At first, I had no clue.
Even though my taper was fairly brutal from the get-go, I didn’t understand triggers. Not at first, anyway. I remember reading a post from a woman on a benzo website who was nine months out and suffering from a lot of triggers. She wrote about a visit to the zoo and all of the things that she had experienced that upset her. Frankly, I thought she was a bit of a drama queen. I mean really, how could seeing giraffes cause such pandemonium in one’s mind? But I got schooled soon after that when my own triggers started happening after I cold turkeyed. Then, I understood. She wasn’t a drama queen at all, she was in benzo withdrawal!
What is a trigger? Webster’s dictionary definition is: “to cause an event or situation to happen or exist.” Triggers in benzo withdrawal usually cause a cascade of overwhelming thoughts and/or emotions. The reactions are out of the norm and cause considerable suffering as they are so intense. Triggers can make us feel crazy and put of control.
Even a word on a page!
Most of my triggers caused horrible thoughts, unspeakable images in my mind, and anxiety, fear, panic or terror. Anything sharp—knives, scissors, and tools such as screwdrivers or hammers triggered me. Even a word on a page could send me into a tailspin of terror. I became afraid to read, worried that I’d come across a word that would detonate my panic response. For a while, I dreaded encountering people on the street because they might have a visible cut or be wearing a bandaid, or holding hands with someone, which would cause a meltdown in my nervous system. Even a thought could trigger an avalanche of anxiety. I’d stand at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, and my mind would latch on to the thought of eternity and my knees would buckle, literally. The thought of eternity filled me with a terror I can’t begin to describe!.
At first, I avoided.
Avoidance was my first coping tactic. If I didn’t read, see, or think of anything that would trigger me, I’d be more able to cope with benzo withdrawal. But of course, that was pretty much impossible. I may have been able to avoid picking up a book or a magazine, but there was no way I could avoid my thoughts or other people. Even if I managed to limit my face-to-face exposure to others, what I watched on Youtube, Facebook, or Netflix could trigger me. I had to come up with a better coping strategy than avoidance.
Getting good at self-soothing.
I had to learn the art of self-soothing since my benzo-damaged nervous system didn’t have the capability to calm itself. I learned that I could allow and stay with the sensations that raced through my body. I could allow and stay with my thoughts, too. I didn’t have to attempt to fight them off or run from them. I’d remind myself every time I was triggered that I was in benzo withdrawal and that this too, would pass. I spent many an uncomfortable few minutes (and yes, sometimes hours!) letting my feelings wash over and through me.
Not reinforcing the fear.
Learning to stay and accept my thoughts and feelings, instead of fighting or fleeing, taught my nervous system that it didn’t have to be so hypervigilant. By not fighting or fleeing, I taught my nervous system that there wasn’t anything to freak out about. As time went on and my nervous system repaired itself, my list of triggers got smaller and smaller. I could walk past objects that used to fire off images of violence and I could see people being affectionate without my past sexual abuse rearing its head. I could read words that had caused me fear and dread. I could think about existential concepts without getting weak in the knees.
Acceptance. Acceptance. Acceptance.
My family is heavily involved in commercial real estate so I’ve heard the phrase, location, location, location, many times. It’s true! Where a store or business is located can make or break their success. The same is true for us, whether we are in benzo withdrawal or beyond. Where we decide to “reside” matters. Do we reside in the fear that our triggers create, or do we reside in acceptance and let that fear pass through us? Life became far more manageable when I decided to reside in acceptance and let the fear come and go.
It’s not always easy to practice acceptance, I get that. But we can make it our goal and keep turning to it, over and over, again. When we fall out of acceptance, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and we try again.
You probably can’t insulate yourself from all of your triggers, and I don’t think that it would be healthy to even try, but we can face our triggers, breathe through them, allow them to pass, and know in our hearts that one day, they will stop torturing us. They will fade into the sunset, like all the other benzo withdrawal symptoms, and you’ll be free to roam about your life unencumbered by fear.
If you are plagued with triggers…
know that they will fade away, in time. You aren’t losing your mind. And yes, triggers can produce violent, sadistic, heinous, horrible, torturous thoughts, feelings, and extreme panic attacks. I’ve not shared mine in graphic detail to avoid triggering anyone. But I was often triggered to think or feel something horrific, violent, sexual, illegal, and/or immoral, The key is to accept that these reactions are normal for a brain that has been damaged by a benzodiazepine.
Never, never, never, act on any of the vile or fearful things your thoughts or feelings create. Let the ugliness and fear pass. Keep your head held high. Just because you have thoughts and feelings that get triggered in benzo withdrawal doesn’t mean you are a bad person. Just the opposite. You are an amazing warrior, standing tall in the face of unspeakable challenges. Be proud of where you are in your healing. And, know that you will recover completely and be that much better and stronger for having had to walk through the fire.
I’m happy to announce that there are new books that may be helpful:
The Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Journal: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1792846894
The Benzodiazepine Tapering Journal: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1797503154
And there are three blank journals available as well.
You can find them all listed on the homepage of the website.