When I think back to my taper and the months following my cold turkey, I am overwhelmed by the memories. It’s painful to remember what I experienced in benzo withdrawal. And it’s painful to know that many of you are experiencing some of the same things. Although there is no “cure” for benzo withdrawal other than time, there are some things you can do to help you cope with some of the intense symptoms. I’ve listed them here in no particular order.
Intrusive thoughts. My intrusive thoughts were brutal. They tortured me every moment of every day. I learned to cope with the thoughts by observing them. I stopped debating them or fighting them. I stopped trying to ignore them or outrun them. Instead, I faced them, eye-to-eye, and acknowledged them for what they were—a dysregulated nervous system. They were a body function, and nothing more. I reminded myself that eventually, they would fade away as my nervous system healed. I also made sure that I engaged my hands in some tasks because my mind would usually follow, giving me some relief from the incessant chatter in my head. If you are plagued with intrusive thoughts, know that they will go away. Until then, do your best to not let them worry you. They are not an indication that you are going crazy, or that you’ve suddenly developed OCD, or Borderline Personality Disorder or any of the other psych diagnoses that are often given to us in benzo withdrawal. Observe your thoughts and let them go. They are simply a body function, just as your burps, hiccups, farts, and sneezes are. You don’t fear those, so don’t fear your intrusive thoughts. Of course, if you are suffering from thoughts about suicide and you think you may act on them, seek immediate help.
Head pressure and dizziness. I could barely walk a straight line I was so dizzy. I didn’t have vertigo, but rather a sense of disequilibrium. My balance was off. I didn’t know where to place my feet when I walked, and often the ground felt as if it was moving underneath me. I coped with this by walking slowly. I also used a cane or a walker at times, especially when I felt weak. Head pressure often came with my dizziness, but sometimes it appeared on its own. I learned to cope with it by not fearing it. It was annoying, but I knew that it didn’t signify anything was horribly wrong with me. When it got really bad, I’d curl up on my couch and rest more. I did my best to avoid telling myself scary stories like “this is never going to go away.” Acceptance and a positive mental attitude help a great deal to reduce suffering.
Pain and burning. I had nerve pain, bone pain, joint pain, muscle pain, headaches, and burning skin, burning tongue, and a burning spine. I wanted to crawl out of my skin sometiines, it was so awful. Nothing I did really lowered my pain level, but I found that applying heat helped. I used a horseshoe-shaped heating pad that you warmed up in the microwave. I kept it around my back for hours at a time, warming it up as often as necessary. I also took warm showers when I was strong enough to stand up. I didn’t take pain meds of any kind—too scared—so I did my best to accept, rest, or to move my body, depending on what felt best. Sometimes gentle stretching helped. I also got very gentle massages, stroking only, no deep tissue work, and that helped a bit. Non-sexual touch is something we all need; it is very healing! Some people use ice packs or bags of frozen peas for their burning sensations while others soak in tepid water in the tub, or take a cool shower. Cold wash rags or towels can help. The good news is that both pain and burning will go away,
Panic, anxiety, fear. and terror. I was put on a benzo for anxiety and panic. What I experienced in benzo withdrawal made my pre-existing problems look like child’s play. It helps to know that anxiety, panic, fear, and terror are normal benzo withdrawal symptoms. They do not signal the onset of a permanent condition. Once the nervous system settles down, so too, will these scary symptoms. I coped with mine by allowing the thoughts and feelings to pass through me. I’d sit on the side of the bed, or couch, and rock side to side. I’d remind myself that I had experienced these things in the past and gotten through them safely. You want to remind yourself that you are safe. Never tell yourself something like “I am not dying.” as the brain doesn’t “hear” the word not. It picks up on the word dying. Tell yourself a positive message. Also, you can slow down your breathing. That is a direct signal to your nervous system that all is well, and can help the panic pass. Movement is also a good tool to use to cope as it helps the body metabolize stress hormones. If you don’t want to rock in place, you can take a gentle walk. Avoid pacing frantically, or running, as that will send a signal to your nervous system that there is a possible danger. A cold washrag to the back of the neck, ice water on the face, or a cold shower can also slow down a panic attack. I used to remind myself that everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. I’d try to guess where I was in the process and tell myself that it would only be a little while longer and I’d feel better. I coped with the chemical anxiety by engaging in activities that kept my mind off of my body sensations. I also cried when I was overwhelmed. Crying helps lower stress hormones in the body and is quite helpful.
Derealization and depersonalization. I suffered with DR more than DP. But both were a nightmare. My DR made me feel as if I was walking around in a horror movie. I was so detached from reality! I hated it. My vision was blurry, distance was hard to measure and everything looked ominous. I didn’t feel that I was inhabiting real life, or that I was even in my body. I didn’t know who I was anymore! everything took on a weird dream-like quality. Nothing really helped reduce these symptoms, but I learned to take them in stride. I did my best to remind myself that I experienced them because my nervous system was hyper-excited. I found it helped to avoid bright lights, busy or crowded places, loud noises, or any stressful situation. My nervous system needed a lot of “quiet time” while I was in benzo withdrawal.
I know that there are other intense benzo symptoms that people suffer with; this list was by no means the complete story of what we go through in withdrawal. I hope that by sharing some of my symptoms and how I coped helps you. This October will be ten years since I began my taper off of the benzo I took for so many years. I am recovered and happy! I no longer have an anxiety disorder or panic attacks, my pre-existing emotional issues are long gone. My nervous system has been rewired. I am the best version of me I have ever been in my entire life! I know that you too, will recover and go on with your life in wonderful ways. Benzo withdrawal is an incredibly difficult challenge, but it is temporary, thankfully.
What symptoms do you have that are the most challenging? What do you do to cope? Leave a comment below, if you’d like to share with us.