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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.
After my cold turkey, there were so many days I didn’t think I’d make it. The mental and physical symptoms were too severe, too cruel, too inhumane. I pleaded with God to take me home. I didn’t want to suffer anymore. I can’t tell you how many times I felt that I was at the end of my rope. “Now what do I do?” I’d think to myself. On those dark days, I’d tug on my overalls and get busy in the garden, no matter how weak I felt. Often all I could manage was to sit on the ground and pull weeds. I had to be doing something to take my mind off of my suffering. On the darkest days, when I couldn’t muster the energy for the garden, I’d sit in a chair in my yard and hold onto the arms. I knew that as long as my hands were touching the arms, I was safe; I wasn’t harming myself. There were days when I held onto those arms for hours on end.
When we are exhausted from trudging the long road of benzo withdrawal, we need to have a few things we can turn to to help us hold on a few more hours, until we feel we can keep going. Engaging your hands in an activity can help reroute your thoughts away from your suffering. Gardening, painting, crocheting, knitting, puzzles can be helpful, as is a gentle walk in nature. Some people find that talking to someone who has healed from benzo withdrawal helps to flame the sparks of hope once again.
Taking a break from focusing on benzo withdrawal is another way to help us recharge ourselves so we can move forward. I often took time away from forums and groups because reading about other’s suffering only added to my own.
Having a plan to reach out to someone you trust is important. It’s best to educate a few people about benzo withdrawal so that when you need them, they can be there for you without you having to go into a long explanation about what you are experiencing. Let them know that even if they can’t understand all your symptoms, that they can help by being available to you should you reach out and need to talk. I turned to a few trusted friends who were also in benzo withdrawal. Mary, Heather, Sherry, Matt, Baylissa, Don, Geraldine—they all took turns reassuring me that I’d get well. Even a few “normie” friends would tell me that withdrawal would end, eventually. It helped to hear them remind me of who I used to be before withdrawal and to hear the promise that I’d return to being happy and healthy again. (And I did! Big time!)
Suicide happens in withdrawal, sadly. People lose hope. They are afraid that they will suffer forever. They can’t see an end to withdrawal, nd they give up. I want everyone to know that withdrawal does end. Life becomes sweet again. It would be a shame to miss out on the blessings that await you. Have a plan of action to stay safe should you feel that you can’t go on. Enlist a trusted friend or family member to be “on call” should you need help. Better yet, enlist a few such people. And call on them should your days become too dark to manage.
Other things we can do when we feel we can’t go on anymore is to pause. Take a breath. Take another. Then another. In essence, we don’t have to do anything other than be alive. We can sit with the symptoms, knowing that they won’t harm us and that they will go away. Praying is also a good choice of action. I was at the end of my rope so many times after my cold turkey. I dropped to my knees many times in a day begging God to help me. For a long time, it seemed that my prayers went unanswered, but my life now is so full of blessings that I know I was heard, held, loved, and blessed. You are too.
Remember that the feeling that you can’t go on is just that. It is a feeling. It’s not a fact. Feelings are like clouds in the sky. They come and they go, one right after the other. And they often change shape and form along the way. Allow your feelings to pass through you without giving them much energy or focus. Know that I new feeling is coming. You won’t have the one you are experiencing this moment forever. It’s good to remember that everything in the known universe has three things in common: a beginning, a middle, and an end. When your feelings are overwhelming, remind yourself that they have a beginning, a middle and an end. Breathe through them. Or better yet, take a gentle walk as they come to an end. Moving the body (gently!) helps us process “stinky” energy. Or, you can plant flowers as I did. Being out in the sunshine, hands in the dirt, listening to the birds and the bees was exceptionally healing.
You can go on, even when you feel that you can’t. You get through those cruel moments of fear, terror, hopelessness, rage, and despair by allowing those feelings to pass. You reach out to friends or family. You take a walk. You get outside in nature. You pray. And you tell yourself what those of us who have more healing under our belts know to be true, “This too shall pass.” Hold on. Better days are just around the bend. They are there, waiting for you. And they are going to be so incredibly good, you won’t look back at this chapter of your life. You’ll be way too busy being so happy! I know I am.
When I write about acceptance, I always get emails from people asking me what it is precisely, and how to practice it. I’ll do my best to explain. Acceptance means we accept life on life’s terms. We don’t run away or try to change or fix the things we can’t control. It would be a waste of time and energy even to try. It’s one of the reasons I love the Serenity Prayer so much. It reminds me to not waste my time and energy on something I have no control over. (God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.) We have very little control over benzo withdrawal, so accepting our lives as they are will help us reduce our suffering.
For me, acceptance is a way of being. It’s an emotional stance, a lens I use to look at the world. I have to be humble to practice acceptance. I have to realize I’m not God. I’m not in control of the universe or the people, places, and things that are in it. I trust that God has everything in His hands and I put my time, energy, and focus on the things I can control, like my actions, my thoughts, my feelings, and beliefs. I can control how I decide to view myself and the world around me. I know, in benzo withdrawal that may be a challenge due to our compromised receptors and everything can look and feel overwhelmingly dark and sinister and we can have intrusive thoughts, etc. But, we can remind ourselves on a daily basis that our doom and gloom isn’t who we truly are. It’s just another benzo withdrawal symptom and it will go away as our brains heal.
Acceptance is also a behavior, an action. When I practice acceptance I’m not scurrying about doing things to try to change that which I cannot. I’m at rest, utilizing my energy for other things. When I was in my setback, I wasn’t able to stand up for quite some time without a severe reaction of my CNS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome). At first, I fought it, thinking that pushing myself would help me. I tried to hobble around the block using a walker. But I soon realized the folly of that thinking and accepted that I was going to be bedridden for a while. And so I hunkered down for the duration, going so far as to place a bucket near my bed so I didn’t have to walk to the bathroom, and I asked a friend to move in to cook for me. I used the downtime to write my first novel, often glued to my laptop for hours at a time. Telling Penny’s (the protagonist) story helped me to pass the time while my CNS repaired itself. I wasn’t thrilled with being bedridden, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t waste hours a day fretting about it.
Let me say, to be clear, that acceptance isn’t cowardly, nor is it a weakness, as some surmise. It’s not about being a victim or a doormat. People have told me that they don’t like giving in to life when it’s not on their terms. What I want them to understand is that you’re not “giving in.” It’s not about giving up. Quite the opposite! Acceptance is about standing tall and firm, even in the face of extreme adversity. It’s a decision to rise above the chaos in life, so it doesn’t disturb our peace. We may not be able to change what is happening around us or to us, but we can change our attitude, and that is one of the most powerful tools we have towards health and wellness.
Open your heart. Trust that the things you can’t control are going to eventually, maybe way down the road, work out for the good, somehow. Trust that everything is okay. You don’t have to do anything other than to say “thank you,” for this moment. When you find yourself not at peace with life—when you’re disturbed, unhappy, resentful, angry, etc., the chances are good that you aren’t in acceptance. Those emotions are often a reminder for us to move over into acceptance where we will be more at peace.
I’ll close by saying that acceptance is what tames the beast within ourselves. It calms the soul and soothes our central nervous system. Acceptance allows us to increase our health and vitality. It restores us, in so many ways. I hope you’ll practice acceptance to the best of your ability. And over time, I hope it becomes a habit, a way of life for you.
Recently I was asked what I would do differently if I had to do benzo withdrawal over again, knowing what I know now. What an excellent question! First, I should say that I am not sure would do anything differently because the outcome of my recovery was amazing. I was transformed into the person I always dreamed I could be. I’m not sure I would have gotten here had the road and the lessons been any easier. But having said that, there certainly were things I could have done to have lessened my suffering. I’ll share those with you so that they can perhaps lessen your suffering.
If I had to do it over again I would ignore the advice of the doctor who told me to cut my 1 mg. of clonazepam by one quarter every week. To think that I could get off of my medication in a month was ridiculous. I managed to cut out one half of my dose in that time but it came at a tremendous price. It set me up for the nightmare that followed. Instead, I would have listened to and trusted the benzo community and started tapering very, very, slowly.
I DEFINITELY wouldn’t have up-dosed. Nor would I have cold turkeyed. My up-dose kindled me (if you don’t know about kindling, read this post) and the cold-turkey shocked my brain and plunged me into a hell I can’t even begin to describe. Live and learn.
I would have forgone the hospital stay I had at five-months free, and the one at my three-year wave. The doctors and staff knew absolutely nothing about benzo withdrawal and their care was not helpful and at times it was hurtful. For me, it was a waste of money that caused frustration and hardship.This is not to say that we should avoid all medical care or hospitalizations, but for me, it wasn’t helpful. Instead of going inpatient, I would have asked a family member to take me in and care for me. I struggled with the daily necessities of life living on my own. (I went days without showering, brushing my teeth, and at times, without food. I was too sick to stand up.)
I would not have pushed myself. I taught a class at Standford University when I was two and a half years off. I desperately needed to feel that I was back to my intelligent, creative, confident self, but it was way too soon. I know that may scare some of you to think that two and a half years isn’t enough time to jump back into life. But for some of us, it is too soon. Accepting life on life’s terms goes a long way towards our healing and recovery.
I would not have driven across the country in three and a half days by myself. (Way too much stress for my still healing CNS.)
I would not have invested so much time in looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You know, the magical cure that would either dramatically shorten the time I spent recovering or an instant cure. Nothing takes away benzo withdrawal. Time is the only cure. The body heals itself. I researched, tried various supplements, even other meds, in hopes that somehow, someway, I’d be better. I wasn’t. And often, I was made worse. Much, much, worse.
I would not talk so much about benzo withdrawal if I had to do it all over again. For many of us, withdrawal consumes our every waking thought. It’s a benzo withdrawal symptom, actually, so it’s hard to avoid. However, we can be mindful of how much we share with others, and we can do our best to make space to be fully present for others.
I would have tried to trust the process more, rest, not worry or future trip, and do my best to be grateful for every moment, even the horrific, terror-filled, painful, scary, moments. I’d do my best to roll with the punches, say “Thank you, God,” more often, and be as happy as possible, even in my suffering. I’d feel less sorry for myself, or at least try!
If I could go back in time I’d rewind all the way to the afternoon I walked out of Dr. Robertson’s office with a prescription in my hand. Instead of agreeing to take a benzo for my panic attacks, I’d say, “No thank you. Those pills are poison,” and I’d find another way to deal with the issues that drove me to see him. In fact, I wouldn’t have seen a doctor at all. I’d have found a more holistic and spiritual way to deal with my issues. And, I’d certainly have gotten my ass into a chair at A.A. sooner. My wine drinking only exacerbated my original anxiety and once on a benzo, it increased the side-effects and the tolerance withdrawals.
More than anything, I would have fallen in love myself far sooner than I did. It wasn’t until I truly understood the healing power of love that I began to cobble myself and my life back together again in a way that was *amazing*.
I pray I never have to do benzo withdrawal over again. My setback last summer was enough of a dip back into acute withdrawal that I ever want to experience. But I know that by practicing extreme self-care, the chances of another setback are very slim. My GABA receptors are healing, and my CNS is settling down. I believe that the next decades in my life are going to be extraordinary. Why? Because I’m determined to co-create with God, an extraordinary life. I deserve one. YOU DO TOO! Keep healing, my friends. Keep healing. Life will become incredibly sweet, in time.
Benzo withdrawal is unlike any other illness. It affects every level of existence; our bodies, minds, and our spirits. As hard as it is going through benzo withdrawal, what makes it even harder is that friends and family often don’t understand our illness. Here is what we wish they knew:
- We suffer from an iatrogenic illness, meaning it is doctor induced. We trusted our doctor and took our medication as prescribed. That medication caused a chemical injury to our brain and central nervous system (downregulated GABA receptors). We are angry (hurt, saddened shocked) that our doctors prescribed a harmful medication. We need time to come to terms with our feelings about the recovery we must go through to reclaim our health.
- Most doctors are uneducated about the damage caused, and therefore their advice on how to treat or cope with the damage while we heal can sometimes be dangerous. We don’t have medical support, and frankly, it is demoralizing to talk with medical personnel who tell us that “The drugs can’t do that.” or, “It’s all in your head.” or worse, “You’ve got a disorder and need more drugs.” Please don’t tell us to seek medical help from a doctor who isn’t benzo-wise, or to shame us for not following an uneducated doctor’s advice that we know is harmful.
- Life may change a great deal while we are recovering. We may be unable to work or to take care of our family for quite some time. Please understand that we are not lazy. We are benzo sick. We may need you to help us do the paperwork of paying bills, taxes, etc. We may need help with grocery shopping, food preparation, or taking a shower. We may not be able to drive, walk around the block, or do much physical activity.
- Healing from benzo withdrawal is not linear. We have windows and waves. When we feel better, we are in a window. When we have an increase or a return of symptoms, we are in a wave. Window and waves can come on suddenly. Thus it is hard to make plans because we don’t know how we will feel from one moment to the next. Please understand when we have to suddenly cancel plans.
- We don’t have normal thoughts or feelings in benzo withdrawal. We are often consumed by fear and a doom and gloom view of the world/life. We may also suddenly experience euphoria one moment, only to plummet into despair the next. This is due to the damaged receptors in our brains. We can’t logically think our way out of these states. They are biological, not psychological. We must wait for our brains to recover, which means we need you to be patient with us. Don’t abandon us on our journey back to health. And, it can be a very long journey. Please go the distance with us.
- We may not look sick, but we feel sick. On top of not having normal thoughts or feelings, we may suffer from pain, burning skin, crushing fatigue, weakness, dizziness, tingling, and other physical symptoms. We may need someone to help us cook, clean, grocery shop, run errands, take care of our children, etc.
- Giving unasked for advice is damaging. It puts people on the defensive. The best thing you can do for us is to simply be present. Don’t tell us what you think we should think, feel, or do. Just listen. Deeply. If you want to be helpful, say this: “What do you need and how can I help?” Those words empower us to find our truth and our solutions.
- Know that we want to be well and back to normal far more than you want that for us. We are doing our best as we face a recovery that can take quite a long time. It would be wonderful if you could educate yourself some about what we are going through, but as long as you treat us with care and compassion, that is all that matters. We need you now more than ever, and we are grateful for your love and support, even if we can’t show it or express it at the moment. When our emotions return to normal, we will be more able to communicate our deep thanks to you. Until then, please don’t be offended by our inability to connect with you.
- People experiencing benzo withdrawal can be exceptionally needy. We aren’t in control of our thoughts or feelings, and our bodies are experiencing strange, frightening things. We are frightened that we may never heal. We may ask over and over and over again, “Will I get well?” The answer to this question is “Yes.” Please remind us as many times as we may ask. If we become too draining with our neediness, please take care of yourself and take a break. We understand you may need to recharge your batteries.
- Suicide is a very real danger in benzo withdrawal. Please take us seriously if we say we don’t feel that we can go on. Have a plan of action in place with us so we both know what to do should thoughts of suicide occur.
- We may experience “benzo rage,” a frightening state of anger that feels overwhelming. We’ve momentarily lost control. Protect yourself, of course, should we direct our rage at you. Know that we aren’t ourselves and the rage is not who we are, nor is it really about you. It’s about damage to our brain that is slowly healing.
- People in withdrawal often develop food sensitivities. We have to avoid some things that we used to be able to eat. We aren’t being picky, stubborn, demanding, or seeking attention. We are avoiding certain foods to avoid an increase in benzo withdrawal symptoms. We also may have an increase in symptoms if we take certain supplements or vitamins, prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
- It can take years to be fully recovered from the damage caused by taking a benzodiazepine. In that time, we may have times of feeling mostly normal, only to experience a setback. We can have a flare of symptoms that once again make normal life difficult. At some point windows, waves, and setbacks will stop occurring, but until then, we have to be careful to take very good care of ourselves and limit our stress levels, eat healthily, rest, etc.
- We want you to know that we miss you. We miss ourselves. We miss the life we used to have. We miss the joy, the fun, the love, and the laughter. It will return, but until then, we live in an altered reality that is foreign and frightening. Please love us. Please walk with us all the way to recovery, holding our hands and our hearts. We will love you all the more when we are well, and life will once again be wonderful. Thank you for being there for us.