Swimming Through Wet Cement. The 6-12 Months Journey.

For those of you jumping into this blog for the first time, I’ve been recounting my recovery timeline. I am now 34 months free and healed of the mental/emotional symptoms, still battling the physical waves.

And the story goes……

I got home from Sierra Tucson thinking that I “should” be healed. I wanted needed it all to be over. It had been a grueling nightmare of terror, anxiety, pain, emotional and spiritual turmoil. But of course it wasn’t over. In some strange ways, it was just beginning.

The first few months after the cold turkey were indescribably unbearable. BUT, I KNEW it was withdrawal. As frightening as it all was, I kept telling myself, “It’s just withdrawal. It will go away.”  But after six months, the weasel voice of worry crept in and whispered,”This is you un-medicated. You’ll live like this the rest of your life.” Not only did I have to battle the symptoms of benzo withdrawal, now I had to battle the hopelessness that settled down around me.

The mornings were by far, the worst time of the day. I’d wake and feel decent for about 30 seconds, then the tingles started. Next someone poured lighter fluid down my spine and tossed a match to it. My teeth hurt. Back of head felt as if it would explode from internal pressure, my bones ached, muscles twitched, pulled, spasmed and burned, bugs crawled under my skin, bees stung me, jaw throbbed, I broke out in blisters, ears rang like screeching tea kettles, my eyes burned and looked like I as a junkie, my hands tingled and had too much energy in them they felt like they would explode, my belly inflated and throbbed, and I was dizzy, weak, woozy, and felt as if I was being pulled down. I had a constant sense of motion. And a few other things…

Hard to wake up day after day to that severe degree of illness. Not knowing when (if ever) it would end. At 6-12 months off I still had panic, the death obsession, strange fears, intense moments of terror that would wash over me, visual disturbances that were very creepy and auditory problems. I did drive on the freeway some, but the DR was scary. It made my depth perception very challenging. My life was very small. I traveled only a few blocks. Most days, walking more than half a block was too difficult. I was too dizzy and had too much head pressure. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to give up. It was like trying to swim through wet cement.

What helped the most was TOTAL acceptance and TOTAL surrender. Those are not actions, they are not something that you DO, they are STATES. They are something that you FEEL. I also gardened. As if my life depended on it. (It did.) By now, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you know that my front yard garden became a haven for the neighborhood. I put out dog biscuits and water for the pooches being walked. I hung a tin framed chalk board and wrote inspirational statements. Soon people from all over were stopping by. I created an amazing, loving community. They all helped me hold on. I love them all so much.

In some ways, the journey of recovery TRULY began in those months. For that was when my withdrawal became REAL. (Trust me, it had been horrific all along, but now, the reality of it hit home.) I could no longer live in the fantasy or denial that I was going to be healed soon, or that I would escape the financial ruin withdrawal can create. I had to let go and let God. I was not in control. Clearly.

6-12 months out was the hardest for me in many ways. The severe cold turkey symptoms were gone, but in their place rushed in the pain, the ongoing head pressure, etc… and it stayed and stayed and stayed. (I woke at 4 a.m. this morning due to head pressure and body pain. It hasn’t left completely.) 6-12 months off was when I knew I had to put on my big girl panties and face life on life’s terms. There was no cocktail, no pill, no man, no money, no nothing, that was going to save me. There was just me and God, and ME was pretty fucked up, so basically, there was God. :) But being in withdrawal, God was a scary notion to me. So I FELT alone, even though I WAS NOT alone. I didn’t get over my fear of God and eternity until around 18+ months off.

By the 6-12 month mark, my family and friends were burnt out. Everyone was tired of benzo withdrawal. I needed a lot of support still, but people were too worn out to give me what I needed. It made the months very dark indeed. But I got up every day and faced whatever I had to face. I felt whatever scary thing I had to feel. I pushed myself out the door and into life. I retreated to my couch or bed when it got unbearable. I cried. I cursed. I laughed. I screamed. I kicked. I danced. I prayed. …. I just held on. Day after day after day after day after day.

That’s how you do it. That’s how you get to the other side and recover. You hold on. You don’t kill yourself. You don’t reinstate or add other meds (or booze) that hit GABA receptors. You swim through the cement as best as you can.

This is my 5th Mothers Day in recovery from benzo withdrawal. I am hopeful that next Mother’s Day I wont have even ONE symptom left. I guess I’ll find out next year. :)

Enjoy this beautiful day.

 

 

 

Easter Candy, Damn You!

I know better. I KNOW BETTER!

A few days ago I went to the Dollar Tree and bought Easter candy to fill plastic eggs. My four kids still love Easter egg hunts, even in their twenties. (I LOVE that about them!) My oldest son has 1/3 of an acre, perfect for hiding eggs. We are planning an Easter feast and dammit, I don’t want to be sidelined. Not like the last four holidays, anyway.

So you would think I would do ANYTHING to avoid a wave. (You already know what’s coming.) Yup. I ate Easter candy as I filled the eggs. At first it was just a few handfuls of Good N Plenty’s. But my sugar craving kicked into high gear. I fondled the bag of spice drops lovingly. Just one or two wouldn’t hurt, right? The jelly beans looked kinda sassy and scrumptous too. Yum. Yum. The only thing I didn’t eat was the chocolate. (Deathly allergic to it, of all things.)

Right about a few hours after my sugar binge, the tingles started. The tooth/jaw pain kicked in. Muscles began twitching. Electric zaps. Back of head pressure. Eye pain. Burning, burning, burning like a witch in Salem. Dizzy. Weak.

SIGH. I KNOW BETTER THAN TO EAT CRAP!

I am tugging on my wetsuit as I write these words, ready to ride this wave till it peters out. Crossing my fingers I haven’t set myself back too much, and that Sunday I can enjoy my children and their significant others and Sadie the lab puppy.

If anyone had tried to convince me, before withdrawal, that sugar (and food dyes) could do this to a body, I’d have laughed out loud in their face. It sounds so unbelievable. But what about withdrawal is believable? I’m a very imaginative person, (teaching a creativity class at Stanford next month!) and there is no way I could have ever dreamed this shit up about withdrawal.

Gotta scoot. Wetsuit on. Riding this wave like I own it till it decides to play itself out.

Making a note to self…no more sugar binges. EVER.

 

 

 

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