission to reprint it here. It gives a good overview of how hard and long the battle to ban benzos for more than the manufacturer’s suggested use has been. I’m unaware of any legal battles here, other than petitions that circulate about benzos. If our battle will look anything like the one waged over the pond, we have our work cut out for us, but I think we know that.
Thank you John, for your permission to post your letter:
“Wholeheartedly agree Barry. No-one in government, DH, MHRA, RCGP, RCPsych, BMA can pretend they did not know about the benzo issue from the early 1980’s onwards.
Over 1000 Parliamentary Questions since the late 1970’s; hundreds of research papers about the dangers of benzos all ignored; at least 24 years of “taking it seriously” by the Department of Health; “Beat the benzos” campaign from 1997 – 2007 with evidence submitted by Phil Woolas MP, John Grogan MP and Sir Sydney Chapman MP; promises made and broken by countless Public Health ministers and more recently Prime Minister David Cameron; there’s a letter published in the Journal of the RCGP as early as 1983 asking for help http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1973010/?page=1; concerns expressed repeatedly to DH, the Royal Colleges and the BMA by benzo experts Professors Ashton and Lader and ignored……
All met with denial. Denial of withdrawal syndromes and damage caused by long-term use, professors with conflicts of interest with pharma writing so called “independent” reports omitting known risks and long-term effects or making decisions on drug policy, denial of the scale of the problem, feigned concern, obfuscation…..the list is endless.
All we want is dedicated national withdrawal services and enforcement of the CSM 1988 2 – 4 week benzo prescribing guidelines (ignored for 27 years now) to help patients who have been harmed by doing nothing more than following their doctors’ instructions.
What do we get? A continuing drug misuse agenda and no services.
We are drowning in evidence. Drug deaths, hospital admissions, risk of early dementia, social decline, withdrawal syndromes lasting years, suicides…..it has been submitted again and again with no action.”
Recently these questions found their way into my inbox: “Is there a chance you can do a blog on what kinds of things you are able to do/think now that you are more healed? Like reading, watching TV, conversations with people, household chores, thinking about life, love, etc. What kinds of things you think/do now. And what brings joy, etc. What sorts of things do you look forward to, can plan for now, etc. It is hard for me to fathom anything other than suffering and pain and a life where I am not a burden or where I don’t ruin everyone’s life around me because I cannot think of or feel anything other than this.”
Dear Blog Reader, here you go!
1. Now that I am more healed I can do *almost* anything I used to do before this all started. The exceptions are that I am still very exercise intolerant. Any demands on my muscles sends me into a wave of pain. I’m not as active as I was in 201o, although I do garden a lot and I walk my dog often. I’m not as spontaneous as I used to be, which in my case is probably a good thing, as I was a fairly impulsive person. Now, I think things through thoroughly before I jump in. I’m less emotionally volatile too, which is a good thing. I don’t allow myself to go too high or too low. You’ll get your life back and be able to do many, many things that you are missing out on right now as you heal. I thought I would be couch bound the rest of my life. Nah, didn’t happen! Remember I drove 8,500 miles with just my dog. I really do have a life again that is worth living. You will too.
2.I can read, I can watch TV (but I don’t own one by choice) I can have conversations, do household chores, think about life and I can fall in love and feel love. In fact, I recently threw my hat into the online dating ring. I’m well enough to be able to give something to a partner and I am actively searching for the last love of my life! My thoughts about life in withdrawal were dark, painful and terrifying. Many of us go through that phase as our receptors heal from the damage from the drug. But now my thoughts are “normal” and clear. I am not tortured at all. I love waking up to face a new day, a new promise of something wonderful in God’s creation.
3. I think now about being the best servant to God that I can possibly be. I think about my children, my friends, my parents. I think about how to build my recovery coaching business, and build my non-profit Christian recovery outreach ministry. I think about the moment I am in. I enjoy my garden, my friends, my family, the two mammals that live with me, Sam the cat and Shakespeare the dog. I think about how my life has been so deeply and richly blessed. I think about God often, and I give thanks often. I rarely worry, I rarely am upset, which is a HUGE improvement from pre benzo, on benzo and in benzo withdrawal. I’m really a new person, thanks to God.
4. My garden, my friends, and family bring me intense joy. My cat and dog do as well. I can feel joy from small moments; smelling a sweet pea blossom, hearing a bird sing, listening to a baby laugh…. very small things that years ago I would have totally missed or overlooked as being important. What used to be important to me, being on TV, radio, being jetted to my clients… all the trapping of what looked like success don’t mean that much to me anymore. In fact, I grimace a bit when I think back on how I used to be in the world. Now my joy comes from God. From being in service. Being obedient. Its an amazing place to live your life from. Amazing. I feel joy most of the day. I mean, every moment is such a gift, such a delight. But of course it wasn’t in benzo withdrawal. It was a dark, dank, fetid, horrible hell. But that’s gone. Thank God.
5. I look forward to a few things: 1. my eldest son getting married to an amazing woman in June. Babies are planned as soon as they say “I do!” I’ve been told. Cant wait!! 2. Officially launching God Powered Recovery, inc. into the world. Really excited about the lives that it can help. 3. Falling in love again. I am excited to meet the man God will put in my path that will become my husband. I’ve been divorced for 20 years. It’s time to be a wife again, and to love someone with my whole heart. I want to give and to build a great relationship. 4. I look forward to continued healing. I believe my body will get better. I may be one of the ones who has permanent damage, but I do believe it will continue to get better. 5. I look forward to whatever God has planned for my life.
6. I can make plans for almost anything. Even on days when I am dizzy or a bit weak, I can push through it. I rarely talk about my symptoms with friends and no one really knows when I’m having an off day. I do what needs to be done. Some days I don’t do things if I feel I am too tired, but for the most part, I am back living my life. You will be too.
I know that it all seems to dark and hopeless right now. Your brain is damaged from the benzo. It is healing. It is the damage that is causing all the weird thoughts, and the body symptoms. It is not YOU. You are still in there, still intact, still whole. Your brain is not you. It’s just another organ. Of course its a vital organ that seems to run the show a lot, but you DO have control over how you react to what it tells you. You may not be able to stop the weird thoughts in withdrawal but you can ignore them and get on with life to the best of your ability.
Keep the faith. It gets so much better. I am living proof. I was very, very sick in all ways in benzo withdrawal. Now, I thank God I didn’t die and that I didn’t reinstate or get on any other medication. I’m free. I’m happy. I’m thriving. You will too!
Hope these answers to your questions help.
My inbox and text messaging has been exploding lately with people asking if their symptoms are withdrawal or something else? Some have gone to addiction specialists only to have been told one of these statements: Benzo withdrawal can’t cause that, you were on too low of a dose to have withdrawal, you weren’t on your benzo long enough to have any withdrawal symptoms, benzo withdrawal doesn’t last this long, I’ve never seen anyone be this sick from withdrawal, you have a serious illness causing your symptoms, you should reinstate your benzo, you have vitamin deficiencies causing your symptoms, stress is causing your symptoms, and my personal favorite….It’s all in your head!
One “expert” here in the San Francisco bay area stared me straight in the eye and challenged me, “Are you going to believe me, a doctor ( he emphasized the word) or strangers on the Internet?” I squirmed in my seat, uncomfortable to confront his authority to his face. I went home, and promised myself to never discuss withdrawal with him again!
The sad fact is that psychiatrists and even “addiction specialists” rarely understand the symptoms of withdrawal or how it can happen to people even on low doses and even on a short period of time. I’ve long ago stopped asking why the medical community is so frightened to look at the truth about these drugs, as it used to frustrate me terribly. Millions of us experienced the exact psychological and physical symptoms due to taking a benzo. It follows logic that we are suffering from the effects of the drug. And, yes, personally I trusted the thousands of benzo sufferers I met via benzobuddies.org. They were living the nightmare. They knew. They understood.
If you are experiencing symptoms that concern you and you want know that it is not caused by an underlying illness, then by all means, see a doctor. But be forewarned and prepared for the doctor to dismiss your claims that your symptoms may be from withdrawal. Know that having to defend yourself may make you anxious and frustrated or rev up your symptoms. Our CNS is quite fragile as we are healing, remember.
Please get support from others who are swimming in the same sea you are. Look for answers from people who are or have been in, your shoes and can share some encouragement with you. You are not going to be in withdrawal forever. Eventually the brain and the body rights itself from the damage the drugs caused.
Please know that I can’t legally tell you if your symptoms are withdrawal or not. I’m not licensed to practice medicine. I can share with you what I experienced and what symptoms have gone away without medication, supplements or vitamins. Time. That is what heals us. Time.
People ask me what is left of withdrawal as I close in on four years free. Everyone wants to know to what extent I feel healed. I don’t really know how to calculate that, but I’ll try. On good days when I don’t have much muscle or bone pain, or weakness, fatigue, or dizziness, I feel about 80% or more healed. I have never had a full day of zero symptoms, however. I only get a few hours where I feel pretty darn good! Mornings are still a challenge in that I feel so tired, sluggish, in pain, head pressure, weak, woozy, etc. By the afternoon, I usually feel better. On “bad” days, I feel I’m about 60% healed.
What has gone away is the crushing anxiety, depression, fear, paranoia, panic, terror, existential angst, and all the other crazy bizarre emotional/mental/spiritual symptoms that are the hallmark of benzo withdrawal. I rarely feel anxious, and when I do, I know how to cope with it until it passes. Anxiety is a natural human emotion and is not an indication of some “disorder,” weakness of character or some other nonsense people/doctors may want to label it. Many of us found our way onto a benzo because we had anxiety. Many of us had high ACE scores (Adverse Childhood Experiences) that set our nervous system to a higher level of sensitivity than others. This still does not make our anxiety a “disorder.” It means simply that our nervous systems were influenced by outside circumstances. The good news is that they can be influenced to regulate themselves better. Those of us who are sensitive or high-strung may always have a propensity for that, but we don’t have to live our lives on the edge of our seats though. I do not battle my old pre-benzo anxiety. I wish that my doctor had never put me on a benzo and had given me alternative ways to cope with my anxiety. But that is water under the bridge.
Will the remaining body symptoms go away? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve briefly spoken to a man who is 23 years benzo free. He was one of the pioneers way back before there was information on the internet about benzo withdrawal. He still has some body symptoms. I know Dr. Reggie Peart had a few lingering symptoms at 16 years free that he claimed he could integrate into normal life. What those were, I can’t tell by reading his bio. I am not sure that all of us heal 100%. I do believe the anxiety/fear/terror and all of that horrible stuff does go away. I believe we can all embrace life fully and deeply at some point. I know I am. I just have to be very aware of my stress levels and I have to take extremely good care of myself. I follow the paleo diet to a fault. I sleep when tired. I don’t invite drama into my life. I avoid people who like to argue, or complain all of the time, or in other ways be emotional vampires. I set healthy boundaries. I don’t expect myself to be perfect anymore. I don’t stress over my looks, wardrobe, possessions, etc. The biggest thing I have done for my recovery is to become fully reliant on God. It has made all the difference in the world to me, and it has given me a peace and comfort that is hard to describe. I don’t worry much anymore. When I do find myself in worry, I stop, and I focus on love, kindness and compassion. I let those feelings wash over me. I can’t be in two places at once, so the love usually wins out and the worry fades away.
What can you do right now today if you are still in the thick of withdrawal? You can simplify your life to the best of your ability. Make room for yourself to heal. Let go of stressors. Eat healthy. Cut out grains, they really are bad for our gut. It’s been proven that “leaky gut” is a real phenomenon that causes a host of health problems. Rest when you are tired. Distract as much as possible. (I still garden as much as I can!) Take walks. Spend time in prayer talking to God and listening. (Don’t just use prayer as a time to beg for healing.) Find a way to be of service to others, even if it is just a simple phone call to give hope to someone else. Learn to listen with your whole non-judgemental heart. Be patient and have hope.
I have not given up the hope that I will heal more. I have given up the expectations and I accept whatever happens will happen. I accept my life today as a precious gift. It may not be perfect, it may not be how I imagined myself at 57, but it is my life and I am grateful I am still here on the planet.
So, that is what is left of withdrawal two months shy of 4 years off. I feel good emotionally/mentally/spiritually. My body still isn’t 100% and may never be. I don’t know to what extent it will heal more, but I accept the symptoms that I still have and am living a life full of love and gratitude. I know that from here on out I must take exceptionally good care of myself with diet, exercise, sleep, rest, hydration, prayer, gratitude, healthy boundaries, healthy relationships and acceptance. Whatever the future will bring, it will bring. I will face it head on with God. That’s the best I know to do.
Yesterday this site crashed. Files were destroyed. It’s taken me and my hosting team many hours to restore it, only to have the media library go down shortly thereafter.
As you can see, the site isn’t looking too good. Sorry about that. My team doesn’t know the cause of the problem yet, but we are all working diligently on it.
After many prayers for guidance yesterday, I have come to the decision to not have a chat room or member access. It seems that creating those things are perhaps part of the cause of the problems. The site will remain a simple blog, with the pages you see in the menu. I was so hopeful that I could create a site that brought you all more value and more help. Maybe down the road, we will see.
I also need to tell you that other than the people I currently help via email or texting, I can’t communicate with new people. I just don’t have the time as I am putting all of my energies into rebuilding a career. I’d like to get off of food stamps after years of poverty from withdrawal, you know?
I’ll continue to blog and I’ll leave the old posts up so you can follow my journey of recovery. Surviving benzo withdrawal was the hardest thing I have ever had to do! But it was worth it. Life is very precious and very sweet now. Your life will be good again too, in time.
Thanks for your patience as we troubleshoot the source of the this latest problem and correct it. Keep healing!
These are the frequently asked questions I receive on a regular basis. They are in no particular order.
Did you taper?
Yes. But I became so bedridden I eventually was cold turkeyed off my benzo by well meaning addiction specialist. I was given pheno to keep me from having seizures.
Did you have intense or irrational fear in withdrawal?
Yes. It was unbearable. I wanted to die to make it stop. (I am glad I didn’t die as now my life is amazing.)
Did you have depression and did you try medications?
Yes and yes. My depression was pitch black hell. I tried an old tricyclic but after a few days I felt I was worse. I also tried an SSRI when I had a severe wave of symptoms at 36 months off. I stopped after a few days as it was causing severe anxiety. (I will never take a psych med again as long as I live.)
Could you work in withdrawal?
No. I was physically and mentally incapacitated. I didn’t know how to work my computer or do simple tasks. I felt utterly broken and handicapped.
Did you have intrusive or dark thoughts?
Yes. I obsessed about death daily. It was one of my worst symptoms. I had no control over my thoughts, no matter what I tried. I despaired that I would ever have a quiet mind or normal thoughts again. It took a long time, but that symptom finally faded away. Thank God. (Literally.)
Were you able to feel love for your children and friends?
No. I lived in an altered state. I felt mostly fear, doom and gloom, anxiety and a blackness that I can’t describe. The world held no goodness or joy for a long time. I remember when I felt love again for my children, I broke down and sobbed, I was so grateful.
Did you worry you were going insane?
Yes, of course. Benzo withdrawal is such a horrible thing to have to experience. The fear that you are truly insane can be overwhelming.
Did you have insomnia.
Yes. At one point I slept from 6 am till 8 or 9 am. Once I began sleeping at night time hours, I would wake up every 45-90 minutes in utter terror. It took many months until sleep got better and years before I slept through the night uninterrupted.
Did you have physical symptoms?
Oh my yes! My laundry list of symptoms was long. I don’t like to think back on those days to be honest. I was very sick and in a great deal of pain. I still have weakness, fatigue, head pressure, tingles, some burning skin, dizziness and gastro symptoms but they are manageable. I do believe that one day I will be much better.
What helped you the most?
I gardened in my front yard and met many people walking by. My flower garden became a healing resource for many people. Having it to tend to gave me a purpose which I needed.
What did you try or do in withdrawal that you wished you hadn’t done.
Very good question! I wish I had understood from the beginning that my healing journey was going to be a very long and arduous one. I attempted to open an office and return to coaching four months after my cold turkey! Of course I had to shutter the doors and I lost a lot of money on the office. I wish I had been more patient. I also wish I had never seen a doctor while in withdrawal. Not one had been educated about withdrawal and I was given some very bad and harmful advice. I wasted a lot of money seeking cures and treatments when the only cure is time.
Did you ever attempt suicide?
No. I wanted to die, and I prayed for death, but I never made an attempt to end my life. I am so grateful I didn’t. Life is so good now. Mentally and emotionally I am the best I have ever been in my entire life.
Did your original anxiety return?
My original anxiety showed up in withdrawal symptoms for sure. However, once my GABA receptors returned to a more normal state, I can honestly say that I do not suffer from my original anxiety. Very little disturbs me now and when it does, I have tools to work with.
Did you have a fear of God in withdrawal?
Yes. Some of my irrational and bizarre thoughts and fears were about God. My work now is to help people become reliant on God so clearly that has all gone away!
Did you ever lose hope or believe you wouldn’t heal?
Every day! I was riddled with doubt but I trudged on. I hoped I would heal but I wasn’t always convinced that I would. But we all do.
Did foods bother you?
Yes. Many foods caused my body tingling to get worse. Garbanzo beans were a big offender as was any type of protein. Salmon was a big offender too. Most of that is gone away now.
Did you get your DNA tested?
I only had a test for the MTHFR mutation, I do have it. I am not taking anything for it.
How long did your worst symptoms last?
Too long! I was in bad shape for a good 2.5 years. Then was hit at 3 years with a wave from hell that lasted 5 months.
What do you wish others knew about withdrawal?
I wish with my whole heart that the medical community would wake up and realize the very real dangers of these drugs. Lives are lost because of them. Lives are put on hold because of them. The withdrawal I experienced was far and above anything more severe than I ever experienced before being on the drug. I was also in tolerance withdrawal for many, many years.
I also wish that others in withdrawal could be patient and not keep seeking treatments or cures. There are none. Time is what heals us. Other medications can make us worse, especially antipsychotic medications. (We are not psychotic, we are in withdrawal.)
Do you have any regrets?
I try to live my life in the present moment. Having said that, I regret that I ever saw a doctor about my anxiety attacks in the first place. I wouldn’t have been given a benzo had I learned that they could be have been controlled by other means.
Will benzo withdrawal really end?
Yes. It will. One day. Even if you still have some lingering body symptoms down the road, you will not continue to suffer as you are now. I was able to drive by myself across the country, 8500 miles, and I managed very well. I am back at work and able to do all of the technical work I used to do before withdrawal. In fact, in many ways I am now better because I suffered through benzo withdrawal.
It’s been five years since I was able to fully enjoy celebrating Easter. I was too benzo sick. This year I still cope with bone pain, muscle pain, head pressure, weakness, fatigue, dizziness, tinnitus and some tingles, but I am capable of a fairly normal life. I’ve helped stuff 1,500 Easter eggs for a party my sister and I are throwing for friends and family. She and I have been cooking, cleaning, decorating for days. I’m tired but deeply content!
There was a time in my recovery when I gave up hope of ever having normal thoughts and feelings and being able to stand on my feet for a full day. I felt utterly defeated. I felt abandoned by God. How could he leave me alone to suffer such a cruel fate? It wasn’t until I was more healed that I realized He never left my side. God used my horrific withdrawal and recovery experience to turn me into the person I always wanted and hoped to be. For those of you still in the thick of suffering, it may be hard to understand that I am now grateful for benzo withdrawal.
I am grateful that I have a new life that is far more amazing than anything I could have ever imagined. There is a long list of close to miraculous things that have taken place in my life. Things that utterly amaze and astonish me. I relate in my own way to this verse: “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” (Romans 8:8) My life is full of God’s glory now!
If you are suffering in withdrawal, please know that God is holding you in his hands. Even though he may feel a million miles away, or non-existent, know that that feeling is a benzo symptom and will fade away like all the others. Trust that God is using this time of adversity in your life for the good. We aren’t able to understand God’s thinking or his ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) We don’t have to. We only have to trust that in the end, our lives will be good again. (Romans 8:28) My life is so very, very good now!
I lived in utter hell for a very long time. I’ve been delivered. I can now celebrate this Easter year with an open heart, a calm and quiet mind, and a fairly strong body. I can celebrate that Jesus died on the cross for me, and he rose from the dead, so that we can have eternal life. In my own way, I’ve been resurrected too. I have been born again, lifted out of the blackness of benzo withdrawal. I have been made whole. I have been made new. Glory Hallelujah!
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Oh, the old posts will always be here. Many have emailed me begging me NOT to take them down. I won’t!
Thanks for your patience!