Saying Goodbye to 55

I turn 56 in an hour.

I am hopeful that 56 will be an amazing year. There is no reason why it should not be. I am writing a new book, tieing up the loose ends to get my non-profit off the ground, and getting my recovery coaching and conulting company up and running. I also have the Benzo withdrawal summit to work on as well. A few years ago I didn’t think that I would ever work again. I didn’t think I would ever feel anything other than terror, anxiety, or pitch black depression.

All of that has lifted.

What I have left is the body stuff. It has been pretty bad the past two days. But hopefully, I will continue to get better. I have learned how to cope with it better. But it is a pain in the ass, to be honest. Actually, it’s a pain in my joints, neck, lower back, back of head, jaw, tongue, fingers, hip bones, muscles… I still have crushing fatigue too. This morning I felt like death for hours. Sitting in my garden helps, as does reaching out and helping others.

I still can’t believe that benzo withdrawal happened to me. It seems so surreal to look back on the early months first off. I was a completely different person. I was  sick in every way a person can be sick. I am deeply grateful that I am past those very dark and brutal days. Very grateful indeed.

I celebrated tonight with my four children and friends. We went to a Shabu Shabu restaurant. Quite fun! One of my sons texted me when I got home, that he thought I looked the best I have looked in years and that it was good to hear me laugh. I was laughing tonight. With gusto.

After dinner we all walked to an ice cream store called Cream. They hand make ice cream sandwiches on wonderful different kids of cookies. (Very california!) I suddenly realized I was talking to my daughter in our special “baby” voice that she and I used to use when we were playful and loving. I stood behind her and put my arms around her and held her tight. For a moment, she was no longer 26, she was 6. I felt the deep love I have for her well up inside of me. I knew right then, standing in that ice cream store, that I had turned a huge corner in my recovery from benzo withdrawal.

We walked back to the car, laughing, eating our ice cream sandwiches. I hugged all of my children goodbye and drove home knowing that good things are afoot. I’ve paid my dues to the benzo beast. It’s time to be happy, joyous and free.

Maybe my body symptoms will drop off this year. That would be nice. But if they don’t and this is my life forever,  I accept that. With the love I felt tonight for my children, I can face anything.

If you are sick in benzo withdrawal and wondering if you will ever be your old self again, or feel happiness, joy, creativity… the emotions that make life worth living, the answer is yes, you will. I was  as sick as anyone can be in withdrawal. And I am here to tell you, it gets better. It gets way better.

Welcome 56! Let’s go do some good in the world!

Benzo Summit Update

Hello everyone!

Thanks to the people who called in. Appreciate your time, effort and energy. Thanks to all who wanted to call but were unable. I am grateful we have such a kind and caring “benzo family.”

I had every intention of recording the call but forgot to do so. I am sorry. Benzo brain is still a real phenomenon for me. Here is a recap of the call:

There were five people on the call with me. The callers were from Oregon, New York, San Diego, Pennsylvania and Holland (!). I didn’t ask if I could announce their names here, so I won’t reveal identities.

We heard people’s personal accounts of their benzo trauma and we listened to ideas about how to best get the word out to doctors and the public about the dangers of benzos.

The five callers agreed to share information with each other, and they agreed to each set up a time I can contact them to be held accountable as I go forward. I will be calling venues tomorrow to find the cost of a gathering space. I will also be asking local hotels for discount rates for people who are traveling to the summit.

We discussed the format of the summit, although it is still taking shape and form.

If you want to get involved, please send me an email. I will be holding another conference call in the future as we move forward.

One thing we all agree on is that the laws need to change around the prescribing of these drugs. All of us want to protect others from having to walk in our footsteps. It may take time, but hopefully we can get the FDA to regulate these drugs.

It was very nice to listen to others who are in the trenches. I hope the call wasn’t too triggering for anyone. We did discuss that possibility at the beginning of the call and urged anyone who felt too revved up to hang up. We didn’t have that happen, however.

Benzo Summit, Summer of ’14, To Infinity And Beyond!!

 

Withdrawal Symptoms Revisited

I realize that Don and I are beyond the place of intense suffering from withdrawal symptoms. We now blog more about the new lives we have: the gratitude and the hope we feel. That leaves some of you who are still struggling with withdrawal symptoms, without a “voice” for where you currently are in your healing.

I’ll revisit my symptoms.

When I was tapering, I became bedridden. I was too weak to stand up for very long. Taking a shower was next to impossible. I don’t have a tub, so I stank most of the time from lack of hygiene and benzo withdrawal sweating. Brushing my teeth hurt my arms too much so I often had a foul mouth. I practically shaved my head so I wouldn’t have to worry about my hair. I was too weak to prepare food. Some days I went without eating. I bought a walker that had a seat, and I used it when I managed to find the strength to go out into public. Prior to that, I used a cane, but that was not enough help as I deteriorated more and more as my dose got smaller and smaller. The weakness and fatigue were overwhelming and frightening.

During my taper and then after my cold turkey, I suffered with these symptoms (in no particular order): burning skin, formication, muscle spasms, muscle twitching, tinnitus, back of head pain, brain fizzing in skull, brain rolling around in skull, head pressure, behind my eye pain, mouth-teeth-jaw pain, burning tongue, burning spine, full body tingles that felt like bee stings, restless legs, aching, burning muscles, constipation, benzo belly, bladder problems, food sensitivities, sounds made me feel terror, anxiety, depersonalization, derealization, obsessive thoughts, mood swings, memories from life events, depression, panic, racing thoughts, racing heart, hot flashes, insomnia, tight chest, heart pain, skipped beats, trouble breathing, ear pain, neck, back and shoulder pain, bicep pain, buttocks felt like they were being pushed in and rotated with cut glass inside of them, body jerks, paranoia, hallucinations both visual and audible which resolved after a month or so after my cold turkey, trouble walking, feeling as if I was being pulled down, flashing lights in my peripheral vision, ocular migraines, feeling as if I was moving up and down when sitting or lying down, organic fear, organic terror, profuse sweating, cysts on knuckles, painful blisters on my thigh, severe joint pain, feeling unable to connect with reality or people, sobbing, dizzy, memory problems, unable to think straight, confused, exercise intolerance, all of my emotions felt too big, smells and sunlight overwhelming, Alice in wonderland syndrome, metallic taste, song in my head, looping thoughts, fear of going insane,  …. and more.

I was an utter and complete mess. I prayed for death every day. Now of course, I am so grateful I didn’t die. I still have some physical symptoms, but they are manageable. I know in time, they will fade away. Bliss Johns told me that the tinnitus may never leave, but that is ok. I can live with it. That’s a small price to pay to regain my life.

Most of my troubling psychological symptoms are gone too. What is left is barely felt, and it isn’t a bother.  I know it will be gone as well very soon.

If you are still suffering symptoms, please know that the usual outcome for benzo withdrawal syndrome is recovery. Your central nervous system will heal. In time.

I had many, many, days feeling utterly hopeless. I was certain that I was doomed to live in the hell of withdrawal forever. I think the hopelessness was my worst symptom.

I coped by gardening. I created a wonderful flower garden in my front yard that my whole community enjoys. I have veggies planted on the side of the house. I spent full days out in the sun, feeling crazy as a coot, but kept my hands and my mind busy and focused.

I also coped by letting go. I surrendered my life over to God as I understand God. Now mind you, I was pissed off with God a lot, (most of the time!) and let God know it. I’ve called God every curse word in the book. Thankfully, God loves me enough to overlook my anger. God knows the anger was really fear. Deep horrific fear. Fear of living, fear of dying. Fear of everything. When I let go, and let God, I still suffered, but I felt carried. I knew God was doing for me what I could not do for myself. I am deeply grateful. If you can let go of your expectations about your recovery and trust the process and trust God as you believe in God, I assure you, things will be more manageable. You may still suffer, but it will not be as intense.

I’ve come so far in my recovery. Life is wide open with possibilities now. I am so grateful. I wake every morning and ask God what s/he would like me to do for the day. I do my best to follow the guidance I am given.

If you are feeling hopeless, please know that many of us felt the same way and now we have fresh, new lives brimming with hope. We have our health back too. Even with the few remaining symptoms I have, I feel better than I did when I was in severe tolerance withdrawal waves. And I know I am only going to get better.

I know the symptoms can be almost unbearable. Find ways to distract. Find ways to comfort yourself. Accept that you are in benzo withdrawal and you are healing. Don’t look past today. Stay right here, right now. This moment is the only place where you can access God. You can’t access God in the past or in the future because neither exit right now. Be fully present in this moment.

Life is a series of ups and downs. We’ve all been down in withdrawal. Up is the only place to go! And we will all get there. One day at a time.

God Works In Mysterious Ways!

Before I walked off the cliff called benzo withdrawal, I was a leading authority on teen girls. I had written four books and had a wonderful coaching career.

True, I was sick in tolerance withdrawal, but I was unaware there was a singular cause to the myriad of health problems I suffered. (Now I understand that my years of ill-health were the direct result of following my doctor’s orders and swallowing a benzo every day.)

Without going into the gory, gory, gory details of my taper and cold turkey off of clonazepam, I will simply say that benzo withdrawal was hell. I was terribly mentally and physically ill. For a very long time.

(I keep promising that one day I will write my story in intimate detail, but not yet. It’s too soon. It’s still too fresh.)

Believe it or not, I am grateful I have had to walk through this valley of the shadow of death. I needed this immense lesson in how to surrender so that I became willing to turn my will and my life over to God.

I wake up every morning and commit my life, for the next 24 hours, over to God as I understand God. During the day, I pause when troubled and ask for help and guidance. For the past few months, I have been asking God what shall I do with my life, now that I am closer to healed.

I feel very led to work with people in recovery from substance abuse and benzo withdrawal, of course. I want to help them get their lives back on track. The more I focus on this path, the more it opens up for me.

I have started a recovery coaching/consulting company to help people in recovery from substance abuse and help people in benzo withdrawal. My friend and colleague, Dr. David Rusen, a psychopharmacologist, is benzo-wise and has agreed to come out of semi-retirement to help benzo patients. (Thank you David!) I am looking forward to seeing where this all goes with David on board.

If you had asked me a few years ago what I would be doing for work when recovered, I would not have said working with people in recovery. Nor would I have thought that therapeutic gardening would be a part of my toolkit, but it most definitely is!

My life has changed 180 degrees for the better. I am a much better person than I was before I started my journey into recovery from alcohol and benzos. God humbled me and I now humble myself before God. I am grateful and I am deeply fulfilled with my new work and my new life. My happiness is something that is now organic in my heart and not dependant on outside events. I am, as they say in AA, happy, joyous and free.

BTW, I understand that in withdrawal it is often very hard to feel that God is present. For me, the mere thought of God sent total terror down my spine. It took over 2 years before I was able to ponder God without a mental freak out. I was often angry at God and I wondered if s/he had grown tired of me. If you are in that stage of benzo withdrawal where you can’t feel God’s love or the thought of God terrifies you, know that those feelings will fade away.

Please keep holding on. Everyday your receptors heal a tiny bit more. Don’t quit before your miracle. I am here to tell you that life keeps getting better and better and better. God is working in my life in mysterious ways. All I can say is “Thank you God. Thank you.”

Conference Call For The Benzo Summit

I am planning a conference call for Sunday for anyone who wants to discuss the benzo summit I want to hold his summer.  Please email me and I will give you the time/call in number. If you do not have my email, please reply to this post.

I am very excited to be putting this together.

I am still sick with body sx, but the mental continues to lift, return, lift. But every time it returns it is less bothersome.

I am hopeful that one day my body will heal.

I spent the morning writing a new book, then went to the beach with a girl friend. We had a fabulous lunch then poked around in gardening  and cooking stores. I had a blast. I can honestly say that I felt more continuous joy without intrusive thoughts today. First time in over three years I’ve felt this happy.

It is a shame that I (all of us!) had to suffer for so long because of a prescribed medication I took as directed. But I am grateful that every month seems to bring better days.

I intend to help doctors become educated, and help others stuck in this horrific nightmare.

Look forward to sharing my ideas and to hear yours.

Jennifer

 

First Annual Benzo Recovery Summit

I am planning to host the first annual Benzo Recovery Summit some time late this summer, or early fall. It’s a dream I have had for a while. Not sure I can pull it off, but I am going to do my best to make it a reality.

My vision for the summit is this: Benzo survivors can meet each other and share their stories. We will meet to brainstorm how to change the current prescribing laws, and how to get more media attention to the cause. Also, how to help others and their families who are still in wd.  I see a time for educating doctors too. Not as adversaries, but as comrades in arms in the war against the damage these drugs do to people. I also see a time to have an open dialogue with the CEOS of the pharma companies that make benzos to ask them to help this cause.  This is NOT a bitch session, a pity party, or a war on the doctors or drug companies.

The summit will be a time to share and care. I am hoping to get it hosted at Stanford, and will do my best to get media coverage so more people get educated about the dangers of these drugs and the long, hard road back to recovery that some of us have to travel.

I can’t do this alone. If anyone wants to join forces with me to brainstorm, make phone calls, plan, etc. please contact me and let me know. I have invited Bliss Johns to attend. She is unable to do so in person due to her heavy counseling career, but she has agreed to take the time off to appear  live via satellite. I’ve invited Matt and I will invite Jack as well. I’ll do my best to find places for people to stay that are affordable. I realize that many are too sick to travel.

I may ask if Stevie Nicks will join us, or any other celeb who is now benzo free.

At this phase it is just a dream. But it’s a good dream. Anyone up for helping to make it a reality?

I Was Waiting For Myself After All.

I celebrate 32 months of freedom in a few days. I can’t say that I was exactly celebrating my freedom too much before this, however grateful I was to have swallowed my last benzo. The months, well, years really, before were more about sheer survival.  If I celebrated anything, it was that I made it through another fucked up, horrible day in benzo withdrawal. I used to dread turning out the lights and dragging myself into bed, for I knew that it meant I was only hours away from having to wake up and do it all over again.

It’s the oddest thing. It is like I fell asleep for three years and now I am waking up and thinking that it is still 2010. I look in the mirror and the gray hair and etched lines on my face remind me time has moved on. I can’t tell you anything that went on the past few years other than I survived them. It is almost as if someone else lived them for me, for surely that very sick woman wasn’t me.

Now that the black thick fog of withdrawal is lifting, I remember who I was. The memories are rushing back in to fill the gashing wound that is benzo withdrawal. I don’t know how to explain this phase of healing any more than I can explain the unfathomable journey before this.  It is wonderful and scary to have the memories of myself come rushing in with such clarity and strong emotions. It’s a tad overwhelming. But I know in a few days or weeks, that it will feel more “right sized.”

The overachiever in me wants to jump in and make up for lost time now that I am turning more corners.  I’ve learned it best to take it easy in benzo withdrawal though.  I know that tomorrow I could wake up and be engulfed in the mental misery yet again. I am not convinced I have been spit out on the shore, battered and tattered, for the last time. I respect benzo waves.

Even if I do get drug out to sea yet again, I know with my whole heart, that I will be waiting for myself upon the shore when I am released. This phase of recovery from benzo withdrawal is pretty damn cool. A tad unnerving, but damn sweet. It’s like I have been away for a long time, and now I am back. Everything looks so fresh and new. And the world is brimming with possibility again. Indeed. It is brimming with hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Brain’s Wiring

Before I got benzo sick, I was studying social and interpersonal neuroscience. I have always been fascinated by the brain. I find it sorta ironic that my brain’s GABA receptors (and who knows what else) got terribly damaged by a pill I took as directed by my physician, and I would need to heal my own brain.

The video below doesn’t show GABA receptors per se, but it does show you the complexity of your brain. Maybe after seeing this, you will have more patience with the healing process your brain is going through. Also, you will note that one of the images shows neuronal axons reaching out to make connections to others. I firmly believe what neuroscientists say about “what fires together, wires together.” If you cope well by accepting your symptoms, you are in essence preparing yourself for a much better time after you recover. You are training your brain ( and central nervous system) to be less anxious, and I assume, far more resilient.

Enjoy the video.

The Noise Inside My Head…

It stopped!

I woke up last Wednesday to a quiet mind. The usual obsessive thoughts about death and dying and the futility of life were gone. For two and a half years my daily life was terribly darkened by unwanted thoughts and fears that haunted my every turn. They are gone. I am grateful.

I have renewed hope that one day, both my mind and body will heal. I will be better than new.

I don’t wish this withdrawal journey on anyone, but now I am grateful I experienced it. I am a much better person than who I was before I was put on a benzo. I have grown oh so very much. Now with my mind quiet, I can focus on the areas of my life that I was unable to attend to while I was sick in withdrawal: I can begin my career again. I can earn a living. I can fall in love. I can be a good friend. I can be a good mother and daughter to my family. I can now be of service to others.

My body is still healing, and that is ok. I trust it knows when the tingling, burning, bone, nerve and muscle pain should stop. My mind might get cloudy again too, for a while. But if it does, I will know its “just withdrawal” and go about my business.

Many of you know I joined AA right before I started my taper. I believe that working the steps is what helped me hold on in withdrawal. And now, it is time in my life for what we in the recovery fellowship call the 9th Step Promises:

 If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.

We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.

That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear.

We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.

Self-seeking will slip away.

Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.

Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.

We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

    Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

Now that I have a quiet mind, free from the incessant noise of intrusive and obsessional thoughts caused by withdrawal, I can begin to manifest those promises.

The quiet is utterly amazing. Thank you God!

Fox News Covers Benzo Withdrawal

Popping Xanax is more harmful than you think, writes Fox News. It’s an article that first appeared in Self.

I wrote to Fox today, asking them to please consider a follow up story about life post benzos, as the healing can take so long and we often lose so much.

You can write to them and encourage them to cover the story more in depth.

foxnewstips@foxnews.com is the email to use. You may want to mention this blog and the petition.

BTW The flu really set me back in withdrawal. I am struggling, sorry to say. It is hard to believe that 2.5 years out, I can still be burning, tingling, and having severe pain, along with crushing fatigue. 

It’s a long road back to health for some of us. And frankly, I am weary of the journey. I am so ready to put this chapter in my life behind me. I know each and every one of you are as well.

Keep fighting. I will too.  I love you all so very much.

Jenn