I am glad you are here.
I’m Jennifer. I cold turkeyed from clonazepam on June 23, 2011, after taking it as prescribed for close to 18 years. I had tapered for 8 months but was bedridden and deathly ill so I “jumped”. (This is not recommended!) My blog posts are an honest, raw account of my experience. Feel free to search through the old posts. (I’m six years free and have my life back. You will, too!)
I’ve been helping people in benzodiazepine withdrawal (BWD) for years. I’ve blogged, created a private support group, taught classes, coached individuals, and I’ve educated local doctors about BWD. I’ve also been an online contributor for AddictionBlog and I’ve given interviews for the media. (The Huffington Post ran an article.)
Most doctors are terribly uneducated about the dangers of these drugs, or the recovery process. They often prescribe medications that we in the BWD community feel hamper our healing, or they cause their own damage. Detox, rehabs, and inpatient mental health facilities have been known to cause harm. Doctors who are “addiction specialists” have harmed us. Even the staff at some of the most prestigious hospitals (Mayo Clinic, for example) have been known to be uneducated about benzos. I urge you to educate yourself about the damage these drugs can cause, and the safest ways to recover. Your safety and wellbeing are the most important things in the world!
If you have found this website because you are helping a friend or a loved one navigate BWD, please take good care of yourself. The demands of caretaking are enormous, and you are very much needed. (You may want to read this post.)
The best and only “cure” for benzodiazepine withdrawal is time. Lots and lots of it. You will recover. You will have normal thoughts, feelings, and the ability to go back out in the world once again. What you experience now in benzo withdrawal is not the old you. It is not the new you. It is just you in benzo withdrawal, recovering from the damage the drug has caused.
Please be kind and gentle with yourself. Hold on. You will recover!
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Due to family responsibilities, I am unable to communicate via text or email outside of my normal working hours, 9-5 Pacific, Monday through Thursday.
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Most people I coach on how to cope with benzo withdrawal ask me if they will ever get their old selves back. I tell them yes, and no. Yes, you will get your old self back in that you will remember and know who you are. You’ll be able to feel love, peace, happiness, excitement, and joy again. You’ll remember the things that you used to enjoy doing. You’ll remember your talents. You will be returned to you. No, you won’t be the exact same as you were before benzo withdrawal: you’ll be much better!
One of the many challenging benzo withdrawal symptoms is the lack of feeling like ourselves. I used to feel that me, my sense of self, had been eviscerated. I couldn’t remember who I was. I felt no feelings other than the classic doom and gloom, fear, terror, existential angst, and of course, the physical horrors of withdrawal. There was no shred left of anything that felt like me. I used to stare into the mirror and ask who the reflection was that was staring back at me. It was a terrible time in my life, just as it very well may be a terrible time in your life. We long so much to feel connected to ourselves again and connected to our friends and family, and to life! (And you will be again, in time!)
Once your brain and CNS recovers from the damage caused by the benzo you took, you’ll remember who you are, what you love, what sparks joy, etc. Your intelligence, capabilities, and memory will return. They might return in fits and starts and dribble and drabs, but they will return. Then, after your sense of self has re-established itself, you’ll realize that you are better, stronger, wiser, kinder, more open to life than you’ve ever been before. There is something about going through benzo withdrawal that deepens us, wisens us, opens us. Most of us on the other side of withdrawal feel that life is sweeter than ever! That’s certainly my experience. As I put last years wave behind me, I am amazed at how incredible life is. It’s full of hope and promise, love and laughter, and a deep sense of fulfillment and happiness. I know you’ll experience these things as well, in time.
If you are in that stage of withdrawal where you feel completely devoid of self, and you’re lost and scared, please hold on. Trust that this is just a symptom of withdrawal and that you will get yourself back, and you may discover, like so many of us, that you are “new and improved!.” You’ll see how sweet life is. It really is!
I’ve received many phone calls lately from people who have family members insisting that they “listen to their doctors” even when the doctor’s advice is harmful. I too, had family members insist that I’d be better off following the advice of a trained, educated professional, instead of following the advice of people who had experienced benzo withdrawal—strangers on the Internet. I’m writing this post in hopes that it can be shared with family members to educate them about the plight of people in benzo withdrawal.
First, it’s important to understand that most of the medical community is woefully ignorant about the dangers of taking a benzodiazepine. I know that it is hard to believe that in this day of age when information/knowledge is shared with a keystroke, that they aren’t aware of the suffering that benzodiazepines can cause, but that is the reality. (There is one doctor who is an expert in benzo withdrawal, Dr. Heather Ashton. However, many doctors in the US ignore or discredit her work.)
Those of us who have experienced withdrawal symptoms have been harmed by our doctor, whom we trusted. We took a pill that he or she prescribed. We took that pill in good faith, believing that it would help us. At some point, we realized that we were being harmed by the medication—slowly poisoned—our GABA receptors being destroyed throughout our brain and body.
When we turn to our doctors for help to get off of the drug, they often suggest that we taper too quickly, or that we go to a detox or rebab facility (where we will be taken off too fast), or that we stop taking the drug (which can be fatal), or that we begin taking other medications to help with the withdrawal symptoms, which can backfire and make us worse. Often, we are told that what we are experiencing is not withdrawal, but instead that we have developed a new mental or physical illness. We are sometimes told that we are addicts, when in fact, we are chemically dependant on the medication. The mismanagement of benzo withdrawal patients by the medical community can lead to dire outcomes. That is why so many people in benzo withdrawal are extraordinary cautious, and rightly so, to blindly put their trust (again) in doctors.
When doctors prescribe benzos with no clear understanding of how harmful they can be and then proceed to give erroneous advice on how to navigate benzo withdrawal, they do double damage. When family members insist that we listen to medical advice that we know is contraindicated in withdrawal, it adds to our distress. What we need most from family and friends is unconditional love and support.
We need to have control over how we taper or how we manage our benzo withdrawal symptoms once off. We do better when family members educate themselves about benzo withdrawal instead of them putting their blind trust and faith in the uneducated medical community. We do better when family trusts that we are doing our best, following the guidelines of the benzo withdrawal community, and Dr. Heather Ashton, to heal from the damage the medication has caused.
Dear Benzo Family,
I am having to postpone the group, Healing With Love, due to some family issues I must take care of. I am hopeful to have the group up and running later this summer or this fall. I will keep you posted.
I tell everyone I work with to text me or email me if they have a question or need a bit of encouragement. I always do my best to respond to everyone very quickly. However, the sheer volume of incoming messages around the clock is keeping me from my family obligations and keeping me from having downtime to recharge so that I don’t burn out. Please, from now on, text or email me Monday through Thursday, 9-5. I will do my best to answer you that same day. For those of you who follow me on Facebook, please don’t use Messanger to connect with me to ask a benzo question. Please email or text me Monday-Thursday, 9-5. When I am on Facebook I am usually connecting with my close family and would like to be able to enjoy my time with them. (If you need assistance right away you can reach out to a benzo buddy, or post on BenzoBuddies.org. If you are having a medical emergency, always call 911. Make an appointment with your doctor if you are worried about your health and want to rule out any other causes of your symptoms.)
I understand how long and hard the road to recovery is. I trudged it wearily for quite some time. I know that we need someone to walk with us, someone who has been there and understands our suffering. I want very much to walk with each and every one of you, and I’ll do my best to do that. But I do have to put some boundaries in place for now. Thank you for understanding.
I love you all. You have touched my life so deeply. I want so much to celebrate with you when you cross the finish line of recovery. And you will. In time. Life is truly sweet when benzo withdrawal is in our rearview mirror.
With much love and respect,
Often people ask me, “What should I do?” when they are faced with increasing symptoms while tapering off of their benzo. They want to know if they go slower, hold, up dose, or cross over to diazepam, will the symptoms subside. The honest answer is no one knows for sure how anyone will react to any of those options. Here’s what we do know:
- Benzo withdrawal is as unique as the person who is experiencing it. There are some common symptoms and experiences, but no one can predict how anyone will react to certain events in withdrawal. Some people can taper very slowly and avoid symptoms. Others taper at a snail’s pace and are constantly slammed with symptoms. So we know that a slow rate of tapering doesn’t always translate to a lessening of withdrawal symptoms. A slow taper does help minimize catastrophic events such as strokes, seizures, heart attacks, hallucinations, etc., but it doesn’t necessarily prevent one from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. If you are experiencing an increase in symptoms, you can slow down your taper by either cutting less frequently or by reducing the percentage you are cutting and see if it helps you to feel better. Some people will stabilize and feel better, while others may not see any improvement and continue to have symptoms. The answer to “Should I slow down my taper?” is it may help, but it may not help.
- Should you hold for a while if you are experiencing an increase in benzo withdrawal symptoms? It might be a good idea to try to see if you stabilize. (You may or may not stabilize.) However, it may not be a good idea to hold for a very long time, especially if you aren’t stabilizing. Years ago a woman in withdrawal called me and told me she had held her dose for six months with no improvement in her symptoms. She was sad that she had experienced so many extra months of suffering and wished she had bitten the bullet and gotten on with her taper, but people kept telling her she had to hold and stabilize. You want to make a decision based on the knowledge that your symptoms may improve during a hold, but they may not. It’s your choice to explore a hold or not, and it’s your choice to decide if you want to abandon a hold and continue tapering.
- When people begin to see an increase in symptoms they may want to go back up in dose to get back to where they felt less symptoms. I can’t blame them for wanting to feel better. I up dosed a large amount in my taper. My doctor recommended it and I believed that she knew best. The subsequent taper from my up dose was worse than ever! It led to me going cold-turkey at the advice and help of another (uneducated) doctor. The problem with up dosing is that it can cause kindling. You may get some temporary relief, but you may be putting yourself at risk of going into (deeper) tolerance withdrawal and having an increase in withdrawal symptoms when you taper once again. The answer to should you up dose is once again, maybe. Or better worded, become informed about the risks and decide if you are up for taking the risk or not.
- People ask if they should cross over to diazepam (as per the Ashton Manual) when their symptoms become worse. They wonder if it will be an easier benzo to taper. Diazepam (Valium) is easier to taper in that it is long acting and it comes in very small doses. However, it is not a magic wand that will keep you from experiencing withdrawal symptoms. (It is known for causing severe depression in some people who use it to taper.) Not everyone can tolerate crossing over to diazepam; some people experience more withdrawal symptoms during the crossover and abandon the attempt. As with most things in benzo withdrawal, there isn’t a black and white answer to crossing over to diazepam (or any other benzo). The best thing to do is to research what a crossover entails and to learn the pros and cons and to make the best decision you can for yourself.
We are often very frightened in benzo withdrawal; the symptoms can be so brutally overwhelming. Even people who never have had a day of anxiety in their entire life can experience the most crippling fear. People who were extremely confident before benzo withdrawal can feel terribly insecure and unsure of themselves in withdrawal. So, the question, “What should I do?” is a very common one. People want relief from their suffering and they don’t trust themselves to know the answer. But here’s one of the hard parts about benzo withdrawal: no one knows what someone else “should” do. No one knows how another person is going to respond. What works for us may not work for anyone else. There are no “shoulds” in how to minimize benzo withdrawal symptoms while tapering.
The other thing I’d like to offer about asking “What should I do?” is that for me, learning to not ask other’s for their advice and to learn to tap into my own inner wisdom was life-changing. I was put on a benzo for anxiety. I didn’t have much confidence or belief in myself. So having to learn that no one else had the answers for me in benzo withdrawal—not even the supposed “expert” doctors—I slowly learned to rely on myself. I slowly learned how to trust myself. And, best of all, I slowly learned how to love myself. And those things have been the best medicine for me. In some ways, I give thanks for having gone through a catastrophic benzo withdrawal because it’s now etched into my DNA that what I should do is what my heart and soul tell me to do. The only person I can truly count on is myself.
You can learn to trust yourself, even in the mixed up, messed up world of benzo withdrawal. You can count on yourself for knowing what to do, as long as that decision is based on staying alive, and treating yourself with love and care. Get quiet and ask yourself what’s best for you, and wait for the answer to come. It almost always does.
(I am not a licensed MD or a licensed psychologist. I am not in any way suggesting that you abandon sound medical help or advice, but rather I am suggesting that you have more strength and wisdom than you know, even in withdrawal.)
At the beginning of my recovery from the damage that benzodiazepines had caused, I researched every diet I could think of. I hoped that one of them would help me to heal faster, or at the very least, help me to feel better. The first diet I started on was the GAPS diet. I did my best to stick with it, even making bone broth. I didn’t know all the ins and outs about broth and mine tasted awful, plus, it stunk up my kitchen. (I wasn’t making it properly.) As my withdrawal symptoms got worse, I stopped adhering to the GAPS diet as I couldn’t take care of myself, and therefore I ate anything that my children dropped off for me. The only things I avoided were foods with gluten, a lot of sugar, MSG, additives or colorings, and of course, caffeine and alcohol.
As my withdrawal progressed, and time went by, I watched the movie Fat, Sick And Nearly Dead. I had seen it before, but this time, I took it to heart. I frequently juiced ten different fruits and vegetables in hopes that they would make me feel better. I have the MTHFR gene mutation, so I made sure I juiced a lot of dark green leafy vegetables (kale!). I can’t say that juicing was the magic elixir I had hoped it would be, but I did feel better knowing that I was at least trying to put healthy things into my body. I was still gluten-free (and am to this day) and very careful about MSG, additives, etc. And of course, no alcohol or caffeine.
Still unwell a great deal of time into my recovery, I decided to go vegan. I thought maybe ditching animal products was the ticket to better health. I had watched the movie Forks Over Knives and was ready to try embracing only plants as fuel for my body. A month into eating vegan and I was in worse shape. I went back to eating meat and soon felt better than while eating vegan. Next, I tried the Paleo diet but didn’t feel much change one way or the other. Eventually, I stopped following any diet protocol and ate what I liked, which are whole organic foods, good fats, meats, vegetables, and fruits. Sometimes, I’d have grains or legumes, but not often.
Last summer, when I had my setback, I bought the book Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. It became my handbook for nutrition. I learned a proper technique for making bone broth (it was delicious!) and enjoyed whole milk plain yogurt, as well as fermented foods and even beet Kvass. I can’t say that the diet made a difference in my symptoms, but psychologically I felt good knowing that I was feeding my body the fuel it needed. (Now, after gaining some weight from inactivity, I am ready to try a few weeks on the Keto diet. I’m curious to see the results of that diet.)
After trying many diets, here is what I’ve come to believe is the best diet in benzo withdrawal: It is the one that supports you nutritionally and doesn’t make you feel worse! Like everything else in benzo withdrawal, we all react differently to things. I felt like death when I went vegan, yet some people in withdrawal told me that they felt better after ditching animal products. I enjoy bone broth and fermented foods and juices while those foods make others feel terrible, most likely due to the high histamine levels of those foods. I feel awful if I eat pasta or bread, yet others eat it without any issues. We all have to find a healthy diet that works for us.
We may find that certain foods rev us up, but I don’t think we should abandon all of those. Some people become so scared of having their symptoms increase after eating that they are surviving (somehow) on three to five different foods only. There is no way, to my knowledge, (disclaimer: I’m not a nutritionist or a dietician) that eating only a few different foods can give the proper nutrition that a body needs. I used to have an increase in my tingling and body anxiety when I ate salmon or garbanzo beans. But I didn’t give up either as I knew they were both nutritionally good for me. Of course, if a certain food makes you ill, you are probably better off avoiding it. I’m not suggesting that you drink bone broth, for example, if the histamine in it makes you feel sick. I’m saying eat a balanced diet, eat as clean (organic, no additives of any kind) as you can, make sure you are getting the fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that you need, and don’t stress too much about it.
If there was a diet that allowed us to heal faster I’m sure we’d all have heard about it by now. Since it doesn’t appear to exists, all we can do is to eat healthy so that we know we are giving our body what it needs to heal and to ultimately thrive. (And that weight loss or weight gain you’re experiencing in withdrawal—no matter what you seem to eat or not eat? Know that your metabolism will sort itself out in time and you will most likely get back to your normal weight. Feed your body the fuel it needs and don’t worry too much about the scale.)
I’m seven years into my recovery from taking a benzodiazepine as prescribed. That’s a long time to be having to accommodate one’s life around health issues. Of course, I am better than I was when I was tapering, and I’m better than I was for the first few years after my cold-turkey (at the hands of an “addiction specialist.”). I am even better than I was at this time last year when I had a very unexpected setback and was bedridden for many months. I’m better, but not yet healed. At least not as healed as I was before the setback.
We hear that our symptoms come from down-regulated GABA receptors. But is that all, especially in protracted withdrawal? I’m not so sure that it is, even though I have no scientific evidence to validate my opinion. But I do know my body, and I feel that at this stage of my healing, more is at play than “just” GABA receptors not working correctly.
I’m aware that histamine may play a role in my symptoms. My high viral loads, as shown by my blood work, also might play a part. Perhaps my thyroid is a bit out of whack—not an uncommon occurrence in withdrawal. Although my lab work doesn’t show any known autoimmune issues, I feel reasonably confident that my immune system isn’t functioning at its best. I believe the stress and trauma of benzo withdrawal cause all sorts of issues that take time, proper nutrition, and impeccable self-care to heal.
I’ve been tested for most of the illnesses that benzo withdrawal mimics, and nothing has been found. It’s not a bad idea to get tested to rule out other causes of your ill health if you are in protracted withdrawal, however, I’m not a big fan of a lot of medical intervention, as that is how I got harmed in the first place. But I am a fan of creating stress-free environments for ourselves, eating organic whole foods, avoiding foods or supplements that rev up our symptoms, avoiding drama, exercising gently, being of service to others, having a spiritual practice, having a victim-free, positive outlook, and working with medical professionals who think outside of the “Big Pharma Box,” or working with alternative healers (I now work with a wonderful bodyworker who is helping me immensely).
Even though the road is long for many of us, I do think that we ultimately heal. When I read about Dr. Reggie Pert’s traumatic benzo withdrawal and recovery, he said that his symptoms were either gone or that they were so mild as to be incorporated into everyday life. I think that sums it up best. If we do have any lingering symptoms, they will be so minor that we can overlook them. That’s how I felt before my setback. My symptoms were so minor that I didn’t even think about them. I know that I will get back to that baseline, and better, in time, especially if I address my body’s need for rest, quiet, gentle movement, and proper nutrition, and my mind’s need for service to others, a belief in something greater than myself, and positive thoughts.
I’ve shared this before, but I’ll share it again as it is such a powerful tool to use: I ask myself every day, “What is the most loving thing to think, feel, or do?” That question guides me to my highest and best. Learning to treat myself with love, care, and compassion goes a very long way toward healing. I’ve learned that even on the days when I don’t feel my best, I can still be loving to myself and others. I’ve learned to keep moving forward and to be grateful for my life, whatever shape it is in at the moment.
By the way, I floated the idea of a private group/forum for healing with love (spirituality) but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to create all of the framework for it on the back end of my website. I got delayed with family obligations. I’ll let you know when I have everything in place. Thanks for your patience.
Benzowithdrawalhelp.com website is in no way intended as either medical or legal advice. It is an educational and awareness site. I share my story, and the story of others, along with material from experts known to be of value to people in withdrawal.
The webmaster of this website is in no way engaged in any type of medical or legal advice, and/or any other kind of personal or professional services. All information contained in this website should in no way be substituted for medical or legal advice, and therefore, any information acquired through this website is utilized at your own risk.
No information contained in this website should be substituted for the advice of a lawyer, or physician, or therapist who is well-informed about benzodiazepine withdrawal.
Abrupt stopping of a benzodiazepine can be very dangerous and sometimes fatal. Always consult your prescriber if you are considering making any changes to your medication dose or schedule.
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