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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.
If you are in withdrawal and wondering if what is going on in your body is a withdrawal symptom, you are not alone. Many of us wondered what was the cause of the crazy happenings we experienced. Last year I asked people in withdrawal to share their symptoms with me so that we could compile a list of possible symptoms. Here is that list. (Feel free to add any symptom we’ve overlooked.)
Blood work abnormalities
Body feels frozen
Changes in personality
Chest pain (can mimic a heart attack)
Edema (especially of ankles and face)
Head sensations (a tight band around head)
Hypersensitive to stimuli
Inability to handle stress
Nausea and vomiting
Nerve pain (hitting non-specific areas of the body randomly but for short bursts)
Nerves, All nerves firing off
Neuroleptic malignant syndrome-like event
Neurological problems (topical nerve anesthesia)
Night sweats, Rashes
Nightmares, vivid dreams
No feelings of fun or laughter
Not knowing who you are
Numb area on bottom of left foot
Numb right foot
Numbness and tingling in face
Numbness and tingling in feet
Numbness and tingling in hands
Numbness in any part of the body
Numbness in arms
Numbness in face and left side
Numbness in fingers
Numbness in head
Numbness in lip and tongue
Obsessions or obsessional repetitive thinking
Obsessive and compulsive thinking (OCD)
Obsessive compulsive disorder
Occasional right eye pain
Organic brain syndrome
Outbursts of rage or aggression
Overwhelming feeling that you are going to die
Pain in eyes
Pain in hands and feet
Pain in previous surgical sites
Pains in neck and shoulders
Papular and maculopapular rashes
Paraesthesia (Pins and needles)
Paraesthesiae (numbing, burning and tingling; pins and needles)
Paresthesia (numbness, tingling)
Paralexia – the mixing up of words in texts.
Paresthesia – “A thousand needles.”
Perceptual disturbances and distortions
Peripheral nervous system issues
Persistent, unpleasant memories
Perspiring, night sweats
Phobias(hydrophobia, agoraphobia, monophobia, acrophobia, anthropophobia, and others)
Pins and needles
Poor muscle control
Poor short-term memory
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Pounding in my head
Premature ventricular contractions (irregular heartbeats)
Pressure in head
Pressure in the inner ear and outer ear
Problems with vision
Pseudo-Multiple sclerosis (Medically documented cases of misdiagnosed MS who have recovered after withdrawal)
Psychotic symptoms (usually transient and confined to rapid withdrawal)
Pulsating all over my body(also visible)
Pulsating in right temporal area especially upon exertion
Rapid changes in body temperature
Rapid mood changes
Rapid mood fluctuations
Rapid weight loss
Rash under brows
Rebound REM sleep
Red burning eyes
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced or increased appetite
Reduced stress tolerance
Resignation – “what is the point of quitting?”
Restless legs syndrome
Restless legs, arms
Rigidness and jerks
Seeing spots before the eyes
Seizures (fits) (Almost unknown if people reduce gradually, more common for people using high doses who stop suddenly)
Sense of instability- the ground seems to move beneath one’s feet, one walks in the air
Sensitive or painful teeth
Sensitive to light and stress
Sensitive to loud noises
Sensitive to music
Sensitivity to smells
Severe body pain
Severe head pain
Severe muscle rigidity
Severe pain in the stomach
Sexual problems (changes in libido)
Shivering, feelings of extreme cold or hot
Short-term memory impairment
Skin burning patches
Skin itching, tingling, burning
Skin problems (dryness, itchiness, rashes, hives, slow healing, burning)
Skipping heart beats
Slow heart rate
Slow thinking processes
Soapy taste in the mouth
Sore tongue and throat
Sore tongue and thrush
Sore, itchy eyes
Spine (burning sensation)
Stabbing pains in limbs
Stiff arms and legs
Stiffness in back
Stomach and bowel problems
Suicidal feelings (get help if you feel you will act on them)
Suicidal ideations (get help if you feel you will act on them)
Suicidal thoughts (get help if you feel you will act on them)
Suicide attempts (get help if you feel you will act on them)
Taste and smell disturbances
Tension in neck
Thinking you are mentally ill
Throat issues (tightness)
Thyroid issues, erratic testing results
Tight, achy muscles
Tight jaw and temple
Tight muscles in legs
Tight muscles in neck and shoulders
Tightness in the chest
Tightness in the head
Tingling in scalp
Tinnitus (ear buzzing, popping, ringing, hissing)
Too much saliva
Trembling and shaking
Tremor or feeling of inner vibration
Twitching Muscles (nearly everywhere)
Ulcers in mouth
Uncharacteristic behavior such as shoplifting
Uncontrolled eye movement
Unusually sensitive (unable to watch the news on television or read the newspaper)
Unwarranted feelings of guilt
Urges to shout, throw, break things or to harm someone
Urinary problems (bladder urge is ‘all on’ or ‘all off’)
Urinary problems (continence or incontinence)
Very cold especially hands and feet
Very oily skin and hair
Visual distortions preceding a migraine
Visual Disturbances – blurred vision, vivid 3D vision, floaters, changing focus, double vision
Vocabulary, loss of skills
Void of normal emotions
Waves of pain
Weakness, “jelly legs”
Weight gain – weight loss (this may be quite rapid)
White blood count, elevated
Worsening of allergies
Xeroderma (dry skin)
Yellow eyes or skin
Benzo withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant. Finding ways to cope with them is important. Many of us turn to distraction to take our attention off of what we are experiencing in our bodies or minds. We work puzzles, knit, crochet, paint, garden, watch feel-good movies, go on gentle walks, etc. We do our best to keep our hands and our minds busy, without over stimulating our CNS or tiring ourselves. We eat healthily, avoiding the common benzo withdrawal triggers such as sugar, alcohol, additives, colorings, preservativs, and MSG. We avoid stressful situations, rest as much as possible, and we do our best to remain positive and hopeful. We also get medical tests to rule out any other illness, and we rely on others who are in benzo withdrawal or healed, to remind us that we will heal. And heal we do. In time. And so will you. In time.
Benzo withdrawal is an enormous challenge, I know. But it does end. Life becomes sweeter, more precious, more in full bloom and in techni-color than ever before. Just as the dark of night gives way to the light of a new day, the memory of our suffering fades in the light of our new life, a life of health and happiness.
Keep going. Keep healing!
Christmas of 2016 I created a private Facebook group where people could give me their ideas about a benzo withdrawal book I wanted to write. I began writing it Januray 2017, but kept hitting a wall I just couldn’t seem to get over. Then, that spring, the words (finally) started flowing. I was excited! I could see the book in my mind’s eye. I knew what I wanted it to contain. Happily, I sat at my desk and wrote and wrote and wrote. Then my setback happened that summer and life as I knew it went right out the window.
I was so astounded and befuddled by the setback that I couldn’t write. In fact, I was so thrown off guard, and so sick that I stopped communicating with people in benzo withdrawal. I closed this site. I took down my Benzo Withdrawal Help Facebook page and I unfriended over five hundred people on Facebook. I couldn’t bear to read or hear the word benzo. I had suffered enough, and I had heard enough of other’s suffering. I promised myself I was done with anything benzo. Forever.
But, the benzo community wasn’t done with me. Thankfully. People reached out to me, sending me their best wishes and prayers. I was deeply touched and I thank you all. As I slowly but surely healed from my setback, my heart (and mind) grew strong again and I could once again cope with the suffering of those in benzo withdrawal. Not only that, but I had a renewed interest and dedication to those still trudging that long and lonely road. It was as if my setback was the catylst for an incredible upward spiral in my life. I gained more courage and wisdom than I could possibly imagine!
I’m happy to tell you that the book I envisioned in December of 2016 is now being written. It is a guide to benzo withdrawal as well as a workbook you can use to track your tapering, symptoms, explore coping skills, stay on top of nutrition, jot down questions for your doctor, write your fears and concerns, ponder strategies for relating to family and friends, your dreams for the future when you are well, etc. (And, you will be well again. I promise.)
I’m so grateful to be back among my benzo buddies. I’m grateful that I am well enough to be of service again. I’ll keep you posted on how the book is coming along. In the meantime, please reach out and let me know what topics you’d like to read about in my future blog.
There are many cures in medicine. Antibiotics cure infections. A cast cures a broken bone. Surgery cures some problems. Even chemo, as nasty as it is, seems to cure some cancers. But there isn’t anything we can take that will cure benzo withdrawal. It’s a wait-it-out kind of a thing. And the wait can get long and exhausting. What can we do while we are waiting to be well? We can do our best to avoid the things that rev up our symptoms or hampers our healing.
Let’s look first at the GABA receptors. It’s thought that the use of a benzodiazepine degrades some of these receptors, essentially turning them off and making it impossible for our bodies and minds to be calm and relaxed. We’ve got damaged receptors that we need to treat with respect. That means we avoid anything that works on GABA receptors, giving them plenty of time to rest and repair themselves. We avoid alcohol, chamomile tea, benzodiazepines, Z drugs, kava kava, kavinace, phenibut, valerian, and any other substances that are GABA agonists.
We also avoid ingesting food (or substances in our food) that cause an increase in benzo withdrawal symptoms. Some of the main culprits are sugar, colorings, caffeine, preservatives, additives, and of course, MSG, which can be neatly hidden in plain sight, called by innocuous names like “natural flavoring.” (You may want to google all of the names that MSG goes by.) Avoiding these things can be easily done if you eat whole, fresh food, (preferably organic) and you drink water (preferably filtered, no fluoride or chlorine.) Gluten can cause a reaction for some people, and it’s thought to cause leaky gut, which can be bad for our brains. If a certain food makes you worse and you can substitute another food to get what your body needs, that’s great because it’s important to get proper nutrition so that we can heal.
Avoid things that vibrate, such as lawnmowers, blenders, vacuums, and motorcycles. Even driving/riding in a car for long distances can bring on an increase in symptoms. (I found out the hard way.)
Avoid drama (stress) while you are in benzo withdrawal. (Avoid it too, once you heal!) We can’t regulate our emotions very well while we are recovering from the damage caused by a benzodiazepine. That means we need to keep a safe distance from people, places, and things that disturb us. Otherwise, we may have an increase in withdrawal symptoms. (This doesn’t mean to live your life in your bedroom with the drapes drawn. It means to be kind and loving to yourself and to limit your exposure to drama/stress.)
Vigorous exercise is another thing that we do better to avoid. Many of us become exercise intolerant while we are in benzo withdrawal. Gentle walking and stretching is usually enough movement for us as our CNS settles down.
Medications, both over the counter and prescription, often make us feel worse. Some are even dangerous, such as fluoroquinolone antibiotics and some pain meds (opiates) when taken in combination with a benzodiazepine. Avoiding unnecessary medications is a good idea in benzo withdrawal. Avoiding unnecessary medical procedures is a good idea as well.
Vitamins and supplements can cause an increase in benzo withdrawal symptoms. People report that vitamin D, B, and magnesium can spell trouble for us. Epson salts baths have even been known to flare up symptoms due to the magnesium.
Avoiding extreme temperatures can help us feel better as our receptors heal. Heat is a trigger for an increase in symptoms, as are freezing temps. Do your best to limit your exposure to harsh conditions.
Dryer sheets, air fresheners, perfumes, and scented candles, and paints can give off chemicals (VOCs) that aren’t healthy for the brain/body. Do your research and find out if you are using products that may be damaging your central nervous system.
This is not an exhaustive list. It’s a list to help you begin to discern ways in which you can avoid things that might make you feel worse or even slow down your healing. Some people may be able to tolerate things that are on this list, everyone’s experiences are unique. Do what is best for you.
With such a long list of things to avoid, it may sound as if our lives are very small; that we are unable to do so many “normal” things. In some ways this is true. We can’t just go out and engage in things we did before benzo withdrawal. However, even within the new parameters that we find ourselves operating under, we can live large lives. By that, I mean, we can live with our hearts wide open. We can learn to love more, forgive more, and accept life on life’s terms more. We can learn to be more kind and gentle with ourselves, and with others. If we do those things, our lives aren’t small at all! They are enormous, for those are enormously important things to do. Which brings me to the last thing to avoid. Self-pity. I didn’t do a great job of that in the beginning of my recovery, as you can see by some of my early posts. I also struggled with self-pity during my setback. I was angry at God and the world for allowing me to suffer. But when I was able to maintain a more positive and accepting outlook, I suffered less, both mentally and physically. Avoiding negative emotions is hard in benzo withdrawal, I know. With a damaged brain, we aren’t able to think clearly or have control over our emotions. However, we can do our best to be present with what is, and to embrace life as best as we can, knowing that one day, our suffering will be behind us. We will turn the corner and there will be a new chapter in life waiting for us. And it will be so incredibly wonderful that we will forget this season of suffering.
Please feel free to leave a comment to tell us the things that you are avoiding in benzo withdrawal in order to feel better.
The winter rains had slowed, and I yearned to visit our family farm in Georgia. I packed up my little Hyundai Elantra, dropped off my cat and dog at the Pawington and set out for a solo cross-country adventure. And what an adventure it was! Snowstorms, hailstorms, thunderstorms, and a tornado watch. Not to mention being turned away at the Grand Canyon to camp (it was spring break and filled with college students) or the drunken man terrorizing my hotel (he pounded on my door at 1 a.m.) in Alabama. But, I arrived at our farm in good shape, albeit a bit dizzy and woozy. (That was my first warning that my CNS was being stressed.)
I enjoyed every minute back in Georgia. I remember telling my parents more than once, how elated I was that I had healed from benzo withdrawal. I honestly felt that it was in my rear-view mirror and that the future was shining brightly ahead. After two months of helping my parents, I drove back home in three and a half days, driving almost three thousand miles. That was where the real trouble started. 1. I drove home a new car, a Honda Civic. I was steeped in toxic “new car smell.” 2. The vibration of the car rattled my CNS. 3. The mental stress of the drive overtaxed my brain. It didn’t help that once home I tore out much of my garden and replanted and added gravel and flagstone; it was a lot of bending and heavy lifting. Soon after I was home, I got terrible news about a few people I love. My heart broke for them, and I found myself not sleeping very well. The dizzy spells started soon after that. Weeks after arriving home, I was completely bedridden, back in the “snakepit” of benzo withdrawal.
I won’t bore you with all of the gory details. Suffice it to say that in many ways, it was worse than my cold turkey back in 2011. I developed such a severe case of POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) that my doctor was stunned. He called my case “remarkable.” I was unable to stand up (or even sit up) without my CNS going haywire. And so I laid in bed, day after day, week after week, month after month. I felt so hopeless, convinced that the setback meant my CNS would never heal, or that if it did, it would take many years as it had the first time. I was pretty much inconsolable for awhile. (I took down this site because I wasn’t able to help anyone at that time.) I emailed Baylissa, Geraldine, and Matt on a regular and I’m sure for them, exhausting, basis.
To help myself heal, I decided to throw myself into the most committed self-care/self-love routine that I could. A friend moved in to take care of me, and she cooked only organic foods for me. Sally Fallon’s book, Nourishing Traditions, became my bible for nutrition. I ordered organic food delivered to the house each week. I also decided to limit my stress which meant limiting my interactions with people who I didn’t 100% enjoy or felt nourished by their company. I cut my hair short, so I didn’t have to style it. And, I distracted from my misery by writing a novel, something that had been on my bucket list for decades. I created a Pandora station called Healing Sounds and played that as background music every single day.
As the days melted into the fall, my symptoms slowly started lifting. By Christmas, I was about fifty-percent better. My parents came to visit my sister and me, and I was grateful to see them. Over the holidays, my heart and soul began to cry out to me for something they had desired for a very long time: to live back in the mountains among nature and peace.
In January, I was well enough to drive to the Grass Valley/Nevada City, California area. The moment I arrived at my Air BnB accommodations, I knew I was going to move away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay Area. By the next week, I had given my notice on my apartment. Within another two weeks, I was moved and had rented an office for my coaching and intuitive guidance and healing work. It happened so quickly, everything falling into place so easily, that I knew it was my blessing for having walked through the valley of the shadow of death again.
Now, I’m living in a forest, listening to the pines as the wind brushes through them. On stormy days I watch it rain or snow. In the dark of night, I often walk outside to view the moon hanging above the trees, its pale lantern of light spilling over the branches. I am the happiest I’ve been in decades!
I still have a few lingering withdrawal symptoms, but they are minor. I’ve learned to practice extreme self-care and love and kindness for myself. I rest more often instead of pushing myself. I won’t allow anyone to pull me down or pull me into their drama; my boundaries are the healthiest they have been in my entire life. I eat organic. I go to bed earlier. I pace myself in all things. I also give thanks every day for everything in my life. I’m profoundly grateful.
I survived a horrible set-back. It wasn’t fun, but it taught me a great deal about finding the courage to carve out the life I want. I moved three hours away from my four children and two grandbabies to live where I am the most nourished. Nothing and I mean nothing, will ever again come between me and my wellbeing, my wholeness. Loving myself in thought and action is my top priority these days. When I love myself, I’m available to love others.
If you are worried that you may have a setback, please do your best to push that fear aside. I’ll be blogging soon about things you can do to avoid a setback. Please know that there does come a time in our recovery when our receptors are healthy and healed and that setbacks can’t and won’t happen. I don’t fear another setback, and you shouldn’t either.
It’s so good to be back on this site. Good too, to be coaching again. I’ve missed you all so very much my precious friends.
Distraction is one of the main coping skills for successfully navigating benzo withdrawal. When we put our attention on other things, we can, even if only briefly, forget about our symptoms. It’s a good rule of thumb to busy your hands. Your mind will usually follow what your hands are doing. I distracted by learning to draw. I watched instructional videos on YouTube. I made a promise to myself to draw one picture every day. Sometimes it would take an hour, sometimes several hours. It kept my mind off of my suffering for awhile. I also gardened. My front yard became a flower garden. Being focused on my plants kept me from being focused on myself. And, being in my front yard helped me to create community as I got to know all of my neighbors. I also painted. I’m not technically a “good” painter, nor will I probably ever be. That’s not the point. The point is to be involved in the doing of something, not being invested in the outcome!
Other people in benzo withdrawal have knitted, crocheted, created hook rugs, learned to play instruments, created scrapbooks, journaled, worked word and number puzzles as well as jigsaw puzzles, organized old photos, learned to sew, and dozens of other things that kept them busy.
For those unable to do things with their hands, you can watch television shows and movies. Getting engrossed in a story removes us from the story we tell ourselves about benzo withdrawal; the worry that we will never heal. We can also read books, and be transported by the story or learn something. You may struggle with comprehension when reading. That’s okay. But if the struggle reminds you of being in benzo withdrawal, it is better to find another activity.
Everyone’s level of ability to engage in distractions will be different. Some won’t be able to focus on reading or watching television or learning anything knew. The cognitive abilities just aren’t there at this stage in their healing. Some won’t have the energy for gardening. That’s okay. Just do what you can do. And, don’t put any pressure on yourself to do things “right” or “perfect.” Enjoy whatever you do for the sake of doing it. Don’t create an outcome in your mind, simply enjoy the activity for what it is.
What is it that you can do to distract yourself from your symptoms? What can you do to busy your hands and your mind? Come up with a few things that you can do, and use these as your go-to activities when you are having a more challenging day. Instead of sitting and wondering what to do to hold on, immediately get involved in one of your distraction activities. I call these “anchors.” I had a few activities that I knew I could count on when I had an exceptionally bad day. I didn’t have to think about how to cope, I just got up and got engaged in one of my anchors. They kept me tethered to the present moment and tethered to life. Feel free to share with us what you do to distract yourself from your benzo withdrawal symptoms.
The recovery process for benzo withdrawal isn’t linear. We often feel better, only to sink back down into a wave of symptoms. Waves will happen for seemingly no reason, but we can minimize their risk by following a few simple guidelines.
- Avoid taking medications, vitamins, or supplements that are (a.) known to rev up symptoms (vitamin D, B, magnesium, and fish oil, for example) or (b.) are GABA agonists (works on GABA.) Alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and food additives are on the avoid list. If your doctor wants to prescribe something for you, please do your research. Don’t assume that your doctor “knows best.” Many are not educated about benzo withdrawal.
- Avoid stress. Emotional stress wears us down. It plays havoc with our central nervous system. If you have a lot of emotional unrest in withdrawal, find a safe person you can share with. Do your best to remain positive and upbeat. Be careful of the scary stories you tell yourself. Don’t believe them! Stress also comes in physical form. You’ll want to avoid rigorous exercise. It can trigger an uptick in symptoms. Seek help from friends and family for emotional and physical support while you recover.
- Avoid fatigue. Don’t overdo things. Take things easy. Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Take breaks during the day if need be.Many of us have insomnia in withdrawal. Do your best to sleep, but don’t stress about it. (Insomnia will fade away, in time.) Another type of fatigue we can experience is spending too much time on our devices. Light from the screen is exhausting to us. Limit your time online.
- Avoid overheating. Summer months can bring an increase in benzo withdrawal symptoms due to the rise in temperatures. Keep your body cool. Drink plenty of water. Plan outdoor activities for the cool of the morning or early evening. Use ice packs to cool down, if necessary.
- Avoid infections. Whether caused by a virus or a bacteria, infections rev up our symptoms. Make sure that proper hygiene is a part of your daily life; handwashing is a good thing! You may want to avoid shopping in crowded areas during cold and flu season. Gyms, movie theaters, and other places where you touch items that others have touched before you can be a breeding ground for germs.
Waves may happen regardless of how much you try to avoid them. They seem to be a part of the recovery process. Use all of your coping skills to manage if you find yourself in an uptick of symptoms. Ask family and friends to help you if you are unable to manage a part of your daily life. When you recover, you can pay it forward and help someone else who needs some sort of assistance.
No matter how bad your wave may be, it will go away, in time. Acceptance, patience, distraction, and gratitude are all good things to practice. Keep healing! (BTW: as I climb back out of the wave I currently find myself in, I will only be posting a blog on Monday’s. Gotta pace myself.)
Those of us who got hit hard in benzo withdrawal and felt that we were (finally!) healed were eager to get back to our normal lives. We’d been sidelined for too many months, even years. We were patient. We were strong. We held onto the hope that we would recover. And, one day, we did. We embraced our lives in a new way; we wanted to cram as much life into every waking moment as possible. We had a lot of catching up to do!
The mistake many of us make is that we jump back into our lives too soon, too quickly. We don’t pace ourselves. We run full steam ahead until exhausted, we collapse, and our benzo symptoms creep back in. Most of the time we get a warning, like “idiot” lights on a car, there are signs that we are over doing things. We may have a few quick dizzy spells or head pressure. Insomnia may creep back in for a few nights. Maybe our nerve pain shows up again, or we have weakness or fatigue. These are all signs that we are overtaxing our fragile central nervous system. We need to take heed and slow down. We need to remove ourselves from stressful situations. We need to practice extreme self-care or we run the risk of a setback. For some of us, this means that we will need to be careful of our stress levels for a very long time, possibly the rest of our lives.
Setbacks have happened to people even though they were many years out from their last benzo dose. Their central nervous system couldn’t handle the stress and strain they were living under and they slowly unraveled back to having benzo withdrawal symptoms. If you want to avoid setbacks, do your best to eat clean and healthy. (One ingredient foods are a good idea.) Make sure you stay hydrated, especially in the summer months when the rise in temperatures can play havoc with your brain and body. Limit your exposure to stress. Try to keep an even keel on your emotions. Don’t overtax your body with exceptionally strenuous exercise. Avoid any medication or supplement that works on GABA receptors.
I know we all want to wring every last ounce of joy and excitement out of life once we heal. I’m certainly guilty of overdoing it. I forget that I have a fragile brain. And I tend to ignore the warning lights that come on when I do too much. I’ve been going like a house-a-fire the last few months and it finally caught up with me. I’ve got head pressure, dizziness, nerve and joint pain; I basically feel like shit again. I know this wave will pass, they always do. But it’s a good reminder for me to share with you the absolute necessity for some of us to pace ourselves and to pay attention to the signs that we are getting closer and closer to having a full-blown setback. We have to take exceptionally good care of ourselves, without feeling guilty about it. Make your complete healing your priority. Learn to say “No!” to others who want you to do things that will stress you, and say “No!” to your own ego that tries to seduce you into thinking that you can and should do it all and have it all. We can’t. We’ve been injured by a benzodiazepine and we’ve got to respect that we need to take life a bit more slowly and mindfully. Respecting the healing that we’ve attained, and the journey that we’ve been on will go a long way to creating a wonderful life.
I was sick for so many years, that when I started to get better, it was an indescribable feeling. I thought I had known joy before, and I certainly had, but this… this was off the charts. Sure, I was in heaven every time they placed one of my (four!) newborn babies in my arms, but this was as if God handed myself to me, all fresh and new and swaddled in possibility. I don’t want to look back, except to say “Thank you,” for the lessons I’ve learned. I want to stay here in the present moment and bask in the glow of the power of right here, right now!
My life has certainly taken a great many twists as turns over the last seven years. One of the main journeys I took was in my flower garden. If you’ve read any of my old posts, you know how much my gardening helped my recovery. And it wasn’t just that it offered a calm and peaceful place for me to reside while in the midst of my brain damage. No, it offered so much more! It gave me the opportunity to learn some big life lessons. It gave me the opportunity to go deep within myself and to heal my old wounds and ragged scars.
Now, my garden is a place of comfort and care for many people in my neighborhood. I’ve been asked to help others plan and plant their garden, and I have, gladly. I know the power of healing that comes from digging in Mother Earth and tending to all her wildlife. I am excited to share with you that I am now working with people here in the San Francisco Bay Area in their gardens. I have a new website, and I’ll be creating an Instagram and Pinterest account so I can share the flowers with everyone. Don’t worry. I’m not leaving my work with people who are recovering from benzo withdrawal. I’ll still be coaching Monday through Wednesday. (Feel free to sign up for some time if you want to get in touch.)
My, how my heart has grown from the first time I swallowed a benzo and until now. I’ve learned the secrets of health and happiness. I’ve learned that we don’t need to seek for love, but instead, we need to seek all the barriers we’ve created to love and dismantle them. That’s what I did in my garden. I learned how to be vulnerable. I learned how to forgive. I learned how to accept life on life’s terms. And I learned how to say ‘Thank you!” in all things.
If you’re a flower gardening enthusiast and you’d like to receive posts, ideas, and inspiration from my new website, you can sign up at InJennifersGarden.com. (FYI, there isn’t any info about benzos there.) I’m so amazed at the doors that keep opening for me in my life. I’m so grateful I can be of service to others. You’ll be amazed too, at where life takes you on your healing journey. Don’t give up or lose hope. Reach out if you do, I’ll listen and hold your heart and your hand.
I’ve written a handful of books about listening skills, but I’m still not a perfect listener. I fall prey to a few bad listening habits, even though I try hard not to. So I understand how those people who aren’t conscious of their listening skills can make mistakes. Here is what I wish I could have shared with people who had the listening habit of giving unasked for advice when I was in benzo withdrawal:
Dear friends and family,
When I share my tender and vulnerable truth with you about my iatrogenic illness caused by taking a benzodiazepine as prescribed by a doctor I trusted, and you immediately respond with unasked for advice on what I “should” be doing to get well, I feel unheard and unsupported. I shared my feelings — my fears, doubts, concerns, and frustrations with you in hopes that you could simply sit with me and be fully present with me. It doesn’t help me to hear that you think I’ll get well quicker if I eat purple foods because they have a special vibration to them, or that I need to think happy thoughts, or that I need to take another medication, or a vitamin, or a hot bath or a cold bath, or go for long walks, or short walks, or pray, or meditate, or do yoga, or go vegan, or eat more protein, or go on a vacation, or stay in bed—whatever it is you think I am not doing that I should be doing in order to get well. See, when you give me unasked for advice, what you’re really saying is “You’re doing it wrong.” You’re telling me that all of the research I’ve done about benzo withdrawal doesn’t matter. You know better than me, even though you aren’t the one living in my body. Your unasked for advice separates us, leaving me to feel even more alone and isolated in my illness.
Being present with me and allowing me to share my deepest truth without you giving me unasked for advice is healing for me. I don’t need advice. I just need you to listen to me. Patiently. With an open heart and an open mind. I really just need you to love me right now, and that is what true listening is — love in action. If I do want advice, I’ll ask for it. That’s when it’s okay for you to share your opinion.
That is what I wish I had shared with my friends and family who gave me unasked for advice or had other listening habits that weren’t helpful, like interrupting or stealing the conversation. I didn’t need to hear how their Aunt Edna got off of her benzo. I didn’t need to hear how they had a medical problem and suffered, too. I didn’t need to be interrupted, or the words I couldn’t think of quickly, given to me, or the topic of conversation changed by them, or their texting while I was talking, or a hundred other ways in which they weren’t fully present and open-hearted. I wish I had told them that I didn’t need their words, I needed their time, attention, and their heart. Love heals. And love often shows up in the softness of silence between two people just sharing a moment and their hearts with each other. If words were what my friends and family wanted to share with me, I wish that they had shared these: “What do you need? How can I help?” Those two simple sentences could have relieved my fear of being misunderstood and alone. Those two simple sentences could have been a bridge that my friends and family created and walked over, right into my heart, where they would have helped me the most.
Listening is love in action. It heals. Please, listen to people in benzo withdrawal. Listen to everyone. The world will be a better place for it.