You Need An Anchor

The number one thing that helps us heal is time. That’s both the good news and the bad news. Good, in that EVENTUALLY you will put withdrawal behind you and go live your life, bad in that for some of us, it takes an awfully long time, What do you do to hold on when the suffering is so great?

Like ships tossed about on stormy seas, you need an anchor that moors you to safety. My anchor was my garden. On days I was too weak, dizzy or in too much pain to actually garden, I simply sat and watched the birds, bees, butterflies and talked to anyone who walked by. (My garden is in my front yard.) I remember one day when the suicide ideation was incredibly bad I sat and literally held onto the chair arms. I knew that my hands were in a place that couldn’t inflict harm on myself. And I never, ever, ever, really wanted to die. I just wanted the suffering to end. I know if you are in withdrawal you can totally relate.

Having an anchor, a go-to resource, takes the guess-work out of coping. You don’t have to think of something to do on the fly. You KNOW you have something that can help you distract. For Don, our wonderful MadeInPa friend and writer, it was doing hook rugs.

My anchor not only helped me distract from the symptoms, it helped me literally heal some of my core wounds in ways I would have never thought possible. I met hundreds of people, sat and listened to their stories, learned more compassion, and gained a great deal of confidence in myself by living my life out loud, in my front yard. Gardening helps cure depression and anxiety, and working the soil exposes you to a vital bacteria that we need to boost our serotonin levels in our guts and brains.  You don’t have to become a gardener, though I highly recommend you consider giving it a try, but you do need something to do with your hands and mind that distracts. Something you enjoy.

I know how debilitating withdrawal is. I cut my hair to one inch long because I was unable to shower for days and days on end. I was too weak to tend to the most basic of survival needs. But even so, I drug myself out to my garden. It gave me a purpose to my days, instead of just suffering. I loved waiting to see the plants grow and bloom. I marked the passing of time with their blooming and fading. I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that I would witness so many seasons come and go in the garden while in withdrawal, but that was the path of my healing.

I am still healing. But I am able to live a relatively normal life these days. When I feel crappy, I know to get outside to the garden and find something to do.  I am lucky in that I live in northern California where we can be outside year round. I think of my two dear Montana friends and I know they can’t garden now even if they wanted to. But they can this spring, and so can you, if you want to give it a try. Or maybe you want to do hook rugs, like Don, or maybe you want to sew, sculpt, paint, do word puzzles….whatever floats your boat. Put your whole heart into whatever you chose to do, and get involved as deeply as you can.

The other anchors I used for comfort were my couch and bed. I made sure both were super comfortable. I bought French linens for my bed, a huge expense, especially being so poor from being too sick to work, but worth every penny. My bed transformed from being the place I felt like I was suffering, to  a luxurious haven that cradled me. The couch was not as easy to transform, but I did add a lot of throw pillows and a kitten-soft throw blanket I could wrap myself up in. I used to tell friend I was going to burn the couch when I got well, as I had spent far too many months tethered to it, too weak to even push myself outside, but that desire has passed. BTW, the dark thoughts I had in withdrawal have passed as well. The dire predictions I made about the future were mostly just withdrawal induced.

You are going to heal one day. I can assure you that your receptors will cobble themselves back together. Just like if you fell and scraped your knee, it would heal without you doing anything. So too, with your brain. Give it time. It knows what to do. So while it is healing, you go do something with your hands and mind, that keep you busy. Not much turned off my looping, repetitive, obsessional, horrific thought about death, but it did help to focus my attention on DOING something, like dead heading (no pun intended) or weeding. Sometimes I just dug holes, filled them, and dug them again. I needed to be in motion with some small goal to accomplish. That’s really all you need. A small thing to accomplish.

What anchor will you use to keep you safe on the stormy seas of withdrawal?

Jenn

 

 

 

A Beach Boys Christmas But A Good Christmas!

Even though I live in California, my heart longs for a Bing Crosby White Christmas! But instead, looks like it’s going to be a Beach Boys Christmas. Not so much because of our warm weather, (65 degrees today) but because I’m “Surfing USA”. Yup, back in a wave. Oh well.

I have been feeling about 90% healed most days, all day! Even mornings have lost their benzo withdrawal agony. It’s been nothing short of miraculous actually, compared to how gruesome life used to be.

So it was with a jolt of shock that I felt the cold hand of benzo wd sx grab me last night. I was in my art studio painting (yes, the fumes may have contributed). I have spent the past three days mostly holed up enjoying the creative process of painting. It started with a wave of fear that came out of the blue. There was nothing to attach it to, it was just a feeling. Next, the bees stings started. The muscle twitching. My ribcage so tight it was hard to take in a deep, full breath. The head pressure kicked in. Pain flooded my bones, my joints. My foot curled into a tight spasm. I watched it all unfold, like a distant observer. Part of me wanted to chuck everything and scurry home. The other part of me was like, “Dammit. I am NOT leaving until I finish what I am painting.” That’s exactly what I did. I held my ground. When I finally got home, I cooked a simple meal, read and curled up in bed.

The sx got worse until about 1 a.m. when I finally turned off the light to sleep. My mind was racing with catastrophic “What if….”  thoughts. What if I am still feeling bad tomorrow?What if this wave gets worse? What if I feel as sick as I did a year ago? What if the benzo wd anxiety returns? I decided to give those fears over to God. So I did. Just like that. “Here God, I am tired of dealing with this shit, so you take it, please.” I fell asleep shortly after that prayer.

I woke up with morning and did a quick body scan. Yup. Still surfing the wave. Part of me wanted to cave into feeling sorry for myself, but the emotionally healthy part of me said gently and kindly, “It’s Ok. You are OK” My BFF called and asked if she could pop over to see my tree and share a cup of tea together. “You bet!” I shouted into the phone, eager to see her and eager to get out of my thoughts.

I had a great morning with her. We talked about gratitude, art, creativity, God, life… the important things (to me.) Sure, I was a bit dizzy and weak as we walked to the cafe. The tingles weren’t all that much fun and the pain in my joints and bones wasn’t something I wanted to have to feel but so be it. IT IS WHAT IT IS.

That’s what I have learned. That it is what it is. If I try to run from it, I suffer. When I turn to towards it and embrace my life EXACTLY as it is, I can live it to the fullest, even if I am in pain, weak, dizzy etc. For after all, it is my one wild and precious life!

I may be having a Beach Boys Christmas, surfing this wave. That’s OK. This is my fourth Christmas in withdrawal. So what. I am still alive. I am still capable of feeling joy, love, gratitude and humility.  It doesn’t matter if its Beach Boy Christmas or a Bing Crosby Christmas… it’s going to be a GREAT CHRISTMAS because I CHOOSE to experience the greatness inherent in the holiday. I will be surrounded by my family: my children, sister and her family, and my parents (whom I rarely get to see as they live on the east coast).

What more can anyone ask for?

I can sum up the meaning of the holiday and life, for that matter, in six simple words.

IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE. FULL STOP.

Love to you all my dear benzo buddies. I know many of you are suffering. It’s going to be OK. I promise. Enjoy the love today, tomorrow, and forever…

Jenn

The Case Of The Missing Coffee Grounds

Every morning I wake up, shower, get dressed and make a pot of decaf coffee in a cute little Ikea French press. It’s a habit that helps me cope with the usual “benzo morning madness.”  So it was interesting when two days ago, the coffee grounds mysteriously disappeared.

Like most mornings, I padded into the kitchen and I tucked a paper towel under the coffee grinder, poured the whole beans from the pretty Trader Joe’s tin into it and turned it on. I like the whirrring sound it makes. I poured the grounds into the French press and removed the paper towel.

I used the paper towel to wipe a section of my kitchen counter and then tossed it in the garbage. A soft high-pitched whistle let me know that the water in the kettle was starting to boil. I snapped off the stove, grabbed the kettle, and lifted it to pour over the grounds in the press. But, there was no press.

I put the kettle down. What in the world was going on? I know I ground beans. I just threw away the paper towel that I had put on the grinder. I scratched my head.

I looked in the grinder. No beans. I looked on the shelf where I keep the French press. It sat quietly, sorta leering at me. There were no coffee grounds in it, so I had not poured them in and then put it back on the self. Maybe I threw them away? I lifted the lid of the garbage can. Nope. Not there.

Where in the world could coffee grounds go, for heaven’s sake?

I stood still and breathed slowly.

What should I do next? I decided to start over. I pulled the Trader Joe’s tin out of the cupboard. I put another paper towel under the coffee grinder. I lifted and tilted the tin over the grinder. Yup, you guessed it. Coffee grounds and beans tumbled out. I laughed out loud. So that’s what happened to the coffee grounds! I had poured them right back into the tin!

I felt relief spread through me. The mystery solved.

These types of memory lapses used to be so common in early withdrawal. I took a moment to feel gratitude that they were happening less often. I had not had a confusing morning in a long time. I know I am getting better.

There was a time when I seriously gave up hope of ever being normal again. I could not imagine a life where I had normal thoughts and feelings. Everything was overwhelming. Everything. Now, life is sweet again. It will be for you too.

Never give up.  I am so glad I didn’t. It get’s better.

My silly coffee mishap was just that, silly. And it could have happened to anyone. Not just those of us healing from benzos.

I poured my decaf into a fancy china coffee cup with saucer. I took it outside to the garden and sat down in a rocking chair. The birds sang. Mr. Squirrel came into the yard begging for peanuts. I threw a handful onto the sidewalk.  Sam sauntered out of the house and jumped into the chair beside me. Mr. Crow landed on the power line, eyeing the peanuts. Neighbors began to walk by, waving and calling out happy greetings.

Yes indeed. Life is sweet once again.

 

Easy Does It.

The more I heal, the more I can see just how impacted my thinking has been over the last few years. That and my motivation. Ok… my whole life!

A few months ago I began having hours where the looping benzo withdrawal thoughts and obsessions stopped and I had a clear mind. I would have told you then that I was “almost healed.” But looking back, I can see that I wasn’t as healed as I thought I was. NOW it is so much better. HOWEVER, I am sure that in a few months from now I will look back and see that this benchmark was not the ultimate in my healing either.

It took me many months to fill out the paperwork needed for the Foundation Group to apply for my 501C3 (non-profit status)  application. Now that I have finished it, I realize that it should have taken me a few hours or days at the very most. There were weeks when I was unable to even open email from them. Too much for my brain. I am grateful I am able to do more now.

But….easy does it.

No rushing into any big decisions that may alter my life dramatically.

Be patient and hold on some more. (I have gotten good at doing that. I can do it some more.)

The finish line is up ahead. I see the bright ribbon waiting for me to burst through it, my head held high.

Crossing the finish line won’t mean that life will be easy or drama free. But it does mean I will have more resources to cope with the ups and downs, ins and outs.

It also means I won’t sweat the small stuff. Life is made up mostly of small stuff, btw.

After the holidays I intend to put my whole heart into birthing my non-profit that serves people who do not fit in or function well in society. We provide therapeutic gardening and deep listening to help people rewire their brains and to heal their hearts, minds, bodies and souls. I am grateful I can be of service to others now.

Easy does it. One day at a time. Keep it simple stupid. All good AA slogans I use to help me live my life. Mostly, I turn my will and my life over to God as I understand God. Works like a charm.

I hope you will take a moment and comment here and let us all know how you are doing.

Warm regards,

Jenn

Still Need My Wet Suit… But It’s Better.

I will be 2 1/2 years off on the 23rd.  It’s hard to wrap my head around that much time in recovery from a medication that the doctor told me would “cure” me and “help me.” I look back on the journey and I am amazed and grateful that I survived. I am grateful that I am (hopefully)) nearing the finish line at the Good Health marker.

I still have symptoms. Burning, tingling, ear ringing, weakness, fatigue, bone, nerve and muscle pain, twitching, feeling as if I am being pulled down, and the lovely boaty sensation. I find myself feeling as if I am being crushed from the hips down. The mental symptoms from withdrawal are better. I still have some remnants of the benzo withdrawal classic symptoms of looping thoughts, and ruminating over things. I can tell when it is wd, and not my normal funky negative thinking. There is a much different feel to it. As I type these words, I have intense hip pain deep in the sockets and electrical feelings in my legs. The bee sting feeling on the bottom of my feet kicked in too, just for fun. *Sigh.*

But….  overall I am better. I am thinking more and more about work. I am able to sustain enough focus to plan. I have been accepted to teach a class at Stanford this spring, the neuroscience of  creativity. (A one day workshop.) So, I am most defiantly getting better. Would I like to be more healed?  Of course I would.

I am no longer feeling hopeless though. The depression has lifted for the most part. On days it sets in again, I am able to discern that it is simply my brain in healing mode from the benzo. I no longer worry that I will be a train wreck for the rest of my life. I may not be chugging along the tracks at full speed, but I am not derailed in a zillion twisted pieces anymore.

What helps me the most now is my gardening (thank you god that I live in a Mediterranean climate even though we are expected to see freezing tonight) service to others, working the 12 steps, and understanding when I get hit with sx, that I can take care of myself. I go for a long walk, plant, weed, or simply curl up in bed with my laptop and watch a movie. Before too long, the sx pass, or change to another set of sx.

In the almost 38 months I have been battling withdrawal, starting with my taper in October 2010, I have never had a day of zero sx. I dont know if my tinnitus will ever heal, so I may always have something to remind me of wd the rest of my life. (Like I could ever forget the horror.) I have learned to live with what I still suffer from. The waves no longer feel like tsunamis. I’ve worn the wet suit a long time. I’ve learned to surf and to go with the flow. Matt Samet said he had “foregrounded” wd sx for the first three years. He said he ignored them for the most part. I never understood how he could do that when it was earlier in my recovery. Now I understand.

I don’t have the glowing story (yet) that Don (madeinpa) writes about here. But I do know I am a much stronger person. I feel that I can accomplish much in my life with god’s help. God (as I understand god) has come this far with me. I doubt god will suddenly stop being there.

That’s my 2 and a half year mark update. I honestly thought I would be done with withdrawal long before now, but…. here I go, pulling on my wet suit, riding the waves, watching the shoreline, and praying for a window that turns into a door I can walk through and be done with all the nonsense.

Hang ten everyone. Keep the faith.

Jenn

P.S. please sign the petition to the current FDA commissioner. I will do my best to get media attention to our plight. Please share the link in any way you feel comfortable. Thank you! http://www.change.org/petitions/fda-ban-long-term-prescriptions-of-benzodiazepines If I can at least get the right people to start thinking about this topic in my lifetime, I will feel I did my part in making change happen. Change that so desperately needs to happen.

 

 

I started a petition to the FDA

I started  a petition to the FDA to ban long-term use of benzos. Hopefully you received an email asking you to sign. We need 100 signatures to get going. ( I did it via change.org)

I hope you will consider signing and asking other benzo buddies to sign.

I will be 2.5 years off this month.

I am still healing, but it is much better.

Keep the faith. Hold onto hope. Our brains and bodies heal.

Much love and deep respect to you all,

Jennifer

Coping With Real Life In Withdawal

First I want to publicly thank MadeInPa for his well written posts that ooze hope, wisdom and grace. I look forward to reading them, just as much as you all do.

Here’s my story to share. Last Monday, my 26-year-old daughter contracted strep throat. Over the course of a week I took her to three doctor visits. By Saturday, she was worse off and I took her to the ER. (You don’t want to know what they did to her.) By Sunday, she was horrible. Another all night ER visit and admittance to the hospital at 7 a.m. Monday morning. She had a tonsillectomy due to a peritonsillar abscess Monday night. I didn’t sleep a wink Sunday, and Monday was a blur of comforting her fear and pain pre and post surgery.

I held up pretty well. I was pleased. I was able to be fully present for her and seemingly calm. It wasn’t until I got home late Monday night when it all hit me. My sx came on like an avalanche, fast, furious and not at all concerned with whatever was in its way. The old burning, bee stings, burning tongue/mouth, dizzy, head pressure, racing heart, muscle cramps, twitches, formication, dr, bone pain, and heat flushes were back.

I did my breathing techniques, and I utilized some of the CNS calming things I am training Emma, my service dog, to do for me. I am more able to ride the waves of sx, as I know that it is simply a sign that my nervous system is still not working well due to the down regulation of my GABA receptors. I am much more able to tell myself a positive story about my symptoms instead of the doom and gloom I used to believe. I know I am healing. I know I will be more functional in another 6 months, or a year or two. I trust that my healing is taking the right course.

I’m confident that my sx will return to where they were before this long week of attending to my daughter revved things up. I still have a ways to go before I am healed, but things are improving. I wouldn’t have been able to be of much help to my daughter if she had gotten ill a few months ago. Back then I was still struggling with some fairly intense symptoms. I am disappointed that my sx flared up again, but I am happy that even in a wave, the sx are not as bad as they used to be. 

My daughter will recover in a few weeks. I may take longer, but that’s ok. I am used to the marathon of healing from benzo withdrawal syndrome. I know one day, I won’t be in this long journey to the finish line forever. I am grateful I was able to cope with real life. I am happy I can at last be the mom my four children remember me to be. I was in such bad shape from withdrawal for so long, that I almost lost hope of ever being able to be of much good to my family.

We can’t stop life from happening. We have to attend to things that may flare our symptoms. I hope that when we do, we can all take good care of ourselves. I hope too, we can set boundaries. I was so fried Monday night, that one of my son’s relieved me at the hospital and stayed with his sister. I needed desperately to come home and rest and calm down my CNS. Hopefully as we all heal, we learn what helps us restore our CNS to some state of calm, that we ask for help when we need it, and that we have the courage to say “No” when we need to, without feeling guilty.

Keep fighting the good fight. It really does get better.

 

Healing IS Happening

WARNING!  I’m writing about my death obsession, so if the word triggers you, please don’t read this post!

The death obsession is lifting. I have had it from the start of my CT. It was so bad in the beginning that every thought was about death. I am not exaggerating. It was awful. The moment I opened my eyes in the morning, my first thought was, “I have to die one day.” Terror swept through me. Not anxiety. Not panic. Terror. Something I had never felt before in my entire life. It was brutal. I couldn’t look at pregnant women or babies because I knew that one day, the baby would have to die. I was very disturbed by old people, for they were close to death. I hated for my parents to call me, even though I desperately wanted their support, but when they called, I would think, “They are going to die one day.” I spent many hours curled up in the fetal position on the floor or in bed, sobbing, over the fact that one day, I will die. I couldn’t weed my garden because I couldn’t bear to kill the plant.

I remember shopping at Whole Foods and being perplexed as to how everyone looked so happy, when they knew they were going to die one day. I would drive past the people milling about the bus stop and wonder why they weren’t scared because surely they knew they had to die one day. I watched video after video about dear death experiences.  I mean, I obsessed. And felt terror. Daily. For a very, very, very, long time. One morning while doing the dishes, I tried to think about eternity. Just the thought of it sent terror racing up my spine. I was unable to think about God, for God was both the giver and taker of life. I was convinced God was coming to murder me. Yup, you read it right. Murder me. Not that I would die a normal death, but murder me. I spent hours trying to remember if I was like this pre benzo. I worried that this was just who I was unmedicated. Many day’s I wanted to drive to the ER and get a benzo, or commit myself. I felt totally deranged.

Some days the fear/anxiety/panic/terror was so hard to cope with, I prayed for the thing I was most afraid of. I prayed for death. Deep, aching, sobs tore through my chest as I begged God to end my life. I was exhausted from the torment and suffering.

The body symptoms were unimaginable too, Pain, burning, tingling, fatigue, weakness.., you know what I am talking about. As the months rolled by, then the years rolled by, I never thought I would get better.

But I am.

I can now think about death and not freak out. I don’t think about it all day. I can even pick up the dead birds Sam brings into the garden and give them a burial without falling apart. I always said my death obsession was my worst symptom and it is almost gone. It’s amazing. The intrusive thoughts and obsessions are really and truly 99% gone.

Today I volunteered in a local school garden. Before I got sick, I was a leading expert on raising teens, and a life coach for teens. It was wonderful to be surrounded by middle school students today. Absolutely wonderful. I am a bit weak at times and still muzzy headed, and in pain at times, but my mind is quiet. Calm.

The calm I feel now is the calm MadeinPa writes about. I understand now, something deeper and richer about life. I don’t know how to put it into words, but it is a peace in my heart that I have never felt before. I feel surrendered to life in a way that makes me happy. I truly believe in God, and God’s love for us all. I trust that God has a purpose and a plan for my life if I surrender it to him. I do that every morning now.

I don’t know how to put my feelings into words. But know this: on the other side of your suffering is an amazing richness to life. There is an understanding that falls into place. Calm rushes in. The unimportant things fall away. And guess what? 99% of life is made up of unimportant things.

Love is the important thing. Love for yourself, others and your creator. I finally love myself in a healthy way. The shame of my past has been washed away. I don’t regret the past, nor do I fear the future. I know that one day my remaining sx will go away or be so mild as to not bother me. The hope I lost a while back has returned.

Please keep fighting. Hang on. I know it is hard. Oh, my dear friends, I know how hard it is. I had a very traumatic withdrawal. But I am here to tell you that life gets good again. It gets very good.

I know a wave can come and topple me. I also know that if it does, it will pass.

I am SO grateful to be benzo free! I am so grateful for my healing.

Thank you for sharing this chapter in my life with me. I am grateful for you all.

Keep fighting.

Meet Emma


Emma is a three year old black Lab mix. A dog training friend of mine is going to train her to be a service dog for me, so I can have more access to normal life. She is sweet, calm, dedicated, quiet and submissive. I have fallen in love with her. She is already a help with most of my sx. She is a good distraction for sure!

I am now forced to walk, which is a bit of a challenge when my dizziness kicks in.  I feel more confident walking with her than I do walking alone, though. I imagine the exercise is good for me, even when my muscles are hurting.

Mornings are the hardest still. It is wonderful to wake up to her sweet face and calm demeanor. Instead of ruminating over how bad I feel, I get up and feed her, and then off we go for our first walk of the day.

I could not have adopted a dog until now. I was way too sick. I am grateful that I am getting better. I have a ways to go, but one day I will cross the finish line and this will be a distant memory. I am hopeful that in another two years I can say I am back to normal. Time will tell. I am learning to let go, and let God. Learning to surrender and accept that life as I used to know it, is gone. I have a good life now, even if I am sick. I am happy that I am well enough to take care of a dog. Who knows what I will be able to do once my brain regains more receptors? Time will tell.

Thanks for meeting Emma. I am thrilled to have her in my life. I hope with her help, I will be able to travel a bit further beyond the small boundaries I live in now.

I hope everyone is hanging in there, and passing the time well. I carry you all in my heart.

emma