My fall from grace, as I used to think of it, was swift and hard. I went from being an incredibly well-paid, sought after coach, to being bedridden and unable to put coherent thoughts together. Wracked with pain and weakness and suffering from extreme anxiety, panic, and paranoia, my career was toast. There would be no more flying to meet clients. No more interviews with the New York Times or TV and radio interviews. No more contributing to Psychology Today online. No more calls from TV producers who were interested in creating a reality show around my work. I was a shell of my once vibrant and vital self. I’d look in the mirror at red veined eyes staring back at me. Who they hell is that? I’d think to myself. It was me, of course, deep in the clutches of benzo withdrawal.
As the months passed I felt more and more trapped. Barely able to walk around the block, my life became incredibly small. Most days I never left my bedroom. Those were some of my hardest days in recovery. I chopped off my hair (which used to be my trademark) because I was too weak to stand in the shower to wash it. I lived in sweatpants and tee shirts. Brushing my teeth was painful so I ignored dental hygiene. Ditto for any other hygiene. I stunk and I didn’t give a damn. I was holding on for dear life. One morning I pushed myself out of bed; the pain, weakness, and depression so dark and heavy that it took all my energy to fight through it. Something inside of me said, “Go plant a garden.”
“What? Are you freaking kidding me? I can barely stand up for Heaven’s sake!” I answered. (Actually, the conversation was a bit more colorful than that, but this is a G-rated blog.) My legs were incredibly wobbly, but I staggered down the hallway and stumbled out into my front yard. That moment in my yard was the moment my life went from small to big because that was the moment I decided to save myself! I decided to heed that voice and garden as if my life depended on it because it did! I don’t know how I did it, but I pulled out grass and ivy. (I hired help sometimes when the work was too strenuous.) I planted vegetables and flowers. They gave me a purpose, a reason to wake up in the mornings. I’d want to see what new bloom had opened during the night. I’d want to pick the artichokes or the tomatoes. And I enjoyed meeting so many people who walked by my front yard.
People came by to see the flowers and they’d join me for tea in the garden. I made many new friends. Everyone had a story. Everyone was suffering from some challenge. I learned to listen. I learned to extend compassion. I learned to take the focus off of my own suffering and be present for others. I ran out of my savings a year into my recovery. Poverty was always a big fear of mine and there I was staring at it face to face. Before benzo withdrawal, I used to worry (this is so hard to admit!) about running low on money and not having enough to pay for my Botox and collagen injections. Can you believe it? I really used to worry about that type of nonsense. There I was in benzo withdrawal not able to afford a haircut and do you know what? I was becoming happier and more fulfilled with myself than when I was Botoxed and financially well off! No kidding. In my small life in benzo withdrawal, my heart was expanding in ways that no jet travel, no paycheck, and no beauty treatment could enlarge it.
The secret to living a big small life in benzo withdrawal is to get out of your own way. Reach out to others and be there for them. Learn to listen. Cultivate life in some way, even if it is petting your cat or dog, or raising a houseplant. Appreciate life! It’s a gift, even in benzo withdrawal. Be mindful of where you put your focus. Are you lasered in on your pain and suffering or are you focusing on something outside of yourself? For me, the garden became my focus for quite a few years. It became my work. You may not want to garden, but I am sure you can find something that you can put your time and attention to. You don’t have to be perfect at it. I made so many mistakes learning to garden. I killed a lot of plants! I didn’t let that stop me. I also didn’t let my pain, dizziness, derealization, weakness, etc. stop me. I used to hobble around the local nursery practically hallucinating. My reality was very skewed for a long time. I learned to live with it.
I am grateful that the horror of benzo withdrawal is behind me. I could go back to my old career if I really wanted to resurrect it. But I don’t. I’m incredibly happy with this life I am leading now—wrinkles, gray hair, a small paycheck, and an incredible amount of love from all of you recovering from benzo withdrawal. I really do have a very big life now! I always did, even in withdrawal, because I had what was most important. I had love. I created it in my garden and it expanded to fill up all the dark, lonely, and broken places in my heart. I started this post with the idea that I used to think that my benzo withdrawal was a fall from grace. It was not. It was just the opposite. It was a rising up to become my best self.
If you have love, you have everything you need, really. If you don’t have enough love in your life, give some away. More will come back to you, I promise. Your life may be small in benzo withdrawal, but it can be as big and expansive as you allow your heart to be.
Here are some of my flowers over the past few years:
Delphinium, Drama Queen Poppy, Campanula Persicifolia, Papaver Hybridum, Zinnia, Big Bear Sunflower, Asclepias Physocarpa, Red Courtesan Sunflower
(Purchased at AnniesAnnuals.Com)