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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Healing With Love
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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.
Celebrating holiday’s in benzo withdrawal can be a challenge. We are tired of being sick and yearn for a “normal” day with friends and family. Maybe we’ve already celebrated a few holidays in withdrawal and we are depressed that yet another one will be spent feeling “benzo sick.” I remember counting the Christmases I spent in withdrawal. Each year I’d think to myself, next year I’ll be well. So when the next Christmas rolled around and I wasn’t 100% better, I was heartbroken. So, whether this is your first Fourth Of July in withdrawal, or your third (or more), let’s look at ways in which you can make the day more enjoyable and safe.
One of the things that helped me the most was to lower my expectations. I decided that I could be happy with a very small celebration. I didn’t have to go all out. That helped me cope with feelings of loss and self-pity. If I didn’t have a big day to live up to, I didn’t feel so cheated. Once I made up my mind to celebrate in a more minimalistic manner, I gave myself permission to not do anything I didn’t want to do or anything that I thought would rev up my symptoms. That allowed me to feel more in control, which helped me greatly.
I also avoided celebratory foods that might make me feel worse—things like sugar, gluten, storebought foods, processed foods, etc. I’ll be avoiding hotdogs, storebought potato salad and storebought pies this Fourth. (It goes without saying I’ll be avoiding any alcohol.)
When I was at my worst in withdrawal, I avoided going to see the fireworks on the Fourth. My central nervous system couldn’t handle the crowds or the loud explosions. So I took good care of myself and stayed home. (This year, if I want to make the effort to see the fireworks I’ll be fine.)
Pacing yourself through any holiday is important. You don’t have to keep up with everyone. You can take breaks. I used to go to the bedroom and lie down during holiday get-togethers. My nervous system was so jacked up that I could only handle short bursts of time with everyone. I didn’t make a big deal out of it, I just went and did what I had to do to take care of myself. I’d rejoin the party when I felt better.
I never worried about what people thought about my recovery and my needs to take care of myself. I stopped trying to get people to understand how sick I was. I just did what I had to do to take care of myself. If someone didn’t understand, that was on them. Not on me. And I didn’t worry about what people thought of me. Frankly, what others think about us is none of our business.
I put my recovery first and foremost. I wasn’t going to let a holiday celebration increase my benzo withdrawal symptoms if I could at all help it. I hope that you’ll put your recovery first and take good care of yourself. Don’t eat things that you know will rev you up. Pace yourself around friends and family. Don’t push yourself. Take time out to regroup if you need to. And avoid things that are overly stimulating for where you are in your recovery. Above all else, remember that you won’t always be in withdrawal. There will be future holidays where you can do all that you want to do. Do your best to avoid feeling sorry for yourself and instead, out your energy toward having as much fun as you can with the limitations that you have right now.
The Fourth of July is a celebration of freedom. You will be free of benzo withdrawal one day. So celebrate your healing process, for it is happening.
Pain researchers have noted that people who have had trauma in their lives (especially as children) tend to have more pain. One explanation is that the mind and body are one. Whatever is in the mind will be manifested in the body—even subconscious thoughts and feelings will show up in the body. While earning my doctorate in psychology, I studied under Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a world-renowned traumatologist. He said,”The body keeps the score.” And that is so true! People with unresolved trauma tend to have that trauma show up in the body. Until we deal with our emotions, our body will continue to manifest our feelings. This is interesting for those of us who have had a traumatic withdrawal or for those of us who were put on a benzo for anxiety, panic, grief, trauma, etc. If we haven’t worked through our emotions, we may be unwittingly generating some uncomfortable body sensations.
This was never more evident to me than when I had to face an event that triggered some very old and deeply ingrained emotions. I was mostly bedridden that day with a very tangible increase in withdrawal symptoms. I knew it couldn’t be a coincidence. Even though I felt that I was in no way driving my symptoms, I knew that there had to be a part of my brain that was behind the scenes causing havoc. The next day, I was much better, which proved my point for myself.
I’m now using an app called Curable to work with my emotional/trauma load. It is an app used for pain such as migraines, but so far, it seems to be helping me navigate my way to a healthier place. One of the exercises in the app is called expressive writing. It helps us get to the core of the hidden and deep-seated emotions that may drive our symptoms. I need this exercise because I can get into a vicious cycle of symptoms and fear. For example, I had been dizzy. Every time I stood up the world lurched below my feet. I hated the sensation and began to fear feeling dizzy which in turn caused me to avoid standing up. The avoidance sent an unconscious message to the fear center in my brain, telling it that I was in danger. Which then created even more dizziness and more avoidance. Writing about my feelings helped stop the cycle.
It’s interesting to note that Ann Hopper, a woman who had such severe chemical sensitivities that she lived outdoors in a tent for some time, cured herself (and many others) of her symptoms. She did so with a program that she created called Dynamic Neural Retraining System. She felt that her symptoms stemmed from an overactive amygdala, the brain’s fight or flight region. By learning to not give into the anxiety that her symptoms caused, she was able to extinguish them by rewiring the brain. Can we (especially those of us in protracted withdrawal) learn to avoid getting hooked into our symptoms so that we don’t give them any fuel to increase and thereby create a new, healthier wiring in our brain? I think so. I tried Ann’s program and it did give me some relief.
We have a chemical brain injury that causes our symptoms. There is no disputing that. But we can unlearn some of the behaviors and emotions we’ve created that keep some of our symptoms going. We can do the work of addressing trauma and or intense emotions when we are stable enough to do that work (Curable is a good app for this), and we can avoid giving our symptoms any energy (Which is the premise of Dynamic Neural Retraining System.). We don’t want to become Pavlov’s dog and have our symptoms kick in every time we have a slight trigger.
By the way, I celebrated seven years of being benzo free on the 23rd of this month. I still have some lingering symptoms from my setback last summer. But I am working towards the goal of being symptom-free with the new app called Curable as well as my faith and my determination, one step at a time.
One of the questions I am often asked by people seeking information about benzo withdrawal is, “How do the thoughts about the things we fear go away?” I used to wonder that myself. I had obsessive thoughts about death and dying in benzo withdrawal that lasted from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to sleep. Even then, I had nightmares about dying. My thoughts sent ice-cold terror through me. Sometimes, I’d shake for hours I was so frightened. I couldn’t understand how thoughts that powerful were going to fizzle out and not have any emotional impact. But that’s exactly what happened. And that is what happens for the vast majority of us who recover from benzo withdrawal. The crazy, intrusive, fearful thoughts, fade away. We get control of our thoughts and our emotions. If by chance a strange or fearful thought does manage to creep into our consciousness, we simply brush it away.
Today I explained the process to a friend of mine. “Think of GABA receptors as controlling the drawbridge to your fear region of your brain. With enough working GABA receptors, the drawbridge is up. No crazy, scary, oddball thoughts are going to cross and enter the kingdom. But in benzo withdrawal, with so many GABA receptors damaged, the drawbridge is down. Every thug of a thought crosses over and plunders the kingdom. And there isn’t much you can do about it except watch and accept. But, as your receptors heal, your drawbridge slowly goes back up. Only a handful of the hardiest fearful thoughts can jump up high enough to swing themselves onto the rising bridge and get across and into the kingdom. But eventually, the bridge is up all the way, the kingdom is secure even from those thoughts.
Sure, once in a while, after you feel healed, a rogue thought will bravely swim the moat and make it into the kingdom. But by that time, you’ll be so thrilled to be back in charge and leading a normal life, that you’ll pay it no attention. It won’t disturb you in the slightest little bit. (You’ve survived benzo withdrawal! Not much will bother you.)
If you are plagued with intrusive, scary, crazy, horrible thoughts, know that they won’t last forever. Your drawbridge is down right now, that’s all. But as your brain recovers, it will rise back up. You’ll be in charge of the type of thoughts you want to entertain and no longer will fear be attached to your thoughts. You won’t be tortured by intrusive thoughts forever, just like you won’t suffer from all the other benzo withdrawal symptoms forever, either. We do recover. In time.
I’d like to add to this post that I am creating a private group for anyone who wants to incorporate their spirituality in their healing. Healing With Love will be a members only group and will also include a forum where members can interact with each other. Healing With Love is a spiritual place, not a religious place. It is open to all who believe in God as they understand God, their Higher Power, etc. It is not the place to debate religion, but rather to strengthen your own faith in what you believe in order to help you heal. If you’d like more information, please feel free to contact me with any questions. I am hoping to start the group July 2 if there is enough of a demand. The cost will be 39$ a month. You’ll receive Monday through Friday videos, a weekly webinar/meet up, posts just for members, and the ability to share with others and myself in the forum.
It’s been a hard week. The news of Kate Spade’s and Anthony Bourdain’s deaths have triggered many in the benzo community. When we read accounts that both of these celebrities were possibly taking a benzodiazepine, our feelings range from fear and panic to anger and outrage. Fear that we may end up like them, and outrage that we are suffering from benzo withdrawal (and possibly Kate and Anthony were as well) at the hands of the medical community we trusted It’s a lot of emotions to cope with. Let’s all take a slow deep breath and a long exhale and create a more healthy narrative to tell ourselves so that we don’t stay in a heightened state of arousal. After all, with damaged GABA receptors, we need to avoid stress, and the news reports have been incredibly stress-provoking.
First, you are not either Kate or Anthony. Your recovery is your recovery. It will unfold as unique as you are. You are not doomed to have an unhappy ending to your healing journey. Quite the opposite. You are healing and headed toward a much healthier and happier life once your GABA receptors heal. No matter how many symptoms you have today, or how deep your suffering, you are going to get better. You are going to be able to rejoin life and do all the things you are missing out on today. You will go on to forget about this season of suffering in your life; you will be so thrilled to be out and enjoying your life again! If your benzo brain is trying to convince that you are not going to make it, just observe those thoughts, don’t’ get hooked by them. Don’t give them any energy. Rise above them. Know that they are just thoughts and they are not predictors of the future. They are simply thoughts. Tell yourself something positive and then get your hands busy with something. Our minds will often follow our hands and become engrossed in our activity. Remember, the thought that your recovery will never end, or end badly, is a lie. It is not the truth.
Second, it’s not clear if either Kate or Anthony were aware that their medications could have been making them feel worse. If they were taking a benzo as we presume (one article stated that Kate was on anti-anxiety medication and another reported that Anthony listed Valium as one of the things he wouldn’t travel without), we don’t know if they were educated about tolerance withdrawal. If they were in tolerance withdrawal and uneducated about benzos, they would most likely have presumed that their anxiety or depression (or worsening of such states) was organic, that this was just the way they were. You can imagine how distraught that would have made them feel. But you know better; you are aware that your uncomfortable emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms are caused by withdrawal from your benzodiazepine—whether that is tolerance withdrawal, inter-dose withdrawal, tapering withdrawal, or cessation withdrawal. You know that your GABA receptors have been down-regulated from the benzo. You know that the bizarre symptoms you are experiencing are not you, they are from the drug, and that they will go away, in time.
Third, your first and foremost job right now is to heal. That means that everything comes second to your recovery. Which means, among other things, that you avoid stress. It’s okay to take a break from the news on television, in the papers, or on social media. It’s okay to not post anything about benzos on your social media accounts in response to the news about Kate and Anthony. You don’t have to save anyone right now. There will be time, when you are more recovered, to post about withdrawal and to become an activist on some level if you so desire. But for now, remind yourself that you don’t have to read, watch, or post anything if it upsets you. There will be plenty of time to share your experience, strength, and hope with others down the road. So don’t feel guilty if you are avoiding news stories or avoiding sharing on social media. Your main job is to heal. Period.
It is sad that the world has lost these two incredibly talented souls, that’s true. But we can do our best to cope with our big emotions and to do our best to quiet our central nervous system. We can be mindful of the stories we tell ourselves, making sure that our internal dialogue is as positive as possible. And when it is not, we simply overlook the negative thoughts, distract, and do our best to replace the scary story with positive words and a positive plot. You are going to heal. Your nervous system is designed to recover. If you scraped your knee, you wouldn’t worry about it healing. Don’t worry about your nervous system healing. It knows what to do! We just need to get out of its way and to give it the time it needs.
If you are struggling with the news about Kate or Anthony or struggling with any aspect of benzo withdrawal, please reach out to someone who will listen, care, and support you. Don’t suffer in silence for that is a breeding ground for negativity that is very unhealthy. If you are experiencing suicide ideation (often a withdrawal symptom), please let someone know. Have a plan of action should you feel you will act on those thoughts. It may be embarrassing to tell someone just how bad you are feeling, but please speak up. This is not the time to be stoic. We all need support in benzo withdrawal. A lot of support. Don’t be shy about asking for what you need. If someone can’t give it to you, ask someone else.Keep asking until you get what you need.
I’m here if anyone needs to share their feelings, but please know that I am not trained in suicide prevention, so if you are suicidal, seek appropriate help. The national suicide hotline is:
Sending my love to each and every one of you.
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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