What it was like coming back “to me.”

I had a very traumatic taper and then a cold turkey. It is still hard to write about it, as  I don’t have a great deal of distance yet from it and I am still sick but recovering slowly but surely.

When the black depression, anxiety and overwhelming emotions, and intrusive thoughts, etc, lightened, I got a sense of my old self. The first time it happened was September 8, 2012. I remember I told my buddy Don, another benzo survivor, that I felt good. I remember I cried tears of joy that the darkness had lifted. But of course, it hadn’t really. Looking back on that day I was still terribly impaired. But, the feel good emotions of the day were great and an enormous welcomed relief from the incessant day in and day out horror I had lived before.

I would have times when I was very excited about being engaged in life, and the excitement always turned into something nasty. It would make me anxious in my body, or rev up other symptoms. It was as if I had very little in the way of any “braking” mechanism. Everything over stimulated my poor central nervous system.

I also had the sensation of time going very, very, very fast, almost like a whirring inside, whenever I got happy and had focused energy on a task at hand.  It was not a welcomed sensation, and in fact was very uncomfortable. The first few months my old creative self started peeking her head up above the relentless symptoms, it was a challenge. I still had some lingering self-hate types of thoughts that withdrawal  brings, and I felt raw and exposed, a naked self suddenly in the world. That may not make sense, but how does one communicate the sensations and emotions of benzo withdrawal?

To date, I am much better and I can even work with clients in a therapeutic garden. But I know, deep down, that even today’s version of “Me” is still not truly the Me I will be once all of my receptors have healed.

If you are in the phase of healing where you feel yourself coming back “online,” and it is unsettling, don’t worry. It seems to be a common phenomenon. You may not experience it this way, but if you do, please rest assured that in time, it smooths out, just like everything else in withdrawal.

I had a few business meetings where I was so elated over some brainstorms that my mind felt like it was in a hamster wheel, turning and turning, faster and faster. It was not pleasant. I knew this was not who I was. Or was going to remain. So I accepted it and allowed it to just “be.”

Now, the anxiety that develops when I am happy, is more manageable. It still can produce too much energy for my CNS, but it’s not as bad as is used to be.

As you come back to your old self, (actually, you wont be who you used to be, you are going to be one kick ass, warrior, fearless version of your old self, trust me) don’t stress about how it feels. Allow things to take their natural course and know that in time, you are going to wake up and just “BE.” No more thinking about withdrawal. No more weirdness, pain, burning, tingling… whatever. You are just going to go about your business. I can see that happening more and more in my own life.

Also, I don’t sweat the waves tooooo much. (Ok. I DO text my benzo buddy Mary or Linda and whine sometimes….) as I know they will pass. I took a nap today from 3 to 4 pm. (YES! A NAP!! I can do that now!!) because my fatigue was crushing. Instead of worrying about when it will go away, I just took care of it by resting.

Do your very best to accept.  Wherever you are on your journey. Whatever the symptoms. As long as they are not life threatening, accept as best as you can. Bliss told me this and it is truly the best advice. When I try to run, or yearn for something other than what my life is at the present, the emotional pain increases.

Turn to that which scares you. Face it.

In 12 step programs we talk about fear this way: It used to be that we said, Fuck Everything And Ran….. now… its Face Everything And Recover.

Thank you to all who have donated to keep this blog going. I hope it continues to help others to hold on and walk through the valley of the shadow of death… benzo withdrawal… and keep going till they are on the other side.

A diet to help benzo withdrawal?

Two weeks ago I received a phone call from a woman who had kicked benzos over a decade ago and has been helping people ever since. She was a wealth of information. In all of her years of looking for the “holy grail” to help people heal from benzo withdrawal, she said the closest thing she has found was the GAPS diet. I was intrigued so I bought three books from the website. www.gapsdiet.com 

The diet makes sense. If indeed people with “leaky guts” have psychological problems, it could explain why some of us can taper with minor problems and others are flattened by the process.

I am starting the diet this week and will report if I find it helps at all. I am holding at my dose per my new doctors orders, so I may not be the best test case. But it will be interesting to see if I feel better overall.

The woman I spoke with claimed that people who followed the diet had a significant reduction in symptoms. I am hoping to heal my gut before I start to make any more cuts. ( Or at least start healing, as healing will take time I am sure.)

I have no affiliation with the GAPS diet website. I don’t receive any compensation if you buy the books.  I am passing on the information because it sounds as if, at least in theory, it can help those of us in benzo withdrawal.

If any of you are on the diet or start, and have information on how well it works, or doesn’t work, I welcome you to write me and share your stories.

I hope everyone is having a great memorial weekend.

To healing out guts and our brains, which are directly tied to each other!(FYI the gut is now thought of as the second brain)

Dr. Jenn

Stop wanting your old life back

When the darkness of benzo withdrawal overtakes my rational mind, (the part of me that trusts I am healing) and I silently scream “I want my life back!” I am reminded by something powerfully innate in my soul: there is nothing to mourn.

Benzo withdrawal IS my life. There is no need to mourn what was, because there is only now. The past is past. That is true for everyone, not just people going through benzo withdrawal. When we accept what we have on our plate now, we  suffer less.

Sure, I miss being able to get out and do things I used to do. But I know that in this time of recovery, life still has purpose. I am, as Eleanor Roosevelt put it, “tasting the experience to the utmost.”

I don’t want my old life back. I want the life I have right now to be as full as it can be given my new limitations. I don’t want to squander these months, or the coming years in recovery by being closed off to the experience I have now.

I like to think that I am like the caterpillar that transforms in his chrysalis, his wings of freedom growing and ready to take him to places he could only dream about as a caterpillar. My down sized life in benzo withdrawal is my chrysalis, holding me, until it is time for me to fly.

I don’t want my old life back. I am excited to walk, day by day into my new life, one that has been forged by the fires of withdrawal, making me stronger than I ever knew I was.

Just for today, let go of your grief for what was. Look for signs that this life today, is transforming you into a healthier, happier person. Then tomorrow, do it again. Let go. Accept. Your healing is taking place just as it should.

Stop wanting your old life back. Accept this life now. Taste the experience. Allow it to change you into a new, healthier you.

To your growing wings of freedom,

Dr. Jenn

Healing Touch

I had my first session of Healing Touch this afternoon. A friend who is battling cancer referred me to  Nina, a wonderful woman who is certified in healing touch therapy.

I have been struggling the past few days with high anxiety, formication, burning skin and a host of other symptoms.  Each day was getting worse.

I was not sure how I would respond to a Healing Touch session. Would it really help? Would it rev up my symptoms as I tried to lie still? I told Nina as much as possible about benzo withdrawal and my experiences  with it to date. She took careful notes and really listened. When we were ready to start the session, I trusted I was in good hands, literally.

I was jumpy and twitchy as we began. I didn’t dwell on it. I just surrendered to whatever was happening. Bright yellow danced in front of my closed eyes. It was almost painful, but exciting at the same time. I slowly felt my body relax. My twitches stopped. The thousand stinging ants eating away at my flesh stopped. Within a short time I was completely and utterly relaxed.

I thought “This is what healing will feel like! Calm. Peaceful.” As Nina worked her magic, I am not sure what she was doing as I kept my eyes closed and just enjoyed the calm, I had a sudden and intense wave of heat rise up from my thighs and engulf me. My heat raced. It was uncomfortable. I opened my eyes, looked at Nina, and decided to not speak about it. I closed my eyes and allowed it to pass through me. It left as suddenly as it came.

There were times when the pressure in my ears became intense. I didn’t fight it. I allowed it to happen. I don’t know what it correlated to with Nina’s work, but it felt as if it were controlled by my energy state.

When the session was over, I was deeply relaxed. I have not felt this peaceful in months. My mind was calm. I would like to say that I felt 100% healed. But that is not the case. But I am greatly improved from this morning. I don’t know how long the calm will last, but I am grateful for it at the present moment.

I am going to have her come to the house twice more this week to see if the sessions help.

She said it was interesting that my energy seemed to be most congested in my legs. She assumed it would be that way near my head due to the brain imbalances from withdrawal. I told her that I am using some of Dr. Peter Levine’s tools for moving old trauma out of the body. I have been visualizing old events and moving my legs as if there were running. When I was unable to get away from old traumatic events when I was young, the energy was locked into my body. That’s the theory of some of the best trauma researchers.

I feel more at peace at this moment. My mind is calm. I am healing. I trust that.

To your health,

Dr. Jenn

Fresh look at your symptoms

It is 4 AM and I am, as usual wide awake. I can’t sleep because it feels like thousands of ants are biting/stinging my body. Of course there is also the incessant ringing in my ears, skipped heartbeats, twitches, chills, ear pressure, weakness… well, you know.

I closed my eyes and did my normal surrender to the sensations. Anger bubbled up instead of acceptance. I was enraged that I have to suffer through withdrawal because I trusted a doctor to heal me 17 years ago. I sat with the anger, allowing it to “just be,” without judging myself for experiencing it.  It just is what it is. However, I know that anger won’t heal me. So I dug a bit deeper and was curios if there was any way I could frame the sensations so they were less troubling.

I thought of all the years my GABA receptors have been shut down from the benzo I took. I decided to imagine the ant sensation was a fine indication that my receptors could now wake back up and do the job they were intended to do. Suddenly, the ants picnicking on me were exciting in a strange way. I felt less like a victim and more like a victorious warrior, fighting a hard battle and winning.

I’ve been in tolerance withdrawals a mighty long time. I started my taper October 13th, 2010. I need all the positive tools I can use if I am going to cross the finish line somewhat intact. Looking at my symptoms in a fresh light is one such  positive tool.

I am not so much of a Pollyanna to think that every day I’ll be excited about the very painful and distracting sensations. But even if the thought of my GABA receptors waking up buys me only a short time of relief from this relentless ordeal, I’ll take it!

More peace, less suffering. I know I can’t magically stop the symptoms of withdrawal. But I can use my mind to create as much peace in the process as I humanly can.  You can do the same.

What symptom do you have that is the most annoying? How might you think of it today, as  a positive sign that you are moving away from drug dependency and moving towards healing and freedom? Just for today, welcome the sensation and be grateful. Instead of a numbed out body from your benzo, you have a body that is springing back to life. Let’s celebrate that.

To winning the battle for freedom,  one day at a time.

Dr. Jenn

Acceptance

Video

We tolerate benzo withdrawals better when we let go and accept where we are. That does not mean we give up, or we stop hoping or thinking positively about our recovery. It means simply to stop fighting. Stop grieving over the days, months of years that you have given over to your withdrawal. You are still alive. That is something worth celebrating. Healing does happen. We are assured of that. It just takes time.

Let go. Be in the moment. Don’t think about the days ahead. Come back to this moment and give thanks you are alive and healing.

A quick video tip on how to cope with the less than great days.

 

Afraid you are dying?

When I sought out a doctor to help me get a grip on my anxiety, I was certain nothing in the world could compare to the fear I felt when I had a panic attack. Well, I was wrong.

Nothing compares to the fear of dying while in the throes of benzo withdrawal. Or at least that’s my truth. My panic attacks were scary, no doubt, but this is a different animal all together.

For me, the hardest challenge in withdrawal are the still, dark hours after midnight. When the rest of the world is tucked into bed, dreaming sweet dreams, I lie wide awake, counting my symptoms instead of sheep. My withdrawal bedtime hovers around 5 AM these days.I can’t complain too much as I sleep for 5 to 7 hours once I drift off.

But getting my eyes to close takes some doing some nights. As my symptoms ramp up, burning skin, formication, head pressure, pounding heart, ringing ears, twitches, feeling of movement, and tummy troubles, my thoughts can wander down a very dark road. I am convinced I am dying. Maybe not right this second, but there is no way on earth I am going to survive withdrawals. When I am thinking of the type of font I want engraved on my tombstone, I know it is time to take a deep breath and have a talk with AMY.

AMY is my pet name for my amygdala, part of the limbic system of the brain. We have a right and a left amygdala and they are responsible for our fear response.

When I am over whelmed with withdrawal symptoms, I do my best to have a rational talk with myself. I tell myself my fear of dying is just my amygdala doing its best to protect me! It reads my symptoms as “dangerous” and it wants me to get help, and quick!

It is not always easy to have a rational talk when I am so stressed with scary emotions. That’s because the logical region of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, goes offline and let’s the limbic system hijack my brain.

If you have intense fears during withdrawals, take a moment to write down these words on a piece of paper or a 3 by 5 card: My limbic system is over active and making me feel there is a threat to my survival. There is no threat. I am safe. Tuck that card or slip of paper in your pocket and keep it with you. Any time you feel frightened, pull it our and remind yourself you are SAFE.

Your brain is in an exaggerated state of hyper-excitement because the GABA receptors have been down regulated. Without the calming response of GABA, your thoughts can run away with you and convince you things are pretty bleak on the survival front.

I now  keep a supply of books about the brain and anxiety near my bed, so when those scary thoughts start-up in the wee hours, I can read and arm myself with as much logic as possible. I keep 3 by 5 cards with all types of reminders to myself close at hand, so when my limbic system hijacks my rational thinking, I can fight back. I am sure my cat wonders what I am doing reading out loud to myself at 3 AM! I don’t mind. I am determined to get through my withdrawal with less suffering and more peace. I am working on getting over my fear of dying. I hope you get over yours as well.

Namaste.

Dr. Jenn

Solo Withdrawals

My coaching withdrawal clients who live alone usually have a tougher challenge. Withdrawal is a time of such deep vulnerability. The long sleepless nights seem to be the toughest hours.

If you are in benzo withdrawal and live alone, here are some things you can do to reduce your suffering and have more peace. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to connect with people. We are social creatures. Our brains do not work at their best when we are alone for too long.

  • Ask at least three people to be your “life line” you can call at any hour should you need reassurance. These can be friends, loved ones or members of the benzo withdrawal community you have grown to trust. Don’t worry about being a “bother.” Call when you need help. Know that one day, you will “pay it forward” and help some one in need.
  • If your health permits, get out among people as often as you can. Immerse yourself in other things besides withdrawal. Life is going on all around us. If you are bed bound or house bound, invite trusted friends and loved ones over for a visit, even if it is brief. Don’t worry what the house or you looks like. It doesn’t matter. Connecting to others is vital to good mental health.
  • You can call and speak to someone for a prayer request at Silent Unity, 24 hours a day. 1-800-NOW-PRAY (1-800-669-7729) Just hearing someone pray for you helps the dark moments.
  • Plan your day. Wake up with a goal in mind of things to accomplish. Create structure, even if it only to shower, eat and read a book. The trick is to feel you are in charge of your time.
  • Break the rumination cycle. When you find yourself in the mental hamster wheel, say “Stop!” and redirect your thoughts. Get busy with an activity, or call and ask how a friend is and listen!
  • If you can not get out, hire a grocery delivery service or ask someone to buy your groceries when they are shopping. Make sure you have fresh fruits and veggies on hand. Eating clean is important.
  • Take care of your personal hygiene. It can be tempting to lounge in your bathrobe day after day, but the psychological benefit of getting dressed, even if it is to put on sweats, helps lift spirits.
  • If you work outside of the home, connect with people as much as possible. Listen to their stories.
  • If your health permits, join a yoga or meditation class.
  • If you belong to  a religious organization, do your best to particulate.
  • When symptoms flare, surrender to them, and know in your heart, you are healing.
  • Create a Benzo Free Journal. Write down all the things you are going to do when you are healed.
  • Keep an “I can” journal. Daily log  what you can do. Even if it is simple, “I can brush my teeth.” Focusing on what you can do, as opposed to focusing on what you can’t do, helps us feel better.
  • If you enjoy nature, put a bird feeder where you can sit and watch the birds.

If you are a withdrawing and live alone, what things are you doing to make sure your isolation doesn’t increase your depression or keep you from eating well? Please post a comment and share you ideas with others.

Sawa Bona,

Dr. Jenn

Avoid hitting the wall

Most everyone in withdrawal hits a wall. You are doing pretty good, then WHAM! Seemingly out of nowhere, you are slammed with intense symptoms. What happened?

We don’t always know what triggered our rapid increase in symptoms, but we do have the “usual suspects” lined up.

  1. Tapering too fast. You may feel fine then wham! Your brain lets you know you are going faster than it can repair itself and keep up. Slow down! Holding at your dose for a few days will often help. Sometimes, in truly intolerable situations, you may need to up dose  just a bit, if you can’t hold on at the dose you are on. This is not recommended to do often, but if it keeps you from having a seizure of going into psychosis, it’s not the end of the world.
  2. Stimulants. Caffeine is totally off-limits for most in benzo withdrawal. It can flare symptoms quickly. Even a decaf latte has enough caffeine to trigger intense symptoms. Avoid caffeine if you can.
  3. Exercise. Some people run miles to cope with their withdrawal symptoms.  Others can barely walk from their bed to the bathroom. Exercise can flare symptoms in some people, reduce them in others. You will have to see what works for you. If exercise bothers you, then put it off for now. One day you will be back in the gym.
  4. Supplements. The argument about supplements rages on in the benzo withdrawal community.What works like a charm for one person will cause intense suffering for another. Use supplements with care. Keep a log of what you take and your symptoms so you can determine if a supplement may be flaring things for you. If you suspect a supplement is the cause, stop taking it and see if you are better.
  5. Hormone changes.  Women can have an increase in withdrawal symptoms near their periods.  Some choose to hold their dose for a few days to allow for this flare up. Pay attention to your body and know it is OK to hold if your monthly cycle is making you hit the wall.
  6. Inadvertently removing too much benzo. If you are liquid titrating you do not know how much benzo you are removing. You pill is mostly filler and binder. The amount of benzo needed to make a .5 clonazapam tablet is less than half a grain of rice. There is a chance that you removed more benzo than filler and binder and there is no way to know. You can have the same problem dry cutting. Benzo is not uniform throughout the pill, so you may have shaved off more benzo than you knew. There is no way to solve this, it is a risk inherent in self tapering.
  7. Cruciferous vegetables may cause a flare in people. There is evidence to support the idea that some people metabolize cruciferous vegetables in a way that will quickly push benzodiazepines through the liver. That means you will be feeling withdrawal symptoms fast. Cauliflower, cabbage, cress, bok choy, broccoli and similar green leaf vegetables fall in this category.
  8. Psychological stress:Imagine being in a downpour, with only a newspaper to cover your head, while others walk around with big golf umbrellas. They are dry while you are getting soaked to the bone. That’s what happens to people in withdrawal when they face psychological stress. Your brain does not have enough gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors to calm you down. Life doesn’t stand still for those of us in withdrawal, so the best you can do is to do your best to gauge how stressed out you will be by events you know are on the horizon. If a stressful time is approaching, you may want to hold at your dose for a little bit. If something unexpected occurs, you can hold for a while till things settle down. You may find that in the middle of the stressful event, you held up beautifully. It was only after the crisis, that you hit the wall. This is a common psychological reaction in the general population too. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself time to sort through things. Withdrawal is not a race. It is OK to slow down.
  9. Alcohol and drugs. Avoid alcohol (which reacts to the same receptors as your benzo)  and other drugs. Some people report smoking pot to stave off withdrawal symptoms. I don’t recommend scrambling your brain with any more changes that it already has to go through. This applies to over the counter drugs as well. Many cold remedies contain decongestants that can slam you into the wall.
  10. Dental work or medical procedures. Both can flare your symptoms due to the psychological stress. If you need a local anesthetic, it can increase symptoms. The epinephrine in the local acts to increase your heart rate. Most people in withdrawal find that terribly uncomfortable. Put off any unnecessary dental work or medical procedures until you are benzo free and healed.
  11. Botox. It has been reported that Botox flares symptoms. If you are concerned about the worry lines withdrawal is creating, address them when withdrawal is over. Please note that research shows Botox was found in the hippocampus of rats who were injected in their whisker area. Your hippocampus is the region of the brain responsible for memory.
  12. Lack of sleep. This is a tough one to avoid as insomnia is the poster child symptom of withdrawal. Do your best to get the rest you need.  Some people take melatonin, antihistamines or drink valerian tea. (Valerian tea may have a withdrawal period if you consume it on a regular basis.) If you find yourself not sleeping, you may want to hold your dose for a few days.
  13. Prescription drugs. Avoid any drug unless it is absolutely necessary. Keep a journal of your symptoms to see if the drug has any impact on them.  If you suspect the drug is causing your problems, speak to your doctor. They may not know about benzo withdrawal, so they may not be able to offer much help though.
  14. Sugar and sweeteners. There is some debate if sugar flares symptoms or not. You be the judge. If your symptoms flare up after a sugary treat, then avoid sugar. Our bodies need healthy foods, especially in withdrawal. This is a great time to clean up your eating habits. Artificial sweeteners can flare symptoms as well.
  15. Viral infections. Colds, flu, and other illnesses can spike symptoms. You may want to avoid crowed areas in peak cold or flu season. Wash your hands often and avoid putting your fingers in your eyes, nose or mouth after contact with others or surfaces where germs reside.
  16. MSG. Some people claim MSG flares their symptoms. Listed as a brain “excitotoxin,” MSG is probably good to avoid. Common or usual names of ingredients that often contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG) include “autolyzed yeast extract,” “sodium caseinate,” “maltodextrin,” “hydrolyzed lecithin,” “monosodium glutamate,” and “natural flavoring.”
  17. Food dyes. Research now shows that common food dyes trigger changes in the brain. Avoid eating candy or food that has color additives.
  18. Extreme temperatures. Some people react to the cold, others can not stand heat. Do your best to dress in a way that keeps you comfortable. Layering is a good option.
  19. The word “Yes.” For some of us, withdrawal challenges our go get ‘em approach to life. We say yes to work projects or family events, not wanting to let our withdrawal have the upper hand in controlling our lives. we push, push, push until we find ourselves pressed against the wall of extreme symptoms. Now is the time for quiet and calm. Now is a good time to learn to say “no,” and to take care of ourselves first. For many of us (can you see my hand raised?) we take care of others before we take care of ourselves.  You have a permission slip to put you first now!
  20. Your own triggers. Talk to a dozen people in withdrawal and you will hear a dozen different things that trigger symptoms. (Sex, protein powder, hot showers, loud noises. etc.) Keep a symptom journal. Try to connect the dots as to what caused your flare. You may not ever discover what it was, but it is good to keep notes on possible triggers.

Do your best to avoid things that flare your symptoms and slam you into the wall. Know that sometimes, you may  have a flare up and never know what triggered it. Withdrawal is not linear healing. Some days you will feel great, and other days you will feel awful. Know that healing is taking place even on your challenging days.

Learn to notice subtle cues in your body that may be signaling you are running towards the wall. When my tinnitus increases in volume, or the burning skin worsens, I know I am headed “for the bricks” so to speak. For me, that mean whoa! hold on there!!

Slow and steady wins the race. It is OK to hold your dose and stop tapering if you are slammed with symptoms. Listen to your body. Respect it. Take good care of it. Throw out the calendar that has a future circled date on it as your Benzo Free day. You will be benzo free when your brain and body is ready to be.

The brain damage caused by repeated benzodiazepine use takes time to repair. You have the rest of your life ahead of you, there is no need to hurry off your benzo unless of course it has become toxic for you.

If you have any concerns, please talk to your doctor.

All the best,

Dr. Jenn