I am glad you are here.
I’m Jennifer. I cold turkeyed from clonazepam on June 23, 2011, after taking it as prescribed for close to 18 years. I had tapered for 8 months but was bedridden and deathly ill so I “jumped”. (This is not recommended!) My blog posts are an honest, raw account of my experience. Feel free to search through the old posts. (I’m six years free and have my life back. You will, too!)
I’ve been helping people in benzodiazepine withdrawal (BWD) for years. I’ve blogged, created a private support group, taught classes, coached individuals, and I’ve educated local doctors about BWD. I’ve also been an online contributor for AddictionBlog and I’ve given interviews for the media. (The Huffington Post ran an article.)
Most doctors are terribly uneducated about the dangers of these drugs, or the recovery process. They often prescribe medications that we in the BWD community feel hamper our healing, or they cause their own damage. Detox, rehabs, and inpatient mental health facilities have been known to cause harm. Doctors who are “addiction specialists” have harmed us. Even the staff at some of the most prestigious hospitals (Mayo Clinic, for example) have been known to be uneducated about benzos. I urge you to educate yourself about the damage these drugs can cause, and the safest ways to recover. Your safety and wellbeing are the most important things in the world!
If you have found this website because you are helping a friend or a loved one navigate BWD, please take good care of yourself. The demands of caretaking are enormous, and you are very much needed. (You may want to read this post.)
The best and only “cure” for benzodiazepine withdrawal is time. Lots and lots of it. You will recover. You will have normal thoughts, feelings, and the ability to go back out in the world once again. What you experience now in benzo withdrawal is not the old you. It is not the new you. It is just you in benzo withdrawal, recovering from the damage the drug has caused.
Please be kind and gentle with yourself. Hold on. You will recover!
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I remember turning the key in my front door when I came home from the hospital after my cold turkey from my prescribed use of Clonazepam. The door opened, just as it had a thousand times before, and I walked into my apartment. Everything was just as I had left it the week before, but everything felt eerily different. I walked over to my couch and laid down (a position that over the next few years I’d find myself in so often that I wore a divot into the cushions). “I’ll be fine in a few weeks,” I said out loud to reassure myself. I had already spent eight grueling months in a failed taper. I couldn’t imagine spending much more time in benzo withdrawal than I already had.
Ha. Little did I know.
My recovery would take years and test the limits of my patience, faith, and strength. And I’m not alone. There as many of us who blow past the six-eighteen months “average” for healing from the damages a benzodiazepine can cause. Frankly, I wish that the average would either be changed to reflect a possible longer recovery time; or better yet, do away with a timeline all together. Healing is going to take however long it takes. I don’t like the term “protracted.” It connotes that we “should” have healed but for whatever reason, we haven’t. (It’s hard enough battling benzo withdrawal; harder still to feel as if you’ve flunked it somehow by not healing in time.)
For those of us who have seen eighteen months off our benzo come and go, perhaps we aren’t taking longer than normal. This IS our normal. Perhaps there is something about our DNA, our makeup, our central nervous system that needs a lot of runway. A long withdrawal doesn’t mean a permanent withdrawal. We need to remember that. (Baylissa reminds me from time to time!)
I don’t like saying I’m in protracted benzo withdrawal. I like saying, “I’m healing,” I don’t like to look back (seven years off the drug next month) nor look ahead. I do my best to stay right here in today. And you know what? Today is pretty damn good because I am alive! So are you. No matter how symptomatic you are right now, no matter how long you’ve been in withdrawal, you are going to recover and get on with your life. You’ll even get past the vulnerability of having a setback. You’ll be so busy living your life in full bloom technicolor that you won’t have time to remember the suffering you experienced. Seriously. You won’t dwell on what you’ve lived through. You’ll be too busy living!
If you are still experiencing benzo withdrawal symptoms, know that one day they will fade away. No one stays “benzo sick” forever. You are healing.
If you’ve read my posts about coping with benzo withdrawal symptoms you know I am a big proponent of distraction. It helps us take our minds off of our suffering, even if only for a few minutes. If you’ve read about my journey through withdrawal, you also know I am a big fan of gardening as a means to distract. Distraction can be so much more than just a place to focus one’s attention. It can be a way to gain purpose and perspective while healing from benzo withdrawal. It can be the secret passage to a more fulfilling life, even in the midst of our benzo withdrawal symptoms.
First, let me explain that one of the major tenants of Alcoholics Anonymous (and all other Twelve Step programs) is service to others. Why? Because focusing on others takes us away from our self—our self-pity, self-loathing, self-absorption and the like which are usually triggers to drink (or engage in other addictive behavior). When we aren’t focused on ourselves, we are more able to see the real beauty and meaning in life. Stepping outside of our self-centered egos gives us the opportunity to grow and mature. It’s the same in benzo withdrawal. When we distract with an activity that is in service to someone or something other than ourselves, we are more apt and able to see the beauty in life and to grow and heal. Of course, most of us experiencing benzo withdrawal are not addicts, but being of service to other living things helps us step outside of our suffering and embrace life a bit deeper, even in the depths of our benzo withdrawal despair. Sure, it’s good to distract with mindful things such as puzzles and coloring books—nothing wrong with those or similar things—but there is a “superpower” in doing things that ultimately help other living things.
Taking care of the flowers in my garden gave me a purpose to wake up each morning and face the ice-cold terror that coursed its way through my veins. It gave me a reason to breathe through my pain, double vision, burning skin, ear ringing, twitching, boaty feelings, tingling, dizziness, weakness, intrusive thoughts, obsessions, and all the other horrible symptoms that came with my cold-turkey from my prescribed use of clonazepam. My garden was more than just a distraction; it was the backbone of my healing. It taught me lessons about love, community, forgiveness, innovation, determination, and perseverance. I would have never learned those lessons had I only colored in my coloring books or solved my cryptogram word puzzles.
That’s the message of this post. I hope that those of you who are physically able will find ways to distract that are in service to other living things. Truly, there is something sacred in being of service to life. That is how you take distraction to a new, deeper level. And in my humble opinion, it is how you heal on a deeper level because we find purpose and fulfillment, which nourishes and grows our souls.
I’d love to hear from you as to what you do that takes distraction to a deeper level. Feel free to share your comments. For those of who are physically unable to engage in activities, please know that you won’t be bedbound or couchbound forever—your day of healing is coming. You will be able to get out and do things again. Benzo withdrawal is a temporary condition, I assure you.
When The Beach Boys song Good Vibrations came out in 1966, I was only eight years old, but I understood it meant love and happiness—excitment. Aren’t most of seeking “good vibes” in life? Except that there aren’t good vibes in benzo withdrawal. Good vibrations that is. Real vibrations. The kind that move through our body and jangle our central nervous system and kick up our withdrawal symptoms.
I know, some of you will leave comments saying that vibrations don’t bother you. You’re able to vacuum, mow the lawn, or hold onto your Vitamixer as you watch your berries swirl themselves into a smoothie. I’m glad that whirring, shaking, rotating things don’t bother you. But, they bother a lot of us. And we do well to leave them alone.
I was just weeks shy of six years off my benzo when I had my setback. I was driving across the USA by myself. I pushed hard, driving 700 miles some days. The vibration of the car, plus the constant stimulation to my brain, set me up for a return of benzo withdrawal symptoms. I understand how crazy that sounds—ridicuosly unbelievable—that vibrations can put us into a wave or even a setback. (Heck, most of benzo withdrawal sounds unbeleiveable—that a little pill that can cause such bizarre symptoms!) But it’s true. Vibrations really can increase our symptoms.
Yesterday I used a random orbital hand sander to strip a small tabletop. I was aware that it might kick up a wave of symptoms, but I wanted the tabletop ready for new stain. (I’m refinishing a lot of secondhand furniture I bought for my new home.) Sure enough, this morning I woke up and had a definite increase in the symptoms I still have remaining from my setback. (Thankfully, those symptoms are only physical, which I can easily manage.) I won’t be using the sander again for a bit. I’ll let my central nervous system settle down before I work on any more furniture. Nor will I be using my weedwhacker or lawnmower any time soon. (And jackhammers are completely out of the question!)
What can we do if we’ve experienced an increase in symptoms from vibrations (or any other cause)? We rest. We reduce stimulation to the brain and body, and we allow our nervous system to calm down. We tell ourselves the truth—that our wave is temporary and that it will fade away. We don’t worry about the future. We stay grounded in the present moment. (I usually put on a Pandora station I’ve made called Healing Sounds and lie down for awhile. The music is soothing and helps me relax.) We do all the other things we know that help us heal—eat clean, avoid stress, avoid things that work on GABA, utilize good self-talk. etc.
One day we will be able to live our lives without the restrictions we have in benzo withdrawal. The receptors that were damaged by the benzo we took will repair themselves fully, and we won’t be prone to waves or setbacks. But until then, we take good care of ourselves— and, we do our best to avoid jangling our nerves with things that vibrate. No matter how many benzo withdrawal symptoms you have right now, know that you are healing. Even if you’re in a wave (or setback) from too much activity, stress, vibrations, a viral infection, heat, food, antibiotics, GABA agonists, or anything else that revs us up, know that you will recover. You won’t be in benzo withdrawal forever. It will end, and you’ll be amazed at how good life is after withdrawal. It really, really, is!
I grew up in a Christian household—Sunday School, vacation Bible school, Christmas, and Easter were all a part of my formative years. I believed in God although I may not have lived my life with God at the center. But I had faith and was a good person. Then came benzo withdrawal. Everything about God was turned upside down and inside out. Like many people in benzo withdrawal, I had a tough time with existential angst and fear of God, eternity, etc. And I do mean fear: cold, hard, clutching fear that took my breath away and dropped me to the floor fear. I used to curl up in a fetal position and cry because I was terrified of God. Terrified of death. Terrified of eternity. To be honest, I was terrified of life! I used to pray, “God, where are you?” begging for relief, for some small comfort, but then cower in fear of an answer. Those were some of my darkest days in benzo withdrawal.
It’s not at all uncommon to suffer from fear of God. Or to feel that God is a million miles away, or that God doesn’t care about us. Even people who had a tremendous amount of faith before benzo withdrawal can’t always access that faith while in withdrawal. This lack of feeling God’s love in our lives, or trusting God, is a benzo symptom just like insomnia or intrusive thoughts are symptoms. It can be a very unsettling symptom as we feel so cut off from the real meaning of life, and life takes on a rather gruesome doom and gloom feel. Without faith, it is hard to shoulder on. But we must remember that God is there, always. God hasn’t abandoned us. It is just that our brains are chemically damaged from the benzo that we took and it is that damage that is causing us to not be able to feel connected (or loved) by God as we once did.
I’m happy to say that once my brain cobbled itself back together, my belief and faith in God as I understand God became much deeper and richer. I am so grateful to be out of benzo withdrawal that life feels precious and miraculous. I’m grateful for every second of it, and I take no part of it for granted. I can see how God used benzo withdrawal to polish me into the person I always wanted to be. Now my days are more God-focused. I’m not as religious as I used to be (religion is manmade) but I am far more in love with God as I understand God. My capacity for love, compassion, and accepting life on life’s terms, has grown immensely.
Don’t worry if you are struggling with existential angst. Don’t worry if you can’t feel God in your life, or if you are now afraid of God. Don’t worry if the world seems as if it is one big evil place or demonic. Most likely it is simply your “benzo brain” causing you such feelings (or beliefs) and once you are more healed, you’ll be able to once again see and feel the beauty and the joy in life. You’ll be able to be amazed at the miracle of our world and our lives. You’ll be able to feel God’s love and grace. If you are anything like me, your heart will crack open and you’ll feel an indescribable sense of peace and purpose. Life will be good again. I assure you.
(For those of you reading these words who don’t believe in God, in a Creator, that’s okay. This website is for you, too. Everyone is welcome here and I work with people from all faiths.)
WARNING: this post may be triggering for some. It contains details about troubling withdrawal symptoms I had.
I remember waking up to what felt like an explosion in my brain. It wasn’t so much that it was painful, but rather it was as if there was no filter and everything I saw, heard, felt, sensed, etc., was magnified a million times. To make matters worse, my vision was off. It was as if my bedroom had become a carnival fun-house where shapes were pulled and pushed into gross distortions. My hands shook so badly I could barely dress myself. My legs protested carrying my weight as I hobbled down the hallway in search of food, but mostly, in search of normalcy. I hoped that breakfast would help me shake off the strange sensations. Halfway into the kitchen, my legs gave up and buckled underneath me. I grabbed the walls and turned around, groping my way back into my bed. What was happening to me? Was this a bad wave of benzo symptoms, or was I experiencing a true medical emergency? Logic would inform me that I was getting lower in my taper and the bizarre symptoms were a new level of benzo withdrawal, however, my brain wouldn’t hear of it. It went to the scariest place possible, which is what our brains do in benzo withdrawal, and I ended up at the emergency room.
I did my best to inform the nurses that tended to me that I was deep in the throes of benzo withdrawal. They looked at me patronizingly and scribbled down something in their notes. I wasn’t sure if any of them believed me. Feeling defensive didn’t help my symptoms. I shook even harder. A man came into the room and introduced himself as a doctor. He pulled up and a chair and sat down. I leaned forward, hoping to hear some encouraging words that would help me through the rest of my taper. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, very matter-of-factly, “You’re an addict. You need help.” He handed me a brochure about a rehab. I reached out and took it, as that was the polite thing to do, but as I did so I protested his diagnosis. “I’m not an addict. I’ve never abused my prescription. I’m trying to taper off,” I told him. He informed me that if I wasn’t an addict, I’d simply get off the drug. I wouldn’t bother with a long slow taper. In his mind, staying on the drug at any dose meant I was an addict.
“What about withdrawal symptoms?” I asked him. “If I get off too fast, I’ll become more symptomatic.” I raised my trembling hands for him to see the evidence of my suffering. “Spoken like a true addict. Always an excuse to stay on the drug,” was his reply. I knew then that there was no way to reason with him, no way to educate him about withdrawal. Sitting there on the gurney—pale green and yellow curtains hanging around us for a sense of privacy—I felt completely defeated. Was there no one who understood benzo withdrawal that could help me? I was given a dose of Librium to stop the shaking, told to seek an addiction specialist and discharged. I rested in bed all that day, reading posts on benzobuddies.org to help me feel less alone, less misunderstood.
How many of us have been told by uneducated doctors that we are addicts? How many of us have been misunderstood by friends and family for taking so much time to (safely) get off our benzo? Or after we are off and our healing is taking more time than we thought (or like)? It’s a lonely place to be when we aren’t believed, or when we are given bad advice about how to get off our benzo, or how to cope with withdrawal symptoms once off. It’s a lonely place, indeed.
What helped me cope was to stop trying to educate people who didn’t want to understand benzo withdrawal. I turned only to people who were willing to listen and learn, or to others who were going through withdrawal and knew firsthand of my suffering. I did my best to create healthy boundaries. I learned what to share and what not to share. Until the medical community becomes educated about the dangers of benzos, there are always going to be professionals who don’t understand withdrawal. They will assume that those of us suffering from withdrawal are addicts and suggest we go to rehab. They won’t know the dangers of that suggestion. Nor will they understand the dangers of suggesting that we taper off quickly, or that we take other meds or supplements that work on GABA, or a host of other things that we in the benzo community know to avoid.
And that’s the message of this post. Educate yourself. Talk to others in benzo withdrawal. Find out what the common knowledge is among us; the things that help and the things that hinder our healing. Yes, see a doctor if you are concerned about your health. It’s smart to rule out any other cause of your symptoms (just don’t let a doctor intimidate you like the one in the ER did me). But if nothing is found, you can rest easy knowing that in time, your GABA receptors will recover from the benzo damage and you’ll be good as new. Actually, you’ll be better than good, you’ll be amazing. Trust the process. Tap into your inner core strength, your deep well of fortitude, and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt that one day, your benzo withdrawal symptoms will fade away. You. Are. Healing.
It’s raining now, as I write these words. The tap, tap, tap, on the roof, lullabies me as I ready for bed. Just after midnight, the rain will turn to snow, and I’ll wake up to a world covered in white—winter’s last gasp—as it fades into spring. That’s the rhythm of nature. Something is always coming or going; everything has a season. That’s good to remember as you traverse through benzo withdrawal. It may feel as if it will last forever, but it won’t. The suffering you are experiencing now is just a season. There will be a new season to follow; a season of joy and peace, a season of blessings.
Like many of you, I thought I was broken beyond repair, doomed to a life of misery. I was sure that I would be the outlier, the one who didn’t heal. There was so little evidence to support the notion of my healing. My benzo withdrawal symptoms felt so entrenched, so a part of who I was, that I couldn’t imagine my life without them. Besides, when I started to feel a bit better, and I dared to have a sliver of hope, my symptoms either came roaring back full force or new symptoms appeared.
But then there was that one day. That day when my symptoms were better, and they didn’t come roaring back and new ones didn’t appear. That day was the day that the season of my suffering was letting go. Sure, it took some time for the suffering to end finally, but end it did. And in its place, came an unbelievable season of blessings. That’s the season I’m living in now.
Remember, nothing lasts forever. Day turns into night. Today turns into yesterday. Suffering eventually ends and something beautiful takes its place. I know it may be hard to believe, but this season of suffering you are in now is turning you into an incredible version of yourself; more strong than you could have ever imagined, more patient, more understanding, more compassionate, more wise, more loving. That’s what so many of us who have weathered the slings and arrows of benzo withdrawal have experienced.
No matter how far down you may think you are, no matter how broken, how shattered, how unrecognizable you may be, remember that is is just a season. It’s not forever. It is a season that may be challenging, but soon, the new shoots of growth will pierce through the seemingly relentless darkness, and you’ll feel the light, the warmth, the preciousness of your days.
If you are an oldie goldie like me, maybe you’ll remember the song Turn. Turn. Turn., by the Byrds. The last line says it all “A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.” Your peace is coming; It will happen. In its own good time. It’s not too late for you. A season of blessings is coming. You can trust that just as you can trust that winter will uncurl her clenched fist and finally let go. It will be spring, soon.
Benzowithdrawalhelp.com website is in no way intended as either medical or legal advice. It is an educational and awareness site. I share my story, and the story of others, along with material from experts known to be of value to people in withdrawal.
The webmaster of this website is in no way engaged in any type of medical or legal advice, and/or any other kind of personal or professional services. All information contained in this website should in no way be substituted for medical or legal advice, and therefore, any information acquired through this website is utilized at your own risk.
No information contained in this website should be substituted for the advice of a lawyer, or physician, or therapist who is well-informed about benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Abrupt stopping of a benzodiazepine can be very dangerous and sometimes fatal. Always consult your prescriber if you are considering making any changes to your medication dose or schedule.
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