Raising children is hard work for anyone. But it’s grueling work when you’re in benzo withdrawal.
A few weeks ago, I threw my toothbrush and a few outfits into a suitcase and drove to the San Francisco Bay Area to surprise my identical twin boys on their 29th birthday. I stayed at my eldest son’s house (all four of my children live in the same neighborhood) so that I could help with my grandbabies. I figured I’d stay a night or two and then head back home. Instead, I stayed for almost two weeks to help with the babies because they weren’t feeling well. Nor were they sleeping well. Since the guest room is right underneath the nursery…yup, you guessed it. I didn’t sleep well either.
You don’t have to do everything.
I helped out on the early morning shift, which meant I was upstairs and in charge from five a.m. or so until eight a.m. Exhausted from my normal workload, lack of sleep, and being sixty-not-thirty, I drug my tail most days. An overachiever by nature, I gave myself permission to NOT do anything other than to be with the babies, Bella and James. I didn’t worry about what the late morning would bring, or what needed to be done later in the day. I focused only on what needed to be done in the present moment. You don’t have to do everything or be everything to everyone. Laundry can wait. Dishes can pile up in the sink. Dust bunnies can live under your couch and multiply. It’s okay. You’ll get to those things when you can. And if you can’t you’ll hire someone to help you, or you’ll let them go until you are more recovered. As long as the health department isn’t going to come and red-tag your home as a hazard, it’s okay to let some grit and grime accumulate.
Your children aren’t going to be scarred for life because you are in benzo withdrawal.
Parenting in benzo withdrawal isn’t the ideal. No rational person would think so. However, you are not scarring your children for life just because you are in bed, or on the couch, or crying, or unable to cook or clean, etc. Your children aren’t going to know that you can’t feel your love for them. They don’t know that you are walking around in the “benzo bubble” detached from all you used to hold so dear. As long as you are in the house, responding to them in a respectful way, they will be fine.
The brain fact you need to know.
Social neuroscientists report that all of our brains are hardwired at birth to ask what is called The Big Brain Question, or, BBQ for short. Our brains scan the environment and people around us with one question: “Are you there for me?” Our brains want safety and security. Which means, among other things, that we want to be respected and valued. If our BBQ is answered more times than not with a yes, our brains will grow and organize optimally. Therefore, the trick to helping your child grow and mature into a healthy adult is to respect them for who they are. Listen to them. (I’ve written books about listening skills. They are important for answering the BBQ with a yes.) Even if you feel a million miles away from the child you once cherished, you can still treat him or her respectfully. You can let them know that your illness has nothing to do with them and that one day, you’ll be back to normal. And you will be! (BTW, answering the BBQ with a yes doesn’t mean you become a doormat and do everything for your child. It’s about a child feeling safe and secure in your presence. Safe and secure enough to be who they really are.)
If you are treating your child with respect your child will weather the challenge of your recovery. You don’t have to beat yourself with a lot of guilt. It’s not necessary and it’s not healthy for your recovery. Let the parent guilt go. Replace it with deep compassion for yourself. You are doing one helluva job keeping it together and I applaud you.
I know it’s more complicated than a few tips from a blog.
There’s more to parenting in benzo withdrawal than simply letting go of housework and being there for your child. Life is complicated and messy. Benzo withdrawal is no different. However, I do hope that you’ll take to heart that you can relax a little. Don’t push yourself. It’s not a contest. No one is going to judge you, except maybe yourself, but I hope you won’t. Be there for your child in ways that make them feel safe and secure. Don’t judge them. (Don’t overshare about your recovery which can frighten young children.) Even if you can’t feel the love you used to feel, fake it till you make it. Your feelings will return, in time. Know that you haven’t ruined anyone’s life. You can let the guilt go as much as possible. (Guilt is a common benzo withdrawal symptom, so do your best to take it in stride, ignore it, and don’t feed it!)
I can’t emphasize this enough. Your body and central nervous system need downtime. A lot of downtime. If you find yourself having to run after little ones, see if you can hire a Mother’s ( or Daddy’s) helper to watch the children while you rest. If there is no way for you to get help, then pace yourself as best as you can. Organization is helpful. Have baskets for toys, keep things that are used often nearby. Keep a nonbreakable pitcher of water and easy snacks at the ready. Are kids running all over? Set up a pop-up tent in a room and let the kids play in it with magnetic sand or magnetic blocks, etc. Containing the chaos for a while can help a great deal. After few days of chasing a young toddler and attending to an eight-month-old, I found a rhythm to keeping them entertained. Was it perfect? No, it wasn’t. But thinking ahead and preparing the environment helped reduce my stress and strain.
My hats off to you.
While helping with Bella and James, I often thought of my clients who are parents and my heart opened wide for them. Raising a child is a challenging job for healthy parents. It’s a bigger challenge when you aren’t yourself. Remind yourself that you are doing an awesome job and keep showing up, for that’s a big part of parenting. Just being there. Open and receptive. Please stop beating yourself up for being in benzo withdrawal. You’ll get through it and your children will get through it as well. One day, everyone will forget about this chapter in life. Good things will start to sprout once again and life will be so incredibly sweet. There won’t be any permanent damage. You and your children will be just fine.
Worried you won’t heal?
Baylissa wrote an excellent article about protracted withdrawal and healing. If you haven’t yet read it, pop on over and take a look. It will hopefully put your mind at ease that the eventual outcome for benzo withdrawal is recovery. Even if you are having to raise children and you are exhausted all the time… you. will. heal. https://baylissa.com/protracted-permanently-damaged/