Shame. Most of us experience it in benzo withdrawal. For some of us, it comes roaring into our lives like a freight train. It touches every corner of our daily existence. For others, it seeps in slowly, almost imperceptibly, but it’s there, taunting us. Even for those of us who felt strong and confident before a benzo or on a benzo, withdrawal can rip that away. We are left with self-doubt and confusion. No matter how accomplished we were before withdrawal, now it all seems non-existent, completely forgotten. We limp along worried that we are unworthy and that no matter what we do, we will never regain our footing or our stride. But that fear is groundless. Shame is just another benzo withdrawal symptom that fades away as we heal.
Part of the shame that we feel is tied to what is called “life review.” It’s another one of those wonky benzo withdrawal symptoms that comes out of the blue. Life review is just what it sounds like: we review our lives, and we do so with the most unforgiving microscope. In benzo withdrawal, I remembered stupid things I had done in my teens and twenties; things I’d long ago forgotten. I’d relive the smallest of details and view them as proof of my unworthiness. It wasn’t just old memories that made me feel shame. I was ashamed of who I was in the present moment. I thought that my withdrawal symptoms meant that I was a failure somehow, that it was an indication of my weakness; some innate flaw in my makeup. Of course, that was nonsense, but at the time, it sure felt real.
That’s the problem. Our shame feels real. We aren’t able to see it for what it is, just another benzo withdrawal symptom, like burning skin, head pressure, or the tingles. My shame came and went like all of my other withdrawal symptoms. Once my GABA receptors repaired themselves, my shame lifted all of its own. Yours will too. What can you do in the meantime, while your brain is cobbling itself back together? Here are some suggestions.
Don’t take your shame head-on in a debate, because chances are good, that with downregulated GABA receptors, you won’t be a match for it. Instead, find ways to move gracefully with it. Accept that it is a part of recovery and don’t give it much energy. Spend some time every day getting in touch with the part of you that is still underneath all of your benzo symptoms, and honoring it. From there, you may have an easier time being a neutral observer of your shame, instead of being overwhelmed by it. It’s important to hold on to the knowledge that you are still whole and intact deep inside. Benzo withdrawal can’t touch you there.
If you are struggling with shame, know that it will loosen its grip on you as soon as your brain repairs itself more. You are not going to walk around feeling less than and unworthy forever. In fact, if you keep your heart open in benzo withdrawal, you’ll find that once it is over, you will feel incredibly good about yourself for having navigated one of the most complex and challenging illnesses known to man. That “S” that you now wear on your chest for “Shame” will turn into an “S” for “Super Hero!” Hold on. Your recovery is just around the corner. I hear it calling your name!