When the wheels of my wagon began to spin crazily in benzo withdrawal, threatening to come off at any moment, my best friend reminded me to “work my program.” No stranger to suffering herself, she had firsthand knowledge of what it took to weather the storms of a damaged nervous system. And benzo withdrawal is a damaged nervous system on steroids! She had had to work her own program to recover, and I had to create and work one for myself. You may find that you do better if you follow suit.
What does it mean to create a program? It means that you find a few things that you can do to help you distract and hold on. You find a few things that help quiet your screaming nervous system. I call these “go-to” distractions, anchors. You also create mantras or affirmations that you can repeat to yourself. You find ways to gently observe what’s taking place in your body and mind without buying into any falsehoods they may be telling you. Your “program” will have actionable items as well as emotional and mental ones. You’ll act, think positively, reframe, and soothe yourself with self-care and compassion. You may even change your diet for a little bit, focusing on healthy choices. What these items are for you will be as unique as you are. You’ll come up with what works for you. Give yourself some time to think about what your “program” will be. You have permission to be as creative as you’d like. The only “rule” is that you can’t do anything harmful to yourself or anyone else.
My program consisted of gardening, a walk on the beach, drawing, painting, a trip to the nursery, watching happy, positive YouTube videos, and distracting with word puzzles. I added positive affirmations (I am safe. I am healing. I will recover.), and I worked hard at simply observing what my body and mind were doing. I did my best not to believe the negative, scary stories they “told” me. I also added in more dark green leafy veggies to my diet in hopes of addressing my MTHFR gene mutation.
When a nasty wave of symptoms would hit me, I’d sigh out of frustration, but I’d remind myself to work my program, and I’d do what I needed to do to weather the rising tide. Having a clear cut set of tools to rely on when things got unbearable helped me get through them. My “program” didn’t magically take away my symptoms—if you’ve followed my story in my blog posts—you’ll know I suffered greatly. But my program helped me hold on. I didn’t reinstate, and I didn’t harm myself or anyone else. And those tools went on to help me deal with life after benzo withdrawal was over.
Learning how to manage our reactions to what is happening in our brain and body is one of the most powerful things we can do. I still use my program to this very day. If I get stressed, I know what actions to take and how to be in charge of my perceptions and my internal self-talk. I understand how to self-soothe and rise above the chaos and confusion in life that used to unravel my nervous system.
Here are some questions to help you create your program:
What can I do with my hands that is distracting?
Some suggestions: learn to draw, paint, sculpt, garden, knit, crochet, latch hook rugs, learn how to/play an instrument, create a scarp book, write, work puzzles. What else can you think of that will keep your hands busy?
Where can I go that is soothing?
Some suggestions: gardens, beaches, parks, a walk in the woods, a local cafe where you know people. Where else might you go that can be a bit of a distraction and soothing (you might not feel the calming effects, but your body will benefit just the same)? Only go to places if you can drive or walk there safely. If you need someone to drive you or to walk with you, ask.
How might I practice being a neutral observer?
Some suggestions: don’t argue or debate with your thoughts and feelings. Don’t ignore them. Do your best to say, “There is that benzo brain thought.” Or, “There is that benzo feeling.” You can give them names or descriptors if you’d like. I used to have one scary emotion wash over me, and I diffused its power by saying to myself, “This is that orange prickly thing.” Naming it put it outside of myself; I didn’t claim it as mine or being me. It’s important to be mindful of what we say after the word “I am.” I stopped saying, “I am anxious,” and instead, I’d say, “I feel tension in my body.”
What can I say to myself that is positive?
Some suggestions: My favorite mantra is “I am safe. I am healing. I will recover.” I also reminded myself that “This too, shall pass.”
How might I create a soothing space to hang out in?
Some suggestions: put pillows and a soft throw blanket or a weighted blanket on a corner of your couch. Turn on some relaxing music and curl up and rest. You can create a space in a room that is just for you. You can even put up an indoor pop-up tent and curl up in it with some pillows. My go-to space was my couch. I had pillows and blankets and soft spa music. I’d do my best to relax and let the chaos of benzo withdrawal pass through me.
What can I eat that is calming?
Some suggestions: avoid the traditional Standard American Diet (SAD) comfort food. That diet is sad, indeed. It isn’t healthy. Instead, turn to foods that nourish the body. Reach for fresh fruit and veggies. Load up on the good greens. Don’t add any oils or fats and go easy on the salt. Believe it or not, baked or boiled potatoes are a fantastic healing food. Potatoes have been misunderstood and promoted as fattening. They aren’t. Just don’t add any fats to them (sour cream, cheese, etc.), and you’ve got an amazingly healthy food. ( I add a little bit of sweet chili sauce to mine!) Carbs have gotten a bad rap. ( I’ll be writing more about this soon, and how carbs and starches are healing.) Drink lots of water, too!
What will you do to create a program that you rely on when a wave hits, or when you are tired of the exhausting journey of benzo withdrawal? If you’d like some help brainstorming ideas, feel free to book a coaching session. I’d be happy to help. Creating a solid list of tools I could rely on made all the difference in the world for me in my recovery. I am hopeful that it will be the same for you as well.